Dec 31, 2014

2014 Year In Review! Thoughts, goals going forward, etc.

Jam Hands is focused pretty tightly on recipes but occasionally I like to move beyond my comfort zone and share a bit with you guys. I thought I would take that opportunity to do a little year in review to discuss the blog, my family, a few of my favorite things and my plans for 2015.

Happenings on the Blog:

This September marked my 10th year blogging anniversary. I also just hit 10 million views this December. Crazy! I am proud of my little blog and how far I have come.

There is a struggle that is very real when it comes to blogging. Is the time and money you put into your blog worth it? As a single mom, it is extremely important that this blog be a money generator and not a money sink. In that past, it was more of a money sink, but finally this year that has changed.

I am so grateful for that. It allows me to homeschool my kids and pay for anything they might need. That is a giant relief to me. Let me say thanks so much to everyone who visits this site! I still get really embarrassed when my family members introduce me to people and tell them I blog for a living. I'm not entirely sure why, I suppose I just feel silly and inadequate. I'm trying to be at peace with myself that even though I am a blogger, that doesn't mean that I don't work hard and put in a lot of hours for my "job."

On a fun note, my recipe for Amish Casserole made it into the top 100 recipes for the RecipeLion website for 2014. I get a ton of traffic whenever I am featured at RecipeLion and all their sister sites, so I greatly appreciate their recognition.

On a bummer of a note, I have stepped back from doing any more recipe posts at Mom Spark, which I had been a contributor to for a few years I think. I appreciate the experience that Amy gave me by having me on board with her team. As far as how this might affect you folks, it simply means that going forward all the posts on my site will have recipes attached and you wont have to visit another blog to view them, which is a good thing I think.

As far as posting frequency went, I was disappointed in myself that I didn't post many recipes during the holiday season this year. I have been in a blogging funk the past few months, or just too plain busy or stressed to pick up the camera and take pictures. I am going to try to refocus myself for 2015 to bring you more affordable, family friendly, comforting recipes.

Happenings with the Fam:

My daughter Violet, the quiet, emotional, good natured, sweet, always mindful and helpful, turned 7 this year. Her reading skills have skyrocketed this year. She lacks the confidence but she has the skill. Officially she wants to be an artist when she grows up so I've been investing in some really cool art sets to try to get her to try out different styles. I'm hoping to get her started on an instrument this year as well to see if we can find one she really takes to. She learned how to swim this fall and her instructor said she was the most improved of the class. If I had to describe her in three words they would be: thoughtful, obedient and perfectionist.

The birthday party: She chose a combination of Rainbow Dash and tea parties for her 7th birthday. It was a smaller, less stressful party so I was able to get pictures of everything.

My Son Jack, the hyper emotional, sweet, loud and affectionate boy, turned 5 this summer. J is a very different child than his sister. There are many more tantrums, meltdowns, crying fits and stubbornness. He is a much more affectionate child, but also much more frustrating in the way he challenges me. He has said a lot of funny things this year. One that he has been saying to try to get me to let him do what he wants is to threaten me that he will go to space without a helmet on. Another funny random moment was when he said to his sister, "Look, this will blow your mind!" Then followed that up with, "Look again! This will blow your second mind!" If I had to describe him in three words they would be: loud, affectionate and sensitive.

The birthday party: He chose Jake & the Neverland Pirates for his theme. This was a large party with a lot more guests, food and outside activities going on. This is one of my moments of the year where I am so mad at myself for forgetting to grab the camera as I was super stressed out trying to manage a bunch of guests, prepare the food, frost and decorate the cake at the last minute, etc.

It was after this large party that I said enough is enough to large parties for kids. We will be doing smaller celebrations from here on out. For the record, I decorated with a giant inflatable alligator, big balloons, pirate treasure chests filled with gems and gold coins. I made a brownie bottom ice cream cake that was decorated to look like ocean waves with a sandy beach (nilla wafers blitzed up in a food processor), then cute decorations on top of the cake. Then we had picnic tables outside, music, and water activities since it was so hot.

