Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

The BEST toffee cookies

These toffee cookies are the perfect mix of chewy and crunchy!

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A good 15 years ago, I first came across a recipe for toffee cookies. I tried making them. They were sticky and chewy, yet crunchy. While I felt like they were pretty good, a few of my family members fell in love. I’ve tweaked the original recipe a bit to make them even better.

The best toffee cookies recipe Pinterest image

Each Christmas these toffee cookies are on my baking list. They aren’t optional. In fact, I think if I showed up to my mother-in-law’s house on Christmas Day without them, I’d not be allowed in! (OK. I would totally be allowed in because my in-laws are really nice people, but they would definitely ask where the toffee cookies are!)

In all of my years of cookie making, these really are the most unique I’ve made. I don’t make another cookie at all like them. I have so many recipes that have different flavors, yet are similar or expected. These toffee cookies are unique, and they are a addictive. Listen, I don’t usually think desserts are worth eating if they don’t have chocolate in them, and even I can happily munch away on them. The good news is that they are not difficult to make!

Ingredients for the best toffee cookies recipe Pinterest image

It all starts with mixing the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl then setting it aside. In your main mixing bowl (or the bowl of  your stand mixer, if you’re going to use it), mix up the butter or margarine with the sugars and vanilla. I’m going to stop right here and tell you the state of the butter or margarine is crucial in this recipe. If it is softened, the cookies won’t be as chewy. But, if it is slightly melted, then they are the perfect consistency — chewy, yet crunchy. I heat my stick margarine for 1 minute at 30 percent power in my microwave to get it to this state:

Butter consistency for the best toffee cookies recipe

After you mix together the butter or margarine, sugars and vanilla, add in the eggs. When it’s beaten together, the mixture will be thin and runny.

Creamed mixture for the best toffee cookies recipe

Gradually stir in the mix of flour, baking soda and salt. If you’re using your stand mixer like I do, make sure you mix it in slowly or else you’ll end up with flour all over everything, which is just plain annoying! Once it’s all mixed up, it will be thickened.

Plain dough for the best toffee cookies recipe

The final step is to stir in the toffee chips. I use 12 ounces, which is a bag and a half of Heath Bits O’ Brickle toffee bits. I totally estimate the half bag, but you could definitely measure it out. Also, be sure to look for the plain toffee bits and not the milk chocolate covered ones. The milk chocolate ones are good, but this recipe does best with the plain toffee bits.

Toffee chips mixed into the dough for the best toffee cookies recipe

All that’s left to do is freeze it or bake it. I store it in zip-top bags for freezing and lay them flat. This dough freezes and thaws well. For baking these sticky treats, though, be sure to either spray your cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray or use parchment paper. I discovered the joy of parchment paper a few years ago, as I told you last week in my tips for Christmas crunch time, and I highly suggest it for these cookies, especially. 

Dough balls for the best toffee cookies recipe ready for the oven on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet

After baking at 350-degrees for 9 to 11 minutes, let the cookies cool for 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheet and then remove them to wire racks to finish cooling. The wire rack helps add the extra crunch to the cookie. You can just see the shine of the gooey, sticky toffee on the cookies as they’re cooling.

A finished toffee cookie cooling on a cooling rack so it gets crunchy

Arrange them on a cookie platter or put them in a zip-top bag and enjoy! The best thing about these cookies is that they are hearty. Of all the cookies I make, these have the longest shelf life and really do taste good for at least a week as long as they are stored covered. 

Finished toffee cookies

The BEST Toffee Cookies

Ingredients
  

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 1 stick cup butter or margarine, mostly melted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 oz. Heath Bits O' Brickle toffee bits 1-1/2 bags

Instructions
 

  • Heat oven to 350-degrees and lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
  • Stir together flour, baking soda and salt.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter or margarine, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until well blended.
  • Add eggs and beat well.
  • Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well blended.
  • Stir in toffee chips.
  • Drop by rounded teaspoon onto prepared cookie sheet.
  • Bake 9 - 11 minutes until lightly browned. Cool for 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheet then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

7 Christmas hacks to make your life easier

Use these tips to save time so you can do more of what you enjoy this holiday season!

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes. But it is also and often “the most busy time of the year!” Along the way, I’ve found a few simple Christmas hacks that make my life easier. And I’m all about easier!

These Christmas hacks help me stay sane during holiday crunch time. I figured I’d pass them along in case they help anyone else. And if you have anything you do, please share! We are in this together!

