How to host a successful Cookie Swap

Cookie Swap 2011 009

     Every year for the past eight years, I have hosted a Cookie Swap. This year was no exception.

 Cookie Swap 2011 015

 

     I thought I’d write about it in the event that someone else may wish to host one, but the mere thought overwhelms them. I am telling you right now – do not let the thought even enter your mind. As long as you have a plan and stick to it, things will work out – or you wing it like I’ve been known to do (or maybe my friends have never caught on! lol)

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My sister & I were following each other’s progress

 

     I always try to send out a “Save-the-date” the first week of October. This, I send my email since everyone who is invited has email. If some of your guests do not have email, then send a little note in the mail or give them a call.

      I also have a spreadsheet that I use each year. It consists of four columns with the headings of: No., Name (which includes name, address, phone, email), Yes/No (attending) and last, Cookie (or treat bringing).

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     I use the number column, because at a quick glance, I can keep track of how many people are on my list. This way, if someone has been added/taken off, I know I can add someone and still keep the number within reason for the size of my house.

      Then, I try to mail out the invitation the first week of November with the RSVP date. Sometimes I write something cute and rhyming, and sometimes I use one I have found on the internet. Some years are more of a theme than others are.

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     In 2011, I did a Candy land theme where I scattered the board pieces around the table and used the matching plates and napkins. It was really cute. That takes care of the invitation portion.

     With Pinterest, it is so easy to find new appetizers to serve. I started a board named Cookie Swap Ideas so I could quickly pin cookie ideas and appetizer ideas so I could come back later and explore. I also use Evernote. This app proved to be invaluable in many ways. Once I finalized the appetizer list, I clipped the recipes, complete with pictures to Evernote. Evernote syncs the recipes to my phone and Kindle Fire. It made grocery shopping and cooking a breeze. I pulled up the recipe at the market and quickly scanned the ingredients and added those items to my cart.

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    Throughout the year, I am always scouting for new cookie recipes and appetizer recipes so with Pinterest and Evernote, it makes finding these recipes a snap. I am already clipping and pinning for next year! It’s never too soon!

      The week before my Cookie Swap, I sit down with the recipes and figure out what can be assembled ahead of time and my baking time frame. It seems that no matter how carefully I organize and schedule, I am still last-minute, and the first guests there generally help with setting everything out. For me, especially this year, it was enjoyable. Judging from the remarks, I think this year was everyone’s favorite so far and I think it was because everyone was helping to get things on the buffet and it made the party – literally – everyone’s party. My sisters and a friend from high school that I was so fortunate to reconnect with last year – were the willing participants in the last-minute rush this year. It was so much fun laughing and talking and rushing around.

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A dear friend gave me a cupcake teapot.

     So, you can see that in my case, not having everything ready and waiting on guest is part of the fun – for everyone. So don’t stress out. Cookie Swap is all about fun.

 

     Let’s talk cookies now. I have read that many cookie swaps have a lot of rules and it works for them. I came up with my own set of “rules” based on my guests. I have friends who cannot bake, and some who make candy. My only die-hard rule is the treat MUST be homemade. Each year, we have a mix of candy, no-bake (for those non-bakers) and baked cookies. No one ever feels left out because everyone puts a lot of effort into their products (we are quite the competitive bunch!)

      After the RSVPs come in, I then email everyone with the number of treats to bring. I keep the number of participants down to a reasonable number and we bake and package six treats for each person coming. I have noticed that many cookie swaps ask that the person bake x amount of cookies and bring them on a platter and then they are distributed among those attending. I wasn’t particularly crazy about that idea (nor my guests) so we package our treats for each individual person. My friends are very creative and the packaging is one of the highlights. We also have the option of using our six cookies for the taste testing contest (more on that later.)

     I provide a huge Christmas gift bag for each guest, which I set up in the living room. As each guest arrives, she distributes the treats among the bags first, and then places their treats on the platters on the table for tasting. Since each guest may leave at a different time, she can just grab her bag on the way out. I find that this method of distribution works great for my cookie swap.

      Let’s see. So far, we have discussed invites, food prep, and cookie distribution. Next on the list is entertainment!

