Tag Archives: gifts

Little Gifts: Bourbon-Chipotle Caramel Corn

Sometimes, when it is the holiday season and you have pulled yourself out of bed in the wee hours to watch the earth shift in front of the moon on the solstice for the first time in 372 years, when you’ve stood on your stoop at 3 in the morning with the wind howling and the streets empty and otherwise quiet around you, face to face with the amber moon, when you’ve returned to bed and slept snugly only to rise for weekday brunch, a luxury in and of itself, made even better by lingering for hours around a small table with friends who were barely in your life a mere year ago, when it is the solstice and the sun seems to shine extra brightly to make up for it being the very shortest day, when all these things are part of your winter, sometimes it is nice to bring a little gifty to that weekday brunch to celebrate the season.

While your circumstances may be slightly different, I wish you many reasons for celebration this winter, opportunities that call for something small and homemade to share with others. There is a chance that you simply do not feel like making cookies, but want to whip up  a little something to give away. That’s the boat I was in last night. I had made some caramel corn a couple of weeks back, and, while it was very tasty and swiftly consumed and likened to crack in its addictiveness, a little voice in my head refused to shut up about making caramel corn again, but next time adding a little chipotle. I decided to give it a whirl. Once I got cooking, I realized I was a little short on corn syrup, and I decided that bourbon would be a great way to compensate. Don’t question my logic, people — the addition of whiskey yielded very decadent results, and you will want to eat it up.

Recipe: Bourbon-Chipotle Caramel Corn

What Goes In:

  • 1 cup unpopped popcorn
  • nuts (optional)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

How To Do It:

  • Pre-heat oven to 250°F and line your biggest baking sheet with parchment.
  • Pop your popcorn however you like and pile it on the pan (I popped mine on the stove in two batches). Add nuts if you like — I used about a half cup of sliced almonds and half cup of peanuts.
  • Melt brown sugar, corn syrup, and bourbon together in a large sauce pan, larger than you think you need, because this stuff is both sticky and bubbly. Let it bubble away on medium heat for five minutes or so.
  • Combine butter and chipotles in a food processor until smooth. Or just blend up your chipotles. I really only combined them because my food processor is too big to fully blend up a couple of small peppers on their own.
  • Add chipotle butter and salt to your bubbly caramel mix. Stir well and cook together for another few minutes (clearly, this is a very scientific process).
  • Turn off heat. Add your baking soda. Stir rapidly. It will foam up a bunch and get lighter in color and thick. Stir in vanilla, too, and quickly pour over popcorn. Stir the sauce into popcorn as well as you can. I like to use a silicone spatula for this — it is good for the stickies.
  • Bake for about an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure even distribution of caramel and to prevent popcorn from burning.
  • Remove from oven and let cool completely. I left mine out overnight.

The caramel might still be a little on the soft side when you take it out of the oven, but it will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, tumble it into cellophane bags and add adorable gift tags (mine, shown here, are courtesy of the ridiculously sweet Eat, Drink, Chic). Embellish with ribbons, tulle, love letters, whatever your heart desires, and share.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Gifting!


Year End Love

Last year, I posted a list of resolutions around this time: things to make, things to do, things, things, things.

Well, I still don’t have a cheese press, and I haven’t made soap from scratch with fats and lye, and I might even have to throw away a vegetable or two from the fridge today because I didn’t use them before they got funky, and I still don’t compost here in my city apartment with no outdoor space, though I did reach out to some local gardens and urban farms about taking in my scraps this year, so progress, right?

Last year, at my birthday time, the resolutions felt a little manic. It had been such a difficult year, a time of huge transition, trying changes, and all I wanted was to shed old skin, enter a new decade, be OK, and breathe. Being creative, writing down creative goals, was a way to celebrate that inner spark, to push it out to the surface a bit.

At a meeting the other day with some new ladies in my life, we talked about intention. Among many other things, we talked about what we thought intention was, how it differed from goals. I said I thought that goals were something that you work toward, and that intention was living in the work. This was a work meeting, mind you, and there is a chance this comment had more relevance in context, but I am always big on reflection around the time of my birthday, which comes just before the end of the calendar year. And it feels good to look back at that list of goals, things to do, and to realize that I’m not at all sorry about the things I planned to but did not create.

