The Only Wine Cake Recipe You’ll Ever Need!

Grandma Georgia was a creative and talented cook, but baking was her first love in the kitchen. She knew how to perfect recipes and when to keep things simple. Here is my grandmother’s great wine cake recipe.

Update: Originally, I used this recipe at Christmastime. I’m now baking this wine cake in the summertime as well. For the warmer months, I skip the nutmeg and top with fresh berries.

Wine Cake (Yellow Bundt Cake)

Ingredients:
1 package moist yellow cake mix
1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
¾ cup cooking oil (if you prefer butter, use 1 cup + 1 tbsp. room temperature butter)
¾ cup white wine (the alcohol burns off in the oven) or substitute with Sherry cooking wine
4 eggs
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg + a dash of cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients with mixer on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes
  2. Pour mixture into a well-buttered angel food / Bundt cake pan
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes (Check with a toothpick)
  4. Let it cool, remove cake and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar

TIP:  To make it a gift, place the Bundt cake on a sturdy Christmassy plate and wrap with clear or color cellophane. Secure at the top with a ribbon.

I miss the way Grandma Georgia brought our kitchen to life when she visited my childhood home for the holidays – more of her recipes to follow!

http://sprightlyspruce.com/chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe/

 

12 Safe-Yet-Thoughtful Christmas Gift Ideas Under $35!

Christmas is a time of giving, and a thoughtful Christmas gift expresses this very spirit! However, when it comes to a new dating relationship, neighbors, coworkers, or Secret Santa gift exchanges, finding the right gift can be a challenge.

I’ve certainly been there, so I wanted to create a list for anyone finding themselves in this little predicament. The key is safe, yet thoughtful. No need for an awkward moment!

I found 12 fun & fitting Christmas gift ideas between $10 to $35 that are “safe” yet “thoughtful.”

Note: No affiliate links are on this post; these are examples that I just thought would make really good gifts!

1. Personalized Wooden Spoon Sets

Kitchen spoon sets are a cute gift for someone that spends time in the kitchen, cooking. Check out these personalized wooden spoons on Etsy for ideas. (Tip: Give Etsy 2-3 weeks to deliver.)  Wooden Spoons.

2. Spa Gift Set

A unique or non-generic spa gift set. Here’s an example of a simple, yet elegant spa gift from Pinterest called the “Holiday Pamper Box.”

3. Smart Phone & Apple Watch Docking Station

An iPhone or Apple watch docking station could be a perfect Christmas present for someone that’s into their tech gadgets.

I saw this example for under $30 on Pinterest: Docking Station. Or, check out this one on Etsy, for less than $20: Another Docking Station.

4. Candle

Yes, a candle. But, not just any candle. Make it a good one. Look at these candles for ideas on how sweet such a gift can be.

On Etsy: Christmas Candles , On Etsy: Candle Set. (Remember to give orders on Etsy a good 2-3 weeks for delivery.)

5. Journal

For someone into writing or recording their goals, a journal is a cool gift. Here’s an example of a classic, timeless Journal.

I recommend writing a note or quote on the inside cover!

6. Live Potted Mini-Christmas Tree

An adorable mini-potted Christmas trees from 18″ to 30″ is perfect for the person that loves Christmas, but has limited space. I found this tree online as an example: Mini Christmas Tree

Tip: You can find a mini-tree under $20 by visiting your local nursery or grocery store. Be sure to dress it up with a ribbon around the base!

7. Wine

If you know your gift recipient’s favorite type of wine, you can find a brand that suits them.

For instance, Fit Vine has a holiday edition for health-conscious types. (My husband loves this brand and will go to great lengths to locate it.) Whatever the bottle, wrap it creatively, or try a fun holiday wine bottle sweater. I love the kraft paper wrapping on this wine gift: Click here for an example

8. Books

It’s hard to go wrong with a book on a topic your friend/coworker/date is interested in, or you could try something with inspirational quotes. Grab a coffee and browse the bookstore!

9. Stainless Steel Coffee Travel Mug

A travel mug is fitting for a serious coffee lover that takes their morning caffeine on the go while battling the rush hour commute!

Finding a coffee travel mug with their first initial or favorite motto is a nice touch: Something like this…

10. Beanies

This is a great winter gift for a hat lover. My husband gave me three very cute beanies for our first Christmas, and I thought it was great.

