Vacation shopping!

I did plenty of shopping while I was on vacation, some of it for myself and some of it for other members of my family.

I already talked about the books that I bought in a previous post (you can see that here if you haven’t already), but I also bought a couple other random items. I got a really cute metal bracelet with a cat charm on it (shown below), and a little pig statue for my husband (this might seem strange, but it’s a little joke between him and me).

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As far as clothing goes, I got some new leggings and sweaters. I’m pretty excited about these, since as far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many of either of these. I even got a pair of leggings with a blue/purple space pattern (even though the picture looks mostly purple), which are pretty much the best thing ever. They’re really soft too.

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I also got two pairs of shoes. One is a pair of black ankle boots. I currently have a pair of black boots, but I’ve been wearing them a lot since I bought them more than a year ago, and they’re pretty beat up. This is my new pair, pictured below, and I’m really happy with them (which is good, since I’m a bit picky about boots).

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(photo courtesy of DSW, although I bought them at Marshalls)

The other shoes I bought are a pair of slip-on vans, which I didn’t strictly need, but are really cool. I haven’t had a pair of vans since high school, and I forgot how comfortable they are. These are the ones that I bought, and the pattern just felt very appropriate for me (sorry it’s a little bit hard to see in this picture, but if you’re interested in seeing a better picture, click on the link below).

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(photo courtesy of Vans)

I don’t do a lot of clothes shopping on my own anymore, because I don’t have a lot of expendable income. But it’s always fun to go shopping on vacation. I especially like to go shopping with my mother when I see her. It also helps that she tends to buy me things, which I really appreciate. This year, I specifically asked for her to take me out clothes shopping as my Christmas present. But it’s mostly good just to spend time together, and we always have a good time.

What fun things did you do over the holidays? I’d love to hear what you did in the comments.

Alyss

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Christmas baking, part two

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For the second installment of my Christmas baking, I decided to make Nutella cookies, because who doesn’t have enough Nutella in their lives?

This is the recipe I used, courtesy of American Heritage Cooking. I found it on Pinterest, and decided to go with this one over a couple of other Nutella cookie variations.

This one was pretty easy, although this recipe does call for a few more ingredients than the shortbread from the first installment of my baking adventure. I did cut out the chocolate chips, because I’m not a fan of dark or semi-sweet chocolate, and I thought it would be a little much on top of the Nutella. But I’m sure they would be good either way, depending on your preferences.

The one thing I will say is that these cookies seem really easy to overcook. The writer of the post mentions to be careful of over-baking, so I was being careful to watch them, but I think I still managed to cook them just a little bit too long. They were still really good, but I prefer a softer cookie, so I will definitely be even more careful next time I make them.

But even if they were a little bit harder than I liked, they still tasted amazing, so I highly recommend them to anyone who’s a fan of Nutella. Which, let’s be honest, who isn’t a fan?

Happy baking!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of American Heritage Cooking)

Christmas baking, part one

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Although you could probably consider gingerbread and gingerbread cookies to be Christmas baking, they weren’t for anything specifically Christmas-y. So I’m going to consider this to be my first Christmas baking, since I’m baking for a Christmas Eve Eve party. I decided to bake two different kinds of cookies to bring to the party, and started today with shortbread cookies.

This is the recipe I use, so you can check it out if you’re interested.

I’ve used this recipe before, and it’s really simple and easy to do. There are literally only three ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. And you pretty much just mix them together, knead it a little bit, and then press the dough into a large cookie sheet and bake it. The cookies come out soft and crumbly and delicious every time.

While shortbread isn’t necessarily a traditional Christmas cookie (I’ve definitely made it other times of year), I’ve been making it at Christmas time for the past couple of years. So it’s become one of those cookies that I get a little bit excited for at this time of year.

So this was part one of my Christmas baking, and part two will come tomorrow when I bake another batch of cookies. I’m bringing a lot of cookies to this party.

Happy baking!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Taste of Home)

Shopping is hard…

So, I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to crowds and really busy places. This makes going to stores at busy times a little bit difficult, especially when I’m trying to get in and get out quickly and everyone around me seems to be moving extra slowly. I try to schedule my store trips for less busy times, but that doesn’t always work out.

Especially at this time of year. Anyone who shares this anxiety or something similar can imagine how I feel when I’m trying to shop during the holidays when everyone is shopping all of the time, no matter what time you go to the store. And it’s not even just stores that you’d expect people to be buying gifts from. It’s everywhere, including the grocery store. I’m sure people have started buying food for their Christmas parties and meals and baking already.

All of this makes it very hard to go shopping, both for Christmas things and regular grocery shopping. I had to go out on Sunday and again on Tuesday, to shop for groceries, gifts, and some last minute necessities before my husband and I go out of town this weekend. Sunday was worse, I think, because I had to go multiple places and everyone else was out shopping as well. It took me close to three hours to get everything that I needed, and afterward I felt like I needed to be alone and not see or speak to anyone for the rest of the evening. I was both physically and mentally drained.

Because of that, I wasn’t looking forward to going out again yesterday, but it was going to be my last real opportunity before the weekend (and I’m definitely not going the go out shopping on Christmas Eve). I don’t think it was quite as busy as Sunday, and I did only need to go to one place, so the overall experience wasn’t quite as terrible. But I was definitely glad to go home and be alone afterwards.

