Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Scandinavian Christmas:

*Santa Lucia Crown *  Swedish Elf Door*

Maybe because it is chock full of reindeer or boasts a pristine wintry clime, but Sweden has always seemed like a delightful place to celebrate Christmas. As my airline points won’t take me there anytime soon, I thought I’d give a more budget friendly nod to my heritage and attempt some traditions here at home.
In elementary school while discovering various holidays around the globe, we learned about the festival of Santa Lucia. The eldest girl of the family would wake on December 13th and dress in the traditional costume. She would distribute special Santa Lucia buns and coffee to her family and sometimes friends and neighbors. 
My girl friends and I were captivated by the romantic idea of donning a lovely white dress and a crown of greens and glowing candles on our heads. Unfortunately, the construction paper and toilet paper rolls we created were a bit of a disappointing substitute.
So years later, I toyed with the idea and after a few attempts created a fairly easy crown that’s at least a bit of a step up from toilet paper rolls.
For more information on this unique holiday try this or one of many sites http://www.newsweden.org/luciahistory.htm

Santa Lucia Crown
Lightweight green garland (I got mine at the Dollar Tree)
Small flameless votives
Ribbon, beads or berries or any extra flair
white, clear or yellow drinking straws
yellow tissue
Hot glue gun

 The first step involves simply shaping the garland into a wreath to fit the models head. I went around about three times.
 Next was the tricky part: candles. Although there are many battery operated candles designed for window sills etc., they were all a tad large and clumsy for wearing on your head.
As real candles were out of the question for obvious reasons, I used flameless votives and created the taper out of drinking straws. I dug some regular clear straws out of my pile of neons and stripes from a margarita party and created this “faux” candle. 
 I cut the straws to the desired length and then snipped 4-5 cuts around one end. This made it easy to slip right over the "flame" of the votive. I secured with just a dot of hot glue.
I liked the clear but when I found skinny white straws that slid right inside I thought the effect was more "candle-y". 
 I popped a crumble of tissue in the top for a flame with a skewer- no glue necessary. I dabbed the ends with a little orange paint- I just felt the flame needed something.

Next I carefully hot glued the candle bases to the garland allowing easy access to the on/off switch underneath. Wedging the candle bases in between the garland helps to make them extra secure, but please note that "Lucia" should walk carefully- no relay races with this headgear.
I added some clear bead garland and a drape of ribbon down the back.

Many Thanks to my wonderful neighbors who acted as models! 
They are as patient as they are adorable!
Too cute!
The candles were hard to photograph but in low light they glow quite nicely. 
 the wreath looks pretty on a charger or stand when it's not atop someone's head

Magic Elf Door

“Elf” is one of my favorite holiday movies and while Will Ferrell’s interpretation of an elf treks around modern Manhattan, many of his relatives have roots that go centuries back to Scandinavia. It was believed every farmhouse had it’s own elf (different countries have different names: Tomte or Nisse are two) This friendly guy watched over the animals and occasionally, if displeased played pranks on the unknowing family. Usually, however, he could be won over with porridge or sweets.

Not having a barn in my backyard and with the winter weather approaching, I thought I’d create an indoor retreat for any visiting elves who might stop by.

I saw some adorable elf and fairy doors online and was completely charmed by them. However, rather than shell out the $29.99, I figured I could come up with a humbler version for the elf on a budget.

Here are some fun sites about elf traditions and wonderful Swedish 19th century illustrator Jenny Nystrom 

                                              Here are the super simple instructions!

I made two and used a wonderful crackle paint technique I found just using white glue from this cool craft site

I painted on hinges but you could even buy real ones for a dollar or two at home improvement stores. I used old buttons and scrapbooking extras and wrote "Welcome" on one in Swedish. Thanks Google Translate! I also topped with a bit of craft moss to camouflage the obvious popsicle stick tops
Because there is a paper backing you can curve the doors slightly to fit around a flower pot or tree by gently snapping in between each stick. The paper will hold them together but allow some flexibility.
I glued one onto an inexpensive terra cotta planter and loving all things tea related popped one temporarily (with double stick tape) on a plain white teapot but they can go anywhere-on walls, trees cabinets etc as a whimsical touch. I can't wait to make a leprechaun version for St. Patricks day! 

