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OKMH: The Secret Santa Project

The OKMH Gang (clockwise from top left) - Mads, Kirsten, Megan, Kat, Allison & me

The OKMH Gang (clockwise from top left) – Mads, Kirsten, Megan, Kat, Allison & me

As 2012 draws to a close (that seems so unreal) so does our first year of One Kitchen Many Hearts boxes. This little ‘boxes of love’ project has been one of the greatest joys of the year for me. Not necessarily for what I received, but for how much fun I had hand-picking items to send to each beloved friend. I anxiously waited, every other month, to see how those gifts would be received. And when a box of love was a success, it made the whole world seem brighter.

For December, our final exchange of 2012, we decided to draw names Secret Santa style and surprise each other. No teasers. No hints. No “wait until you see what I’m sending you” tweets. Until that box showed up on each porch, there would be no clue as to who was sending to whom. My Secret Santa was Kirsten (my twin separated at birth) from Comfortably Domestic in Michigan. And true to her ‘kindred spirit’ form, she totally nailed it.

Perfect theme. Perfect choices. And SO…. MUCH…. LOOT!

OKMH Dec - A Sleigh full of Gifts

Check out this card. Clearly, she’s on board with my exercise regime.

OKMH Dec - Front of Card

OKMH Dec - Inside the Card

Yup. She gets me. She knows that I pine (whine) over her glorious abundance of snow while we languish in shorts and sip iced drinks well into January. I covet her snow. So she sent me a Winter Wonderland in a box, and it was perfect. Perfect timing, perfect selections… just perfect in every way.

My first squeal came when I discovered the tub of Mayan Hot Cocoa Mix. She posted this recipe on her blog and I swooned, but then she sent me some! AND she even sent a fabulous snowflake mug and a tub of miniature freeze-dried marshmallows. How fun is that? They’re so tiny & cute!

OKMH Dec - Cocoa Marshmallow & A Cup

So of course I immediately made a cup so I could enjoy it while I unpacked the rest of the box. Evidently, I am all about instant gratification when it comes to hot cocoa. Kirsten’s is even more decadent because it has a hint of cayenne pepper in it. Not enough so that you taste it, but just enough that you feel a slight burn in the back of your throat. I love that sweet little burn.

OKMH Dec - First Cup of Cocoa

SO. GOOD. If that wasn’t enough, she included these cute ‘cup’ cookie cutters.

OKMH Dec - Cup Cookie Cutters

I haven’t made cookies with them yet, but I’m going to. Soon. Until I get around to it, here’s a suggestion of how they would work. Just imagine it’s a chocolate almond shortbread cookie. Or a cranberry orange sugar cookie.

OKMH Dec - Cup Cookie Cutter

Get a load of the Winter Wonderland goodies she sourced for this baking kit:

OKMH Dec - Holiday Baking Bonanza

It’s a virtual baking blizzard up in here! That snowflake spatula is sturdy, man! Even the stiffest cookie or bread doughs will be conquered with that beast. I love it! And a girl can never, ever have too many cupcake wrappers. There’s just no such thing as ‘enough’ cupcake wrappers.

OKMH Dec - Snowflake Baking Cups

And there were sprinkles. Snowflake Sprinkles, y’all!

OKMH Dec - Snowflake Sprinkles

This snowflake cookie cutter is sturdy, too. This ain’t no flimsy aluminum cookie cutter, my friends. This cutter says ‘I could do this all day.’ It laughs at flimsy cookie cutters. At nearly 4″ across, if this made actual snowflakes, they could kill on impact. Can you just imagine giant buttery snowflakes falling from the sky? I can, and I’m catching them in my mug of hot cocoa.

OKMH Dec - Snowflake Cutter & Spatula

One cookie, and you’d be stuffed to the gills. I would pretend to be a dainty eater. You’d be all like, “Can I offer you another holiday treat?” And I’d be all like, “No thanks; I just ate a snowflake. I couldn’t eat another bite!”

But I saved the best baking surprise for last. It’s this little unassuming bottle:

OKMH Dec - Nectar of the Gods

It’s unicorn tears. I’m just kidding. It’s actually fiori di sicilia and it’s a baker’s secret weapon. A blend of citrus & vanilla, it brightens everything from ice cream to cookies to bread dough. I cannot WAIT to crack that puppy open! I just have to find the perfect recipe. Something truly worthy. Suggestions?

Also included in the box – two sweet winter-themed hand towels (who doesn’t love a penguin, seriously) and a snowflake ornament. Ah-door-ah-bull.