Check out Urban Outfitters, Beyond Beanie USA, REI, Amazon, or any favorite store.

11. Cozy throw

A cozy throw or blanket is suitable for just about anyone!

For a little inspiration, check out this cute gift: Cute Throw Blanket.

12. Belgian Waffle Maker

Last December, this was our favorite surprise gift.

Include Christmassy waffle mix – think gingerbread, chocolate peppermint, or cinnamon.

Hope this helps! Happy Gift Giving!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Fluffy Yet Chewy!

Chocolate chips cookies are a must-have for the holidays.

Why? Because they just taste so good. Not to mention being as close to universally liked as a cookie can get!

In the spirit of finding a chocolate chip cookie loved ones could fully agree on, I set out to find the right balance of texture + taste. My husband loves fluffy-textured chocolate chips cookies, while my baking friend prefers chewy. Personally, I like the puffier chocolate chip cookies, but with the sweetness of chewy.

Bottom line: after trying out, and fine-tuning different recipes, I created my happy medium cookies in both texture and taste.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup butter (room temperature) TIP – Do NOT heat or melt the butter

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 package vanilla instant pudding (I used JELL-O Instant Vanilla pudding)

2 eggs

1 package (or 2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

OPTIONAL: For chocolatier cookies: hand chop an 8 oz. Chocolate bar with a knife, in place of the chocolate chips *I got this tip from The Food Lab blog.

OPTIONAL: Sprinkle a little sea salt onto the cookies once they are complete, and push the salt in a little.

(I plan to try out these two options on my next batch!)

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugars, vanilla pudding mix, and vanilla extract. Beat until it has a creamy texture. Gradually beat in the eggs. Gradually add the salt, baking soda, and flour. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Then, CHILL DOUGH IN THE REFRIGERATOR FOR ONE HOUR.

Remove the dough from the fridge. Drop dough in slightly clumpy tablespoon amounts for each cookie – about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, or until slightly brown on the edges.

Cool cookies slightly and then remove the cookies from the cookie sheet. AFTER EACH BATCH, RUN THE COOKIE SHEET UNDER COLD WATER & DRY before placing the next batch of dough on it.

Milk & Cookies

This was the recipe I felt worked best. My cookie taster said “Wow. These cookies are REALLY good.” I agreed, and enjoyed a couple myself, with some A2 milk. Good stuff.

Happy Baking!

Photo credits: Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

 

 

Christmas Crossword Puzzle!

Visit this link to PRINT a Christmas Crossword Puzzle with 34 words:

Christmas Crossword

You can click on the “show answers” button for an answer key, or contact me if you want to check an answer!

Here’s a list of the clues (with added details) you will see…

ACROSS

2. Sugarplum
7. Brand of eggnog
8. Abomin____ snowman
10. Ice crystals falling through the atmosphere
11. European city/empire of Christmas origin
13. String for a Christmas tree
15. Reindeer
17. Christmas trees
18. Scrooge’s former business partner
20. A bishop known for helping others who became a Saint
22. Guides lost sheep
23. Nylon foot and leg wear
25. Ninth reindeer
27. A type of sled
29. Days of Christmas
30. Fast reindeer
31. Modern Christmas tree country of origin

DOWN

1. “A loving heart is the truest wisdom” – A Christmas Carol
3. Affirmative
4. Original Christmas feast bird in England
5. A type of wood
6. Reindeer
7. Holiday movies and greeting card company
8. Northern lights
9. A December flower
12. Holiday bread
14. Italian sweet bread loaf
16. Inhabits middle-earth and the north pole
19. A jolly happy soul
21. Flightless bird
24. Thin shiny Christmas tree decorating strips
25. A Christmas Color
26. A green plant with prickly edges and red berries
28. Trust in

9 Wedding Planning Tips From A December Bride!

My fiancé (now husband) and I chose a December wedding after much consideration, and we are so glad we did. At the end of it all, we received wonderful compliments from our wedding guests. I look back on our wedding as a cross between our celebration and an elegant holiday party.

holiday-wedding-champagne-toast

Our Wedding Toast

During our wedding planning, we followed the typical fall-and-winter wedding considerations, such as opting for one venue to keep travel easier in case of poor weather conditions, an earlier schedule for photos, bringing in extra heaters, etc.

