MAKE POMANDER BALLS FOR HOLIDAY DECOR AND GIFT-GIVING


Inserting whole cloves into a firm apple or citrus fruit to create what is known as a pomander is a lovely traditional craft you might remember doing when you were young. Tis the season to pass this artful fun on to your own kids or grandkids. Easy to make, pomander balls’ rustic beauty and holiday scent make them unique gifts for friends and neighbors that will last long into the new year.
For this version using apples, you’ll need to do some shopping for just two ingredients, whole cloves and apples. I economize by buying cloves in bulk at our neighborhood co-op grocery story. You may also find them in jars in the spice section of most markets. Use any size apple you prefer. This year, I chose cute small snack-size apples rather than larger ones, which makes creating a lovely clove-studded apple easier for kids to complete in one sitting.

Here’s the stuff for one pomander ball covered with cloves:
— Fresh, firm apple
— Whole cloves
— Narrow festive ribbon
— Toothpick or bamboo skewer
— Gift box to fit finished pomander ball and one sheet of tissue paper (for gift-giving)

Here’s the fun:
To cover the entire apple with cloves, use the toothpick or bamboo skewer and poke several evenly spaced small holes making a circular pattern through the apple skin, beginning near the top stem. Insert cloves one by one into these holes, like a “dot to dot” activity. (Leave space between the cloves, as the apple will shrink in size.) Continue making holes around and around the apple and filling them with cloves until you reach the base.
For a gift, decorate the clove-studded apple by criss-crossing colorful ribbon around it vertically once or twice and topping it with a loop to hang in a windowsill or on a wreath. For a nice presentation, set in small gift box with tissue paper. When the recipient lifts the lid, the delicious, spicy scent will permeate the air.
Extra idea using citrus:
Using a similar technique, poke holes into the rind of citrus fruit, such as oranges, lemons and limes. Instead of covering fruit entirely with cloves, use as many as you would like to create swirls, shapes or alphabet letters. If you have visitors coming to your holiday dinner, make a place card by forming the initial of their name, add a bow on top and place the fruit on the center of each plate.

ROSEMARY CASHEWS-GREAT FOR GIFTS AND FOR SNACKING


I’m nuts about nuts. All year round. I try to keep a bowl of fresh, shelled California almonds replenished and within easy reach on the kitchen counter for a grab and go snack. And thanks to my Georgia-raised friend, I have a stash of tasty pecans for tossing on salads and desserts.

For special occasions, our tastes shift to cashews, and this easy recipe that makes them, well, more festive. The addition of fresh rosemary and cayenne pepper is unexpected and always gets raves.

Here’s our family version, which calls for your kids’ assistance. Let them take charge of pulling the fresh rosemary leaves off the stems before you mince the fragrant herb with a sharp knife. Heat up the nuts in the oven and the remaining steps come together in minutes.

Double the recipe for gift-giving. Instead of filling cellophane food bags, use recycled clear-glass jars. Your kids might want to make it whimsical and reminiscent of a snow globe scene by layering the seasoned cashews in the bottom third and adding a cute foil covered chocolate snowman or ornament on top of the cashews. Anchor sprigs of rosemary upright to mimic pine trees, screw on the lid and add a tag. For an extra gift, tie a spoon to the jar for scooping up the flavorful treat.

Let’s get cooking…
ROSEMARY CASHEWS
3 cups roasted, unsalted cashews
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the cashews in one layer on a cookie sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, or until warm and lightly toasted.
Combine the rosemary, brown sugar, salt, melted butter and cayenne pepper (if you wish an extra kick) in a large bowl. When the cashews are heated, immediately pour them into the bowl with the spice butter mixture. Toss thoroughly.
Cool and serve. Store in an airtight container up to two weeks.
Note: If you prefer, substitute 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup for 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

MAKE BROWNIE MIX IN A JAR



It’s a handmade and homemade kind of holiday season this year.
If there are still some people on your gift list you wish to remember with a little something, or you need some grab-and-go hostess gifts on hand for parties and get-togethers, create this “from your kitchen” gift idea in an afternoon this week.
Be sure to get your kids involved in making this creative go-to stash of gift jars filled with the dried ingredients for making super chocolaty, chewy and moist brownies. A throwback kitchen craft, this updated version is fun to assemble with even your preschooler. What 4-year-old doesn’t like to scoop and pour? That’s what building the layers of brownie ingredients in a jar is all about as they work to create an artful gift of yummy ingredients.