OKMH Dec - Cute Ornament & Towels

But wait, there’s more! No OKMH box is complete without something girlie and Kirsten went for mani/pedi fun. As a south coaster, Kirsten knows I’m a slave to humidity. When winter comes and the heaters click on, I begin to shrivel like a lizard. There’s nothing pretty about it, either. So for my dry lizard skin, there is Carmex healing cream. As soon as I put it on, my skin said, “Ahhhhhhhhh.” And there was polish! I love these two sparkly, frosty colors together. So pretty!

OKMH Dec - Hand Care

And for those days when sweet & frosty won’t cut it, she included this wild OPI set as a tribute to my Day of the Dead Mask post from October. So much fun, and they even came with little DOTD stickers for your nails, too!

OKMH Dec - DOTD Nail Polish

These are going in my Tub-O-Polish for girlie nail painting parties like Hoegarden. Or when I want to spice up my toes (even though no one will see them this winter). It’s like wearing racy underwear under a boring business suit. Hypothetically speaking, of course. {giggling}

Always a mom at heart, she included these reuseable snack bags for the grandkids – Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug. They’re going to love them. I’ve already stuffed them with snacks and juice boxes. No kidding.

OKMH Dec - Reusable Snack Bags

I love that these are washable, and the kids are going to love the cute prints. Lilly Bug is all girl with a pink fetish and Jonah Bear is all about the super heroes. Thanks for thinking of them, Kirsten. So thoughtful.

But I saved my very favorite surprise for last.

Did I mention Kirsten is a knitter? I wish I knew how to knit. We made a deal recently. She’ll teach me to knit if I’ll teach her to sew. We just need a few weeks together. That’s all. Or maybe a month. A month would be much better.

Lucky for me, Kirsten is a gifted knitter and she made something special just for me in the most beautiful shade of blue. Seriously, I died.

OKMH Dec - Hand-Knitted Gloves

Fingerless Victorian-inspired gloves. Fingerless because she knows it never gets cold enough down here to wear a heavy coat. Victorian because we share a love of antiques. Some day we will wear gloves and sip chai tea together as we browse antique shops. It’s a dream of ours, and one I’m determined WILL come true. Some day. Until then, check out the details on these beauties:

OKMH Dec - Glove Details

Not just ruffles, but ruffles with contrasting trim in black. And those buttons. They kill me. I don’t know how she did it. Well, actually there’s a story behind the gloves. If you look at the photo of the inside of the card again, you’ll see that little note on the top left corner about a funny story. It turns out that Kirsten crafted these gloves while they were traveling by car for Thanksgiving. She was so excited to get them done on the drive, she showed them to her husband, who commented “Did you mean to knit two left-handed gloves?” To her surprise, she’d accidentally made two lefts. She had to rip one apart and re-knit it into a right handed glove. She calls that a funny story. I would have cried.

OKMH Dec - gloves & a heart

Those gloves are a symbol of how nothing gets in the way of our devotion to make each box as perfect as possible. I can’t speak for all the ladies, but I believe the preparation and care and love that goes into crafting each OKMH box is the best part of this project. Well, that and hearing how much each box meant to those who received them. And although 2012 is almost behind us, I have a feeling One Kitchen Many Hearts will continue for years to come.

I’m sending a big bear hug to Kirsten, along with a very special thanks for my Winter Wonderland extravaganza. I could not imagine a better holiday surprise. As Kirsten so eloquently puts it, I love these ladies more than cake. And if you’d like to see what everyone else received, drop in on them at the links below. In case you’re curious, I sent my Secret Santa box to Mads. {squee!}

Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic

Megan at Country Cleaver

Kat at Tenaciously Yours

Allison at Decadent Philistines Save the World

Mads at La Petite Pancake

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One Kitchen Many Hearts – October

Oh sweet glorious gift exchanges, it’s that time again. The time when our little circle of blogging buddies send care packages to each other; just because.

The OKMH Gang (top, left to right) – Mads, Kirsten & Megan (bottom, left to right) me, Allison & Kat

And while we know who’s sending each box, we never quite know what to expect. For that reason, each exchange is like a little bit of Christmas all year round. This month my box came from Kat of Tenaciously Yours in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area of Minnesota. Check out all the fabulousness, including every non-perishable thing needed to make Cafe Latte’s Famous Turtle Cake. You heard me – gooey, fudgy caramel-coated Turtle Cake. {sigh; where are my fat pants?}

Dessert in a Box & all the pretties to serve it with


See that cute tea towel? If I’m not mistaken, Kat’s sweet mother has been hand-stitching these one-of-a-kind towels for all of Kat’s OKMH boxes this year. How sweet is that? Mine has purple plums framed in a cheerful yellow border. Absolutely lovely. And get a load of that silver server. I have an old dainty one that I have to use with caution. This one is fancy AND sturdy. I’m talking ‘lift a turkey from the roaster’ sturdy. I think that cut-out at the end may even double as a beer bottle opener. How’s that for an all-purpose kitchen tool?

