For me, there’s something almost magical about the holiday season. The vibrant evergreens filling doorways, living rooms, and banisters, the constant cooking of old recipes with family, the joyous laughter and intoxication shared with good friends, and the chance to craft like you’ve never crafted before. I didn’t attempt any DIY gifts this year, in the past I’ve infused vinegars, I’ve made jams, and I’ve crafted pickles, but this year with all the extra work-related cooking to be done I let myself off the hook when it came to making gifts and stuck to the normal family-related holiday baking festivities.
But, I did manage to find the time to try something I’ve been wanted to attempt for a very long time. And that is wreath-making. Not just any wreath-making, though, but one of the most perfumed, vibrantly green winter wreaths you’ll come across, perfect for getting you through the long, largely plantless winter months. I used bay leaf and rosemary cuttings that I ordered from a local florist, (they’re pretty easy to come by this time of year since they’re a popular wreath item so you shouldn’t have too hard of a time having your nearby florist order some for you), and the smell of them twined together is enough to make me want to open and shut the front door enough times to make my husband start to worry about my sanity.
Making the wreath was surprisingly easy, you just need a wreath frame (available at Michaels or any craft store), some clear plastic hairbands, some wire, a pair of wire cutters, and needle-nose pliers. The wreath frame does most of the work here, but you generally just tie up bunches of the cuttings together with the clear hair ties and then fasten each bunch along the edge of the frame with the wire and voila! You have yourself a nifty little wreath that costs much much less than the pricey ornamental ones you find in stores and online, plus it smells like a wintery herbal wonderland.
And because of the cool winter season and the need for a strapping hot drink this time of year, I whipped up some apple pear brandy cider to keep myself cozy. For this recipe, you need to use unfiltered organic pear and apple juice or cider, (the kind with the sediment at the bottom of the jar), otherwise the flavor and texture will not froth up quite as well in the blender and create the velvety texture you’re going for. Ah yes, the blender! You blend the apple and pear ciders together with a diced pear, brandy, some cream, spices, and vanilla extract and then heat the mixture up on the stovetop until it’s nice and toasty. It turns into this rich, intoxicating apple pie-like beverage that is as delicious as it is comforting.
Aaaaaaand I couldn’t help sharing these last two where my little Ralph popped in, I swear he can smell whipped cream and brandy a mile away! (Kidding!) I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with your friends and family, furry and human alike, and wish you a very merry Christmas. Much love and seasons greetings to you all!
Apple Pear and Brandy Cider
A simple holiday favorite, this is my go-to beverage recipe for holiday gatherings.
- 2 1/4 cups unfiltered organic apple cider or juice
- 2 1/4 cups unfiltered organic pear cider or juice
- 1/2 cup brandy or more if you like
- 1 ripe pear peeled and cored
- 2 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 cup whipped cream
In a large blender, puree the apple cider, pear cider, brandy, pear, whipping cream, cinnamon, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and ginger until smooth and frothy.
Empty the mixture into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before ladling the brandy cider into mugs. Add a dollop of whipped cream and serve.
DIY Winter Bay & Rosemary Wreath
- 1 18-inch wreath frame
- 1 florist's bunch of bay cuttings
- 1 florists bunch or rosemary cuttings
- clear hair ties
- .58 mm/24 gauge wire
- wire cutters
- needle nose pliers
- fishing wire or twine
- First, begin making the smaller bunches that you will be attaching to the wreath frame. Using the clear hair ties, band together 2-3 cuttings of the rosemary along with 3-4 cuttings of the bay leaf, trimming the cuttings so that they're about 8-10 inches long. Continue making bunches until you've used up all of your bay and/or rosemary.
- Use the wire cutters to snip off a roughly 5-inch long piece of wire (you probably won't use the whole length and will need to trim the ends, but it's best to give yourself some leeway just in case). Use the needle nose pliers to bend the wire around the interior edge of the wreath frame. Twist the wire around the stem area of one of the bunches, and then twist the remaining wire around the exterior edge of the wreath frame to secure it in place. Trim off any excess wire poking out around the edges.
- Move about 4-5 inches down the wreath frame and repeat the process to attach another bunch. Continue to move along the wreath frame, attaching the bunches, until the wreath is full. If you have any sparse spots fill them in with extra cuttings. Hold the wreath up as if you were going to hang it. If there's any especially heavy, long or unwieldy bunches, secure them again a bit further down on the stem by tying them to the wreath frame with the fishing wire or twine from the back of the wreath. Once everything looks and feel secure, hang it up and admire your handiwork.