Monday, December 21, 2009

Elven Idea Factory #4 - From Around the House

Posting this one earlier than Weds for all you procrastinators :)

DIY Gifts, Kits, and Baskets you can make with stuff from around your house in less than an hour if you receive from a stranger, forgot to shop for a last minute party, or procrastinate without savings!

After a visit to the dollar store in late November, I've usually stocked up on little dishware sets, colored glass bottles and jars, candles, and other inexpensive items that can be used as last minute gifts for the holidays, hostesses at parties, and housewarmings. Then when I'm in a pinch, I'm able to throw together some stuff that's always around the house. While you may not have pre-planned like this, some of these things will be around your house, too, I bet!

  • Putt herbs and garlic in a small bottle, filling with olive oil and pairing with four olive dishes.
  • Fill small cello bags with herbs from the garden like peppermint, chamomile, and sage and pairing with a small tea set or just one tea cup.
  • Combine beads and wire to make wine-charms and pairing with 4 new $1 wine glasses.
  • Follow the recipe of favorite bread or cookie by placing dry ingredients in a jar, preferably something with a layered effect (flour with chocolate or herb layers), and pairing with a How-To label with wet ingredients that are needed, and the recipe's steps. Tie a bow around top of jar.
  • Glue corks you've saved to an old yet newly painted or decorated frame and pin 5" strips of decorated ribbon in diagonal patterns to make a photo pin-up board.
  • Melt down old candles in an old pan on the stove, pour into greased molds or old glasses or mugs, dangle strand of twine down center while cooling to make your own candles. Layer different colored waxes after previous one has cooled. Place glitter, leaves, or other decorations in mold or jar before pouring in wax for designs.
  • Homemade granola is great if you really need to dig through your cabinets- use cereal, chocolate chips, nuts... I take a handful from each bag in the baking cabinet and I'm good.
  • An easy one is affirmation cards, even better if you have an old antique box to put them in. Make about 30 cards that say things like Dream, Love, Believe.
Baskets: (I shop for used baskets at second-hand store frequently, and am "ok" with letting go of ones given to me so there are always options for baskets around here!)
  • Place in basket: candles of various size and color, jams or other homemade kitchen items, a recipe kit, books, frames, dried flowers, photos, magazines...
  • Decorate with ribbons around gifts and ribbon on basket, glitter and sequens, yarn or tissue.

If you still need more ideas, see my early posts on Regifting and Card Making

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a fabulous new year! See you in 2010- from Andy and the Elves.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Elven Idea Factory #3 - Bath n Body

Chocolate Lavender Bathtub Cookies
This year one of my new gifts is a chocolate bath cookie that my dear friend Heather at Aroma Pharmica posted last year, and was reposted on one of my BlogHer peers, Mom Most Traveled. Talk about making the bathtub a heaven on earth, this cookies are almost good enough to eat!

Chocolate Lavender Bathtub Cookies

  • 2 oz. Cocoa Butter
  • 2 oz. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Oatmeal, FineYour browser may not support display of this image.
  • 1/4 cup Whole Milk Powder
  • 1/4 cup Hot Chocolate Mix
  • 3/4 cup Epsom Salt
  • 1 cup Cornstarch
  • 1 cup Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup Citric Acid
  • 1 tsp. Lavender Essential Oil


    Warm the cocoa butter and olive oil in a hot water bath until completely melted. Remove the Cocoa Butter and Oil from the heat, allowing it to cool slightly, but not to harden. Next, line a small baking sheet with waxed paper and set it to the side. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the Oatmeal, Whole Milk Powder, Hot Chocolate Mix, Cornstarch, and Epsom Salt. Stir the ingredients well, making sure to break up any clumps in the powders. You may want to grind the oatmeal in a blender or food processor to achieve a fine consistency. In a second mixing bowl, combine the Baking Soda and Citric Acid. Again, make sure to work out any clumps in the mixture. Next, combine the two bowls of dry ingredients and mix well. Add the Lavender Essential Oil to the melted Cocoa Butter and Extra Virgin Olive Oil then pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Begin stirring and kneading the mixture immediately. You must work quickly at this point to get the cookies formed and placed onto the baking sheet. Using your hands, form tablespoon sized balls of the mixture. Place the balls onto the baking sheet then press them down gently, flattening the top. They should be similar in shape to a gingersnap or sugar cookie. Continue shaping cookies with the remaining mixture. Allow the cookies to harden for a full 24 hours before attempting to remove them from the baking sheet. After 24 hours the cookies should be hard enough to be handled and packaged.

