How to host a successful Cookie Swap

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

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     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.