What Martha Isn’t Telling You About Christmas

Christmas starts in July. That’s it! That’s the big secret that Martha and every other Martha Stewert-Like blogger isn’t telling you about Christmas, and all of those beautiful hand made decorations and gifts. I am sharing this little secret with you, because every Christmas the same thing happens to me.

It starts in the Fall with Halloween; I call it Holiday Fever, and I get it bad! I see all of these beautiful hand made decorations and gifts everywhere. They sparkle, and shine — and taunt me. “Make me. Make me! Make Meeeeee!” They call from the magazine rack in the grocery store. “Don’t you want to give me to your friends?” They beckon from my e-mail. “Your house will be the prettiest on the block,… if only you will decorate it just like this.” I hear as I scan my favorite craft blogs every morning. But what they aren’t telling you is, you have to start planning months in advance to achieve these beautifully decorated houses and handmade gift baskets. If you are a procrastinator with high hopes, like myself, then you may have attempted to get all of these things done in previous Decembers, only to have Christmas come and go in a hot, stressful, flash; leaving you feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

How can you achieve a beautifully decorated home, make heartfelt handmade gifts and still have the time to enjoy your friends, family and true spirit of the season? Easy, start now! There are so many things you can do in the summer to prepare you for the Fall Holiday Season. Here are a few (ok, several) suggestions to get the ball rolling.

1. Start collecting! Start collecting pine cones for decorations (or one of these cute, homemade fire starters) on your next camping excursion. Not only will you save time, but you will save money, buy not having to buy them.

Click picture for link!

2. Spray Paint now! If you have items (like your pine cones) that you want to paint gold or silver (or white, or green, or red…) do it now. Spray paint doesn’t dry well in the wet Fall weather; dry summer heat is ideal for spray painting.

3. Get cooking! (Or canning.) Homemade jams or jellies, and liqueurs are always appreciated. Jams can be made and stored for months in advance, saving you time later. Liqueurs need time to infuse with flavors and taste better with a little age, so they really need to be made ahead of time. In order to save yourself precious “holiday time,” avoid giving “fresh baked” gifts that have to be made the same week they are given. If you like giving fresh baked cookies, consider making the dough ahead of time and freezing it in an airtight container. That way you will always have fresh baked cookies on hand within 15 minutes.

4. Get Sewing! Or Crafting. There are so many handmade gifts that can be sewn or crafted ahead of time. My current favorite blog is EverythingEtsy.com They have…

5. Simplify! Don’t try to design a different homemade gift or basket for every single person on your list. Pick one or two crowd pleasing themes for your baskets, (or sewing pattern, or craft) and stick to it. Here are two of my favorite gift baskets:

  • Coffee for Two Basket: Include 2 coffee cups, homemade irish cream, chocolate or coffee liqueur (made ahead), a tin of your favorite coffee and a bottle of milk or cream. Save your coffee tins and frappuccino bottles over the summer. Remove labels and decorate with your established theme between now and Halloween. Set aside until Christmas, then fill with store bought bulk coffee and milk or cream just before gifting. You can even make Biscotti a month in advance and store in an air tight container, or cheat, and buy it from your bulk store. Oh, and one more tip; wait to buy your baskets until you know what is going in them! This will save you money, and a head ache, when you go to put them together. I speak from experience on this one.
  • Spa Basket: Make skin care items over summer and decorate the jars ahead of time, so all you have to do is put the basket together come gift giving time. Here are a few recipes for DIY Skin care products: Exfoliating Scrub, Bath Salts, Bath Bombs.

6. Pick one theme and stick to it. Whether it be red, green, and blue plaid; blue and white snowflakes; snowmen or nature inspired; pick a theme and stick with it. You will be amazed at how much easier it will be to decorate your home, and your gifts, if you pick one color combination or character and focus on that when purchasing or creating your decorations. Plus, your friends and family will be amazed at how well “put together” everything looks when even your tree decorations and presents match.

5. Start your decorations early. You don’t have to hang them, but most decorations can be made ahead of time and stored unit the fall.

I hope I have motivated you to get started on those Christmas gifts and decorations, or at least got your wheels turning. For more DIY decorating and Gift ideas, see my Pinterest page!