Usage & Packaging

    Chocolate Lavender Bath Cookies should be stored in a tightly sealed bag or container. Moisture or humidity can cause the cookies to fizz or “flower” prematurely. These cookies look adorable in Cello Bags or 1/2 lb. Tin Tie Bags. To use the Cookies, simply drop one or two into a warm bath. They will fizz and bubble, filling the bath with the delightful aroma of Lavender and Chocolate.
    Heather A. Howell teaches classes such as ‘Facials from the Frig” and other aromatherapy classes from her studio in Charleston, SC. She is also the Chief Organic Skincare Formulator and Aromatherapist for Aroma Pharmica. Visit the website for most nature inspired skincare.

For more Bath and Body present ideas see these two posts: Facial Toner and Clay Scrub

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Elven Idea Factory #2 - Kitchen

3 favorite DIY recipes that make Great Holiday Presents

1. Irish Cream Liqueur (Bailey's) - This makes #1 because it takes the longest to make but is worth the wait. Like a tincture (herbs distilling in alcohol over 3-4 weeks), this creamy and chocolaty gift makes your friends lick their lips at the thought of it. This is an old recipe I've been making since I was in my twenties, and no matter what age group I make it for, it's a hit. The sweet-toothed elves like this one best as well.

Makes about, keeps at least 1 month, and takes 3 weeks to make.
750 ml Irish Whiskey
12 oz milk chocolate
28 oz condensed milk
24 oz evaporated milk
2.5 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Pour 1 oz whiskey and condensed milk into small double broiler, add chocolate and melt, stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in coffee granules and let heat for one minute, then add evaporated milk, stirring constantly, and remove from heat. Stir in cream and the rest of the whiskey.

2. Salsa - Been there, Done That - one of my favorite holiday gifts, my salsa is usually made around August or September, and is therefore the easiest to holiday gift for me to pull off. But it's no simple task in the beginning, and I usually spend two weekends making several batches from the early harvests of peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Look for that recipe in this previous post.

3. Biscotti - The easiest to make, this biscotti recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking and impresses everyone. Great for the holidays when more people drink coffee or tea to keep up with the pace, I usually make several different kinds to satisfy all tastes. This recipe isn't Gluten Free.

Makes about 3 dozen. preheat oven to 375
3 cups flour
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
.5 teaspoons salt
Beat separately:
.25 cup corn oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon zest
.5 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla

Gradually combine and blend to smooth. Shape dough into 2 smooth 11 x 2 inch logs with lightly floured hands, lay on greased cookie sheet and flatted to 1.5" tall.

Sprinkle with coloring, drizzle with chocolate, or crumble nuts for toppings. Can also leave plain.

Bake for 25 minutes, let cool 2-4 minutes, transfer baked logs to cutting board, and slice diagonally in 3/8" slices. Return to oven and bake 10 more minutes, turn slices over, and bake 5 minutes more. Cool on rack.

There are more great recipes for dipped and flavored biscotti at Biscotti Zone, a personal favorite.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Elven Idea Factory # 1 - the 2009 plan

The Elves have joined us at the Idea Factory the month of December, and I'm seriously excited to share their ideas with you!

There are a few holiday points that they want me to make before we proceed with this month's first of four installments; they say these two points are very important things to remember this holiday season and beyond!

1. WATCH joyous things like ELF or your favorite holiday movie that makes you think of laughter, singing, giving, and acting like a 10 year old. The elves want to make clear that the more joyous you are in your daily routine, the more light your being in both luminosity and weight, and the easier you can uplift all those around you!

2. DON'T WATCH negative things like the news, crime shows about murder, and depressing talk shows about crumbling relationships or other nerve-striking topics. The less you conflict and inflict your joy with pain, the easier it is to maintain. (Sorry, the elves like to rhyme, it's been very hard keeping this even remotely serious for you.) :)

On to IDEA #1 - our 2009 plan
This holiday we decided to help rebuild our personal economy and carbon footprint by not mailing as many gifts, and making all our gifts green and intentional (but still appreciable)! This means we'll be making many of our gifts, reducing our gift load by not exchanging gifts with the sisters out of town and thus reducing the carbon footprint of shipping these gifts, and thinking of creative new ways to give. Some great ideas for personalized items that don't cost much but mean much more include:
  • a knitted or crocheted scarf or hat
  • a photo session or photo album from the year [best for family members]
  • a personalized music cd
  • homemade bath products
  • homemade food products
  • books or other "white elephant" items [best at a theme party]
  • a massage by you or cleaning session for their house [best for girlfriend or boyfriend]
  • a drawing or painting, poem or photo in a frame [best for mom, think of 5th grade]
  • a babysitting session [best for new mothers] or other traded service
  • a family heirloom or other item [best for younger relatives whom you trust]
  • your used electronic devices, furniture, computers [best for the new college student]

The elves say that making gifts brings the spirit of Christmas to a new high because they are the most thoughtful and fitting and provoke the most smiles from the recipients. We'll break down this list in the next three installments; look for new DIY bath products (and old ones), holiday recipes, crafts, and more!

Happy holidays to everyone celebrating a holiday this December and beyond!