Friday Favorites: DIY Holiday Gifts!

Hi everyone! I am so excited about this holiday season—something about 2013 just feels better than ever! While I’ve got some time off during Thanksgiving break, I figured I’d get a headstart on DIY gifts for all of my family and friends. Homemade gifts, to me, just feel more heartfelt and thoughtful. I’ve already shared one of my gift ideas, gingerbread body scrub, but I came across some more ideas this week and wanted to share them!

Friday Favorites: DIY Holiday Gifts

1. Instant Mocha Mix Favors
I love these adorable mocha mixes. They’re suggested as wedding favors, but I think they’d be great for any occasion! They are easy to make and would be adorable little gifts for anyone on your list. You could even whip up a big batch of these and tie them on to wrapped presents as a special bonus!

2. Candy-Cane Marshmallows
A few years ago, my mother made some homemade peppermint marshmallows that were very similar to these—they were to die for! Homemade marshmallows tend to not be stiff like processed ones can be, and they are just so fluffy and heavenly. These would be wonderful packaged nicely with a tube of the instant mocha mix tied on!

3. Holiday Joy Plate
This is another cheap and easy idea that would make a very thoughtful gift. Personalize a holiday-themed plate for one of your loved ones and pile it high with cookies! When they reach the end of the treats, they’ll be excited to see their very own keepsake. I can’t wait to make this one!

What other DIY gift ideas do you have in store?

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Peppermint Mocha Puppy Chow

I’m excited and nervous to share today’s recipe—it’s one that I came up on my own. I know it’s not like I invented the wheel here, but it’s still kind of a big deal to me! I had decided to try a new recipe for puppy chow and found these Andes Peppermint Crunch chips at the store (I’ve seen them at Wal-Mart and Target if you can’t find them) and decided to get creative!

peppermint mocha puppy chow -- a perfect easy treat for the holidays

This recipe is inspired by my favorite holiday drink—peppermint mocha! I just love the combination of peppermint, chocolate and coffee, so I combined all three into a quick and easy treat! This would be wonderful as a simple, homemade gift along with some hot chocolate mix for Christmas or as a snack at your holiday parties. Or just whip up a batch to enjoy just because you want to! It’s quick, easy, and delicious!

You’ll need:
5 cups Rice Chex cereal
5 oz. Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips (half the bag)
5 oz. milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp. instant coffee granules or espresso powder
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Optional: red sprinkles

1. Measure out the Chex cereal and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour measured powdered sugar (and sprinkles) into gallon-sized ziploc bag.

2. Using a double boiler or in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the peppermint chips and chocolate chips, stirring often. Once the chocolates have melted, stir in instant coffee or espresso powder.

3. Moving quickly, pour the melted chocolate mixture over Chex cereal and mix until cereal is coated.

4. Pour cereal into ziploc with powdered sugar. Now shake until all the cereal is coated with powdered sugar!

peppermint mocha puppy chow!

Gingerbread Body Scrub

The holidays have really crept up on me this year. With Thanksgiving in just over a week, I realized I need to get started on gifts! I came across this gingerbread scrub and wanted to share it!

homemade gingerbread body scrub to soften dry winter skin.

This scrub will make a lovely gift for any lady on your list this year! Lay a simple piece of fabric over the top of the jar and tie it up with a holiday ribbon and a spoon—voila! It’ll be a great, useful, and easy present for your friends and family, but keep a little for yourself! The sugar helps scrub away dead skin and the coconut oil moisturizes dry winter skin. Bonus! It smells like freshly baked gingerbread cookies and will keep you in the holiday spirit.

This scrub is so easy and takes just minutes to throw together. Here’s what you’ll need:
2 cups of brown sugar
1 cup oil of your choice, I used coconut oil
2 tbsp ground ginger
2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice

Just mix all the ingredients together! Adjust them as needed–if the mixture is too wet, add more sugar; if it’s too dry, add a little more oil! Then just store in an air-tight container and gift to your friends!

DIY gingerbread body scrub

What are some homemade gift ideas you’ve got planned for this year? I’d love to hear them!

Friday Favorites

I’ve got to admit—the holidays are definitely on my mind. I’m looking forward to escaping papers, exams, and work for a few days over Thanksgiving break. So this week, I rounded up a few of my favorite Thanksgiving crafts and recipes to make this holiday a little sweeter.

Thanksgiving Friday Favorites

1. Gold Leaf Pine Cone Garland
This garland is perfect for the holidays. I love that it’s not holiday-specific—you can have it up for Thanksgiving and have it up all the way through New Years. This is a cheap and easy craft that’ll make a big impact on your holiday decor. It looks like a lot of fun!