Nonetheless, this post is December-specific. I believe this wedding month has its own set of rules!

I write this post on the chance that even one of these tips or lessons learned could help a December Bride-to-Be or couple that might be considering a December wedding.

december-wedding-ceremony-photos

We married at a historic mansion and vineyard

1.  Sending Save-the-Dates in the Summer Helped with the RSVP’s

December meant being OK with the possibility of increased wedding invitation regrets. But, as surprised as some people were with our date, we had a 73% acceptance rate.

Still, none of my east coast relatives attended the wedding. I completely understood as the holidays are hectic, and travel can be rough. Not to mention for those with children, Christmastime takes on a whole new level of busy!

For those who could attend, we had a somewhat rustic, garden-like wedding with holiday touches. 

winter-wedding-centerpieces-favors

Our centerpieces and wedding favors

2.   We Had to be OK with A Wedding Anniversary That’s One Week Before Christmas! 

We now have birthday celebrations, holiday guests, our wedding anniversary, Christmas, and New Years all in December. 

3.    December is the Darkest Month of the Year, So Evening Wedding Photos Start Early 

Photography helped us determine our wedding start time. With an earlier sunset, we set our ceremony for 4:00 pm. Photos began at 2:00 pm.

One great thing about the pre-ceremony photo session was getting to enjoy part of the cocktail hour after saying our I-do’s! The slight downside was seeing each other before I walked down the aisle. Our photographer did a beautiful, private “first look” photo for us.

beautiful-December-wedding

Our December Wedding Day

6.    Beautiful In-Season Flowers

December’s floral selection was perfect.

I selected a variety of red roses, white spray roses, burgundy and white dahlias, seeded eucalyptus, ivory and red hypericum berry, holly, white stock, green hanging Amaranthus, branches, sprayed gold leaves and pinecones. 

However, there was a catch.

Our wedding colors were reds, ivory and winter white. All shades of red and white are in high demand in the holiday season, so these flowers cost a bit more.

But as mentioned, we used a lot of winter foliage that helped keep the florals well within budget and matched the December mood.

December-bridal-bouquets-red-white

Our Bridal and Bridesmaid Bouquets

6.  December is Fun for Wedding Favors, but Pinterest Got Overwhelming!

I spent a lot of time on Pinterest. I noticed some December weddings fully embraced a holiday theme, while others had nothing to do with the holidays – it all looked beautiful.

From the start, I was set on cozy throws as wedding favors.

To give it a December feel, I made blankets by measuring, cutting, rolling up, and tying quality fleece material, using three complementary patterns – one solid burgundy and two different red plaid designs – one was Christmassy, the other was wintery.

 

wedding-blankets-favors

Our Cozy Wedding Favors

Friends and family tell us they still use the blankets!

All of the wedding favors turned out well. Yet in retrospect, I wish I had been clear on our wedding colors and theme before looking at Pinterest! With so many inspirational photos, it was easy to get side tracked.

6.   The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree at our reception gets its own mention because it turned out to be a fun photo opportunity for everyone. Some weddings have photo booths, we had a gorgeous Christmas tree photo prop!

Our photographer suggested we also do the cake cutting in front of the tree.

December-wedding-cake

Our Wedding Cake with Winter Florals

7.    Researching Each Venue’s December Holiday Décor was Important

The Christmas décor was so crucial that it ended up being the tiebreaker between our Top-2 venue choices. After all, it would be a part of our wedding theme.

All the venues we were considering informed us they set-up holiday decorations, which we loved. Photos and social media searches helped us understand their vision and style.

I was so pleased with our ultimate wedding venue’s elegant holiday décor of white string lights and red poinsettias (this also saved on flowers!) that we booked the place.

8.    Holiday Parties Meant We Still Had to Book Our Rehearsal Dinner & Lodging ASAP

It may have been the off-season for weddings, but it was the ON-season for Christmas parties!

Our favorite restaurants were booked entirely with holiday celebrations, so we changed our Friday rehearsal dinner to the late afternoon to get a good reservation. Hotels were taking early bookings for big company holiday parties, so we reserved our room block eight months in advance.

9.    We Kept it Simple with Nay-Sayers

When asked about our wedding date, a couple people actually corrected me with “You mean September? My reply was simply “No, December!” Smile.

My fiancé and I decided December was fortuitous as the holidays had significance in our relationship. Not to mention it is a beautiful time of year and weddings are a special occasion.