The only really difficult part of the outing was that I had to ask for help, which is something that really makes me anxious. I don’t think I could have avoided it even if I didn’t need help, because this store is the kind of place where the employees wait for you to come in and then practically beg to help you find what you’re looking for. But I really did need the help, so I’m torn, because I hate having to talk to employees in stores, but I don’t think I would have found what I was looking for otherwise.

Does anyone else feel like this? I’d love to know if there’s anything that helps you feel less anxious, especially when you can’t avoid being in that kind of situation. Please let me know in the comments!

Alyss

Baking with box mixes

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When I was younger, box mixes were my introduction into baking, and really got me into baking as a hobby. Since then, I’ve gotten more adventurous and have graduated to baking things from scratch. I think finding Pinterest also helped with this hobby, since I could find a recipe for pretty much anything that I ever wanted to bake. And recipes on Pinterest are usually from blogs, where the bakers/writers talk about the recipes they’re sharing and give helpful tips and tricks. There are also always pictures, sometimes step by step throughout the recipe. As much as I love cookbooks, they aren’t always the most instructive or helpful, and sometimes they don’t have any pictures at all. So with Pinterest, not only am I able to experiment and bake a variety of things, but I get the most out of the experiences and help of other bakers/bloggers.

(As I’m writing this, I realize that my baking blog posts are never as nice as others that I’ve found on Pinterest. Particularly, I usually only every have one picture. I’ll have to work on this in the future….)

But with that interlude and history of my baking experience out of the way, I want to talk about using box mixes. Particularly, using box mixes even though you are more than able to bake something from scratch. I always feel a little bit weird about using a box mix now, like I haven’t really done the required amount of work, and I can’t really take the credit for baking. As if just because I can bake something from scratch, I should no longer be able to use a box mix.

This begs the question of what the purpose of a box mix is. Is it an easy way for people to bake who haven’t baked before or aren’t skilled bakers? Or is it a quick and easy way to make something tasty for when you don’t have time to bake from scratch (because it sure does take so much longer than using a box mix)?

I’ll admit that a lot of box mixes don’t usually have quite the same quality as a recipe that you can bake from scratch, they’re still pretty good. In particular, I tried a gingerbread box mix from Trader Joe’s (pictured above and linked below, in case anyone is interested), and it turned out surprisingly well. Nice and spicy, and the cake was very moist, which can be hard to achieve even when you’re baking from scratch. And it was really helpful to have something quick and easy to make when I had a limited amount of time before going to hang out with some friends.

What do you think? Especially for any bakers out there, do you still use a box mix on occasion, or is it from scratch or nothing? Let me know in the comments.

Happy baking!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Trader Joe’s)

Gingerbread cookies


Lara’s tender gingersnaps recipe from Taste of Home

Gingerbread is one of my favorite winter flavors, and always makes it feel a little bit more like Christmas, in my opinion. So I’ve been meaning to bake some kind of gingerbread for a while now, and finally got around to it. I decided to go with gingerbread cookies and found the recipe linked above on Pinterest. I chose it mostly because I already had all of the ingredients on hand, but it ended up turning out really well.

These are definitely softer gingerbread cookies rather than the crunchier kind you might decorate, but I prefer that. So did everyone else who tried them. I brought some to work, and even received comments that these were the best gingerbread cookies that people had ever had. While that’s incredibly flattering, I think it might be more due to the over-abundance of dry and crunchy gingerbread cookies out there. But I’m still glad that everyone enjoyed them.

I should also add that the recipe calls for the mixed dough to be chilled for a couple of hours before baking, but I didn’t have time, so I didn’t chill it. I think they still came out very good. I never really know what the purpose of chilling cookie dough is, and as a rule I tend not to chill my dough. I’ve never had any cookies that have come out bad due to lack of chilled dough, but maybe I’m missing out on even better cookies. Please enlighten me, if anyone knows why some recipes call for chilled cookie dough, and if it really makes a difference.

Whether you want to wait that long for cookies or not (I never do), I definitely recommend trying out this recipe. It’s pretty quick and easy, and makes for some damn good gingerbread cookies.

Happy baking!

Alyss

(Photo courtesy of Taste of Home)

Blogmas?

If any of you watch as many youtube videos as I do, you may have heard of a thing called vlogmas, where youtubers vlog every day in December until Christmas. I really enjoy watching vlogs, so this time of year is great for me, because I get to watch a lot more vlogging than usual.

But I was thinking about it the other day, and I wondered if blogmas was also a thing that people do. I hadn’t heard of it, but after doing some research online, I found that there are people who do blogmas. There’s even a #blogmas on twitter, but of course there is, because what doesn’t have a hashtag on twitter these days?

I don’t know if this is something I’d actually do. Not because I’m not going to blog every day. I fully intend to blog every day. But more because I’m not a terribly festive person, so I don’t know that I would do anything Christmasy enough in this month leading up to the holiday that would qualify as blogmas. I know that not everyone who does vlogmas or blogmas can possibly do something Christmasy every day for twenty-five days, but to my understanding the general intent is that vlogmas/blogmas is supposed to be kind of festive. So I don’t think I could pull it off.

At least not every day. I did decide that I’m going to make gingerbread in the near future. Mostly just because I like and want to have gingerbread. But as of right now, that’s all of the festive holiday plans that I have until much later in the month. I’ll at least let you know how the gingerbread turns out.

If anyone knows of any blogs who do blogmas well, leave a link in the comments. I’d love to see them.

Alyss