Archived Ideas for ‘12 December’

IDEA 91: MAKE A DAY-OFF TRADITION

Dec
2016

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Do you ever experience an after-the-holiday lull? Not exactly down (or maybe a little down), more like, “Now what?”

Sometimes a day off is well spent noshing pudding while binge-re-watching your favorite Netflix series. But if that activity doesn’t feed your soul (or if you can’t get away with it in your particular household) why not have a holiday day-off tradition? This could be a Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New year’s eve or New Year’s Day event. It can be on your own, or with family or friends. But the secret is to make it the thing you do, every year (unless you don’t feel like it, which is allowed because it’s YOUR tradition).

Mine doesn’t always occur on the same day, this year it was Christmas Eve, but for the last several years it’s been making decorated gingerbread animal cookies.

Over the years these have shown up on the BellaPamella Facebook page. And I think that’s how I discovered it has become a tradition.

We always use the same recipe from an old Williams Sonoma cookbook. You can find a similar one on line. But really any one would do.

The story is easily told in pictures. And I would just add that buying or finding some small boxes to allow any guests to take a few cookies home with them is truly the icing on the cookie. So to speak.

We find this activity to be calming as well as creative, something that really works in our house. Have a wonderful holiday season and remember, when in doubt, bake something!

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IDEA 74: MAKE A HOLIDAY KITCHEN TREE

Dec
2014

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Many years ago, at a kitchen shop, I was enticed by a silver-plated Christmas ornament in the shape of a miniature colander. It was at that very moment I decided to give my beloved kitchen a Christmas tree of its own.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of extra room in my kitchen, so I bought the smallest tree I could find, about 2 ½ feet high.

Over the years I have collected special kitchen themed ornaments for this tree, which has now become an annual tradition, brought home along with the regular sized family Christmas tree.

Kitchen_Tree_silver_3Kitchen_Tree_UtensilsKitchen_Tree_Silver

I’ve got a tiny old fashioned egg beater, a whisk, rolling pin, fry pan, cheese shredder, kettle, a mini spoon, knife and fork, a tiny blender and myriad plates, cups and teapots.

Kitchen_Tree_Pear_TeapotKitchen_Tree_pitchersKitchen_Tree_CoffeesKitchen_Tree_BlenderKitchen_Tree_Plates

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To make your own kitchen tree, you’ll need a small tree stand with a water reservoir. The one I use is much bigger than it needs to be, but it was one we had around so I use it. Look for a nicely shaped “table top” tree. They are much less expensive than a full sized one, although I usually have to shop around a couple places to find them.

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I like to start by winding a beautiful ribbon on the tree. I don’t use any lights. But you could if you want to.

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My wide ribbon has wire in the edges. This makes it very easy to just sort of unwind the ribbon down the tree. It naturally wants to curve that way.

Then I insert several “fruit picks”. I keep these with my ornaments and just stick them right into the tree.

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You don’t need everything right away. In fact, it’s more fun to add a new ornament to your kitchen tree each year.

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So what do you put on the treetop? A star shaped cookie cutter, of course.

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IDEA 58: GINGERBREAD THERAPY

Dec
2012

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Sometimes, during the holiday season, it’s all we can do to get the dang tree into the house. As the Big Day draws near, we start eliminating things from our To-Do list, aware of the fact that we just can’t get it all done. Then, other years, we look around and realize we’re pretty much ready, with days to spare. And somehow in our emotionally-charged state we can feel let down, wondering, what’s everyone else up to?

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It’s times like this we need to take charge. We need to buy some molasses (because that’s usually the only ingredient we don’t already have) and make some gingerbread cookie dough. Why? Because we can.

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If you don’t have a bucket full of various cookie cutters, it’s time to start collecting!

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I love to bring out the animals, as well as my perennial favorite, the pear.

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Cooking the cookies will fill the house with an awesome aroma. And decorating can be done very simply: with white icing (1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, 4 or 5 teaspoons milk) and the occasional cinnamon red candy. Snip off the corner of a plastic bag and squeeze the icing out in a thin line or dots.

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If you have a kid around they may come up with something more complicated, like this incredible, tiny gingerbread house made by my daughter.

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No matter what you do you should feel creative, and practical, since you can eat all mistakes and be amazed that they taste just as good as the masterpieces.

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Have a lovely, simple, happy, wonderful-smelling holiday this year!

