Monthly Archives: December 2014

Incorporating Evergreens into Christmas

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In a world full of plastic decorations, my solace is found in natural materials.  So instead of reaching for materials made from petrochemicals, I head to the forest.  (If you don’t have access to a forest, check with your local nursery, greenhouse, or floral shop for fresh greens.  Stores like order typically order evergreens by the box and they generally have a variety of greens available: spruce, cedar, balsam fir, and pine).

variety of fresh evergreens

variety of fresh evergreens

If you have access to a forest or are able to harvest greens from your own property… wonderful!  You have a ready supply at no cost.   But don’t lose heart.  Fresh greens from the stores listed above are still cheaper to purchase compared to buying a pre-made wreath.  And if you are not in a hurry to hang a fresh wreath, the cost of greens will go down the closer it gets to Christmas.  For example, the greens I used in this year’s wreath cost only $5.

Materials Needed for a Fresh Wreath

  • fresh evergreens
  • wreath base – wire is the most common and can be reused
  • string or wire – tie greens to the base
  • pruners – cut branches to size
  • optional materials – holly berries, bow, pine cones, dried branches, fresh fruit, or whatever else strikes your fancy

Don’t worry if you have never made a wreath.  Just cut the evergreens to desired length and start tying them to the wreath base.  It to keep on track, start at one place on the wreath and continue adding materials from that point following around the base until there are no visible bare spots.  This method allows you to work more quickly compared to adding a piece of green here and there on the wreath.  NOTE: fresh greens work best as they are still pliable and easy to work with.  If you greens are drying out, they become brittle and begin to shatter in your hands as you work with them.  (To keep cut greens fresh, place in a plastic bag and lightly spritz with water and keep in a cool location such as the garage, crawl space, or outdoors until you are ready to use them).

Once you are satisfied, you can now hang your wreath.  While it is traditional to hang a wreath over a fireplace or on a front door, you can get creative with wreath placement.  Maybe the kitchen or dinning rooms?  Or how about placing the wreath flat on a table as a centerpiece?

fresh evergreen wreath

fresh evergreen wreath

If you have evergreens leftover from your wreath project, consider decorating a mantel with fresh greens.  Maybe you can add them to a buffet table?  You could also buy a floral foam block (one that absorbs water) and create a simple centerpiece using the leftover greens.  Remember to soak the block first (available from a floral shop, floral supply store, or some craft centers).   Place the block in a waterproof container.  Use floral tape to tape the block in place so it does not tip over.  Slide the cut end of the ever green into the wet block and continue adding greens until you are satisfied with your creation.

Throughout the holiday season, check on your wreath.  The greens will eventually dry out.  This is important to remember, especially if you choose to use the wreath as a centerpiece and place a lit candle near it.  Dry evergreens are very flammable!  To test the greens, handle them.  Do they feel dry?  Do the ends of the greens shatter in your hands?  Do the greens look lighter in color?  If the answer is yes to any of those questions, keep the wreath away from an open flame.

When you are ready to discard the wreath, snip away the ties that are holding the evergreens to the wreath base.  This allows you to save the wreath base to use again.  You can either chip the greens into mulch, break into small pieces to use as a fire starter, haul the greens back to the forest to allow them to decompose, or place them in the trash.

Get back to nature and incorporate fresh evergreens into Christmas.  Your handmade creations will give you a sense of pride and the aroma of fresh greens will truly add holiday spice to your home.

Vintage Sugar Cookie Recipe

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When the holiday season rolls around, baking kicks into high gear.  But amongst all of the tarts, yule logs, rolls, and breads; there is one treat that stands head and shoulders above the rest.  It is the classic sugar cookie.  Better still… a vintage recipe that evokes childhood memories of the holiday season.