 

Italian Mellocello

Italian Mellocello-Refreshingly Mellow Lemon and Vanilla Infused Alcohol

So refreshingly "mello"

So refreshingly "mello"

OK readers, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. We like to booze it up a little at my house. Especially during the summer. There’s just nothing like an ice cold fizzy concoction to take the edge off, and cool your head in the hot summer sun.

This amazing lemony yellow treat is bright and summery, not just in color, but in taste as well. Plus it has a lingering “mellow” vanilla finish that will definitely “chill you out” this summer. My husband and I made this for the first time last year and we loved it so much that it ended up becoming the unofficial “Signature Cocktail” for our wedding, or rather wedding party, as it was just too good to share with all of our 250-odd guests. This summer, we doubled the recipe with intent to share a little… We’ll see how that goes.

I’d love to take credit for this amazing liquer recipe, but I can’t. Unfortunately, I can’t give anybody else credit for it either, as my husband printed it (without reference) off the internet last Spring, and I have no idea where he found it. No matter where it came from originally, you are going to thank me for sharing it. I guarantee it. You will notice this is a two part process with a bit of waiting for the alcohol to infuse, but it is totally worth the wait!

Drink up!

Italian Mellocello Recipe

INGREDIENTS:
20 Lemons
2 750 ml bottles of Everclear (or Vodka if you prefer)
5 Vanilla Beans
6 c distilled water
4 c sugar

EQUIPMENT:
Sanitized 2-3 Liter glass jar with lid (we used a big pickle jar)
cheese cloth
Fine mesh sieve
Bottles or container for bottling final product

DIRECTIONS:
Part 1:
1. Wash and dry lemons thoroughly.
2. Pare off spots, blemishes and stem ends.
3. Using a very sharp paring knife or peeler, remove zests (that’s the yellow part of the peel) and place in distilling container, or pickle jar as we like to call it. Be sure you do not get any of the white pith, for it will make your mellocello very bitter. If you do, just use your knife to scrape it off, before dropping the peel in the jar.
4. Add Everclear to jar.
5. Slice vanilla pod down the middle and scrape insides into your mix.
6. Seal tightly and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for 3 months. We sealed our lids with Saran Wrap and duct tape to be sure it was air tight. If your container is not air tight, the alcohol fumes will evaporate and the drink will lose it’s potency.
7. Swirl lemon peels around twice a week to mix oils and alcohol.

Part 2:
1. After 3 months has lapsed and you are ready to bottle your concoction, you will want to sweeten it up a little… or a lot, whichever you prefer.
2. Bring 4 cups of sugar and 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. Meanwhile, strain your lemon infused alcohol, through a cheese cloth lined sieve, removing all the peels and vanilla grounds. Squeeze cheese cloth to be sure you have removed all of the alcohol and oils from the peels.
4. Add sugar-water to lemon-alcohol and stir.
5. Bottle your mellocello! It’s done! . . . or drink it, whatever. I won’t judge you.

The longer you let it set after bottling, the smoother it will become, but it is perfectly drinkable right away. I suggest storing it in the freezer as it is delightful served “up” ice cold. I prefer mine in a rocks glass topped with seltzer water. So refreshingly mellow. I really hope you try this recipe. I know 3 months is a long time to wait for a cocktail, but it is so worth the effort and time put into it, and it will be ready before you know it. If you start yours today, there will be plenty of hot summer days left to enjoy your mellocello.

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Mixitup

Anatomy of a Smoothie

**UPDATED 5/17/12**

Today’s money saving tip: Use leftover fruit salad to make your morning smoothie.

Hello Beautiful

I’ve been seeing those green smoothies all over the internet lately, and have recently fallen in love with several of the recipes. Unfortunately I have found that I rarely have all of the ingredients in the fridge at once, so I have just sort of been making up my own recipes. For example the one I had this morning was an improvised recipe made with left over fruit salad from last nights barbeque with my folks!

Through experimentation over the last few months, I have managed to break down the smoothie into three elements in order for it to be both fulfilling and delicious. The first element, and my most favorite is the “cream.” A good smoothie has to be creamy. (At least in my opinion, hopefully you will agree.) Next, it should be sweet, because why would you eat it if it didn’t taste good? Finally, you have to sneak in some protein in order for it to be fulfilling. Now how do I achieve all of these elements into one delicious refreshing beverage you ask? Read on my dear friend.