IDEA 49: GO GREEN THIS HOLIDAY

Dec
2011

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Do you ever get just a little bugged by the amount of holiday wrapping that ends up either in the fireplace or the trash? Does it kind of gnaw on you to have to add extra money to your holiday budget to buy gift wrap and ribbons? I’ll admit it. Both those things kind of bother me. So, here’s something I’m doing this year.

If you read the last post, you saw the groovy brown paper roll I keep for oodles of practical purposes. And I just wrapped up a bunch of gifts in that simple paper. I got the boxes from a stash in the attic (three of these are shoe boxes), and used fabric ribbons, also from my stash. I like to use satin or grosgrain ribbon because I re-use them year after year. Yes, really I do. I leave a lot of them cut quite long, and don’t necessarily cut them again. And on Christmas morning the ribbons go in a basket and the brown paper will go in the fireplace. If you’re halfway decent at gift wrapping you could even leave off the tape. But I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.

The other thing I collect is little fake berry bunches from the craft and floral store. These get tucked in the bow and also saved year after year. And both the embellishments and ribbons are always purchased either off-season or after the holiday at drastic discounts. One thing I like about buying off-season is you can pick up less-expected looking ornamentation. Another is that I can find things at my leisure, rather that settling for whatever I can find at the last minute.

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That’s it. Just a quick simple idea from an self-described cheapskate!

IDEA 48: KID ART GIFT WRAP

Dec
2011

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If you’ve been a BellaPamella fan long enough, you remember the “famous” BellaPamella Kid Art Calendar. (See more here).

Kids churn out such a quantity of beautiful work, I’m always thinking about new ways to use it. This idea is absolutely the perfect thing, especially for gifts to grandparents: Use some of that fabulous art as wrapping paper. Even if your gift is a box of chocolates, how much more fun is it to wrap the box in art made by your kids, and sent from the whole family? It’s not just original and cool, it gives kids a chance to make a contribution.

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Of course this idea is pretty self explanatory. The hardest part is deciding whether you want to use your favorite ones. But I’ve found kids have a bottomless capacity to crank out pictures, often of the same theme.

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I keep a collection of ribbons in a bin. There are great sales on rolls of grosgrain or satin ribbon to be found at the craft or fabric store. I buy a few rolls whenever I’m inspired. Then these can be used to tie up your packages. Fabric ribbon is so beautiful. And yes, I do save the ribbons once the packages are open. It seems silly to save the “disposable” kind of ribbon. But save the fabric ribbon, plop it back in your bin for use another time and it not only makes you feel a tad more environmentally friendly, your ribbon bin stays full.

If you find the artwork your kids are producing isn’t big enough, try giving them a large piece of paper to decorate just for this purpose. But don’t tell them it’s for wrapping paper or that could affect their designs. The fun part is that it doesn’t look like regular wrapping paper. At our house a large paper roll is a staple. A big roll of paper from the paper warehouse lasts for years. Sometimes it’s white. Right now the roll holder is filled with brown paper and I use it for everything. Try tearing off a sheet the size of the table and give the kids fat brushes and bright tempera paints and see what you get. You can then cut off as much as you want and wrap lots of gifts.

Sometime maybe I’ll do a whole blog entry on why your house needs a big paper roll dispenser. Years ago I asked for it for my Christmas present from my husband and I can’t think of a gift I use more. Come to think of it, there’s something to put on your wish list this year. Meanwhile, happy wrapping!

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IDEA 38: MAKE A GINGERBREAD FAMILY TREE

Dec
2010

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This holiday season you can be with your loved ones, even if no one is able to travel. This very sweet and inexpensive idea was inspired by my daughter who, during our holiday cookie bake this year, decided to represent each family member in gingerbread form. The resulting “Family Tree” (captured on our FaceBook page here) was such a hit that we’ve decided to give you some more details. And, as if that weren’t enough, the project was showcased on Twin Cities Live, a local Minnesota television program. Because of the show, our “Family Tree” includes the hosts, Elizabeth Ries, and John Hanson as well as Elizabeth’s Westie, Henry!

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You really could complete this project with only one cookie cutter, the gingerbread man. But since we happened to have a gingerbread girl and a mini cutter, we added dresses and babies to our group. Our little dog was hand cut-out, but if you have a dog-bone shaped cutter, that is another way to include the family pooches in the mix. Of course if you want to include the cat, fish, hamster or whatever, we encourage you to do so!

We used the gingerbread cookie recipe from a Williams-Sonoma cook book. Here’s a link to the recipe on-line. The trick with the cookie dough was to divide it into smallish hunks and chill before trying to roll out. You really need to move quickly and get the cut-out cookies onto the baking sheet before they have a chance to warm up. Bake lots of extras, then let the cookies cool completely.

