Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Only Cookie Recipe You Will Ever Need {Day 4}


It's Day 4 of our Simple Handmade Holiday series and today I've got something that I hope will simplify your gift giving or treat making this season. It's an easy recipe that will quickly turn into the only cookie recipe you will EVER need.

I like to keep things simple in the kitchen, especially during the holidays when it becomes part of Santa's gift making workshop. Our family and friends LOVE sweets treats this time of year and this recipe is sure to not disappoint.

It can be tweaked countless ways for a continual supply of creative options. With a simple change of seasonal ingredients, it can be used for winter, spring, summer or fall.

It can be gluten-free for those who have sensitivities. It can be low-sugar for those needing to cut down on the sweet factor by using natural sweeteners like raw honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup. It can even become something completely different...transforming from a cookie into a biscuit by removing the sugar altogether and subbing in cheese - instant Cheese Straw Biscuits (our favorite).

Add herbs and spices to that Cheese Straw Biscuit recipe and now you have herbal tea biscuits that will have everyone coming back for more! One recipe - hundreds of options. Here are just a few combinations we've used over the years...

     ~ Simply switch out the all-purpose flour for almond flour and it's gluten -free.

     ~ Take out the processed sugar and substitute 1/2 or 1/4 the amount of raw honey or
        maple syrup for a naturally sweet cookie that will be kinder to your pancreas.

     ~ Add chocolate chips for a simple Chocolate Chip Cookie.

     ~ Adding in pecans creates Pecan Sandies.

     ~ Almonds make an Almond Teacake Biscuit (I could list other nuts, but you get the idea).

     ~ Oats and raisins create Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

     ~ Add a little dried lavender, lemon zest and lemon juice for Lemon Lavender Cookies.

     ~ Mix in dark chocolate shreds and a tad of cayenne for an amazing flavor combo.

     ~ Add peppermint chips and dark chocolate morsels for a simple Christmas cookie.

     ~ Cranberries, pistachios and white chocolate chips lend something similar to my
        Christmas bark.

     ~ White chocolate and cashews remind me of the recipe from the Biltmore Estate
        collection that's been handed down for many years.

     ~ Mashed bananas, chocolate chunks and walnuts make Chunky Monkey Cookies.

     ~ Mixing in cocoa powder, mini marshmallows, nuts and chocolate chips creates Rocky
        Road Cookies.

     ~ Replace the sugar with the same amount of cheese and use half the oil and butter, then
        you have Cheese Straw Biscuits.

See what I mean? One recipe, a few tweaks and you already have 14 different options right there. I could go on and on and on, but thought you might like the recipe...

Simple Sugar Cookie Recipe 

Ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (substitute the same amount of almond flour for a gluten-free option)
  • 2/3 c. oil (we like to use coconut oil or tallow - we render our own tallow from local, grass-fed cows - DO NOT use tallow made from regular grocery store beef)
  • 2/3 c. butter - softened/melted (we prefer to use the butter we make from our raw milk stash)
  • 1 c. sugar (it originally called for 1 1/2 cups, but it was toooooo sweet. The 1/2 cup reduction in sugar creates something similar to a shortbread cookie, which we like better)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
  3. Add in melted/softened butter, oil, beaten eggs and vanilla and gradually stir in dry ingredients.
  4. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. For a thinner cookie, slightly flatten the top of each cookie.
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden. 

In the south we love our cheese straws! The sad things is, I've never been very good at making them. Since most of the cheese straw recipes I found had most of the same ingredients as my cookie recipe, I decided to see how it would taste to completely remove the sugar and substitute cheese in its place.

Turns out, pretty greasy! But as with most of my recipes, one batch is never enough and so I was back at the drawing board ;) The next try was complete with two batches...one with almond flour and the other with all-purpose flour plus the tweak of 1/2 the oil from the original recipe. Simple fix and voila! They tasted exactly like cheese straws...only in a biscuit shape ;)

Cheese Straw Biscuit Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose or almond flour (I prefer almond flour for this one)
  • 2/3 c. of your choice of fat softened/melted in the microwave (less is more here if you're using almond flour due to the fat content in the almonds. Tallow is amazing in this recipe! I like to use two fats (1/3 each) for depth of flavor. Using 2 "layers" of fat develops the complexity in a simple way (; We basically use whatever we have on hand...butter, coconut oil or tallow)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cheese (we love raw goat cheddar, gouda, pepper jack with swiss and really any kind of sharp cheddar. Parmigianino Reggiano is a fave, but use no more than 1 cup due to it's salty nature.)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbs turmeric (optional - we add turmeric to everything for a happy liver)
  • 1 tsp sea salt cayenne and paprika to taste.
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and shredded cheese.
  3. Add in the melted fats (butter, oil or tallow choice) and beaten eggs and gradually stir in dry ingredients.
  4. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. For a thinner biscuit, slightly flatten the top of each ball with a fork. 
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden. 