2. Printable Thanksgiving Gift Tags
I love giving gifts. These little tags are free to print and would be so sweet on a wrapped bag of homemade cookies for your Thanksgiving guests.

3. Salted Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake
I always like to contribute to my family’s Thanksgiving meal, and that usually means I bring along a dessert. I made a pumpkin cheesecake a few years ago that everyone raved about. This salted caramel version looks like a wonderful upgrade. I can’t wait to make this one!

Staying Healthy (on the Cheap!)

College is a wonderful time, but for many, it can definitely be an unhealthy time. Classes and assignments can feel like a full-time job, most of us work a part time job, and try to balance a social life on top of it all! But avoiding the ‘Freshman 15’ (or Sophomore, Junior, or Senior!) isn’t impossible—it just takes some planning and hard work. I’ll admit I’m certainly not the healthiest—I frequent Chick Fil A and don’t get quite enough exercise—but I thought I’d lend a hand and share some of what I do in my attempt to stay healthy as a broke college student.

Staying healthy when you're on a college student budget!

1. Workout DVDs
I purchased my first workout DVD (Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown) freshman year and loved it! I think Jillian is wonderful and have actually purchased several more of her DVDs, including the 30 Day Shred, Shred It with Weights, and my newest purchase, Kickbox Fastfix. Jillian’s tough talking keeps me motivated while her quick, but difficult, routines help burn a lot of calories in 20-30 minutes! I also enjoy yoga DVDs on days when a tough Jillian workout just isn’t going to happen. If you’re interested in yoga, try Rodney Yee. He’s a great instructor who walks you through each pose and explains the benefits of each.

2. Get Outside or Join a Local Gym
Anderson’s campus is roughly one square mile, making it very easy to go outside, walk or jog a lap or two, and get a good cardio workout! Exercising outside is one of the best things you can do for your body and mood! The best part—it’s free! However, if you aren’t one for the outdoors (we all have those days) get creative! I joined the local Rec Center this semester for just $40! Check your local gyms and athletic clubs for student specials and discounts.

3. Be Mindful of What You Eat
A healthy diet is just as, if not more, important than exercise. If you live on campus, take advantage of your meal plan! I know, I know, cafeteria food stinks! But you’ve got to use what you’ve got! If your dining hall has a salad bar, pile a plate high with spinach, pour some healthy toppings on, and add a splash of vinegar as dressing for a salad that will keep you full all day (or until fourth meal!) and will provide lots of nutrients. If that’s not your taste, try building a custom sandwich and camouflage your veggies with meat, cheese, and some condiments. Eating healthy can be difficult, but it is so important to looking and feeling your best! But remember—don’t deprive yourself! Indulge when you need to and be mindful of how your body feels.

4. Use Technology to Your Advantage
There are lots of apps and accessories that can help keep you on track. My personal favorite is My Fitness Pal, which lets you log meals and exercise from a huge database. You can use it on your computer or smartphone and you can set and work toward your goals, whether calories burned, pounds lost, or whatever you want to accomplish. You can interact with and encourage your friends in the app, making it fun and a little competitive! Now, I’m going to veer from the ‘cheap’ for a minute, because I just have to rave about my favorite new gadget! I purchased the FitBit Force last week and this thing is wonderful! I sync mine with My Fitness Pal and my computer. Using the new watch-like display, you can track your progress throughout the day and FitBit provides a ‘dashboard’ that visually displays your daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly progress on your computer or smartphone. You can even track your sleeping habits and calories consumed and burned. If you’re serious about taking control of your health, I’d definitely recommend it!

how to stay healthy when you're on a tight budget!

And that’s how I (attempt to) stay healthy on a budget. What are some of your tips and tricks? Comment and let me know!

Caramel Apple Dip

A few weeks ago, my sweet friend Julia and her boyfriend joined my fiancé and I on a day trip to North Carolina. We set out to take some engagement pictures at an apple orchard (PS – If you’re looking for a photographer in SC, check her out! She’s absolutely wonderful!) and ended up with a huge bag of Fuji apples. Julia made this cream cheese and Heath Bar dip for the apples and I just had to share it!

Caramel Apple Dip

This dip is ridiculously easy and absolutely delicious! It’s obviously wonderful with apples—it tastes like the topping on a caramel apple with crunchy candy mixed in!—but I think it could be awesome with other ingredients, too. Get creative! Try some vanilla wafers, graham crackers, or whatever your heart desires. This makes a great party snack or treat for hanging out and watching a movie with friends.