Here’s how to make a “Brownie Mix in a Jar”:
1. Assembly-line fashion, set out the ingredients, including clean, wide-mouth quart-size jars and lids, on the kitchen counter or a large table. Place a measuring spoon or measuring cup by each ingredient, along with a card stating the name of the ingredient and the correct quantity to scoop into each jar.
2. Layer the following ingredients, in the following order, for one recipe. Pack firmly before adding the next layer. (Use a narrow drinking glass to tamp down ingredients.)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup baking cocoa powder
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup small, unwrapped candy, such as M&M’s (optional)
3. Secure lid, add a gift tag and a card with these baking instructions:

CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Makes 6 large brownies
Heat oven to 350 F.
Grease or line the bottom of an 8-inch pan with parchment paper.
Pour contents of the jar into a large mixing bowl, and add:
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Stir lightly until blended, then pour into pan and bake for 25 minutes.
Cool in pan, cut into squares and serve.

MAKE BAKED APPLE RINGS AND MICROWAVE APPLESAUCE

 


Baked apple rings are a tasty and nutritious snack you can make in your own kitchen on a chilly fall day. We use zesty apples that friends share with us from their backyard trees, or we buy them at farmer’s markets and apple orchards.
The drying process concentrates the sweetness of the apples, making them an ideal snack food to grab between meals or to include with trail mix on a hike or bike ride. Enjoyable for adults and kids to make together, you also can turn any leftover raw end apple pieces into chunky applesauce in just minutes in the microwave.

BAKED APPLE RINGS
Makes about 50 rings depending on apple size
4 firm apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 250 F.

Prepare pans. Place wire cooling racks on two large baking trays. Or line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

An adult should core and cut the apples in 1/8-inch rings using a sharp knife or mandolin. There will be extra irregular-size pieces on the ends. Snack on them as you work, or save for making microwave applesauce (see recipe below).

In a shallow dish, stir together lemon juice and water. Set prepared baking trays on the counter by ingredients. Young kids will enjoy dipping each slice into the lemon mixture and setting them on a rack or parchment paper. Edges may overlap slightly.

Bake rings until dried with a leathery texture, about two hours. (If using parchment-paper-lined pans, an adult should flip the rings over after 1 hour and return to oven for additional hour.)

Remove from oven and enjoy! Cool before storing.

Extra idea: For added flavor, sprinkle a mixture of 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar over the rings before baking.

MICROWAVE CHUNKY APPLESAUCE
Makes 2 servings
2 cups apple chunks from cored apples of one or more varieties, peeled or unpeeled if you like (red peels may give your applesauce a nice rosy color)
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a deep microwave-safe bowl.

Cook, uncovered at full power for 5 minutes. Remove and stir well. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Use a potato masher or whisk to mash and stir the apples into the liquid.
Cool and serve or refrigerate.

TURN HOUSEHOLD ITEMS INTO JUGGLING BALLS

Running a household requires the skills of a juggler. First come the kids and their schedules, then toss in cooking, cleaning, car repair and pets. As most parents will attest, just when you think you’ve got it, the unexpected comes along to throw everything off balance! Start and stop … the juggling act never ends.

My kids called themselves jugglers too, but for them it was juggling oranges out of the fruit bowl, potatoes from the pantry or just about anything that crossed their paths. Then, with some creative thinking, we came up with some alternatives, like a set of juggling balls.

Much to their delight, we made these handy, sturdy balls in minutes using basic supplies we had in the kitchen.

Here’s how:
Scoop 1/2 cup of uncooked instant rice into a plastic sandwich bag. For heavier balls, you may substitute the rice with dried beans or clean sand. Pinch the bag tightly around the rice, squeeze out any air, make it into a ball shape and secure the ball shape with a rubber band. Cut off the excess plastic bag near the rubber-band knot.