Now here's where the fun comes in...just as with the sugar cookies, there are options galore! You can keep it simple with the traditional Cheese Straw Biscuit recipe above or add whatever you like to create savory concoctions.

Basil and roasted garlic, rosemary and red peppers, minced olives, your favorite chutney or pesto, etc. You can even add in sweet sausage and they become sausage balls, a holiday favorite. The sky's the limit! Top them with Tomato Chutney and you'll never go back (;

One flavor combo I started enjoying recently was using our homemade ricotta instead of the shredded harder cheeses. Add fresh cracked pepper, rosemary, lemon zest and a touch of honey to the dough...Heaven!

The best thing about this recipe is that it keeps things simple, especially for the holidays. No more running around collecting different ingredients for multiple recipes when one will do. Now you have a way to create custom cookies for everyone on your gift list without a huge run to the grocery store.

I hope you continue to join us for more of our Simple Handmade Holiday series. Later this week we'll be sharing a no-bake way to give these as gifts...and there are free printables involved ;)

In Gratitude,

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Simple Faith for the Holidays {Day 3}


The holidays have always been a big deal for me. My father was a pastor and my mother a teacher so we celebrated each and every ounce of the seasons. We were a service kind of family, always working on projects that focused on serving others, and the holidays were the perfect time to reach out especially to those going through challenges.

This philosophy was solidified even more three years ago when our lives were completely turned upside down. Not only were we in a spot of losing almost everything we owned, but we were now without a home. Not having a home base completely shifted my thinking and it was a very unsettling place to be. The holiday traditions and special celebrations we looked forward to each year were now mute because surviving day to day was more important.

That was the first year without the fall festivities, the Halloween celebrations, the Thanksgiving dinner or our traditional homemade Christmas feast and it was my first winter without a coat. When I said we lost almost all of our possessions, that included clothes and shoes.

But that first year offered so much more than tangible things. Each and every day meant looking at life through the eyes of faith because otherwise the view was pretty hopeless. It meant depending on God for each and every need and the belief that He was going to get us through to the other side.

We didn't have much help from others because most people didn't understand what we were going through and sadly I began to realize that most really didn't want to know. It made them feel vulnerable and uncomfortable because our situation brought the idea too close that if it happened to us, it could happen to them too. And so we plugged along feeling quite alone and very discouraged.

Then something changed. This new focus on the simple, small things helped us to remember why our celebrating traditions were so special. It's never been about the food, the gifts, the activities or even the home in which we live. It's about relationships and love and appreciating each day we've been given. It's about realizing who your tribe really is and being thankful for the ones that get you. It's about ministering to another's heart and reaching out to love those who might not be so easy to love.

This time confirmed that a Thanksgiving dinner from the McDonald's dollar menu could be a magical thing...that fashion is great, but having more than two shirts hanging in a closet is a blessing...that there's beauty in cleaning the kitchen because it means I'm cooking in a real kitchen again...that it's important to offer hospitality in my home to those who might be going though homelessness because it means I now have a place to rest my head...and last but not least...that stuff isn't important because simple really is better.

And so three years ago we were given a great gift for the holidays - a life overhaul that challenged us to see light among the darkness and move through our days in a different way...a simpler way...a deeper way...and we've never been the same ;)

I hope you'll join us again tomorrow for Day 4 of our Simple Handmade Holiday series.

In Gratitude,

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Simple Holiday Touches {Day 2}

Using simple holiday touches that can be easily changed with the season is a no-fuss way of updating your home for the holidays.

As you know I'm a double-duty kinda gal with most things in our home and that includes our holiday decorating. If it's reversible, changeable and multi-purpose it means less stuff. We like to keep the decor neutral so the festive items pop. No more storing tons of plastic boxes and bins that need to be lugged out each year. A little goes a long way.

Notice the photo above. Very neutral with cream pillows and cushions. Simply adding a seasonal throw, a couple of pillows, a pumpkin and sprigs of nature, now the room is prepared for Halloween and Thanksgiving. 

Ready for Christmas? Simply switch out the throw and pillows with something red and green and replace the sprigs with evergreens and hints of berries. 

If the pillows are reversible, it becomes even easier. Katie from Sew Woodsy has a great tutorial using canvas and paint...

Crystal from Stitched by Crystal used fabric and felt to accent her covers...

The great thing about this time of year is that nature gives you most of what you need to decorate. I enjoy pulling elements from outside to embellish simple items. As the season changes, so do the elements. Twigs and greens, leaves and gourds, herbs and berries...bringing the outdoors in instantly warms the home and makes it place of rest.

