In the Garden:
A homemade bread wreath, decorated with harvested and purchased decorations, makes an unique gift.
I'm taking my inspiration for this year's holiday gifts from my garden from the Food Network's TV show, Semi-Homemade Cooking, during which the host shares her techniques for combining fresh ingredients with store-bought items. The repeated torrential rains in early summer and succeeding two months of drought have left my garden lacking, to put it mildly. So this holiday season I'll use whatever I can salvage from the garden and combine it with store-bought items. Here's a brief how-to for some semi-homemade gifts from the garden.
These wreaths are surprisingly easy to make. Take a basic bread recipe (such as one for pizza dough), create 3 long strands, braid them, and secure in a circle. Allow to rise, then bake. Brushing the crust with egg for the last few minutes of baking gives the wreath a shiny surface. You can leave the wreath au naturel, then feed it to the birds after the holidays, or spray it with glossy shellac to preserve it before decorating. Use a glue gun to attach decorations, including dried flowers, chili peppers, miniature clay pots, pinecones, or dried herbs; then add a pretty bow. Or create a pretty table centerpiece by laying a wreath flat and placing a pillar candle in the center. Avoid flammable decorations on this one.
Scour antique and craft stores to find unique vases, then create lavish dried bouquets to complement them. Filling the containers with birdseed allows you to poke stems in here and there and to redo your arrangement any number of times. Experiment with using just one or two flower types or a larger variety. Glue dried chili peppers onto tall sticks and place in the center of the arrangement for a touch of surprise color. Add some curly willow or cattails for height, and something aromatic, such as eucalyptus or lavender.
Create a windowsill herb garden with small rosemary, sage, and thyme plants. Include instructions on caring for the plants, and remind the recipient that, while the herbs should last a few months, they may not thrive indefinitely in the dry, hot, low-light indoor environment. Or consider a gift of easy-care begonias. They're available in a remarkable variety of leaf shapes, colors, and sizes; they thrive indoors; and they are easy and fun to propagate by leaf cuttings. Aloes are another easy houseplant; include a small plant in a kitchen-themed gift basket. Who among us hasn't suffered a kitchen burn that would have benefited from some aloe juice?
Craft stores sell various soap bases, which you melt on the stove or in the microwave. Add special touches to customize the soap for recipients: ground oatmeal, dried crushed herbs, and/or essential oils. One note of caution: use essential oils sparingly -- just a few drops per batch. If you use too much, the soap won't lather. Pour the melted soap into decorative molds, individually wrap in attractive paper, and set several in a basket lined with a pretty washcloth.
I wonder if there's a television show opportunity here ... Semi-Homemade Gifts from the Garden!
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