      It has become a tradition (because Hubby loves to be involved) that we have a story. The stories have ranged from Christmas to Candyland to baking, etc. Everyone looks forward each year to see what Jeffery has in store. This year, he did a story that contained Christmas songs and lyrics from Christmas songs. I’ll include it as an example. I am the one who gets to read the story and I must say that trying to establish a speed is difficult. I want to give everyone an equal chance to pick out all of the information, but not too much time – how else would we have a winner. But, it does work each year and it’s a lot of fun.

 

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Word Game Story 2012

(It is easier to view the parts on my other blog. I have it done in different colors – My Life. One Story at a Time.: How to host a successful Cookie Swap

It came upon a midnight clear, when away in a manger a child was born. There were no jingle bellsfrosty the snowman, or Rudolph. But it was a silent night and even more, a holy night.

 The people of that era were deep in despair and had very little hope. They cried out” o come o come Emanuel”. And He did. He came as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes to silence the cry of the poor, to build a city of God, and to bring joy to the world.

 Although He was not born in a beautiful setting like a winter wonderland, He did bring the first white Christmas to the little town of Bethlehem. This was brought about by His birth and sacrificing His life for ours, to free all humankind from sin and e’re pinning. So hark the herald angels singglory to the newborn kingChrist is born in Bethlehem, and the world has never been the same. May God wish ye merry gentlemen a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

      We always have a best tasting treat contest. It is based NOT on how the treat looks, but how it tastes to the palate. This can get pretty intense at times. This year a chocolate oatmeal no-bake cookie won the honor. It provoked childhood memories for many of us, a taste of nostalgia. Do you remember as a child, the day the school cafeteria served those scrumptious chocolate oatmeal no-bake treats? I do, and so did many others. It was deserving of a prize this year.

      We have enjoyed many games throughout the years and enjoyed every one. Our last game this year was a new addition. A friend told me of a game that she had played at another cookie swap and it sounded like loads of fun so I added it this year. I asked everyone to bring a wrapped cookie cutter for a “Swap and Steal” game.

      I have to admit at this point, it was kind of a make it up as you go game and it ended up being so much fun that I am going to include it next year. The first round of the game, each person pulled a gift out of the basket as I called her name. The second round was where the fun began.

     As each name was called, you had the chance to keep your chosen gift or “Swap and Steal” someone else’s gift. There was a lot of cheering and yelling of “steal” going on because there was one gift everyone seemed to want – it was a beautiful gift bag! After much hooting and hollering, everyone had a gift of a new cookie cutter.

Games are another place to add loads of fun to the party. Let your imagination go wild: Prettiest Christmas outfit (or hat or shirt, etc.), craziest Christmas outfit, first to RSVP, # of gum balls in the jar (or jelly beans, etc.), best cookie packaging. The ideas are endless!

      Food – what can I say about food? I (and my friends – especially book club friends) DO NOT subscribe to the old adage that you do not try out new recipes for the first time on company. That is EXACTLY when we do it. In the food department – I say do what is comfortable for you. Either stick to tried and true recipes and maybe be adventurous and throw in one new recipe for a thrill.

      Up until this year, I always tried to do a new soup of the year, but not being much of a soup person, I have to admit, that got old. I did, however, discover that the ladies all love my chicken potpie. That has led me to use it several years in a row, but with a new twist each year.

      One year, I used my shell maker (I love gadgets) and made biscuit shells for the sauce (chicken potpie filling). The next year, I used little individual pie shells and last year I used Pepperidge Farms puff pastry shells (my all time fav). This year I used biscuits again, but used an idea I saw on-line. I lined muffin tins with rolled out biscuits. I then filled each one with the sauce and then folded the dough over the top and baked. Have I mentioned how wonderful they tasted? AND, what a hit!

      Also on the menu were little sausages in a cranberry sauce, the old standby of cheese and sausage balls, along with a pizza muffin/dipping sauce (again – on-line), a fantastic warm Caramelized onion and Gruyère cheese dip, an oriental salad, and can’t forget the Shrimp Dip (this is Southern Louisiana after all!)

      For beverages, I have a great Pineapple Punch that is additive – no kidding, cannot have just one glass – ask all who dare! And, this year, I found a Jingle Juice. I just loved the name and the taste wasn’t bad either! It made more than one lady a little too happy! lol (Did not let anyone leave tipsy.)

