ditch trees

December 28, 2009

This year, and many years in the past I have gotten a Christmas tree from the ditch. When I was little, my dad would go out and find us little trees for our bedrooms. I always looked forward to this, carefully decorating the little tree in my little room. Now that I have a house, I still like to find a tree outside somewhere and use it. I really like unusual trees, and have found that they are readily available in ditches. Ditch trees around here are often arborvitae, also known as red cedar, and are usually cut down every few years anyway, so I don’t really feel too bad about using them.

On Christmas Eve, my friends Swati and Eric and I went out to collect some Christmas cheer. We used Eric’s big car (another reason that I need a pickup truck..) to haul the tree after we cut it down. This year Eric had a source for the more traditional pine ditch-tree (not the scraggly arborvitae). We drove to the spot, found a “minimalist” tree, chopped it down, and brought it home. The whole process took less time than it would have to go to Hy-Vee, select a tree, pay for it, and tie it to the top of the car.

My sister Nozomi was visiting for Christmas with her parents. They came over right after we brought the tree inside and put all the lights on. I LOVE having family visit for the holidays!!!

Since I only had 12 ornaments and 1 strand of lights, the slightly sparse tree worked out very well. The ornaments are knitted Christmas balls, that I made last year out of Noro yarn. They are very nicely multicolored and cheerful.

christmas apples

December 23, 2009

This pattern came from my friend Jeanne. She used to have a knitting shop in Oskaloosa, and one of her customers brought it in to her. Not sure where exactly where it came from, but it sure is cute! And a great way to use up scraps. It is quick, easy to finish, and satisfying to knit.

The apples are knit in garter stitch with short row shaping, and sewn up the side. I stuffed mine with colored wool, and then gathered the strings from to and bottom to shape the apple.

I have some sort of ambitious plan to finish 12 of them for Christmas, but am not sure that I will make it. Currently at 8.5 and counting…

Jeanne gave me 4 apples (including the one pictured above) which are hanging on my “tree” along with some unfinished apples as I haven’t  gotten to the leaves and stems yet.

The stems are tiny little i-cords, and the leaves are little spots of garter stitch.

Supplies for Knitted Apple Ornament

Yarn scraps in various shades of red, green, brown, or anything else that you might like an apple made out of. And some wool batting (you can also use polyester, but I find that stuffing with wool makes a much nicer feeling object. You will also need a sewing needle and some knitting needles that coordinate with the yarn (a tight gauge is good for this project).

I will post the pattern later today, as I am at home and left it at work…

christmas in a pot

December 21, 2009

This is a  simple recipe for making your house smell all spicy and delicious (without baking!). Having been really busy at the store this week, this is the perfect way to make my house feel like I have been making stuff…

This is also a great method to add a little more humidity into your home, which is good this time of year.


A large enameled cast iron pot (stainless steel works too)

1 orange, cut in half

a stick of cinnamon

5-10 cloves

Place above ingredients in a large pot with a good amount of water. I like to squeeze the orange a little to release some of the juice and oils from the skin. Set the pot on a trivet on your wood stove if you have one, or on the kitchen stove on low. Keep an eye on your pot to make sure that it doesn’t boil dry!

Enjoy the wintery citrus and spice smells!!

hazelnut marzipan kisses

December 15, 2009

I am trying to think of a better name for these, but until I (or someone else) come up with something, kisses they are. This is a very simple treat that I learned how to make in Switzerland (but I don’t think that it is traditionally Swiss). There are three ingredients; marzipan, toasted hazelnuts, and chocolate.

My favorite marzipan to use for this particular recipe is imported by my friends’ company, Purely Organic. It is very sweet, so a little goes a long way. I made about 60 candies with one package of marzipan, and I think that you could stretch it even more.

To make about 60 kisses

1 package (8.8 oz) marzipan

about 60 nuts (toast extra just in case)

a few chunks of chocolate (sorry to be vague but I didn’t measure…)

Toast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. WATCH LIKE A HAWK. Over toasting nuts is one of the easiest things to do!