The desire to be creative, the intention set to make myself and others happy, the year of living inside my values, well these are just the best things that I could hope to have. Looking back and looking forward, I can say that the things I wanted most out of my thirtieth year have come my way: opening and settling, calming and centering. Breathing. I love the new shelves in our spare room. I love that there are shiny jars on these shelves, summer’s bounty preserved, labors of love to be given and shared this holiday season. But these things don’t compare to the comfort I feel in my own skin, newfound and gracious, as I enter this next year.

Tomorrow I will walk to the Grand Army farmer’s market in the hat a dear friend made by hand this time last year, chat with people who work the land around here, tote home bags full of vegetables, early winter harvest. Tomorrow I will cook for friends, break out some liqueur from the workshop party, celebrate the year that’s just passed and the new one coming the best way I know how.

As the air gets cold and the winds turn bitter and as 2010 ticks into 2011, I wish you, nice readers, much coziness, much love. I wish gifts for you this holiday season, woolly hats and shiny jars changing hands, but mostly I wish you a cozy home, comfort in your skin, ease of breathing, ease of love. Thank you for being a part of this last year and all its wonders. I am wishing you the best in all that comes next.

Sweets for my Sweet

I imagine that, for most people, the holiday season is a pleasant, if somewhat faded, memory by now, that gifts have been given and received, put into use or set aside in some secret corner for good will donations or future regifting. Though my cozy time at home with family is behind me, I’m still working on the gifting aspect, at least as far as my guy is concerned. Last year, Shawn and I were not together on Christmas, so we started a mini-tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Day instead. Even though we spent Christmas together this year (eating my momma’s farmer’s cheese pancakes, walking in snow with hilarious dogs running rampant, feasting with family and sweet, familial friends…an excellent day, really), we liked the idea of exchanging gifts on another special day, back in the quiet of our Brooklyn apartment, just us two.

Exchanging gifts later also bought us a little more time. For me, that meant more time to think and think about what to make for Shawn and, for the most part, to come up short. Somehow, there was nothing in my crafting repertoire that seemed quite grand enough for my very sweet and supportive boyfriend, and I did not really have the time to embark on a great big project for him anyway. Eventually, I opted for a collection of smaller things, a booklet of monthly IOUs, things I could make or things we could do together, most of them free or very affordable (I don’t really have to shell out for anything in the book until October). He’s no great lover of grandeur anyway.

closed book

open book

I borrowed the matchbook style of the book from Laura at Betula ‘Loo, whose Giveaway Day giveaway I was lucky enough to win. She fills hers with blank paper and bills them as mini-scrapbooks, and I won two of them along with some other lovely paper goods, and they are adorable.

First up in the year of goodies: Homemade peppermint patties. Shawn loves peppermint patties, and I stumbled across a recipe recently and knew he had to have them. I love the idea of making typically packaged goodies at home, without the addition of unpronounceable ingredients. I read through several recipes online and modified slightly, and Shawn and I were both pleased with the results. They took a little bit of time, but only because it’s a good idea to let the filling set up a little before coating them in tasty, tasty chocolate.

Homemade Peppermint Patties: Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. peppermint flavoring*
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate
  • a little dab of shortening (optional)

*I actually purchased peppermint flavoring for this, which is basically peppermint essential oil thinned out in a vegetable oil base. I was worried that using straight essential oil would be too strong, but I ended up gradually increasing the flavoring to at least 2 teaspoons. If you have essential oil on hand (make sure it’s real essential oil, safe for food, and not some kind of house fragrance oil), I think it would be fine to use that here. Start with just a couple of drops, taste, and add more as needed.  Also, I used vanilla. I thought it would be good. In the end, these things are so minty fresh that I’m really not sure the vanilla adds anything. Skip it if you want.

