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.

CREATE MINI SUCCULENT PUMPKINS


Just in time for Thanksgiving and December holiday gatherings, stylish mini pumpkins can star in stripes, white and various shades of orange for eye-catching place settings and centerpieces when you glue moss and embed living succulents on top.

Give your kids the job of keeping succulents misted every few days as the plants root into the moss, and enjoy the creations in your home now and into the new year. When the mini pumpkins soften and age, toss them in the compost bin and pot the succulents indoors in soil in a flowerpot to grow in bright sunlight or outdoors in a frost-free garden bed.

Get older kids involved in creating the mini succulent pumpkins by swirling the nontoxic sticky glue or a glue gun, handling the wiry moss and arranging different varieties of succulents and add-ins make for artful fun.

Here’s what you’ll need for one succulent mini pumpkin:
–One clean pumpkin with a flat-top surface.
–Water-soluble white glue that dries clear, such as Mod Podge Matte finish or a low-temp glue gun.
–Sphagnum moss available in garden centers or craft stores
–Several succulents. Use cuttings from your garden or purchase at garden centers.
–Natural add-ons such as seedpods, acorns, tiny pine cones, eucalyptus

Here’s the fun
1. Set mini pumpkin on a newspaper-covered work surface. Remove stem with clippers, being careful not to cut into the pumpkin.
2. Drizzle glue around the top area of the pumpkin in swirls. Cover with the moss, about 1/2-inch thick, pressing firmly in place. Let dry.
3. Remove roots and soil from the succulents. Dip short stems into glue and poke into the moss. For balance, place a tall succulent for a focal point near the center and add remaining succulents and add-ons around it over the moss. An adult or older child may use a glue gun to affix the add-ons, if you prefer.

Care: Set the pumpkin on a saucer, trivet or tray. Mist succulents and moss regularly, making sure the pumpkin remains fresh and dry. The succulents will begin to root through the glue into the moss. Keep away from excessive heat, freezing temperatures and rain.

Extra idea: Use at each guest’s place at the Thanksgiving table. Tuck a name card in each one and set at each plate. Spray paint pumpkins in gold or silver for December holiday dinners. Guests may take one home to enjoy into the new year.

 

Watch the video below to see Donna create mini succulent pumpkins on Twin Cities Live.

CELEBRATE CHINESE NEW YEAR WITH FIRECRACKER SHRIMP



When it comes to demystifying Chinese cooking, my friend Katie Chin, daughter of restaurateur Leeann Chin, knows what it takes to bring tasty recipes into American homes. As a chef, cookbook author and television personality, Katie believes in spreading the word about how truly delicious Chinese cuisine can be, starting with sharing culinary traditions with her 8-year-old twins.
“Chinese New Year is coming up on January 28,” she reminds me. “Firecracker shrimp is a tasty and whimsical appetizer to kick off the celebration in our home in Southern California. My sous-chef kids mix the dipping sauce and roll up the ‘firecrackers,’ revealing shrimp tails and carrot strips for ‘fuses.’ As we prep, I’ll tell them about their grandmother’s memories of growing up in China, and how firecrackers (believed to ward off evil spirits) lit up the sky on New Year’s Day.”
Roll up her firecracker shrimp for an appetizer that explodes with flavor in every bite. Adapted from her new cookbook “Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen.”

https://www.amazon.com/Katie-Chins-Everyday-Chinese-Cookbook/dp/0804845220

I enjoyed an afternoon in the kitchen of Katie’s sister Laura with Katie’s fabulous twins, 8 year old Becca and Dylan. Here are some in-step photos of our cooking adventure along with the complete recipe.

The first step in preparation was taking the thin spring roll wrappers out of the package and separating them—a fun job for kids to do.

Cut the wrappers into thirds with kitchen scissors to make 12 long strips, then lightly brush the ends with beaten egg.

                                  

Becca and Dylan showed me how to lay the carrot sticks and shrimp tails just so on the spring roll wrappers to resemble firecrackers when they are fried.

Be sure the ingredients are dry to prevent spattering while frying. She places 4 or 5 at a time in the wok and turns them frequently. It only takes 2-3 minutes per batch.

The kids were in charge of stirring up the tasty dipping sauce while Katie fried the shrimp.

And I got to enjoy eating the tasty, hot appetizer! I’m crazy about them, and so is my family! They’re fabulous  for a special occasion like Chinese New Year, birthdays, and definitely 4th of July!

FIRECRACKER SHRIMP and DIPPING SAUCE
Serves 6 as an appetizer.
1 large carrot, cut into 3-inch-by-1/4-inch matchsticks
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, divided
12 shelled and deveined large, raw shrimp (tails left intact)
4 spring roll wrappers
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Place carrot slices in a small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt. Sprinkle shrimp with remaining garlic salt. Set aside.
Cut each spring roll wrapper into thirds to make 12 long strips.
Brush the top third of each strip with egg. Lay one shrimp at the bottom of the strip. Set a carrot slice on top of the shrimp. Tightly roll, letting the egg seal it together at the end. (The tail of the shrimp and the carrot should protrude from one end to resemble a firecracker) Repeat with remaining wrappers.
In a large wok or deep skillet, heat 2-3 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Fry the shrimp rolls 5 or 6 at a time until golden brown, about 2 minutes, turning 2 to 3 times. Transfer to a cooling rack lined with paper towels.
Serve hot, with dipping sauce.
DIPPING SAUCE
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and Sriracha together.
Cook’s note: Find spring roll wrappers in the freezer section of Asian markets. You may substitute with egg roll wrappers from the produce section of grocery stores.

RESOURCES: “Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen” (Tuttle Publishing) and www.chefkatiechin.com.

 

AND, THERE IS MORE…

Katie has boundless, creative energy. Within minutes of preparing the firecracker shrimp, she was stirring up her Pineapple Fried Rice recipe from her new cookbook for a demo she was off to at KSTP-ABC’s Twin Cities Live studio. (see her segment:  http://twincitieslive.com/article/stories/s4229844.shtml)  It’s a heart healthy, easy meal to prepare.  Serve it in pineapple halves to make it look refreshing…and impressive!