1. Use parchment paper

Christmas cookies are my jam. I enjoy making them. One of my family’s favorite cookie recipes is toffee crunch cookies. They are good but a bit sticky. Parchment paper makes baking them so, so, so much easier. I use it for all cookies because it also makes clean-up way easier.

Even if you only use it for holiday baking, parchment paper is one of my favorite Christmas hacks. I mean, who couldn’t use easier clean-up right now?! I didn’t discover the joys of parchment paper until about five years ago. I was only sad I didn’t discover it sooner!

2. Use small appliances to help

Cookie dough doesn’t have to be mixed in a stand mixer, but my life is a whole lot easier with my stand mixer. Not only can I do other things while ingredients are mixing (like tossing out eggshells or closing up brown sugar), but it also saves my arms. Honestly, that’s the biggest benefit. With fibromyalgia, I’m all for anything I can do to help save my hands, arms and shoulders. I couldn’t do half the baking I do without my stand mixer. I love Dorothy so much! (Read more about my stand mixer here!)

3. Shop online

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears mentioning again. I love shopping online! I save money (check out two easy ways to save money shopping online), and I can find good deals to cover all my Christmas gift needs (check out 15 gifts under $20 for everyone on your Christmas list — most of them are Amazon Prime eligible so you still have time!).

I also utilize online shopping for everyday items from makeup to paper products to nonperishable foods. It’s one of those Christmas hacks I love because it saves me time at the grocery store and helps me avoid crowds, which is pretty priceless!

4. Keep wrapping supplies handy

This is my wrapping “corner” right now.

This one happened on accident this year, but it’s worked so well for me. This is our first year living with two stories since our very first townhouse college apartment when we got married 19 years ago. I keep my wrapping supplies in the closet of our guest bedroom/game room upstairs. I do my wrapping at my kitchen table. (We have a counter height table this year, and I’m loving how easy it is to wrap on that thing without killing my back!)

I brought down some wrapping paper and supplies for a gift wrapping session and they’ve remained downstairs ever since. I put most of them in a box. Some gifts yet to be wrapped are hidden in there as well. Others are elsewhere. This has become one of the unexpected Christmas hacks I’ve discovered to make my life easier. Yesterday, for example, I picked up a gift for my husband, came home and had it wrapped and under the tree within a couple of minutes. Does it look super great between my living room and dining room? Maybe not. Do I care? Nope, because it really is making my life easier!

5. Wear an apron

This sounds a little crazy, maybe, but wearing an apron when I’m baking makes my life easier. A long time ago, I’d just wear old clothes for baking then have to change if I left the house. These days, I have to leave the house more regularly because the kids need to be picked up from school and such. I’ve learned that my grandma’s generation was really onto something with aprons. I have my favorite apron hanging in my pantry at all times ready to save my clothes from flour and powdered sugar messes. It’s another one of those simple things that makes a difference for me.

6. Set reminders

If you were to look at the calendar on my phone, you’d find all sorts of “appointments.” I set them for so many things beyond just appointments and meetings. Last night, for example, I had just snuggled under the covers to go to sleep when I remembered that I hadn’t put a spoon in my daughter’s lunchbox and was planning to send her soup. I sat up, grabbed my phone and set a reminder for 7 a.m. to put a spoon in her lunchbox.

The best part of setting reminders for such mundane things is that it lets me let them go. I don’t have to hang onto that thought and try to remember it or stress about it. I know my phone will ding with a reminder. I have appointment reminders set for things like my son’s PJ day for his school winter party next Friday or my making sure to put cookies in my daughter’s backpack for hers. While this is my go-to organizational tool year round, I consider it one of my Christmas hacks because it helps me so much this time of year when life gets even more hectic. 

7. Ask for help

My husband is really good to do things around here. But he isn’t a mind reader. I can’t expect him to always know when I need him to jump in, so I ask. Last night, for example, I was cleaning up from making cookie dough and asked him to get supper started. Later we divvied up tasks between kitchen clean-up from dinner and laundry duty. This coming week, we will work together to finish wrapping gifts.

When our kids were younger and home all day, we had times we’d ask our parents to watch them for a few hours so we could wrap gifts or I could bake without having to try and keep a toddler away from the oven door every time I opened it. It takes a village sometimes to make holiday magic happen!

What Christmas hacks do you use to make your holiday season a little less hectic?

Looking for more Christmas ideas? Check out these posts!