As I’m sure you have realized there are lots of squeezable cookie frosting products available. And although I truly believe that you should do what works for you, I’m here to tell you that I still think the best option is to make your own. It’s much less expensive and gives you so many more color options. But also, in my not-at-all-official trial of a few of those products, I never found one as easy to control as my own. If for no other reason than, if you make your own you can vary the thickness until it’s right.

Frosting ingredients:

Powdered Sugar

milk

vanilla (optional)

food coloring

For each color, measure one cup of powdered sugar. Add about four teaspoons of milk (and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla if you like). Mix with a spoon to get a glossy-smooth mixture. Now add drops of food color. Here are the quantities we added to one cup of sugar to get our colors:

Poppy Red: 10 drops red

Goldenrod: 4 drops yellow

Blue: 8 drops blue

If your frosting gets too thin, add a little more powder. If it’s too think, add about 1/4 teaspoon milk at a time. For the large area background colors we found a little thinner frosting worked better. The frosting lines would “melt” into each other and form a smooth, even surface. When we made dots or other small designs we found having the frosting slightly thicker worked better.

Once you get all your colors mixed in individual cereal-sized bowls, it time to make your decorating tools. Each color will require a small freezer “zip” bag. Zip open the bag and place one corner of it in a short glass. Now turn the top edges out and down, draping over the glass rim on the outside. Pour the icing as close to the corner of the bag as you can.

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Zip the bag closed, but keep each bag in it’s own glass. This will help keep the mess to a minimum, once you’ve cut them open and need a place to set them down.

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To decorate, snip the tiny corner off the bag. Grip the closed bag ‘behind’ the icing and gently force the icing out the hole. Of course the larger the hole, the thicker your line will be. If you find you’ve made the hole too big, put a new bag in the glass, cut a good inch off the too-big corner and use that nice big hole to squeeze the whole mess into the new bag. Then you can try again.

Now, pick a background color, for example John’s blue suit, and outline the shape of the suit. Now it is as easy a pie to fill in the area just like a coloring book. We found it easiest to fill in with repeated concentric shapes, starting just inside the outline and repeating the shape until they got smaller and smaller and eventually filled in. If you have mixed the icing to a glossy, viscous consistency, you will end up with a nice smooth solid shape. Wait until the background color dries completely, then add the details. This sequence shows the process.

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Make your family members any way you want. Here are some of ours, in case you need ideas.

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Of course I have to point out the ladies (my mom and I) in our BellaPamella aprons! My mom is wearing the Eunice in Kitchen Fruit and I’m sporting the Nora in Ruby Dot!

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Once your gingerbread family tree is finished you can display it on a platter, or bag each one up and tie it with a ribbon to hang on your tree, or theirs. Make a small paper tag with the name on it, slip the ribbon through, and you have a very special handmade gift to give. By the way, if you arrived here from the Twin Cities Live site and wish to see all the projects highlighted on that show, either click on the Twin Cities Live category to the right, or click here.

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Happy Holidays! And don’t forget to have fun with your family, gingerbread and otherwise!

IDEA 18: BEDROOM WREATHS

Dec
2009

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A simple and beautiful tradition to add to your holiday ready-making is the bedroom wreath. We do one for each child’s door. You’ll need a plain evergreen wreath, (you can use artificial wreaths if you prefer), about a yard and a half of 3” wide grosgrain ribbon per wreath, and some smaller, 1/4 inch wide red grosgrain or curling ribbon.

Gather a collection of small toys from each child’s stuff. From my son’s room I collected all red things: A building block, a red crayon, a truck, and red plastic army men. I even made a small red paper airplane. From my daughter’s room I collected tiny wooden spoons and a rolling pin, a small doll, a tiny bear, red plastic toys, even a red pacifier.

Using the narrow ribbon, tie the objects onto the wreaths. Loop the 3” wide ribbon through the center and line up the two raw ends. Thumbtack through both layers to the top edge (horizontal surface) of the door. Use very flat tacks so the door can open and close freely. If you like, embellish with a bow.

If you happened to have installed a hook as suggested in Idea #5 “Saving Private Places,” forgo the wide ribbon. Just hang the wreath right on the hook!

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On December 7, I demonstrated this idea on Twin Cities Live, a local Minnesota show. The wreaths we did on the show are shown below.

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And one we didn’t get to is the “teen” wreath. I used old batteries, an old pair of “ear buds” and my son’s cell phone that went through the wash! Instead of ribbon it’s hung with silver duct tape.

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