A vintage cake server & a handmade tea towel

This next treasure really made my heart melt. I don’t even remember how it first came up, but Kat showed off this vintage 1940’s cookbook a few weeks ago and I immediately swooned. I have a deep abiding love for vintage cookbooks, as well as a long-standing love affair the JR Watkins brand. This book was like a long-lost star-crossed love at first sight thing for me. When I opened my box, I was stunned to find the book with its purple post-it note. Heart be still.

A vintage cookbook from 1946; heart be still

It’s a salad cookbook; copyright 1946. In case you’re wondering, yes there are ingredients listed that I don’t believe exist any more & yes, there’s a lot of mayonnaise throughout the book. But I’m not afraid of a little mayonnaise, and you should know by now that I always play around with recipes. So hello, 1946. Let me introduce you to a little thing called fat-free Greek yogurt. Booyah!

Salads from the 1940’s; how fun is that?

Another unexpected surprise: while flipping through the cookbook, this gem fell out. It’s a recipe from a magazine or newspaper circa the 1950’s, and it’s for Halloween Doughnuts. Just before Halloween, y’all! Talk about timing!

This bonus recipe was tucked inside. Perfect timing!

I’ll have to try those soon, but for now let’s get to the real meat of this OKMH Box – that Turtle Cake. Raise your hand if you want to help me eat this:

The star of the show – Cafe Latte’s Turtle Cake

What? Still not sure? What if I show it to you like this? All sliced up and ready to face-plant into? Does that help? Did I mention it’s all soft and gorgeous on the bottom, and all fudgy and caramel-coated on top? Now are you interested?

Yes, it is as rich and gooey as it looks.

Okay, I’ll put on a pot of coffee and wait for you. Who am I kidding?! This cake is GONE! G-O-N-E gone. Don’t despair, my lovelies. Kat included the link to the recipe on her blog and I’ll share it here, too. Just click here for the recipe. Note: the recipe calls for this to be baked in three 9″ round pans. I baked it in a 13″x9″ pan (baking time changes to 35 minutes, in case you’re taking notes).

Next month, in celebration of the holidays, we’re rocking OKMH “Secret Santa” style. Boxes will arrive in December with no advance notice of who will be shipping it. When I say “I can’t wait!” I mean it; I’ve already been crafting cute holiday things for my secret recipient. Until then, see what I sent to Allison by clicking here, and you can follow the chain from blog to blog to see what everyone else got, as well. Now… where did I hide that last piece of cake?

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One Kitchen Many Hearts – Round 2

Remember back in February when a group of my blogging friends and I started a box exchange program? Well, it’s that time again and I’m so excited to share what I got from my friend Madelyn of La Petite Pancake blog from the sunny state of California. The great thing about exchanging gift boxes with friends is that we all seem to get each other. There’s no awkward moment of ‘what should I send’ or ‘I wonder if she’ll like this?’ We’ve known each other for over a year now, and it’s starting to show. Perfect case in point:

A box of love from Madelyn in California

It’s a margarita and mojito party in a box. Yup. She totally gets me.

Spring = Cocktails. I like the way she thinks.

This arts & crafts disclaimer cracks me up.

We’ve been tossing around the idea of building a blogger compound with cute cabins for all our families, a huge kitchen, and a dining barn so we can all cook and eat together. Plans also include a fire pit for Peep S’mores, a full bar, activities for the kids, and perhaps a craft room; keeping in mind, of course, that we can’t all be Martha Stewart. We’re just waiting for one of us to hit it big on Power Ball. Remember ladies… you (we) can’t win if you (we) don’t play.

Mads really did think of everything.

Cocktail Book – check. Cute Napkins – check. Recipes – check. Citrus Reamer & Cocktail Stirrer – check. All I need to do now is grab a bottle of hooch from the pantry, and this party is ON! Wanna come over?

The perfect margarita? Only one way to find out!

Mads knows I’m a margarita girl. She also knows I love a challenge. Looks like I’ll need to mix up several glasses of “research” to test this recipe. It’ll be like America’s Test Kitchen – if they were all standing around the kitchen swilling hooch instead of scientifically disecting recipes for the perfect meatloaf. (Between us, Chris Kimball could use a cocktail. I’ll bet Julia Davison parties like a rock star. Anyone who loves bacon like that knows how to have fun.)