A sugar cookie is the classic rolled cookie dough.  It can take many forms.  During the Christmas season, this rolled dough is traditionally cut into shapes with cookie cutters.  Festive plates of these cookies may take the form of bells, candy canes, Santa Clauses, stars, wreaths, and Christmas trees.  This cookie is also commonly decorated with icing or colored dusting sugars.  And if you were a believer in Santa Claus, these cookies generally made an appearance on the plate left out for the big guy.

eggs and butter whipped together

                                                                  eggs and butter whipped together

This particular recipe adapted from the original which is attributed to Mrs. Edgar Fahr and Mrs. Martha Menke from the  Favorite Recipes cookbook (1964 edition) sponsored by St. John Ladies’ Aid.  I grew up eating this cookie, but over the years, began making tweaks to suit my tastes.

Powdered Sugar Cookie

  • 1 C. powdered sugar
  • 1 C. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 C. flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract

Cream together powdered sugar and butter until well combined.  Next, beat in one egg, vanilla, and almond extract.  Mix well.

Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.  Chill the dough for one hour.

dough ready to be chilled

                                                                       dough ready to be chilled

Then roll out on a well floured surface and rub flour across rolling pin surface as dough will be sticky.  NOTE: this works for a wooden rolling pin.  Roll dough out to approximately 1/8″ thickness or slightly thicker.

Cut into various shapes with assorted cookie cutters.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or reusable Silpat® (siliconized rubber mat that is easy to clean).

If decorating with just dusting sugar, dust before putting cookies in the oven.  Bake in a pre-heated oven set to 325F for 8 – 10 minutes or until golden.  Allow the cookies to cool before icing them.

These cookies hold a special place in my heart.  My mom made these just before Christmas and she made batch after batch of them.  Then these baked and decorated cookies were placed into containers and then they went to the freezer until it was time to set platters of these cookies for family gatherings.  (And Santa enjoyed these every year… or at least that is what we thought given that the cookies we left out for him were gone in the morning).

plate of cookies for Santa

                                                                        plate of cookies for Santa

Go ahead and give this vintage recipe a try.  The crisp texture and buttery flavor will have you going back for more.  And who knows… maybe your little ones will ask you to make these for Santa?

 

 

 

 

 

Frugal Firestarter

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Frugal is part of our daily living.  Around our homestead, we are always looking for ways to recycle, repair, and repurpose items.  But one thing that we had been tossing out (or on some occasions  balling up and tucking into perennials for birds to find and use in their nests) is dryer lint.  Surely there had to be another way to use it.

dryer lint

dryer lint

 

It dawned up us that this tinder dry material could make an excellent fire starter.  It is dry and composed of tiny bits of cloth fiber that burn readily. (If you are concerned about how ‘green’ your dryer lint is, you could just save lint from dryer loads of wood, linen, and cotton clothing).   And in a way, dryer lint is sort of like a renewable resource… each time we use the dryer, there is lint left behind in the lint trap.  But since the dryer lint can be a little on the messy side, some sort of container was in order.

Another look through the house and we saw the empty toilet paper tubes.  While they were normally destined for the recycle bin, there was no reason why they couldn’t be used to contain the dryer lint.  They are made of a non-waxy fiberboard.  They also burn readily.  Plus these tubes can hold a fair bit lint.

toilet paper tubes

toiler paper tubes

Over the course of a few months, gather up the dryer lint (can save it in a box or bag kept near the dryer) as well as the toilet paper tubes (depending on the size of your family, you may have a few dozen or more tubes).  Take a generous handful of lint and stuff the tube full… just so it pokes out of both tube ends.

dryer lint stuffed toilet paper tube

dryer lint stuffed toilet paper tube

Now to get the fire going… place several tubes in the fireplace (or for you campers… fire pit).  Place several pieces of kindling over the tubes.  Light the lint of each tube.  Stand back and watch the fire build.  Each tube will burn for approximately five minutes.  This is ample time to catch the kindling on fire.  Once the kindling is burning well, add firewood to keep the fire going.

fire started with toilet paper tubes stuffed with lint

fire started with toilet paper tubes stuffed with lint

So folks, it is fine to be frugal.  Save that dryer lint and your toilet paper tubes.  These materials are the start of many cozy fires.