Finding the strength to get through hard times

Encouragement for hard times

For two nights in a row now, I’ve ended up sleeping on the couch half the night with my son who has been sick. The first night didn’t involve much sleeping because he was up sick every 20 or 30 minutes. Last night, he was no longer getting sick, but I couldn’t find a comfortable position and fall asleep until about 30 minutes before my alarm went off.

As I reclined last night, tossing and turning in my head (my body couldn’t move much because there was a little boy snuggled against it), I couldn’t help but think back to the same little guy’s first three months of life.

Remembering the past

For his first three months we spent every night on the couch. I had the recliner on my end to lean back in, but we were up most of the night. He had reflux and wasn’t a fan of sleeping. He’d nurse off and on. He’d cry. Then he’d eventually fall asleep on his Boppy beside me about two hours before his preschool-aged sister would wake up for the day.

They were long months. I remember once lying on the living room floor just to remember what it felt like to lie down. It sounds dramatic, but it was legitimate.

We’ve come a long way in almost six years. Those newborn days with my son were rough. Newborn days are exhausting in general. Some are more exhausting than others. My daughter, for example, settled into a routine after a couple of weeks and would at least let me sleep three hours or so at a time. 

Parenthood totally pushes you to your limits. It starts right off the bat in the newborn days and continues through each phase. Sometimes it’s easier and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult. We very much need encouragement for hard times.

That year with my newborn son, I ended up with shingles as a result of the strain. I also had numerous other sicknesses and major surgery when he was 8 months old. It was a difficult year, to say the least.

Applying it to life

The older I get, the more I realize life is like that. We encounter one event after another and wonder how we are ever going to survive it and have the strength to keep going. We think this will do us in.

I remember during those three months with my son that some nights, we would both just sit and cry together. He couldn’t be soothed, and I was beyond weary. I wasn’t sure I could keep going night after night, but I did because I had to. I had a little baby depending on me for his survival. And I made it. 

There have been many other situations I’ve faced that are just as wearisome, if not more so. Each time I’m left wondering if I’ll make it through. Each time, I do. I don’t, however, make it through on my own.

I’m not so strong by myself. Most of my closest encounters with God have come at times when I was at the very end of myself and unsure I could keep moving one foot in front of the other.

Because just like I didn’t abandon my son when he was a newborn who needed me or a sick 5-year-old who needed me, so has God never abandoned me. He’s been right there through the thick of it all, carrying me, loving me and giving me strength. Day by day and sometimes minute by minute. 

He will do the same for you. In fact, He longs to. Just like when my kids are sick and I long to be with them and help them, so He longs to be with and help us when we are struggling. We just have to ask Him. If my kids hid away quietly in their rooms suffering, I’d not know they needed me. But they trust me to take are of them. They trust that when they call out for me in need, I will answer.

How much more we can trust God to do the same! He never gets weary or complains to himself about the hard work. God just shows up, loves us and takes care of us. He will provide us the encouragement for hard times that we need. All we have to do is call out and He’ll come running to wrap His arms around us. He is so, so good!

Mom brain overload

I’ve heard of pregnancy brain and how sometimes your brain fails while you’re pregnant. And it’s true. It happened to me a couple of times. I’ve also heard of mommy brain and how sometimes your brain fails while you have babies and are sleep-deprived (and on into, well, forever!). But, there’s also what I call mom brain overload. 

I have no idea if MBO has a real psychological term, but I know it most definitely exists and I’m guessing you’ve experienced it, too. I’m talking about all the stuff that moms keep in their heads and have to constantly be aware of. We can’t turn off our brains. We can’t lessen our overload. On top of all the other things we manage and deal with on a daily basis, like working, feeding our children, getting them to school on time or changing diapers, it’s the other thoughts that overload. It’s the constant processing of knowing when the kids had checkups and when they need them again. It’s remembering to call the school and report them sick. It’s knowing how many pairs of clean jeans are in your son’s drawer so you know when laundry HAS to be done again. It’s remembering to get out water bottles for gymnastics class or track down mittens on a cold morning. It’s remembering where you last saw their shoes on a hectic school morning. And let’s not even get started on clothes. Keeping track of who has outgrown what and needs replaced, cleaning out things that are too small, organizing what is there and keeping it all clean when needed is a constant struggle It. Is. All. Non-stop!