We loved having a December wedding.

PHOTOS: Lori Rittinger Photography 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Fun Pre-Autumn Projects for Fall 2018

Mid-to-late summer is when I start getting ready for the Fall season. I’ve found the more I prepare ahead of time, the more money I save when the holidays arrive. Not to mention the easier it is to relax and enjoy the spirit of the season. My “pre-autumn” preparation to-do list includes fun projects and some light organization. Enjoy!

Getting a Head Start on Fun Fall Projects & Décor

  1. Save any pretty jars for candle making or illuminating with mini string lights
  2. Practice perfecting a recipe for holiday gifts or gatherings
  3. Have fun trying out homemade pumpkin spice or cinnamon latte recipes
  4. Start adding Fall accessories to your wardrobe, so you’re ready when Fall arrives
  5. Visit arts & crafts stores for first “dibs” on seasonal décor
  6. Give thought to Halloween Costumes to avoid the last minute rush
  7. Collect pine cones and branches for natural, seasonal décor
  8. Find festive “Save the Date” cards for any gatherings you plan to host

Photo: Shutterstock

Getting Organized for the Fall

  1. Put any spare change in a jar, every day, to start a holiday fund – coins add up!
  2. Hang stored blankets and winter jackets in the sun to re-freshen them
  3. Buy tickets to a football game or haunted mansion tour once they go on sale!
  4. Consider an organizer or big calendar dedicated to the BUSY “BER” months
  5. Print out schedules for favorite sports teams and TV shows
  6. Organize closets to make room for coats, rain gear, and Christmas presents!
  7. Declutter shelves to make room for holiday gift wrapping and décor

I plan to keep organizing, decluttering and seizing bargains during these more relaxed summer days so I can “breathe” a bit more when the busy season arrives.

Important Mention

While this post is focused on the happy part of the pre-season preparation, home maintenance and safety are extremely important, so I’m setting reminders to check our vehicle tires and windshield wiper blades, smoke detectors, air filters, and rain gutters before the blustery season hits.

For a comprehensive home & safety list, check out this Fall Checklist.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, but do get excited about the fall season!

 

 

 

Older Dogs Are Just As Amazing

My dog was a three-year-old stray when I adopted him from a shelter. It is hard to believe he will soon be eleven. Cooper will always be a puppy to me, and forever have a piece of my heart. Taking a chance on a shelter dog was well worth it. My pup is now showing me the many ways older dogs are just as amazing as their younger counterparts.

Finding the right shelter dog to adopt

Nearly eight years ago, I was perusing animal shelters in search of a furry friend. I had no interest in taking on a pooch over four years of age, and four was pushing it for me. Being into the hiking trails, I wanted an active, young adult dog. Not to mention I wanted plenty of years with the first dog I would own by myself.

Yet, during my search, I noticed the many senior dogs at the SPCA that touched my heart.

I recall looking into the soulful eyes of a sweet chocolate lab who so desperately wanted out of his kennel, and an older yet spunky dog named “Trixie” because she knew so many tricks. I will never forget the cutest seven-year-old dog with her foster human. The man said she was utterly heartbroken her family had decided she no longer fit their lifestyle.

There is no doubt, I passed by real gems that day. I left that animal shelter wishing I had significant land to adopt a dozen beautiful dogs, of all ages. Two months later, I found Cooper at the local animal control. He had come in as a non-neutered male stray without any tags and a lot of foxtails.

A Rough First Night

After adopting this handsome spaniel, we had a long drive home in the dark November rush hour. Cooper laid down, quiet as can be, in the back of my SUV with his post-surgical cone around his neck. Only when we got home did I realize his cone was too big and seemed to add to his post-neutering discomfort.

I took my new family member to Pet Food Express only to see it was closed. Luckily, the employees saw Cooper through the glass door and took pity on us. A kind young woman let us inside. It took three of us to get a correctly fitting cone on Cooper. Fortunately, one of the employees grew up on a ranch, and knew how to wrestle calves – that is how much Cooper fought us, it took “a professional!”

Figuring Out a Stray’s Background

My new dog was in a strange, new environment with a new owner. To add to our rocky evening, I discovered Cooper was crate-phobic. Putting treats and a toy in his crate with a soft blanket made no difference. When I gently scooted him in, his paw got twisted. He gave me a look and growled. Not a good start. I was a new dog owner, and I was failing.