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     Now – for question time. Do you host a Cookie Swap or have you attended one? Have you blogged about it? AND, do you have any questions that I can help with? I invite you to share your experiences, questions, and of course – your FAVORITE treat for the rest of us (cookies, candy…)!

 Leave  a link and I’ll add it to the end of my story for others to read.

All Things Southern – The Cookie

With my impending trip to New York City, I’ve been thinking about how quickly I can sneak out to my favorite cookie shop, Levain Bakery. It is actually one of the first places to which I learned to navigate my way to in the city. It didn’t take me long to learn that I had to simply board the 1 Train and exit at the Columbus stop, and after departing the subway station in to a beautiful park, I head north to 167West 74th Street. Even if I didn’t know the address, I could put my Southern nose into the air and smell my way to the little shop. And, when I say little, I really mean little. I could also just look for the line because it is always out of the door and into the street. You even have to duck to avoid hitting your head as you descend the steps into the little bakery.

Levain Bakery is a tiny little shoppe that sells the best cookies in the world. My favorite cookie is their dark chocolate chocolate chip cookie. That little stinker will fill your hand and the hand of the person standing next to you. Of course, I’m not sharing, I’m just saying. In fact, son-in-law knows not to touch mother-in-law’s cookie. Mother-in-law doesn’t share her cookie with nobody! It has actually become our little joke when we visit. But, if I start with that story, we’ll be here all day and I want to tell you about cookies.

Levain Bakery (here’s the link: http://www.levainbakery.com  ) only makes four different types of cookies; Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip, and the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. They also make a variety of buns, muffins, breads, and rolls. I’m sure that everything they make is good, but I don’t think I’ll ever make it past the Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies. Most folks come home loaded with souvenirs, me – I come home loaded with cookies.

Out of fairness, Levain Bakery does have two other locations and I would actually prefer you use one of them – only so they don’t run out my cookie before I arrive. Levain Harlem

2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York, NY, 10026 and Levain Hamptons Wainscott, 354 Montauk Hwy, Wainscott Village Shopping Center, Wainscott, NY, 11975. This store is open seasonally.

I was surfing the net one day and found some “Cookie Facts”. Now, just keep in mind, we Southerners like to think we invented everything, and that includes the cookie. So…with that in mind – did you know?:

 Cookie Facts

1) The chocolate chip cookie is the official state cookie of both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. (I need to see if we have a state cookie.)

2) The chocolate chip cookie was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1930 at the Toll House Inn Restaurant in Massachusetts (at that time, Massachusetts was in the South). One of her favorite recipes was for Butter Drop Do cookies. The recipe called for the use of baker’s chocolate and one day Ruth found herself without the needed ingredient. She substituted a semi-sweet chocolate bar cut up into bits. However, unlike the baker’s chocolate the chopped up chocolate bar did not melt completely, the small pieces only softened, thus creating the first known chocolate chip cookie.

3) Americans consume over 2 billion cookies a year, or 300 cookies for each person annually. (That’s less than one a day – I think it should be 365 cookies myself.)

4) The Chocolate Chip is the most popular type of home-baked cookie.

5) Chocolate Chip cookies are Cookie Monster’s favorite. His birthday is November 2nd and his original name was Sid. (Now, this I did not know.)

6) America has designated April 30th as National Oatmeal Cookie Day!

Now that I have given you a little knowledge, let me entice you a bit. These pictures are from the Levain Bakery Site. This time next month, I’ll be eating one of those Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies – I guarantee you!

Chocolate Chip Walnut
Chocolate Chip Walnut
Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip
Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip
Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
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My Crazy Life: Time for Cookie Swap!

December 7, 2011

            Things have really been in a state of chaos here lately, or so it feels. Thanksgiving night begins a week of scurrying non-stop for me as my annual cookie swap is always the first Sunday in December. The invitations were sent out a long time ago, but I still have to call for those RSVPs.

Saturday was a huge cooking day for me. It began with making the “soup of the year”. That title doesn’t mean, “Wow, it’s the best soup I’ve ever tasted!” just simply the soup I’m serving this year. I try to serve a different soup each year and sometimes I cannot come up with any ideas. Thankfully, my best friend served this soup not too long ago and since it is one I really enjoyed, I decided the honor of “soup of the year” should be bestowed upon it.