I’ve tried to explain this to my husband before. This MBO that is, quite frankly, exhausting. But, he doesn’t really understand it, and he is a hands-on dad. I can’t just turn it off. Right now I can tell you the level of trash in each trash can in our house, how much fresh fruit is in the kitchen, how much milk we have, what doctor’s appointments are coming up for the kids, how many more showers/baths we can take before I have to wash towels, how much children’s Tylenol we have in its two locations, which kid has school library day when, where we stand on lunchbox cleaning and prep, who has clothes for upcoming holiday performances, what spelling words need to be reviewed, what calls need to be made for appointments, who needs gifts for upcoming birthday parties or holidays and on the list goes. My husband and children don’t know these things. I don’t necessarily HAVE to know some of these things, but I do. I do, because I’m the one who deals with them. 

I’m the one who makes sure we have fresh fruit and milk for the kids, clean towels, the right clothes, gifts bought and wrapped in time and Tylenol at the ready. I’m the one who makes calls or sends emails to schedule meetings and appointments based on the calendar I have for our whole family. I’m the one who reminds us to go over spelling words. I know my husband would do these things I weren’t able. I know the children wouldn’t fall into ill health without fresh fruits or milk for a couple of days. But it’s in my head. And that’s just the kids’ stuff. It doesn’t count all the stuff that I also maintain for myself and my husband as well like prescriptions, doctors’ appointments, bills, work deadlines and more. (That’s even with having automated all the things that I can.)

And then there’s all the other stuff, too. The worries that contribute to MBO like whether my son will pay attention walking on the icy sidewalk or fall and hurt himself or whether my daughter’s strep throat germs are going to spread to everyone else or whether I’m being too easy or too hard on the kids or whether I spend enough quality time with them or whether I let them eat too many sweets or whether I’m making them do enough or too many chores. The list goes on and on. Yes, I deal with anxiety and OCD a bit, but I think most of this is just mom stuff. 

Our brains are constantly going and we are constantly thinking of pretty much everyone else. Our lives revolve around everyone else. I have lost track the number of times I’ve gotten interrupted just writing this one post! Along with MBO, we have to constantly multi-task. We have to be able to stop what we’re doing and brush someone’s hair or answer questions and then shift right back to what we’re doing then remember there’s a load of laundry that needs to go into the dryer and (oh, shoot!) it’s almost the end of the day and our to-do list has only gotten a third of the way completed. It’s constant, and it’s exhausting.

I wish I had some awesome advice on how to make it better and how to cope with it, but I don’t really. I’m in the midst of it. I have to think it will get better once I’m no longer responsible for so much for my children. One day they will be able to deal with their own clothes, food and laundry — both shopping and caring for them. But, I know there’s another part of my mom brain that will never turn off as long as I am breathing because you can’t just stop being someone’s mom when they turn into an adult. I know this from my own mom and mother-in-law!

I do think, though, that we need to acknowledge it. We need to realize the MBO is a thing; it’s hard and it’s contributing to our exhaustion level. We need to find ways to unplug when we get a chance whether it’s sneaking off to a movie alone, with your husband or with friends or taking one night each week after the kids go to bed and doing nothing else except reading or watching television or somehow relaxing. It’s being good to ourselves when we get a chance. It’s intentionally thinking of ourselves and what we need sometimes.

The thing with MBO is that if it’s left unchecked too long, it can lead to burn-out, anger and resentment. It can lead us to saying things we don’t mean and hurting those we love most. It can steal our joy. It can distract us from our spiritual walk. MBO is going to exist. We can’t stop our mom brains from being overloaded with so much information all the time, but we can do our best to be intentional about taking breaks, even for a short time. I’ve had moments where I say to my husband, “I don’t care what you decide, but dinner is up to you. I cannot manage another decision right now.” I’ve had other moments when I’ve left him in charge and escaped behind a closed bedroom door for an hour (especially when our kiddos were smaller). 

Mom brain overload is just as real as pregnancy brain and mommy brain. While we may laugh and joke about it or complain about it with our mom friends, we need to also remember to take care of ourselves whenever we get a chance. Take a break soon, mama. I know you need it!

10 Ways to strengthen your marriage

Ideas make your marriage stronger

My husband and I don’t have a perfect marriage. Nobody does! However, we have learned some lessons through our 19 years of marriage that have helped strengthen our marriage along the way. And they don’t have much to do with the dramatic romantic gestures we love watching on the silver screen. Those things are nice, but just aren’t realistic in daily life. The things that really strengthen your marriage are much smaller, yet just as significant.

Treat your spouse like a stranger.