How to Make Your Own Peppermint Patties:

Beat together your butter, evaporated milk, vanilla (if using), and peppermint. If you’re going the essential oil route, put in just a little peppermint. You can always add more later. Add powdered sugar a little at a time to make sure it incorporates well, and beat it until it’s smooth. If you need to tweak the flavoring amounts, go for it. I have never made fondant, but I imagine the texture is very similar to the final filling made here. It looks like this:

OK, so that looks like it could be ice cream. It’s not. It’s room temperature and rather firm. I used a little cookie scoop to dole out teaspoon-sized portions. If you don’t have a little scoop, just use a couple of spoons. They’re going to get flattened out, so don’t worry about how pretty they are. I put mine on some parchment paper, but I’m sure you’d be fine with foil, wax paper, a plain pan, etc.

low-light scooping

I then put them in the fridge to chill for a bit, put on a pair of creepy latex gloves, and rolled them into little patties. You don’t absolutely need gloves for this, but I found that the warmth of my hands without the gloves melted the filling a little, and things got messy fast. I put the little disks in the freezer for about 15 minutes and melted some chocolate with a dab of shortening. I read that the shortening would make the chocolate easier to work with, keep it shiny, etc., but I didn’t see any great benefit. Next time, I’ll just use straight chocolate and temper it the easiest way I know how — microwave until not quite melted through, then stir until all melted.

I’m not the tidiest dipper in the world, so I’ll spare you the photos of me dipping the disks in the chocolate. I used two forks and transferred the finished patties onto a separate baking pan, lined with wax paper. It looked a little like Jackson Pollock had guided my hand at times, but no matter. I wound up with an immensely satisfying tray of shiny chocolate patties.

gleaming, again in low light

I’m sure they would do just fine on the counter top, but I was feeling a little impatient, so I popped them in the fridge to set up fast. Or was it the freezer? I stuck them in just long enough to forget about them — they were ready by the time Shawn asked where they’d gone. We’ve been keeping them in the fridge, their numbers dwindling, on account of the butter in the filling. I suspect they would be OK in a regular cupboard, especially in this chilly weather.

Shawn was pleased with his peppermint patties, and he has been kind enough to share them with me. I haven’t had a York in ages, so I can’t say for sure how they compare, but Shawn claims that mine taste less processed, more purely minty-chocolatey (not his exact words). There’s a chance this is merely the power of suggestion, but I’ll take it. Make some yourself, and let me know how it goes.

And the winner is…

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in Giveaway Day for the first time this year. It was great to have so many new visitors, and I liked reading about people’s favorite smells. Thanks, guys, for all of your comments.

It seems that baking bread is extremely popular, along with lavender, cinnamon, new rain, and babies, and it also seems that lots of married ladies love the way their husbands smell, which has got to be a good thing.  

Congratulations to Sarah, winner of the homemade body butter giveaway. Sarah’s favorite smells are grapefruit, lavender, and campfire. I will be in touch to coordinate the making and mailing of her herby-flowery-citrusy body butter.

Thanks again to everyone who stopped by, and good luck on all the Sew, Mama, Sew goodness you may have entered!


Time is whipping by. I am in school now, and finals are suddenly upon me. I have a birthday next Saturday and was planning on cooking all day, grounding myself in the kitchen where my feet feel most rooted, laying out platters on the kitchen island and cocktails, too, filling up friends with food and drink, filling up my heart in so doing. It is the best side of me, I think. What better way to enter a new decade?

But the menu has not yet taken shape, and undone dishes lurk in the kitchen, surely trying to  intimidate me. There is a murky financial situation to deal with. There are the aforementioned finals. There are Christmas presents to make or maybe, in a pinch, purchase. And yet, in between trying to make sense of and find time for these things, I find my mind drifting, daydreaming about more and more projects I would like to take on. Why does this happen, this unstoppable brainstorming when I am most overwhelmed? Actually, let’s not look too deeply into that. I’m guessing it smacks of escapism. Maybe let’s just run with it anyway.

I have a birthday coming, which, for me, means reflection and resolution. Most of that is private jibber jabber, appropriate only in my  journal,  but some of it, the scheming, brainstorming, creative part, is quite relevant to this blog. And so, some resolutions.