The name of the soup is Taco Soup. If you are clamoring for the recipe, it is hidden in the pictures – just add two pounds of browned ground beef and an onion.

 Taco Soup Ingredients

Brown 2 lbs. ground beef and 1 small onion

Add water and simmer

            My cookie of choice this year was Southern Living’s Pecan Pie Cookie. It looks and tastes just as the name portrays it. I think next time; I’ll just make mini pecan pies though. They would be a lot less trouble, and in my humble opinion – much more enjoyable to the palette.

Straight from the oven

Packaged to give

           The winner of the cookie contest this year was a newbie, my friend Lynette. What a great fun to receive that honor on your first venture into cookie swapping. She made the most wonderful gingerbread men. The cookie did not have that strong flavor that you find with many gingerbread cookies, and she decorated them so cute. Her one confession was that she tried out more than a few recipes with her kids as the taste testers before she found the perfect one. Kudos to the kiddies – they picked a good one!

We had chocolate fudge and cinnamon scones this year, along with pecan pie cookies, chocolate peanut butter kisses, heavenly hash candy, an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and the cutest little chocolate shells filled with chocolate mousse and topped with a chocolate design (I hid these from Hubby!)

Having fun!

            You are probably thinking why there is candy at a cookie swap. The answer to that is simple. I have friends who are wonderful candy makes and hate to bake. The only steadfast rule to my Cookie Swap is that it must be homemade and some effort should go into the making of the treat. Besides – you can only eat so many cookies. The other rule is HAVE FUN!

We also play games – which can get funny at times. Each year Hubby writes a story using baking ingredients (he wants to be a part of Cookie Swap and even asked to make fudge this year) but since this year I was going with a Candy Land theme, he was a little out of his league. Can you believe? He must be the only person on the planet who never played Candy Land as a child! Any hoo – Jessica stepped up to the plate and wrote the cutest story!

Did I mention that Jessica is an author? I didn’t – you say? You can find her book on my sidebar – Muddy Bayou, along with her website.

The Candy Land story is too cute not to share and I’ll give you a hint as to the number of candies in the story – 31. See if you can find them all. (You are welcome to use the story – just give credit where credit is due. Thanks.)

Christmas in Candyland

‘Tis Christmas time in Candyland

And Candy canes and gumdrops decorated the land

Sugar plums danced and sugar babies whistled

And 5th Avenue was decorated with snowcapped thistle.

Though the season was merry as merry as could be

Princess Lollipop in her strolls couldn’t help but see

That Lord Licorice snickered and grumbled about Christmas galore

He crunched down Skittle lane yelling for more

The Starbursts in windows weren’t bursting enough, he said.

The Razzles weren’t razzling, the York flowers looked dead.

The gumdrops needed more sparkle, Milky Way was too pale

Zero wasn’t merry enough for Christmas, he wailed.

Baby Ruth, Kit Kat, Mike and Ike all cringed

But Princess Lollipop approached though she risked being singed.

We’ll have a Candy Christmas worth 100 Grand, she exclaimed.

Candyland will add trim and sparkle, it won’t be the same.

“Candyland’s made of airheads; they’ll never get it right.”

“Don’t worry, Lord Licorice, I’ll give it all my might.

Christmas will be as delicious as Turkish Delight.”

He mumbled and grumbled but agreed to see for himself that night.

Princess Lollipop took on an enormous feat

And decided to delegate to the tiny tarts of the street

Dove hung the mistletoe in every doorway in sight

Rollo carried lights and the 3 Musketeers strung them up tight

They hustled and bustled and weren’t Crybabies at all

Candy land sparkled and glittered so much, Mars gave them a call.

Lord Licorice strolled the street with his Warheads at his feet

But he grinned and threw peppermints which Mary Jane thought was neat.

Since Candy Land was the theme – complete with invitations – I decorated with candy, LOTS of candy! Hubby did get to do his part by counting the gumballs. When I asked how many so I could write it down, he refused to tell me! His band was playing music and he told me to call him at 3pm so he could tell me the number! I could tell you the number, but what fun would that be? Leave your guess in a comment.

How many Gumballs?

            As you can see in the pictures, Cookie Swap was great fun. We had lots of food and many sweets to eat. Everyone left with a promise of coming back next year. What a great afternoon it was.

How about you? Do you host a Cookie Swap or attend one?

Donna

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