Eventually, Cooper fell asleep…in my bed! The next morning, “Cooper the Trooper” was in a playful mood. We went for a walk, met my friends’ German Shepherd, and had play time. We soon started training. Learning basic commands was easy for this treat-incentivised guy.

My Shelter Dog Rescued Me

I received something far more significant than a hiking companion. In fact, the trails were the least of it. I gained a loyal and loving friend. It was a truly challenging time in my life. While I may have technically rescued Cooper, I believe it was Cooper who saved me.

Without realizing it, much of my stress and insomnia I bad been experiencing had waned. This four-legged family member needed my free time, attention and care. My dog got me outside of myself.

Good Years Together

We’ve had good years, including Cooper gradually accepting my now husband as a “pack member.” A good test for any suitor!

My pup’s adorable red freckles on his nose are starting to fade. Our brisk walks have become leisurely strolls. He gets a bit grumpy at times. But, when he sees a squirrel, I am reminded there is still a puppy inside of him.

What has remained true is his big heart, cuddles, smiles and tail wags, loyalty, protective instinct, and pure joyfulness over the simple things in life – rolling around in the grass, literally stopping to smell the roses, enjoying a breeze, and snuggling in between his people for movie night.

The Lesson

This pup taught me shelter dogs are diamonds, and how gratifying an older dog can be; they are indeed as capable of love, loyalty, safeguarding, and affection as any younger dog. Plus, we are all getting older!

Cooper likes being an only dog (He gets jealous, which my husband knows better than anyone.) But perhaps when we have a bigger home, we will make room for a senior dog. So long as Cooper keeps his place next to me at the foot of our bed, I think he will be OK!

 

 

Photo 1: Dreamstime 

Photo 2: SprightlySpruce.com iPhone

Shop Christmas in July & Buy Made in America

What’s so great about Christmas in July? Well, for me, checking off holiday shopping during the relaxed summer month equates to more time for enjoying the actual holiday season when it arrives! Plus, I like bargains. I have a goal for Christmas 2018: Shop Christmas in July for great holiday gifts and décor that are Made in America.

I’ve put together a retailer LIST (below) for Christmas in July + Made in the USA that I plan to either shop or add to my wish list.

But first…

The Purpose

1. Support businesses and workers right here in the U.S. where products tend to have excellent craftmanship, adhere to environmental standards, and regulate fairer wages and safer working conditions.

2. Contribute to a healthy economy

3. Made in the USA product labels can be tricky, so we need to do our research!

Almost 8 in 10 American consumers say they would rather buy an American-made product than an imported one, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey. And more than 60 percent say they’re even willing to pay 10 percent more for it. For some, the decision might stem from a belief in American quality and safety. Others might think it’s the best way to support the American economy and workers. But in our increasingly complex global economy, how much meaning does a label stating “Made in America” still hold? – Consumer Reports Special Report, 2015

The Criteria

1. Retailers that sell truly American Made products

2. Businesses participating in Christmas in July or at least having some sort of sale this July 2018

The Plan

1. Watch the Hallmark Channel’s “Christmas Keepsake Week” July 13th – 28th while I shop! It wouldn’t be as fun to buy gifts without first setting the holiday mood.

2. 100% Made in the USA for my online shopping

Here are the retailers on my list:

GoRuck  (Gear and apparel) 

Fleabags (Women’s bags) 

Polar Max (Winter gear)

K’Nex (Toys!) 

TheRusticCountryHome (Custom painted signs and Christmas home décor on Etsy) 

Fox River (Support our military: great socks and original sock monkey) 

J.W. Hulme Co. (Clothing, accessories, gifts) 

Maptote (Accessories, totes, travel) 

Ebbets Field Flannels (For the retro sports fan) 

Stetson (Clothing) 

Yankee Candles  (The big candle company!)

A couple more companies that might not be having a July sale, but I just think they’re so cool.

Liberty Bottles (Beautiful, quality water bottles made with recycled materials)

The Vermont Teddy Bear Co.  (Adorably creative Teddy Bears)

Between these stores, I should be able to meet my goal. Of course, there will be times when an overseas manufacturer may better suit my needs. Yet my hope for this Christmas in July is to expand my favorite brands to include Made in the USA!