101 Mojitos. 365 days in a year. I'd better get busy.

Remember Cake Week? Cookie Week? Salad Week? Well, there’s chatter going around that we might need to host a Cocktail Week, so this book is sure to come in handy. So much research, so little time. As I said, I love a challenge!

So there you have it – another great gift box from our One Kitchen Many Hearts project. Thank you, Madelyn! Thanks for the box of awesome. Thanks for contributing to the delinquency of a grandmother. And thank you most of all for being my friend.

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Now, to see what I shipped to Seattle for Megan of Wanna Be A Country Cleaver, click on the link.

To see what others in our blogging circle received, check out:
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic
Kat at Tenaciously Yours
Madelyn at La Petite Pancake
Allison at Decadent Philistines Save the World

One Kitchen Many Hearts - (top) Madelyn, Kirsten & Megan; (bottom) Jeanne, Allison & Kat

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“One Kitchen, Many Hearts”

That theme keeps recurring in my circle of blogging friends. We continually share recipes, swap family and personal stories, and most of all keep each other in stitches. When we’re not blogging, we’re usually chatting on Twitter or sharing recent finds on Pinterest. We’ve even joked about building a blogger commune with one giant kitchen so we can do this on a permanent basis (once one of us wins the lottery & all of our spouses or soon-to-be-spouses agree). Although we are literally spread out across the U.S., we are bound by our mutual love of blogging, food & family. “One Kitchen, Many Hearts” has not only become our mantra, it aptly conveys how much we’ve grown to care about one another.

Top: Mads, Kirsten & Megan; Bottom: Jeanne, Allison & Kat

Like any great group of gal pals, we love to make each other laugh. We not only support each other through thick and thin, we cheer each other on. And since some of us occasionally take it one step further and mail packages to each other, we thought it would be fun to start a gift box exchange program with a focus on sharing some of our favorite things, regional cuisines, and anything else that might tickle our fancy. Armed only with a list of food allergies and strong dislikes, our boxes are “sender’s choice” and open to just about anything that can safely be shipped (which obviously rules out kittens and cheese curds). Our goal is to ship & receive all boxes during the same week and then reveal what we all got on the same day. If this first round of boxes is any indication, this is going to be fun. I mean, who doesn’t love getting surprise packages in the mail?

This month was our first “One Kitchen, Many Hearts” box exchange, and today we’ll all be sharing what we received in a blog post on each of our blogs (links below). My first gift box came from Allison from Decadent Philistines Save the World in Arizona. Here’s what she sent:

Direct from Arizona - Cactus Candy & local chili infused olive oil

Now, some of you may be thinking “Cactus candy?” but not me. I actually love the flavor of prickly pear cactus fruit. Maybe it’s a southwest thing, but it’s not totally unique to me. In fact, the best restaurant margarita I ever had was a frozen lime concoction with a thick, sweet prickly pear cactus fruit syrup swirled into it. Have mercy, it was delicious. So when I saw the candy, and given my recent love affair with Turkish Delight, I was thrilled. Prickly pear cactus fruit tastes a little like pomegranate mixed with strawberries, and the texture of these candies is like my childhood favorite orange slice candies. They’re like soft jelly gummies coated in crunchy granulated sugar, and they are lovely.

The bottle of olive oil was fate. On the very day I received my box from Allison, The Complete Package and I had a conversation about infused olive oils. Flavors we like, types we would like to try, and the basil & garlic infused oil our son-in-law had just made the previous night for eggplant and chicken parmesan. Which, by the way, was fabulous. When I opened the box from Allison and found the chili pepper infused oil, it just seemed like kismet. Somewhere, the infused oil gods were smiling on us. Now my mind is racing with all of the ways I could use it – brushed onto grilled meats, drizzled over a pizza, in salad dressings, mixed with herbs and dipped with bread. The list is literally endless.

Special thanks to Allison (and to Her Royal Highness, Allison’s young daughter) for selecting the perfect items to share with this Texas gal. I will enjoy them thoroughly and think of you fondly as I do. ¡Muchas gracias!

To see what everyone else received, click on these links:
Kat at Tenaciously Yours (recipient of my box)
Mads at Le Petite Pancake
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic
Megan at Wanna Be a Country Cleaver
Allison at Decadent Philistines Save the World

NOTE: Tomorrow I’ll be sharing information on the Foodie PenPal program that inspired this inner circle box exchange. It’s a much larger project with over 200 participants, and it inspired our smaller version with my blogging buddies. Think you might be interested in joining? Tune in tomorrow to learn more!

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