At the zoo this year where most of the animal exhibits ended up being closed. Bummer!
As my children grow I learn more about myself and more about their personalities. It isn't always a picnic raising children. There are times when they make you feel totally exasperated and upset. That is the small part. The large part is that they force you to grow and hopefully become a better, more patient person.

Favorite Books:

I challenged myself to read 24 books in 2014 and ended up over my goal, reading 32! I branched out and tried audiobooks this year. A few were duds, a few were great though. By the way I am not linking this stuff to get money from Amazon. Just sharing what I enjoyed. A few of my favorite books this year were:

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (I read the whole series this year.)
Cress by Marissa Meyer

Love & Relationships:
Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Dark & Depressing:
Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn 
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Awesome Audiobooks:
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
Ready Player One Ernest Cline

Favorite Shows & Music:

I don't watch a ton of television but there are a few shows I absolutely love. Here are my recommendations based on what I watched in 2014:

TV/Music:  Nashville - soap opera drama mixed with tons of incredible soundtracks. The soundtracks ,which you can pick up on Amazon, are fantastic. Just the right mix of country and pop.

TV - Hart of Dixie. I love all the outfits and I am not a woman who is obsessed with fashion. The show is syrupy sweet Southern with a good bit of silly drama mixed in.

TV - Comedy: The Goldbergs. If I need a show that actually makes me laugh out loud the entire episode, The Goldbergs are it.

TV - Drama: Game of Thrones. Oh the dragons! The drama! The gore (yuck)!

My plans for 2015:

One of my goals for 2015 for the blog is to post more frequently. I often feel like simple recipes aren't
blog worthy so I don't bother taking pictures and writing them up. This is pretty silly since as a blog reader myself I am drawn to the blogs that post easy to make, family friendly foods.

Another goal is to get more practice with my new camera and new editing program. As I write this I am waiting on my order for a new digital camera and a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I have no idea how to use this software which stresses me out a bit. I want to give my readers the best looking, true to real life photos that I can, so I will be getting a lot of practise in with the camera and the software.

For financial goals, my plan for 2015 is to save, save, save. I got a bunch of major expense items in 2014 that the family needed. Now it is time to start making a safety net for emergencies.

My personal goals for the new year are to take better care of myself, have more patience, and push myself to put more hard work into the blog.

If you made it this far, thanks for hanging in there! This was a long post, especially for someone like me that only does this once or twice a year. It is a lot to pack into one post. I hope you have enjoyed the recipes I've put up over the past year and I hope you continue to read into 2015 and foward.

Happy New Years! -Ali

Dec 30, 2014

25 Best Recipes of 2014

Here are the best of the best for 2014. Enjoy!

Christmas 2014 Roundup

This year we made a lot of our go to favorite recipes, along with a few new hits. I will have to go back and take pictures at a later date because I was a big loser and didn't take any pictures at the Christmas party this year. This makes me so sad and disappointed, you have no idea.

Our menu was a little funky in terms of what we made as we were cooking for a corn allergy and a soy intolerance. So some items were tweaked to fit the needs of the guests.

Christmas Party Menu 2014:

Appetizers - 
Cheese wrapped in proscuitto platter.
Fiesta Corn Dip with fritos. (Changes made: Drain everything really well so there is less liquid.
Fiesta Corn Dip
Omit bell peppers. Add a can of well drained rotel tomatoes. Add a jalapeno. Great success.)
Cream cheese with a raspberry chipotle jam spread on top served with crackers.

Drinks -
Homemade Crock Pot Hot Chocolate. Really tasty! We had a bunch leftover so I stored it in the fridge and reheated it on the stove the next day.
Raspberry Limoncello Prosecco. This one just didn't work for me. Wanted to love it but it was too strong for my tastes.
White wine

Main Dishes and Sides -
Ham with fresh rolls
San Remo Dip with baguette slices
Broccoli Apple Salad

Desserts and Cookies -
Hot Chocolate Snowballs
Favorite cookie of the year! Soft & Thick Cut Out Sugar Cookies.
Eggnog Gooey Butter Cookies. Good but so intensely strong on the scent. This may have been my fault as the rum extract I used was 4 times as strong as normal extracts and perhaps I added just a touch too much? Not sure. Either way wrap these in their own container or else that rum scent will infiltrate all other baked goods.
Juniors Cheesecake topped with All Fruit Apricot Jam, Fresh Raspberries and stabilized sweetened whipped cream piped around the edges and base.
Hot Chocolate Snowballs.
Holiday Cream Cheese Mints.
Snowball Cookies.
Cherry Kolacky Thumb Print Cookies.
Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies. I've made 3 or 4 ginger cookie recipes over the past few years and I have decided that my old recipe is by far the best. The texture just beats out all the other recipes.

