Friday, December 30, 2011

Go Forth...and Shop!

I don't know about you, but I know I will have to buy at least five "dirty Santa" gifts each year. They are all fun parties, but not always fun to buy gifts for. You never know who the recipient will be, whether they will like it, or if it will just end up re-gifted at that person's next party. By now almost every store has clearanced their items to half-off, but if you can just hold out a little longer you can save 75% or more for those crazy gifts that must be bought for next Christmas. Please do not misread this as "go out and buy some crappy cheap gift that no one wants just so that next year you will not be empty handed". I admit there is seemingly a brief amount of insanity involved here, but if this were left to my husband we would be picking up the gift on the way to the party, over paying (as he gripes about over paying), then having to pay for wrapping and showing up to the party in a bad mood! This is why I do not leave it up to him.

Find some empty space in a closet or preferably in a place you store some of your other Christmas items...such as wrapping paper. Over the next couple weeks when you have time to fight the maddening shoppers and loitering teenagers packing the malls keep mental notes of who will be on your Christmas list for the coming year and pick up things that people would want. For instance, I have not found one this year, but my Mom loves hummingbirds. When I see a hummingbird feeder that she would like on sale I go ahead and get it to stash away in my gift closet. I make a little note of whom the gift is intended and by Black Friday I have completed a good portion of my Christmas shopping with meaningful, welcome gifts for that year's Christmas presents.   

A couple things to keep in mind are: is this a gift I would not mind receiving and does it expire...CHECK FOR DATES!

Voila! Go shop! Go Save! out Santa Clause

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Perfect Pots of Fudge

Well, this merry time of year is coming to a close. If someone unexpectedly brought you a gift or you still have a gift you need to give here is a quick idea that will also be useful in the spring. 

You will need: 
  • Mini pots or vases 
  • Parchment paper squares 
  • Treat bags 
  • Cookies, brownies or other goodies 
Place a couple folds in either side of a parchment paper square. Push the paper down into the pot. 

Cut, in this case, fudge into small cubes. Separate each piece with a small square of parchment or wax paper...this gives your gift a purchased quality about it. 

For the bow, you will need: 
  • A snip of evergreen 
  • Wide wired ribbon 
  • Small ribbon 
  • Twist tie 
Fold the large wired ribbon unevenly on itself. Layer the “fresh, real” greenery on next. I snipped 2-3” pieces from a bush at my house...yes, it is that easy to add a lovely touch of live greenery. Lastly, place your smaller ribbon on top. If you look closely you can see this ribbon has a “thank you” tag attached. This would be exceptionally nice given as a thank you for one of those above and beyond gifts you were not expecting. 

Wrap the twist tie over the top of all three pieces. 

Voila! A pretty gift that says, “thank you”, “merry Christmas”, “your special”, etc!...and a pot for planting seeds in the spring.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mom’s Oreo bon-bons

These are one of the biggest Christmas party hits ever! I set some of these and a small assortment of other chocolates out at a progressive dinner. Our neighbors had brought other desserts and I had set out a cheesecake...and the bon-bons were wiped out by the end of the evening. This is actually not my recipe...I will give my Mom credit...though she was not the original author. It is crazy simple... 

You will need: 
  • 1 Brick low fat Philadelphia cream cheese 
  • 1 Stick butter (melted) 
  • Box of Oreo cookies (coarsely chopped) 
  • Bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s chips 

In a mixing bowl combine softened cream cheese, melted butter and coarsely chopped Oreo’s with filling inside. 

Roll into about 3/4” balls, cover and freeze. 

Melt chocolate chips in a double broiler. Coat the frozen Oreo balls in the melted chocolate. 

Keep cool until serving. If you want to make the batter in advance wrap them tight and freeze them until you are ready to dip. 

Easy, Easy, Easy...Yummy, Yummy, Yummy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Defeat the Decorative Mesh

I have to be honest, this stuff is intimidating! I thought this wide ribbon mesh would be super simple to work with, and I will not say it was difficult, just that the mesh intended to win the fight once I unrolled it. It has pokey edges around the perimeter that catch on everything, including itself. Knowing this information would have been helpful before I began. As you can see I used the ribbon mesh in a couple of places: the typical spiral around the tree and the not so typical fluff around the base. 