One perfect example is our berry wreath found on sale for a couple of dollars. On the surface it seems pretty plain and uninteresting, but by adding just a few odds and ends gathered from outside, it becomes something special for fall. At Christmas we replace the grasses and twigs with cedar and pine which means that one little wreath provides a lot of enjoyment for over 4 months. No extra purchases. No extra wreaths to store in those big plastic bins. Less stuff. More enjoyment.

I really love making these wreaths each year because the collection of weeds, grasses, flowers, berries and evergreens is never the same. The walks in the woods to gather the accents has now become a tradition that we look forward to every season.

It's amazing what color and nature can do to change a space. By using simple holiday touches that pull double-duty, you'll be able to easily change out the accents without all the extra work. Keeping it simple allows you to put the focus on what really matters...enjoying your family and friends and embracing the real meaning of your celebrations.

Join us tomorrow for Day 3 of our Having a Simple Handmade Holiday series.

In Gratitude,

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 Days to a Simple Handmade Holiday {Day 1}


I love this time of year. The air is beginning to cool, the days are already becoming shorter and leaves are gradually changing into their fall display. It's when our thoughts drift to the upcoming holiday season and ways we celebrate this special time of year.

It's also a time when some set aside 31 days in October to write a blog post each day on one specific topic, a writing challenge started by home blogger Myquillyn Smith (The Nester). Since October seems to open the door to our seasonal celebrations, we wanted this year's focus to be about having a Simple Handmade Holiday.

For the last three years we've been walking a new journey of simplicity. It began by losing most of the things we owned and being homeless for the holidays. At that moment everything shifted and we were living a new normal...one that most of those around us did not understand.

We learned to live more with less, to love more by focusing on what matters most and that letting go is the key to a life filled with grace. It was a lesson in starting over that quickly turned into a gift of new beginnings...one that put the purpose back into living again, but in a deeper way.

And so over the next 31 Days we'll be sharing some of that journey and how simplifying forever changed the way we approach the holidays. We hope to inspire you to get rid of the stress of the season by bringing purpose back into the festivities so the emphasis can placed on what really matters most.

We'll have recipes, simple decor, handmade gift giving ideas, service opportunities, tips on planning and ways to incorporate new traditions...all with a focus on simplicity. I hope you'll join us!

In Gratitude,

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

10 Simple Steps to Declutter Your Spaces {Day 6}


Over the next few days we'll be focusing on clutter...or should I say, ways to get the clutter out of our lives (; To begin with the fundamentals, today we're sharing the 10 Simple Steps to Declutter Your Spaces.

When our environments are piled from pillar to post, chances are our lives are a mess too.  It makes it challenging to bring in the order if our surroundings look like a monkey has run amok (;  I know this from personal experience because I've always been a bit of a clutterbug and a piler - a sure sign you're a creative.

Seeing inspires the soul and if it's out of sight, I don't know it's there. Having things out on display (um, that's a sweet way of saying - "stuff all over the place") would motivate the designer in me. But as the years have passed, the appreciation of an organized environment has taken over...a place for everything and everything in its place. 

Now I love neat spaces and thrive in them, but they have to be visually pleasing and fully functional for easy access. If I have to work too hard to put something away, more than likely it'll end up on the nearest table or desk.

Figuring out how to truly live in a space and finding neat ways to accentuate the positive has now become a passion. I've been very blessed to be able to help others create havens that reflect their personal style and have noticed that the first step is usually organization.

To bring in the organization, we first have to get rid of the clutter.  Below are the 10 simple steps we use to begin the process of organizing our spaces...

10 Simple Steps to Declutter Your Spaces


1) Ask a Friend for Their Eyes of Perspective
Organize with a friend when possible.  If you've got a lot of clutter, it probably means you have a hard time letting go of stuff.  Emotional attachments always pop up during organizing sessions and having another set of eyes can help provide the needed perspective.

2) Choose a Small Area to Tackle First
Begin with smaller projects first so the excitement of one completed task inspires the process to continue.  It could be a closet, a dresser or maybe just one drawer in that dresser.  Starting small means you won't feel overwhelmed and these little spaces will add up to big areas as you progress.

3) Create Four Sorting Piles...KEEP, DONATE, TRASH, MAYBE
If you're going to make headway with your clutter, the stuff has to have a destination. Establishing KEEP, DONATE, TRASH and MAYBE piles allow things to be grouped in a simple way before finding them a permanent home.

4) Empty the Space
Unload the spot you're going to organize and take everything to another location.  We want the area that needs organization to be free and clear of disorder.  The only thing left in that space should be your KEEP, DONATE, TRASH and MAYBE piles.

If the space you're decluttering is quite large, you might not have the room to move everything to another spot. The same affect can be achieved by shifting everything in the room to one side with the KEEP, DONATE, TRASH and MAYBE piles on the other.