Cut the tip off the neck end of two sturdy, medium-size balloons in contrasting colors. Stretch one of the balloons over the filled bag, making sure the rubber-band side is completely covered. The balloon should fit very tightly. Snip three or four quarter-inch holes randomly on the second balloon. Stretch it over the ball, covering the opening of the first balloon. The cutouts will reveal the color of the first balloon.

Make several balls with a variety of cutout shapes and colors, and let the performance begin! For extra-sturdy balls, add a third balloon. Store your set of juggling balls in an empty and clean Pringle’s-style chip can. Cover with decorative adhesive-backed paper.

Tip: If you are a beginning juggler, practice the moves using three lightweight chiffon scarves. When you toss them in the air one by one, they come back down slowly to help you get the hang of it!

MAKE GIANT ABC’S FOR EARLY LEARNING FUN


Fun times are ahead for preschoolers and kindergartners when you create a collection of hands-on alphabet letters that reinforce sounds and the words they are learning to pronounce, read and spell. Craft the 26 letters, save and use them over and over to practice language learning skills.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–26 sheets of poster board or cardboard, 9 inches by 12 inches
–pencil and markers
–scissors
–assorted small glue-on objects, stickers, magazine cut-outs of items whose names start with the sound of specific letters (see suggestions below)
–glue

Here’s the fun:
1. Draw large block letters for each alphabet letter on poster board/cardboard. Cut out. (Instead of making all at once, consider designing a letter per week. Or start with a few, such as those that spell your child’s name.)
2. Choose a letter together and come up with things that begin with the sound of that letter. For example, the sound “p” in pasta for the letter “P.” Look on your shelf for dry pasta and glue a few pieces on the big “P.”
Here are more simple items with crafty ideas to get you started:
A. Cut a small apple in half, dip dried cut side into paint, and stamp on the A. Or, glue plastic ants crawling over.
B. Buttons, beads and balls on a blue letter B.
C. Candy and candy wrappers on C.
D. Use a cotton swab to glue paper punch dots on D.
E. Crushed eggshells all over the E.
F. Floral fabric scraps and silk flowers on F.
G. Green glitter glued on a green letter G.
H. Print your child’s hand with poster paint on H.
I. Cut a cone and rounds of ice cream from paper to glue on I.
J. Glue a jam label or some jacks to J.
K. Apply lipstick to your lips and smother K with kisses.
L. Glue pressed leaves to L.
M. Draw a picture of your mailbox and glue mail on M.
N. Glue real nickels on N.
O. Glue raw oatmeal and cereal “O’s” to an orange O.
P. Glue popped popcorn to a purple P.
Q. Cover Q with craft feathers. Add a paper beak, eye and feet to resemble a quail.
R. Glue silk or pressed roses on a red R.
S. Glue used postage stamps on S.
T. Cover T with twisted and tangled masking and Scotch tape on T.
U. Draw a ukulele on U.
V. Make a Valentine on a violet V.
W. Glue wood chips to a white W.
X. Glue on pictures of xylophones on X.
Y: Shape and glue pieces of yellow yarn in “Y” shapes on Y.
Z. With zippers closed, glue the fabric portion of recycled zippers to Z. When dry, they can be opened and closed.

SCOOP UP FUN


Make a wonderfully versatile toy for the entire family to enjoy.  These scoops for tossing and catching lightweight balls are perfect for play in the backyard, at a park or especially when you’re at the beach. So when the family wants to play a game of catch, you’ve got that one covered. And when you need a sand shovel, you’ve got that one, too.
Start by fishing around under your sink or in the recycling bin for two plastic laundry detergent bottles.

Here’s what you’ll need:
–Two 2-quart or larger plastic laundry detergent bottles with side handles
–Scissors
–Marker
–Stickers
–Child’s sock (optional)

Here’s the fun:
Wash the 2 bottles and remove any paper labels. With a pair of sharp scissors, an adult should cut off the entire base of each bottle and toss the pieces back in the recycling bin. It’s easier to cut off than it might look. Dig the tip of the scissors into a point along the line of the base and then just start cutting.
On the handle side of the container, draw a big “U” shape with a marker so that the bottom of the “U” meets the handle. The shape should be wider than the size of a plastic Wiffle-style ball and extend to the cut-off base. Again, an adult should cut this shape out. Soften the edges by trimming off and rounding the sharp corners.
Let the kids decorate the two scoops with stickers.