I would assume that draping the ribbon mesh around the tree is pretty self explanatory, but if it is not, here is a quick run down. Pick your path around the tree, every couple rows of branches or so. Starting at the top loosely mash and twist the mesh together poking it slightly into tree as you wind it around. The key is to think very little about how and what you are doing as you work with this stuff. This is a six foot tree and it used every bit of a roll of ribbon mesh...just FYI. 

To make the fluff at the bottom of the tree start by accordion pleating the ribbon mesh. Make a fold about every eight to ten inches. 

Make several folds until you have a large stack of pleats. 

Thread a twist tie down through the middle of the pleats and twist it closed. 

When the twist tie is in place and the mesh is released it should look like this, resembling those hard Christmas ribbon candies. 

Grab those spiky edges and roll them under creating a soft bubbled edge. 

After rolling the edges under you should have this. 

Wrap the puff around the base of the tree. 

I was not finished with the tree when I took this picture, but there is no rule that says you have to use a tree skirt or set your tree on the floor. I actually do not use a tree skirt on either tree. Once your presents are around the tree you will only see little bits of the skirt anyway. Raising the tree allows you to use a less expensive tree in a taller room and easily stack taller presents beneath. 

I have listed several Christmas tree decorating ideas. I hope you find them helpful (if you have not decorated yet). 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Potholders - Out of the Kitchen

My great aunt and my grandmother worked many time-consuming hours on these pretty little potholders. They are intricate, delicate and I certainly do not want to dirty them. Considering my fear of using them the way they were intended I found an alternate way that really saved me from a bind when I ran out of ribbon. 

I had spent at least an hour scaling my three tall breakfast nook windows and dangling from a ladder to hang garland around them. Each room has a different Christmas-time look with the kitchen and breakfast nook dressed in a more antique, home-made, cabin style feel. The ribbon that had been wound just so with the same amount of loops on either side to my shock and disgust was about 2 feet short of the middle. My eyes darted around the remaining decorations for a solution. I was out of ribbon with nothing to match! Then I remembered the potholders. A little creative ribbon negotiation, some twist-ties, a floral pick with a bell, and three potholders later I had an attractive and appropriate centerpiece for my breakfast window garland.    

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Shawls and Wraps...for You or the Furniture

We all know that from year to year holiday party fashions change. I am very cold natured, so, I have accumulated various wraps to match various dresses over the years. I just wanted to share a quick idea with you as you make your home festive this holiday season.

Table runners and toppers can really add up, especially when you just want to add a splash of color or protect your wooden pieces from some tipsy holiday cheer. Before you run out to buy something at the interiors store see if you might have a wrap you are not wearing this season that may better adorn your furniture than yourself.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Helpful Notes to Begin Holiday Decorating

I try to be cognizant of the things I just do that other people do not come upon naturally. It occurred to me while decorating my trees this year that I decorate sometimes without an end result in mind, but still in a very rhythmic pattern. 

Let me try to explain. Well, we all know when all the dusty boxes come down from the attic and the initial joy of open each box has worn off you are left with an overwhelming sense of AHHH, look at all this stuff, now how did I have it all last year? Keep your head. Begin with the things you know, like the lights. They must go on the tree first. Personally, I really dislike stringing lights. My size does not help anything...when I am up and down the ladder and moving it two to three times for every wrap of the strand. The last couple years I have gone minimal on the lights. I found a larger pearlized bulb that I like and I mix it with some tiny white lights. It generates plenty of light with a lot less work. 

Now that the lights are on do not start randomly pulling and hanging things on the tree. Have you ever seen the professors demonstration about how to fill a jar? You start with the big stuff...the rocks, then eventually you end with the sand. This is the same process, not just with you tree but all your home decor. 

Let's stay with the tree for now. I like ribbons and fabric pieces on my tree. I do not drape them the same every year. Sometimes they go diagonal, sometimes criss-cross, sometimes straight down. It does not matter what they do as long as you find some uniformity that fits your look. Play with it! You can because you have not put any ornaments on the tree yet to knock off in your rearranging of the ribbons. 