5) Do a Quick Sort with the 3 Question Rule 
Ask the 3 Question Rule for each item before placing it in one of the four piles...
     
     • Do I really love it? (is it a treasure) 
     • Do I really use it? (has it been used within the last year) 
     • Do I really need it? (sometimes we think we need something when we really don't)

This is a quick sort that should take 30-45 minutes at the max.  Don't think too much about each item...emotional attachments can creep in and cloud the process.  This is where having an organizing buddy comes in handy with a different perspective.

Remember, Step 5 is just a quick sort to categorize things, which is why I include a MAYBE pile. If you aren't sure about an item, don't waste time pondering, just throw it in the MAYBE pile for later.  

As things are removed from the "everything" spot and placed into one of the four piles in your new clean space, you'll begin to see the progress of what you're actually doing which will encourage the order to continue.

6) Revisit the KEEP and MAYBE piles
After the first sort, revisit your KEEP and MAYBE piles again to challenge the idea of holding onto these things.  I love this step and find it amusing whenever I'm helping someone recapture their spaces, because Step 6 is usually where their "declutter bug" kicks in and they let go.  Most of the items in their MAYBE pile end up in the DONATE or TRASH piles.  

There's a reason our spaces are out of order...it's usually because we have too much stuff.  If you aren't cherishing your things and not actually using them, then let them go so someone else can. Not only is it another chance at giving more to charity, but the gift to yourself is having a space in which you can truly live.

7) Evaluate the KEEP Pile to Determine Storage Needs
Wait to purchase supplies until after the sorting process. There's always a temptation to gather organizing goodies first, but this usually leads to not having exactly what's needed for the job...or even worse, those goodies you purchase in advance aren't used and end up becoming clutter too!!

Having the right tools for the job means looking at what you actually have so you don't get stuck with a lot of stuff you might not need (;

8) Group Objects Together for Placement
Now that you've figured out what you're keeping and you have your storage tools ready to go, the next step is to group like pieces together for easy placement back into the space.  

Group like things together.  How you do this really depends on the space and what you have in your KEEP pile.  If you're organizing the living room, you might have a group of items that all go in a bookcase with another pile that's headed for the media cabinet.  If it's the kitchen you're decluttering, you might break things up into these categories...
  • food storage
  • pots & pans
  • utility drawer
  • service pieces (platters, trays, bowls, etc)
  • cutting boards
We just want the put-away process to be easy and quick.  Grouping like items together and taking them all at once means you're saving valuable time that could be used to organize other areas.

9) Add Labels for At-a-Glance Organization
You may have put away the clutter, but make sure those newly placed items are easy to find too! Adding labels to your bins and baskets will make it easy to access what's inside.

10) Relocate Items from Other Areas
Once everything is put away, now is the perfect time to locate out-of-place items in other parts of your home or office to add back in to your newly organized spaces! Once things have a place, you'll begin to noticed that the order will grow.

Today's Challenge...


For today's challenge I'd like for you to declutter just one space in your home, preferably something small.  Try a drawer or maybe a closet for your first attempt.  Use the 10 steps above to walk you through the process and be kind to yourself as you go along.

Tools for the Journey...


We love sharing freebies and have some great printables to help with the challenge for today...
 photo KeepDonateTrashMaybeLabels.jpg
Step 3 mentioned creating four sorting piles - KEEP, DONATE, TRASH and MAYBE.  We've created a set of 4 in the 8.5 x 11 size that are perfect for larger bins. You can download the labels seen above HERE.

 photo Smalllabels.jpg
Step 9 suggested labeling your containers for easy at-a-glance organizing.  We've made a set of 10 small labels in the size 3 x 1.5 that can be used for just about anything! You can download the small labels (seen above) HERE.
 photo 10SimpleStepstoDeclutterChart.jpg
We've also included our "10 Steps to Declutter" chart above that can be downloaded HERE for a quick reference on your decluttering journey.

Come back tomorrow for our 31 Days of Simple Living series as we continue to simplify our lives by tackling the distraction of clutter.

Join Our Pinterest Group Board to Share Your Progress...


Don't forget to visit our group board specifically created for our 31 Days of Simple Living series. Each day I'll be pinning our posts along with other pins that relate to the daily challenge.

If you'd like to pin your progress or helpful posts related to the daily focus, email me and I'll be happy to add you to the group. The neat thing about this new board is that it can provide a continual supply of encouragement even after the 31 Days is over.

Don't miss a single post by subscribing to our RSS Feed or enter your email below to automatically receive posts in your inbox. You can also share your progress or questions below in the comments section and feel free to join us on Facebook and #31SimpleDays on Twitter.

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In Gratitude,

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