Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Making A Christmas Wreath

Nothing adds a bit of Christmas cheer to a house like a wreath. The ones that you can buy, though, are often over-priced and, to be honest, not that great looking. Making your own wreath, though, is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.

To start with, you need a base to hold your wreath in shape and give it structure. I have a woven wooden wreath that I bought for a few pounds at a craft store, but you could also use a floral foam ring, a shaped wire, etc. You just want a basis to work from to help hold everything together and keep it in a circle.

Then you can use whatever greenery you have available. My daughters and I went into the garden with a basket, and picked some holly, evergreen branches, rosemary, roses (including leaves, rose hips, and flowers), St. John's wort, ivy, etc. Pick a nice selection of green leaves from whatever you have growing around your home.

Then shape it around your ring. My base ring is woven twigs, so I can stick branches into it, and you can also use floral rings to push things directly into. However, you could also use twine, string, or wire to secure the foliage to the wreath. Experiment moving pieces of foliage around the ring until you find a shape that you're happy with, and add some "features": rose hips, holly berries, a twig of mistletoe, etc. If you want, you can add a nice bow out of ribbon, some cinnamon sticks, or other Christmas-y items.

When we finished the wreath and hung it on the front door, Miriam exclaimed, "Wow. The house looks all beautiful for Christmas. Good job mummy!" Then she insisted that we use the leftover greenery to decorate inside the house, so we now have beautiful leaves decorating our mantelpiece as well.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas Treat Plates

One of the great things about Christmas time is making Christmas treats. Even people who never venture near an oven feel the urge to make Christmas cookies or attempt a Christmas cake. Baked goods and other treats can make great Christmas gifts.

Everyone has people that they want to do more than just a card for, but don't really want to buy a gift for (for example, your children's teachers, neighbours, friends at church, etc.). Putting together little plates of treats is fun, easy, and relatively inexpensive, and makes a great home-made gift. We recently made up some plates of goodies for people that we go to church with and my daughter's preschool teachers.

It's traditional at Christmas (here in England at least) to have mince pies. The problem is, not very many people actually like mince pies. So we made mini apple pies instead. I cheated for the sake of time and used pre-made pastry, and just rolled it out myself. I put it in buttered and floured muffin tins, and blind baked the shell (to blind bake, line the uncooked pie shell/pastry with greaseproof paper, and put something like dried beans on top of that, and part bake in the oven. This makes sure the the bottom of the shell is properly cooked and doesn't go soggy when the filling is added). Then we filled it with the apple filling. Earlier in the year when we harvested our apples, we had jarred some apple butter: spiced apple sauce. I pulled that out, and added some chopped crystallized ginger and mixed dried fruit (mostly raisins and candied orange peel). If you don't have apple butter, you could use plain apple sauce, and add cinnamon, and a dash of cloves and nutmeg, as well as some brown sugar and dried fruit. We filled the mini pie shells.

For the top of the pies, we wanted something that was easy and seasonal. So we rolled out the pie crust, and then with the kitchen scissors we cut out shapes like stars and hearts that we placed on top of the pies.

After that we baked them for about 20 minutes. The result was adorable. Single serving size, delicious mini pies that looked Christmasy.

We also made rice crispy treats (your standard butter, melted marshmallows or marshmallow cream, and rice crispies ones with sprinkles on top). The girls loved it because they could do almost all of it by themselves.

We also made mini brownies (in paper cupcake cases), with white chocolate drizzled on top, and several varieties of sugar cookies (I'll try to do a separate post on those, including recipes).

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Feed the Birds

This time of year, many of us are busy decorating our homes and gardens for Christmas. This week, we put up Christmas lights in our front yard. We've wanted icicle lights for the front of the house for years, and finally treated ourselves to a set :)

When we decorate our garden for the winter, we try to make it look festive and remember the local wildlife. Winter is often a difficult time for birds and other wildlife because food is scarce.

We recently juiced some apples (the last of this year's apples from our trees). We were left with all of the apple pulp in the juicer, and didn't want to just throw it away. So we used it to make our own bird feeder balls. Here's how.

1. You will need apple pulp, peanuts and/or bird seeds, and string/ribbon/twine. You also need an oven.
2. Take the apple pulp (this would also work with pear or another similar fruit), and a piece of string at least 8 inches long. Form the pulp into a ball with the string running through the middle of it.
3. Push peanuts and birdseeds into the pulp--push about halfway in so that they are easily visible and accessible, but are still firmly attached to the ball. The birds will be more interested in eating the nuts and seeds than the dried fruit, so be generous in how many you add.
4. Bake the balls. I put them directly on the bottom tray of the oven while dinner was cooking. Ideally you want them to cook for about an hour (until firm) at a low heat.
5. Use the ribbon to tie the balls onto branches of trees, bushes, gates, etc.

Not only are these fun, cheap, and easy to make, they look great out, and help to feed the birds. It's really cheerful on a winter's day to look out and see birds gathered in your garden because you've provided them with a snack. If you want to make them more festive looking, use green or red string, or a Christmasy ribbon.

For more ideas on decorating your garden in wildlife-friendly ways, click here.