Next start with your larger ornaments especially those in sets. Place them in diagonals, x's, diamond patterns across the tree. You will notice as you do this the tree fills up quickly and keeps a balanced look. 

Lastly, add all of your special little ornaments. If you or your friends have little ones with little sticky, snatchy hands place the breakables up top and the plastics at the bottom. If you have photo frames or other special pieces you want people to see make sure to save a spot for them at eye level viewing. Remember, not all of the ornaments have to go on the tree. If you have some great ornaments, for instance, purple ornaments and an all white tree, try adding a grouping of clear glass vases in another room full of your pretty purple ornaments. Use all the ornaments you want, just consider their groupings.      

My husband says I am the crazy Target commercial lady at Christmas and with this next statement you may agree, but oh, well. It may only be one of those unconscious things your mind notices but does not put together why you like it, but I like to wrap the presents beneath the tree according to the color scheme of the room. To far? Well, possibly. But it looks really nice! I decided to do ALL white in the living room this year. I even hid the stockings because they had red on them. I have had an all white tree for years, but never the whole room. This was not an easy task, but it turned out lovely! Back to the presents, I wanted to keep with the white theme, so, other than a very few red ribbons I kept the packages black, white, and green for the most part. It sounds obsessive, but really allows the room to shine and not distract your eye to the gifts versus your mantle.

Speaking of mantle...I want to pass along an idea from Mary Carol Garrity, our guest speaker at a luncheon I co-chaired a couple months back. She said she places a piece of ply-wood that matches the color and shape of her mantle on top of her mantle. This protects your mantle from scratches and allows you to hammer a small nail or staple right into the ply-wood veneer. When your decorations are up it appears as if the ply-wood were your actual mantle, yet your mantle has been protected. As you can see below I have tried this on my own mantle.    

Monday, December 5, 2011

Caramel Apple Pie-lettes

I have recently been going through my Grandmother's recipe book. I was having a tremendous urge to make a fruit pie, but the problem for a few years now has been that my husband claims to hate cooked fruit, yet, he always takes a gigantic bite from my Taco Bell caramel apple empanada every time I get one. So I set out to achieve that caramel apple empanada taste, but in apple pie form. 

We do not have a very big family. To attempt not having a huge amount of leftover pie I decided to just make everyone their own personal miniature pies. I found a package of eight frozen tartlet shells and bought a package of roll-out dough to cut into circles to cover the apple filling. This recipe will work the same for a single 9" pie, but these little ones are just so cute! I stacked them on a covered glass cake plate. It kept them warm while we ate and made for a nice presentation.   

Another good use for making mini pies is to give as gifts. Think of all the singles and couples with no children at home that would love to receive baked goods but not in massive sizes. One batch of these and voila! Eight gifts for neighbors, friends, co-workers, the Grinch, whomever! 

  • 6-8 apples (I used McIntosh) 
  • 1 cup apple cider 
  • 1tsp.cornstarch 
  • 1/4 c. butter 
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar (packed) 
  • 1 Tbs. reserved cider 
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon 
  • pinch of nutmeg and all-spice 
  • 1/8 tsp. salt 
  • frozen mini pie shells and rolled pie dough 

Peel, core, and cube apples. *Note: If someone in your house has an aversion to cooked fruit try cutting the pieces into smaller chunks so that when the apples cook down into more of a mush the texture is lost but the taste remains.  

Mix cornstarch in cider until dissolved. Bring cider to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add apples, reduce heat and cook uncovered about 8 minutes. Drain cider from apples reserving 1 tablespoon cider. 

Melt butter (on medium) in a medium-large skillet and add brown sugar. Stir until well mixed. Turn down heat and add drained apples, reserved cider, lemon juice, vanilla, spices and salt. When all are mixed pour into either one 9” pie shell or 8 mini pie shells. Cut rolled pie dough to cover the pie. Wipe edges with water and crimp pie dough together. Cut four small slits in the center of the top sheet of dough to vent. Brush top dough with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. 

Bake 400 degrees F for 40 minutes.

Serve with a dollop of vanilla frozen yogurt. Enjoy.