Now you have your ball catchers and great sand shovels. But uh-oh. In the middle of a great game of scooper catch, the ball disappears into an unexpected wave. Is the game over? No!
Remove the lid and cup a sock around the spout of one of the scoops. Pour some sand into the scoop so that it works as a funnel, filling the bottom of the sock. When your “ball” is the size you would like for tossing, remove from the scoop and tie a secure tight knot in the sock. Replace the lid on the scoop.
Stand up, put the sock in one scoop, give the other scoop to a friend, and toss the ball!
If you miss, keep at it. It does take practice, after all.

Tip: If your kids are a little older and are skilled ball players, you might want to consider making the opening of the scoop a bit smaller for more of a challenge. Or, simply start with a smaller detergent bottle.

THE MAGIC OF BUBBLES

“Bubbles.” It’s hard to say the word without a smile. Everything seems to be just a bit better and festive with bubbles — birthday parties, weddings and summer family reunions.

The other day, I had fun asking kids and adults of all ages the simple question: “What do you think of bubbles?” Without hesitation, they said:

“Mesmerizing!”

“I love their perfect spheres.”

“I’m always happy when I see bubbles.”

“I feel like I’m at a party.”

“They’re like out of a fairy tale.”

“If the sun is right, you can see your reflection in them.”

“They’re fun to pop.”

“They are the best!”

So, there you have it. Bubbles bring sparkle and energy to life. Bring on the bubbles this summer with this simple, basic homemade bubble brew. Look around your home and find possible bubblers. Experiment and see what you like best. Then enjoy popping them or watching them as they loft above you with the breeze.

HOMEMADE BUBBLE BREW

To make the solution you’ll need:

1 large plastic bowl

2 cups warm water

1 cup dishwashing detergent (preferably Joy or Dawn)

2 tablespoons glycerin (sold from the pharmacy)

Here’s the fun:

Pour water in the bowl. Measure out and add the liquid detergent. (Please make sure it’s not detergent for dishwashers.) Stir.

Add the glycerin and stir a little more.

Pull out your junk box, kitchen utensil drawers and cupboards, and say to your kids, “Everyone find a thing or two that isn’t sharp, won’t get soggy in water and that has lots of holes in it!”

For example, spatulas, biscuit cutters, plastic strawberry cartons and plastic caps with small holes on spice jars (clip on a clothespin or chip clip for a wand handle). One of my favorites is a plastic flyswatter, which, when dipped in solution, makes dozens of itty-bitty bubbles when you wave it.

You may also make your own bubbler by twisting thin wire into a shape such as a square, heart or circle. Leave enough wire to twist together a handle. Thread colorful plastic or wooden beads on the handle to decorate the wand, if you wish.

Go outside, choose a bubble maker, dip it in the soapy liquid, and gently blow through it, or grandly wave it back and forth above your head while the bubbles

 Make giant bubbles with a homemade recipe:

Giant Bubble Solution

Makes a little more than a gallon

Ingredients:

1 cup Original Dawn liquid dishwashing liquid or ultra Dawn if not available

3/4 teaspoon J-Lube (optional) available online

1 gallon warm water

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons glycerin available at pharmacies and some markets such as Whole Foods

 

1-Stir J-Lube in the cup of dishwashing liquid.

2-Pour warm water in large clean bucket or 2-gallon size container. Stir in baking powder and glycerin. Add the dishwashing liquid/J-Lube mixture and combine.

Make simple bubbler:

Here’s the stuff you need:

-two thin wooden dowels about a yard in length for larger bubbles, or two chop sticks for smaller “still big” bubbles

-household string

-metal washer

Here’s the fun:

Tie one piece of string approximately 4 ft in length on the end of both dowels. On the same ends of the dowel tie another string approximately 8 ft in length. Before tying the 8 ft string slip a washer on the string and slide it to the middle. After tying, when you hold the dowels apart approximately 3 ft, the strings should form a large V with the washer being the bottom tip of the V.