While it’s easy to snap at those we love when we are having a bad day, it’s neither fair nor productive to them. I try to remember when I’m having a bad day that my husband isn’t the cause of it (usually!). I wouldn’t be rude to a stranger for no apparent reason. I shouldn’t be to my husband either.

Say thank you.

I once read a magazine article about a celebrity who said she had a hard time thanking her husband for taking out the trash since it needed to be done. I don’t think you can say thank you enough, honestly. Our theory is that if the other one has done a chore, that’s one less thing we need to do and we appreciate it. I don’t say thank you every time he takes out the trash. He doesn’t say thank you every time I do a load of laundry. But, we do make it a priority to say thanks a few times a week for everyday chores. We all want to be appreciated. Appreciation also can help strengthen your marriage by reminding you why you fell in love in the first place.

Give each other privacy.

I don’t have anything to hide from my husband. He doesn’t have anything to hide from me. However, if he needs to get something out of my purse or I need to get something out of his wallet, we ask first. I appreciate that he asks before barging in. While we are married and we two have become one, we are also still individuals as well.

Talk to each other about problems.

We’re pretty private folks, so this comes naturally to us, but we don’t air dirty laundry, so to speak. We agreed early on that if one of us has a problem with the other, we talk directly to them. So, if I have a problem with my husband, I talk to him about it — not my mom or my friends. He does likewise. We can’t fix problems and make them better if we don’t talk about and work on them. To strengthen your marriage, you have to resolve problems.

Nobody is a mind reader.

My husband knows me better than anyone on this planet, but he can’t read my mind. We have to communicate effectively with one another. Sometimes that means being very specific about what we need without getting upset the other one didn’t know it first. That includes everything from romantic gestures to household chores. I’ve found it’s much more productive to tell him this stuff rather than be upset when he doesn’t do it.

Don’t take everything personally.

I can be a tad sensitive. OK, I can be a lot sensitive. I take things very personally sometimes and take them to heart when I shouldn’t, like when someone gets mad at me in traffic. While I’ve made improvements through the years sometimes I still struggle with this. When my husband and I are discussing an issue that revolves primarily around something I feel responsible for, my first response can tend to be defensive.

However, most of the time, I don’t need to take it so personally. I need to get over that so we can move on to the real goal: fixing whatever issue is happening. And that also means I work to not read into things. For example, my husband doesn’t always notice things that need to be done around home, like emptying the bathroom trash. Instead of feeling personally offended that he’s trying to  spite me by not doing it, I just ask him for help. To his credit, he obliges — usually saying that he didn’t notice the issue.

Know when to talk and when to wait.

While communication is important in all relationships, not all communication is created equal. Knowing your spouse and when best to talk with them about a serious issue strengthens your marriage. For example, my husband knows just before bed isn’t a time to start a serious discussion with me. I’m a morning person and by the end of the day my energy and mental capacity are not up to par. Any discussions had at that time of day don’t go well. I know the same is true for him in the morning.

And we both know when the other one is in the middle of something, whether it’s work or something fun, to ask for a chance to talk before just launching into a conversation. Usually whoever is busy can say something like, “Give me five minutes.” Then when they’re at a stopping point, they stop and give the other their attention. Conversations go much better that way.

Don’t micromanage.

We started the policy when we got married, that if one of us is doing a task, he/she can do it his/her own way. If the other person has a problem, he/she should just do it. So, if my husband is cleaning the bathroom, he gets to do it his way. If I have a problem, then I should do it myself. If I’m doing laundry and my husband has a problem with it, then he should do it himself. The nice thing about that policy is that it feeds into our lazy streaks a bit. Before I criticize or micromanage, I realize that I don’t feel like doing said task myself. I shut my mouth!

Be each other’s biggest fan.

My husband and I have each other’s backs 100 percent. While we are helpful to one another and discuss work and such, we also support one another wholeheartedly. He encourages me in my career. I encourage him in his. I’m his biggest cheerleader, and he is mine. We also remember this in front of other folks. When we are with others, I need to uplift and support my husband all the more. If I have an issue with something, it can wait until we are alone.

Approach life together — the good, the bad and the ugly.

We refer to ourselves as a team (which nowadays includes our kids, but started as just a team of two). We even high-five each other sometimes. Honestly, I think this is my best marriage tip that will strengthen your marriage most. When you approach life together with a team mentality then you stay working together for the common good of your family. We’ve faced many struggles together. Rather than start placing blame on each other, we stay focused on what we need to do to get through the situation together. We are a team whether we’re working together to get dinner prepared or making major life decisions.