After the hazelnuts are toasted, the skins crack and are easy to remove. I usually place the nuts in a towel and rub them together until the skins come most of the way off, and then finish removing them with my fingers. Make sure to wash your hands when you are finished removing the skins, as you don’t want them ending up stuck all over you nice light brown marzipan.

The next step is to pinch off a piece of marzipan and roll it into a little ball.

When you have made a few balls, press a hazelnut into the top. I like to have the point of the nut facing up. Because marzipan dries out quickly, it is important to do this in batches so that the edges don’t crack. Make a few balls, add the hazelnuts, and continue like this.

Once you have finished making the candies, you can dip them in melted dark chocolate. This step is optional, but I definitely love adding the brown cap. Kind of like a little acorn. I melted my dark chocolate chunks in a double boiler that would have made my sister squirm. But I only dropped the chocolate pan into the water once, and the finished product came out well, so I think it was okay. I guess the main thing with heating chocolate in a double boiler is that you don’t want the top pan to touch the water below, or the chocolate will get too hot. (If you have any questions, just call Heli-Claire!)

After the kisses are dipped, leave them out until the chocolate cools.

After the chocolate cools, I place the kisses in an air tight container with sheets of waxed paper between the layers. They keep well, although I can’t really tell you how long, as they usually are gone within a few days…

brandied cranberries

December 9, 2009

Last Monday my dad and I went down to the Dutchman’s store in Cantril. We found a nice collection of items including a new pair of lined pigskin gloves for firewood duty, some potting soil, hotpads, peanut butter filled pretzels, and cranberries! Fresh Wisconsin cranberries to be exact. Two large bags of them…

I can’t resist a good looking batch of fruit, and so I grabbed them up and brought them home, thinking the whole while about everything that I could make.

Brandy, cranberries, cinnamon, sugar, and orange zest. That is it! The recipe is from Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, by Linda Ziedrich. I made one batch and liked it so much that I made a second! The recipe is simple, and the preserves can be processed for storage, or eaten right away! I put mine in little jars to give away, or open and eat all by myself. (Sometimes pint or 1/2 pint jars are too big for  me to finish soon enough, so the smaller servings come in handy. And they are cute.)

I used one of my favorite tools on this project; a citrus zester. There are sharpened little circles across the top, and you drag the zester down the side of the orange (or lemon, lime, etc) and it peels nice even strips off. The hole on the side is for larger pieces of zest. I am not much of a gadget person, but this particular tool is awesome!

Cranberries, sugar, and zest, ready to be baked in a slow oven. The sugar almost caramelizes a little, and the flavors mellow and come together. I would guess that most of the alcohol cooks out of the brandy, but the taste is definitely still there!

The finished preserve is a rich dark red, with a hint of cinnamon and a refreshing tang.

pomander balls

December 9, 2009

When I was little, I remember my mom sitting us down at the kitchen table with a bowl of oranges, and a bowl of cloves. My friends Adrien and Dain were over, and we all set out to work on our pomander balls.

Our sort of pomander balls are made by poking holes in oranges and filling them with whole cloves, and then dusting the finished product with powdered cinnamon. The whole process smells lovely, and the result is a beautiful ball that can be used for decoration, or to keep out moths and bad smells. They are nice to keep in a dresser drawer.


as many oranges as you would like to make (I used smallish, firm, not too juicy oranges)

a dish of whole cloves

a little dish of powdered cinnamon to dust on the studded oranges at the end

a thick darning needle, a nail, or a thin metal knitting needle

a tea towel to place in your lap during the process

optional ribbons

Step one is to poke holes in the orange with the needle. You could skip this and dig right in with the cloves, but I have found that the needle step saves your fingers a little.

Step two. Place the cloves into the holes as carefully as you can. I found that some of the cloves broke easily, but most of the heads stayed on.

When you have covered the orange with cloves (or have gotten fed up with the process), dust the orange with cinnamon. I dusted it lightly, and then tapped the orange gently to remove excess.

The finished oranges can be decorated with ribbons tied around the middle. Leave the orange alone where the ribbon is to go (stick with cloves on either side) and then tie the ribbon around the orange after dusting with cinnamon.

The oranges will dry out and remain sweet smelling for a long time.