This guy is ready for the holidays
Ready for tea: Atop craft moss on a dollar store platter

Clementine Pomanders

If they say scent is the most immediate connection to memory then nothing transports you more quickly to Christmases past than the aroma of cloves and citrus.
Yes, these have been around for a century or two (vintage air freshener) but they're making a comeback and are popular in the Scandinavian tradition of using natural elements in holiday decorating. 


Since cloves are like nature's thumbtacks I chose the more yielding clementines as opposed to tougher skinned oranges, but littler hands might want to be careful and dig out a thimble or gloves and have lots of adult supervision. Since cloves can be a bit pricey I use them sparingly adding ribbon for interest. I also find I like the simpler patterns. Because they are such a classic Christmas element they can be used in a variety of ways.
Top with a greeting or name tag for a place setting

decorate glasses on a holiday bar

 set in a basket with cinnamon sticks, rosemary
and a traditional Swedish straw ornament

Or really go wild and create a clementine topiary. Simply insert cinnamon sticks into pomanders and place firmly in a container with floral foam.
This smells divine!

Wishing everyone the delights of the Season

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

*Buche du Noel Yule cake * Marshmallow Mushrooms *

*Sugared Branches and Berries* 

A walk in the woods can be truly inspiring- or I suppose if you are a fairy tale character, terrifying, but no doubt Hansel and Gretel or Little Red would appreciate these woodland inspired holiday ideas.

I thought I would celebrate a Joyeux Noel and attempt a Buche du Noel, or Yule log dessert.  Although a fungus covered log doesn’t sound like an appetizing culinary inspiration, these delightful desserts, so popular in France, have gained worldwide appeal and are created in endless varieties, usually done in chocolate accompanied by mushrooms, branches, or even elves.
My previous attempts at rolled cake desserts have not gone well and as a trip to the Culinary Institute isn’t in my immediate future, I thought I’d come up with an easy DIY “semi-scratch” (very light on the scratch part) version this year. I added some super easy marshmallow mushrooms and sugared rosemary sprigs and cranberries.
I used a less traditional Pumpkin roll from Giant bakery ($3.99) as I love that type and it was the only rolled cake they had. I also used a vanilla frosting as chocolate and pumpkin didn't really work for me.
 Helpful tip: (probably Martha) slide wax paper under a cake before frosting, then remove with any spills or misses to keep platter perfect.
       The log pre-makeover 
I used Pillsbury Easy Frost- and wow it was! 
The tip is ideal for creating a bark like effect.
I tried to stagger rows of icing for an organic texture 
That took all of five minutes 
 almost done, you could stop here
to create extra stump, on a diagonal, carefully slice off a thin section
now time to embellish

Marshmallow Mushrooms

While delicate meringue mushrooms usually accompany a Buche du Noel, an easy quick version is this marshmallow+ cookie concoction
 I chose these for their shape- 
they are store brand but I'm sure the elves in the hollow tree make a version too
Large marshmallows
Candy Melts
melt candy according to package 
 carefully dip tops of cookies in white chocolate
spoon any chocolate over missed areas and let harden
 with a skewer or toothpick etch in mushroom gills
with melted chocolate attach mushroom stem
I cut marshmallows in half lengthwise and rolled into slimmer shape

These would be a fun treat alone or nice accent for a storybook tea or kid's bug themed party

Sugared Rosemary and Cranberries
Usually sugared fruit or in this case, rosemary and cranberries, involves raw egg white, which makes me a bit squeamish so I used agave nectar thinned with a little water as my sugar "glue"
Dip the rosemary sprigs and cranberries in the nectar and spoon extra over for a generous coating and roll or sprinkle in white sugar for a frosty look.
The rosemary adds a lovely fragrance as well!