In the next week, I will clean, sew, make some cheese, read some recipes, cook some food, mix some drinks, do some homework, start some finals. I will enter my first food contest. I will finish my birthday present for my 2-year-old niece. Not necessarily in that order. These are the commitments I have already made. In the next 2 weeks, I will get through the finals, be in a wedding, find appropriate tokens of affection for my loved ones for the holidays, make what I can make, buy what I can buy, travel and come home, and then I will take a deep breath, stop cramming, look forward.

And so. Looking forward.

In the coming year, I would like to do more crafty things. I would like to have something to show for it (not to keep, you understand, but just to put out into the world). Here are some things I would like to complete in the coming year, not the most pressing, necessarily, but the things that are on my wandering mind this week:

  • bottled bitters all in a row, imagined uses for all of them
  • this crazy deliciousness and other boozy concoctions
  • homemade tonic syrup
  • more shiny jars filled with jam and fruit butter than I managed to fill this year
  • hard cheeses (this one requires equipment that might not come into reach, but let’s keep it on the list while we’re in the scheming stage)
  • kefir, yogurt, various other fermentables
  • a finished quilt: pieced, basted, quilted, bound
  • new pillows to cheer up my slightly haggard sofa
  • the imperial IPA Shawn has wanted to brew for ages
  • the secret-ingredient tripel I dreamed up months ago
  • some dresses, some skirts, some things to wear
  • soap from scratch — lye and fats, the whole shebang
  • combs, clips, fascinators (it makes my mom excessively happy to see me put things on my head — this is really a service I provide, like putting on the Talking Heads when I visit, a little spot of sunshine I can bring)

I have this little book, a gift from a friend, that reminds me to write ideas down.  

The list is sure to expand. The book will fill up bit by bit. Surely I will have time when the crunch of December passes to breathe, to look the list over and see what makes sense at any given time, to get things done. I look forward to the new year,  to some kitchen and craft-room creation (and by craft-room, I think I mean livingroom). These are some ideas that I have. These are thoughts that keep me happy. So bring on the birthday. Bring on the new decade. Bring on finishing school, new career, continued exploring, expanded breath, the time to make things, and the lists to remind me to get things made.

Giveaway Day

It is Giveaway Day on the Sew, Mama, Sew! Blog. Check out the blog for lots of excellent crafty goodness, available for free!

I am looking forward to frittering away a morning (at least) checking out blogs new and old and ogling the amazing things that people are giving away.  Definitely check it out! As for this here blog, I will be giving away a personalized batch of handmade, mostly organic, super smooth body butter made with my favorite nut and vegetable butters as well as jojoba oil and vitamin E. It is very moisturizing and perfect after a cozy winter’s bath.

To win, simply comment on this post and tell me what your three favorite smells are. You can tell me more if you can’t bear to narrow it down to three. I will undoubtedly be unable to replicate your favorite smells, but I’ll use this information to choose the essential oils that go into the body butter, to try and make something that you will like, unique and spectacular individual that you surely are. Feel free to be as specific as you’d like (e.g., laundry that’s been sitting in the sun) or general (smoky, spicy, sweet).

Comments must be received by December 6. Winner will be chosen at random. I will ship to you wherever — international is fine. Just be sure to include your email address when you comment so I can get a hold of you to coordinate the specifics.

Thanks for visiting, good luck with all that crafty bloggers have to offer today, and Happy Giveaway Day!

Handmade Holidays!!

And now for something else I love…



November is Handmade Holidays month on the Sew, Mama, Sew blog. Every day, they will be posting ideas and tutorials for holiday presents that can be made at home. Actually, maybe my loved ones should not look too closely as I’m bound to use some of these ideas for the holiday season this year.

As for the rest of you, click on the image above to check out Handmade Holidays on Sew, Mama, Sew. If you’re not so crafty, they also have some links to pretty handmade things available for purchase. If, like me, you’re marginally crafty, but even more broke, I highly recommend trolling through these tutorials as some of them require far more inclination than ability, and there’s bound to be something you can make and be proud of.

Happy crafting!

Oh, and this is the third year that Sew, Mama, Sew has done Handmade Holidays. You can find recaps of the last couple of years here and here.