So here is Part 2 of A Newspaper Article (or Holiday Tips By Blondie) minus me in my bathrobe. Which I am now in. Blame it on the Chicago cold weather.
If you've been reading my column each month you know I have a thing for pretty dining tables whether it be for special occasions, casual dinners or holidays. I'm not pretentious by any means, I simply love the opportunity to be creative and make guests feel special. I've also found so many ways to do a beautiful table on a dime, and I've written about those in the past. You can find inexpensive dishes, napkins, candles, platters, vases and just about anything you need for making a beautiful table that reflects your style at stores like Marshall's, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods and Hobby Lobby just to name a few. I love my Winterberry dishes from Pfaltzgraff and I collected each and every plate little by little over the years. Until I had enough, I alternated simple white plates with the Winterberry---I'm crafty like that! My silver is all mismatched, collected over time by many visits to antique and thrift shops. I pick up napkins, place mats and tablecloths on sale or clearance. Just a few ideas where you might be able to stretch the budget.
And that brings to My Tip #9. There is no reason to not use your everyday dishes, Mine are quite plain. If you want to jazz them up, lay your napkins on top of the plates and place your silverware on top. No need to take the traditional route for placement all the time. In fact when we deviate from the rules it's often quite interesting. My Tip #10: Paper napkins are absolutely wonderful but be sure to get something strong. One of the things I like to do to jazz up paper napkins and take them up a notch is to pull out your holiday stamps and a few ink pads and stamp something cute on them. Snowflakes, stars, Santa's...the ideas are all there in your stamping aisle at the local craft shop. I have a whimsical reindeer stamp that I've used on everything from napkins to gift bags and tags, to the envelopes of my Christmas cards. People love my little reindeer. Sometimes I even color his little nose in with a red pen! :) So, the idea is to have fun and not worry about what the Jones' are doing.
I'm going to consolidate gift giving with baking because so many of us who love to bake also love to give it away. I do it year round because I would be bigger than a cow if it were in my home! At Christmastime it has been a very longtime tradition to give food as a gift to those we love, including family, friends and anyone else you love or who cannot bake to save their life.
Sometimes a cute inexpensive tray from the Dollar Store or your local Walgreen's is the perfect way to hold a variety of your cookies and candies. Handy little glassine bags and small boxes can be found at craft stores as well as little baskets that you can line with tissue paper. Presentation is important now because you really want it to look like a gift, not a bag of leftovers. Use colorful ribbon and bows to embellish your goodies. And by all means, use those stamped bags I've been extolling the virtues of!
Some of the easier treats to make and bake for me are Almond Bark Pretzel Rods (as seen in this picture), and bar cookies which can be sliced up to fill several boxes/bags. And try some sweeter party mixes like Puppy Chow and Muddy Buddies, as well as an assortment of cookies. Never rule out your own toasted nuts or maybe some caramel popcorn. You can Google all of these recipes or find them on Pinterest. And that is My Tip #10. All of these treats are not only very simple, they use a minimal amount of ingredients and each batch can be spread out for a great number of recipients. Happily, they can all be made ahead. Does it get any better?
And speaking of 'make ahead'. My Tip #11. I have and love recipes for 'make ahead' cookie and pie dough that you can freeze. You can Google them or type them into a Search on Pinterest if you do that sort of thing. I love that I can make up the dough, and then at a later time have the fun part of rolling put, cutting up, baking and decorating. Like my method of wrapping gifts one day and decorating another, you don't tire yourself out to the point of losing the joy. It also helps when you're busy, the process of making cookies or pie is half done. Yay!
My Tip #12: You may have heard of that very thoughtful gift of giving a Mason or Ball jar you've filled with all of the dry ingredients used in a cookie or cake recipe for example, even soups. I love the idea and we can take it one step further to make life easier for ourselves. For your own baking, mix all the dry ingredients for a particular recipe and store it in large jars or plastic bags tied up tightly until you are ready to make the whole batch. You're halfway there when you are ready to go and then clean up is a snap. Here I go again, dividing everything into halves! Which brings me to My Tip #13. Never feel like everything has to be homemade. I'm not a fan of preservatives but that doesn't mean everyone is, so if you are making a huge batch of cookies, cakes or pies, go for the shortcuts of store bought mixes, pre-made cookie dough and pie crusts as well as canned fruits. I really love the decorating part and it was always the highlight of baking with my daughters when they were young. They lost interest during the actual baking in the oven. Most mixes are perfected beyond belief so you will get a lot of bang for your buck, and your time and energy can be spent elsewhere. Like just sitting back and watching It's A Wonderful Life.