Dec 14, 2014

Our Favorite Sour Cream Cookies (McCall's Recipe)

Behold, our new, most favorite, sour cream cookie recipe. I've tried a few recipes over the past two years for sour cream cookies which turned out well, but not amazing. Recently I tried making a McCall's recipe which amped up the amount sour cream a bunch to make the best sour cream cookies we've ever tried.

I used my standard medium sized cookie scoop for these. Watch these closely in the oven. You don't want them to get too browned, just barely on the bottom, edges and tops. Enjoy!

Dec 9, 2014

Hot Chocolate Snowballs

These delicious hot chocolate snowball cookies have a few surprises inside. First, they are made with hot chocolate mix, meaning you can use a plain mix or jazz things up a bit by using a flavored hot chocolate mix like peppermint.

Second, they have a bit of cream cheese mixed into the dough, giving them a great flavor and texture. I tweaked the original recipe just a bit by making the cookies larger and reducing the cooking time. I like my cookies to be tender so this worked out very well. Many thanks to Melissa's Cuisine for the recipe. Enjoy!

Dec 8, 2014

Holiday Cream Cheese Mints

My gosh these are delicious! Simple to make and perfect for goodie bags or on a holiday buffet table. They are a little bit time consuming to make so if possible grab a friend or family member to help. These little treats can be kept in a tupperware at room temperature or chilled in the fridge. Many thanks to The Cutting Back Kitchen for the recipe. Enjoy!

Dec 6, 2014

Amish Brown Sugar Cookies w/ Maple Glaze

If you are craving a maple sweet, these cookies hit the spot. Maple isn't in the cookie dough which I was debating adding, but in the end I went with the original recipe for the sake of trying it as it was intended. They turned out very well. Next time around I would add a little maple extract to the dough to see if I like that better. Many thanks to Amish 365 for the recipe. Enjoy!

Dec 5, 2014

Old Fashioned Molasses Cookies

Today I have another delicious cookie recipe for you folks. These old fashioned molasses cookies are a balance of both chewy and crispy. The tops are barely crunchy while the insides are chewy. Many thanks to The Yummy Life for this great recipe.

For the record, they are delicious but my favorite molasses cookie are these extra soft and chewy ginger cookies. Speaking of them, looking at my super old and bad photograph reminds me that I need to make them and take new pictures. 

Now is the perfect time to invest in a nice cookie scoop. I was on the fence about these for years but after I broke down and ordered one, I LOVE it. I ordered the medium size and I use it all the time. It's wonderful. They are sturdy, they keep your hands cleaner than if you were rolling dough by hand, and they make nice, uniformly sized cookies. Order one now before the cookie baking madness starts. Enjoy!

Dec 4, 2014

Soft Almond Pillow Cookies

Almond lovers, cookie lovers, lovers of sweets that taste amazing, let me introduce you to the Soft Almond Pillow Cookies.

This one is for sure going to my top 25 recipes of 2014 list. It is hard to tell from the pictures but they are stuffed full of an almond paste mixture which tastes divine. If you love almond bear claw pastries, it is a similar sort of filling. Many thanks to The Noshery for this recipe.

My only issue came down to the dough, which I think was my own fault. I added the flour too quickly as I was mixing it, and in too large of an amount than I should've. This led to parts of the dough being too dry and other parts feeling too sticky/wet.  Learn from my mistakes and add the flour in small increments.

For all recipes that call for almond extract, I use Almond Bakery Emulsion by LorAnn. I love this stuff! I've seen them sold at Michael's craft store and I'm sure other stores carry them as well. Lastly, as long as you properly chill the dough, these cookies don't spread and should not have any filling leak out. Enjoy!