To use:

Hold sticks with both hands at the ends opposite the string. Bring sticks and hanging string together touching, then dip in the bubble mixture to completely cover the string. Keeping sticks together, slowly lift straight up out of the solution. Raise arms high and gently open sticks and move in a slow motion to create bubbles. Open and close the sticks slowly as bubbles emerge. If there isn’t a breeze, walk and gently wave the open sticks to create the bubbles.

 

 

 

ARRANGE A PARTY CHEESE BOARD WITH KIDS

There are so many ways that kids can be part of daily meal prep, from setting the table or popping ice cubes into a pitcher of water to hulling fresh strawberries for dessert.
Routine jobs are important to family life, and new responsibilities can be introduced as kids grow and become more confident in their kitchen skills. It’s especially gratifying for kids when they can be part of the action when company comes.
If there’s an end-of-summer informal barbecue on your calendar, there are always extra to-dos, many of which are suited for young helpers, like arranging fresh fruit, cheese slices and other tasty and healthy nibbles on a cheese board for a delightful, trendy appetizer.
Kids are artistic by nature, so first give them an opportunity to take a visual tour with you in the kitchen to find out what healthy appetizer-type food items are on hand on pantry shelves, in the refrigerator and in the fruit bowl on the counter. They’ll no doubt be inspired by the rainbow of colors on the spectrum, from red cherry tomatoes to green olives and violet grapes.
Now it’s time for them to get creative.

BASIC FAMILY-FRIENDLY CHEESE BOARD

For young school-age kids, begin with a few foods that can go directly to a cheese board or platter with minimal fuss. Good choices are pre-sliced cheeses, nuts, olives, dried fruit, cold cuts like salami and clusters of washed grapes. Kids can line up the cheese or place a chunk of cheese at an angle with a cheese knife to the side. Put small piles of nuts near cheeses, line up cold cuts in rows, then fill in spaces with dried fruit, grapes, sweet cherries and berries. Pile a variety of crackers here and there.

If you have space, spoon prepared hummus into tiny bowls for spreading on crackers. Peanut butter, jelly and honey will make the selection even more kid-friendly. Add style with a few edible blooms, such as nasturtiums, or use a pretty silk flower or two.

As kids become more comfortable in the kitchen, teach them how to mix their own sweet and savory dips, slice vegetables and wrap breadsticks, pretzels or asparagus with cheese or meat.

Extra family fun: When guests arrive, your young child might like to play the role of a “waiter” and take orders from adults of their choices from the cheese board. They can assemble the “order” on a small plate and deliver it to the guest.

“SEW EASY” HOODED BATH AND SWIM TOWEL


Sew a simple fingertip or hand towel to a colorful bath towel in contrasting colors and your child will have a clever hooded cover-up that can be used every time he or she finishes play and swim time in a lake, the ocean or a swimming pool. It’s a plain and simple, cozy solution for the post-swim chill. Come fall, it’s just as useful and comforting when getting out of the bathtub. Whatever the wet occasion, being wrapped in this hooded bath towel from head to toe feels oh so good.

Once you see how quickly it comes together, sewing just two seams, get inspired to make more for birthday party presents — and even for a baby shower gift, by reducing the towel dimensions for a baby or toddler size.
Enlist your older kids to help you measure and pin. If they’ve never used a sewing machine, it’s a good first sewing project because of the simple straight seams.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for a hooded towel for a young school-age child:
— 1 fingertip towel with or without fringe, about 11 by 18 inches
— 1 bath towel in similar or contrasting color, about 25 by 48 inches
— straight pins
— thread
— large button or a 2-inch strip of hook and loop fastener, such as Velcro brand (optional)
— sewing machine
Here’s the fun:
1. Fold the fingertip towel in half widthwise with right sides facing. Pin one of the short sides together with straight pins.
2. Sew along the pinned side, allowing for a 1/2-inch seam. Turn right-side out. You have now made the hood portion.
3. Measure, and mark with tailor’s chalk or a pin, the center point on one of the long edges of the bath towel. Now, mark the center point on the unsewn length of the fingertip towel. Match the points of the towels and pin them together, right sides facing.
4. Stitch the towels together from one end of the pinned fingertip towel to the other.
5. Fit the hooded towel on your child. For a front closure, stitch strips of Velcro to the bath towel, or make a buttonhole and sew on a button (optional).