All you need for this dip is:
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup Heath Bar pieces

Now just mix them all together! It’s really that simple.

Super easy and delicious caramel apple dip with Heath Bar pieces!

Go mix up a batch of this and enjoy!

Friday Favorites

Autumn is finally here! The weather is starting to cool down and the leaves are changing. This is definitely my favorite time of year, so I always try to savor it while it lasts. This week, I found some wonderful autumn-inspired recipes to help you celebrate this glorious season!

Friday Favorites: Autumn Inspired

1. Vanilla Bean & Espresso Granola
I’ve been on a huge granola kick since I made this granola last month. That last batch is almost gone and I’ve been digging around for a new recipe to try. The flavors in this one sound incredible and I can’t wait to try it in yogurt and even just as a snack!

2. Brown Butter Chewy Ginger Oatmeal Cookies
I tried my first cookie recipe with browned butter over the summer and it changed my life. Well, that’s an overstatement. But it definitely changed the way I make cookies forever. I also love the sweet and spicy flavor of ginger. This recipe will be perfect to enjoy with a cup of milk by the fire this autumn and into the winter.

3. Buttermilk Pumpkin Bread
By now, you know how much I absolutely love pumpkin. I love the way baking bread fills your house with that delicious scent, and I can’t imagine anything better than a warm home that smells like fresh pumpkin bread. I can’t wait to try this!

Homemade Apple Chips

Have you ever tried apple chips? I found some in the grocery store a few years ago and fell in love. They make a wonderful snack — they’re sweet, crispy, and the best part is, they’re actually pretty healthy.

Homemade Apple Chips --- The perfect sweet and healthy snack

I went apple picking a few weeks ago and ended up with a ton of fresh Fuji apples to use up (I even dedicated my whole Friday Favorites post to fun apple recipes!). I came across this super simple recipe for homemade apple chips and just had to try it. I tweaked it a bit and created the perfect batch of sweet and crunchy apple chips.

Sweet and crispy homemade apple chips

I love this recipe because you really only need apples and can tweak the flavors to suit your tastes. I tried one batch with cinnamon and wasn’t a huge fan, then sprinkled some of my mother’s fancy vanilla sugar on the second batch, and created the most heavenly chips. You can try white granulated or brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, or any other topping you want to match your mood.

Homemade baked apple chips

Preheat your oven to 275 degrees. To start, core your apples with an apple corer. The next part will be the most tricky. If you have a mandolin, which I used, slice your apples at about 1/4-inch thick. If you don’t have a mandolin (check out this one–it’s just $10), just carefully slice your apples with a knife as thinly as possible. Arrange the apples on a lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle your desired topping over the apple slices.  Bake for two hours, flipping the chips and rotating the sheet halfway through.

And that’s all! Let them cool and store in an airtight container.

Red Velvet and White Chocolate Chip Cookies

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been baking cookies. They are definitely my favorite treat and my favorite one to bake. These red velvet cookies are my secret weapon. They are so simple, require only a few ingredients, and can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. I love them because they are so unique; these definitely are nothing like your run of the mill chocolate chip cookies. These red velvet cookies are great for potlucks and parties and make a great gift!

Red Velvet and White Chocolate Chip Cookies

All you’ll need to make these phenomenal cookies are:
1 box red velvet cake mix
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 sticks softened butter
1 egg
2 cups white chocolate chips

Red Velvet Ingredients

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, add butter and mix until soft and fluffy. Slowly add cake mix and flour. Once combined, add egg and mix completely. Add the white chocolate chips and stir until well combined. Form dough into small, 1-inch balls and place on lined cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Red Velvet and White Chocolate Chip Cookies -- these incredibly rich and delicious cookies take just five ingredients and minutes to make!

And there you have it! I love making these for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Do you have a favorite cookie recipe?

Friday Favorites

Last weekend, I went apple picking at Sky Top Orchard with my fiancé and some friends. We had a ton of fun and now we have a huge bag of apples to use up. So I spent this week scouring the internet for some ways to use this big bag of Fujis. Here are some apple recipes I can’t wait to try.

fridayfavorites05

1. Apple Fritter Pull-Apart Bread

2. Apple Sangria

3. Apple Chips

4. ‘Autumn Explosion’ Muffins

5. Apple Cider Muddy Buddies

6. Apple Cider Maple Caramels

7. Apple Cinnamon Tea Latte

8.  Apple Almond Granola

9. Applesauce Cinnamon Apple-Oat Muffins

(PS — Sorry for posting Friday Favorites on a Saturday — it’s been a crazy, busy week!)