My last few thoughts are on gift giving and doing that on a budget. I simply can't tell you what to buy your husband or mother in law but I have a few ideas for gifts that may be perfect for many of those on your list simply because they take thought, can be tailor made, and have your personal touch. Oh, and did I also say not break the bank? Again, think gift bags as they can contain a variety of different shapes and sizes. And think of those odd numbers, for some strange reason they are just better. So, My Tip #13.
Gift bag ideas for your favorite people:
~~~2 pretty candles and a jar
of matchsticks (Yankee Candle and White Barn Candle Co. carry them).
~~~A cute mug with a few tea bags or packets of instant cocoa, and cinnamon sticks tied in a bundle
~~~A manicure kit from your fave drugstore, a few bottles of nail polish and a bottle of polish remover
~~~A package of soup mix, a few wooden spoons and a pretty potholder
~~a clay flower pot, spade and some seed packets
***For the guys in your life***
~~~A gift bag with shave cream, a nice razor and aftershave cologne
~~~A knit cap, small ice scraper and insulted coffee mug
~~~Grill tools, an oven mitt and a Bobby Flay BBQ book (maybe a spray bottle for good measure!!!)
Just a few ideas.
The last of my crazy ideas, My Tip #?? (I've forgotten at this point!)
~~~Do anything and everything in advance, especially cooking for the big day. Do your side dishes a day or two before your celebration. When I have run out of refrigerator space I have put my side dishes and cold items in the car in our garage. Ha!
~~~Set your table the day before if possible. If not, gather up everything you need from plates to silverware to glassware. And also pull out the bowls and platters you will be using so you are not hunting through your cabinets at the last minute.
~~Clean your house a few days before the big day, it's not going to accumulate a lot of dust after that point. I always wanted everything to be freshly done and could be found vacuuming an hour before company arrived. The only thing you need to worry about is tidying up the bathrooms as everyone will be using them.
~~~Get yourself ready first and foremost. You can touch up your hair and make up later, and by all means, wear an apron so you don't have to change your clothes when the gravy splatters all over you.
~~~Have some simple appetizers planned. No one expects to sit down for dinner the minute they arrive and some guests will arrive on an empty stomach. Doing so will also give you a chance to relax with your company for a little bit, have a little bite and drink before you head back to the kitchen for the last of the preparations.
~~It's tried and true advice to enlist help in the kitchen. I personally don't like more than one or two people helping me out, my kitchen is not the biggest. Ask your very best friend and/or someone who loves you unconditionally so you can bark orders and rely on them to do the dirty work-like washing dishes and taking out the trash. Just kidding. People like to feel needed. And I always have fun chatting and laughing with someone while I'm slaving away. It's also a good excuse to have a glass of wine at 11 a.m. Cheers!
~~~Remember to relax. Turn the heat down in the oven and hold back on rushing the rest so you have time to interact and enjoy the fun. I also ask my kids to help clear the table after dinner so I can sit longer and visit with my guests. Taking a walk after dinner with those who want to is so refreshing as well. Forgive those who want to take a nap on the couch. I hold off on dessert for an hour or more after dinner is cleaned up. We have a bit of an appetite back then and the coffee wakes us up. We have additional guests who have had other dinner plans that come later, too. We often bring out more snacks and appetizers. In my home the celebrating goes on until late. And I sit back, have fun and watch my family and friends having a great time. :)
~~~Last but not least, keep your expectations reasonable. You can see the photo of my living room from Christmas of 2015. It's so small that we had to move the coffee table out to accommodate our ever growing family. That's okay, it's not about all of the fussing you've done, Christmas is a celebration and a time to reflect on the true meaning the season. Everything else falls to the wayside.
As you can see, I have an enormous amount of ideas. I know this is not the first time you have heard many of them It just makes me happy to think some of you will be inspired to try a few new ideas or just simply enjoy the traditions you have and add to them. My philosophy is to start planning and putting those plans into action a bit earlier---it's really not a bad thing. I also want so many of you to feel that you don't have to be a Rockefeller to have a festive home and beautiful gifts while keeping on your budget.
It has been a wonderful year contributing to Neighbors. I am so thankful to Phil Vitale for having the confidence in me to write these columns without knowing what he was in for. I'm also chuffed by so many of you readers who have sent emails with questions, ideas and sincere compliments. In the coming New Year I would love to include some of your decorating ideas, gardening tips, recipes and just about anything that you want to put out there. Are you on board?
I'm going to sign off now. Thanks to all of you for reading. I'm so excited to see how 2016 unfolds for all of us in this beautiful part of the Midwest we call home. I wish you joy, peace and happiness this holiday season. Bless all of you.
From my family to yours~~~
I'll be back early next week with a 'Live' post. No lake this weekend as The Husband is working on a big trial and I will be decorating. You can be sure the carols will be going strong, the hot cocoa flowing and maybe my 135th Hallmark movie on the television. ;-D