Monday, August 27, 2012

Scented Holiday Gifts!

I've been playing with herbs for most of my adult life, and taught my first herb class in my living room, on October 16th, 1997. A group of my friends attended, paying 5 bucks each to listen to me talk. Oh, and there was food. (Did you doubt if for a second?)

From there, I branched out into classes at local churches. I started working for a local garden center in 1998, and taught more classes there. And for local gardening groups. And at a cooking shop. That was the height of "cool", complete with fully-equipped kitchen classrooms and cameras on my hands. FUN!

One of the most popular series of classes I've ever presented was titled "Scented Holiday Gifts". It was geared toward small things (think teacher/neighbor gifts and party food), and usually involved three sections: Gifts for the Home, Gifts for Bath and Body, and Gifts for the Taste Buds. Every year between 2002 and 2009, I'd come up with a new slate of recipes/ideas for the year - usually 20 or so different things per class. I'd make up samples of most of the food, some of the non-food, and we would make-and-take the remaining six or eight recipes during class. 

It was a madhouse. It was a blast. I'll have to do it again for real, some year.

In the meantime, here's this little forum for posting recipes and tips! I'd like to break it into several posts, re-sharing some of the things that seemed to be the most popular. And maybe adding a thing or two that I've found along the way. ;)

Ready? Set... GO!

Cinnamon Ornaments

"Cinnornaments" are one of my most popular craft-show items, and a great craft to do with kids. 
Most-asked question: 
"Can you eat these"?
Most-given answer: 
"You could, but the jingle bells might not go down so well." ;-)

1 pound cinnamon (about 4 ½ cups)
One 25-ounce jar applesauce (a little less than 3 cups)
Extra cinnamon for sprinkling on countertop

Reserve about ½ cup of the cinnamon and about one tablespoon of applesauce.  Mix the rest together, forming a loose ball.  Dough should not be sticky or wet (add more cinnamon if necessary).   Let dough rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

Now, work the dough!  Knead it, pound it, smack it, poke it with your fingers, until you have a nice smooth ball without any cracks.  Sprinkle a countertop with cinnamon, and start forming the dough into a smooth, flattened circle or oval.  Again, work out any cracks or rough spots that form. (If dough seems dry, work in small amounts of reserved applesauce.) Roll out with a rolling pin until it’s a little less than ½ inch thick.  Thick is best! Cut with cookie cutters, and dip the backsides lightly in cinnamon.  Next (here's an Important Thing), use a thin soda straw to poke holes for a ribbon.

Mini-cookie cutters make great pins! Just glue a 1" pin back on, after baking.
Transfer ornaments to an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 150 degrees F for 45 minutes.  Turn everybody over, then bake for another 45.  Turn ornaments over again, put them back in the oven, and turn it off.  Leave them in for 2 to 3 more hours.  Makes 30 to 50 ornaments, depending on thickness and size of cookie cutters used. When ornaments are completely dry, decorate as desired with craft paint, glitter, jingle bells, sequins - anything you want! 

Hints, tips and FAQ’s:
v All measurements are estimates!  Weather conditions, brand of applesauce, type of cinnamon, and the phase of the moon (just kidding) can affect how much of what you use.
v Cheap applesauce is just fine.  Ditto cheap cinnamon, if you can find it. (Sam's Club)
v If you only want to make a few ornaments, just use 4 ½ parts cinnamon to 3 parts applesauce.
v You might want to wear a dust mask while in the first stages of mixing.
v Have applesauce at room temperature.
v If you forget to make the holes for the ribbon, never fear!  Just go to your local craft store and pick up some sticky-backed magnetic tape.  Voila!  Refrigerator magnets!
v This ain’t cooky dough.  It doesn’t need to rise, so you don’t have to treat it gently.  Pound it till it behaves!
v Rinse & dry hands frequently while you’re working the dough.  Makes it easier, and keeps those little dried bits from mixing in with the “good” dough and causing speckles.
v Have fun!  That’s the whole point of doing this to begin with, right?

So, here you have just a taste of Scented Holiday Gifts. More to come, in the weeks ahead!