The creaminess in your smoothie can be achieved several ways and meet several dietary needs. For example, if you are allergic to gluten, dairy and/or peanuts you can use a banana to both thicken and sweeten your smoothie. If you are not allergic you can use Greek yogurt or peanut butter, which will also incorporate your protein. There are many protein shake powders on the market, which usually contain malt for thickening, as well as a plant based protein for energy. I also like adding coconut milk for a little extra flavor and creaminess.

As for the taste, I really don’t think you need my help telling you what tastes good. In the event you need help with some flavor combination suggestions, I will offer you some suggestions that I like best towards the end of this post.

Now for the seemingly most difficult element, the protein. There are a lot more options than one might think. Consider peanut butter, almond butter, Greek Yogurt (Vanilla or Plain, low-fat or nonfat) protein powder, protein drink mix, even oatmeal has more protein in it than one might think. I am sure there are plenty of soy products out there for you soy lovers as well. I will not list them here though, just because I am not personally a fan, but I know there are plenty out there. Almond milk is another option. It will add the creaminess and has more protein and calcium than dairy milk. Surprise! So play around with some different combinations, and see what you like.

As promised some of my favorite flavor combinations.

Banana-Almond
1/2 Banana
2 TBLS almond butter
2 TBLS Greek Yogurt
1/2 c Almond Milk (I use Vanilla flavored)
Drink your greens! Add a handful of baby spinach to give you an extra boost in the morning!

Tropical
1/3 Banana
1-2 TBLS Diced pineapple
Apple wedge
2 TBLS Greek Yogurt
1/4 c Coconut Milk (NOT low fat)
2 TBLS Vanilla protein powder (optional, but I like Trader Joe’s Hemp Based Protein Powder)
1/4 c dairy or almond milk
sprinkle of sweetened coconut flakes (also optional)

Summer Love
1/3 c fresh ripe strawberries
1 kiwi (peeled, obviously)
handful of ice
6 oz. strawberry yogurt (Being an Oregonian, I prefer Tillamook!)

Today’s smoothie?
Simply half a banana, 1/2 cup fruit salad, 2 TBLS each plain Greek yogurt and vanilla protein powder, and enough almond milk to blend it (about 1/3 cup)

So there you have it friends! Easy as 1-2-3, elements that is, and you have your morning smoothie. Hope you all enjoy!

5/17/12 Update:

Hello again! Yes, I am still chugging smoothies and squeezing in extra lunges whenever possible, in order to trim down for summer. I hope you are sticking to your guns and working hard toward your summer goals as well. This morning I had a summer inspired epiphany while making my smoothie. It was just so delicious I had to share!

I bought 4 pounds of beautifully red ripe California grown strawberries from Costco last night, and when I saw them in my fridge this morning, I knew I had to incorporate them into my breakfast. Since the sun is shining brightly today, I decided it was a great day to enjoy a smoothie outside on my deck. I knew I wanted strawberries and yogurt, but what else? Then I opened the freezer and was reminded of the delicious frozen peaches I bought from my fruit stand. So much better than the ones you buy at the grocery store; locally grown and hand picked at the peak of ripeness. But I digress. What a perfect combination fresh summer strawberry mixed with frozen peaches and creamy yogurt. Yum! After I had mixed it up and had begun drinking it while taking photographs for the Mellocello, Mr F and I just finished bottling, I had an epiphany. I squeezed my prop lemon into my smoothy, stirred and sipped. Mmmmm… now that my friends is perfection. I couldn’t believe what a difference a few drops of lemon juice made. It really just brightened the whole drink up and really excentuated the sweet tartness of the drink. Anyway, I just thought I’d share that little tidbit with you. I hope you will give this summer harvest inspired smoothie a try and let me know what you think!

 

Strawberry Peach Smoothie

Sweet Summer Perfection Smoothie

INGREDIENTS:
3-4 Large fresh ripe strawberries
1/2-2/3 c frozen peaches
6-8 oz yogurt (I used Nancy’s Honey Yogurt, but I’m sure vanilla would taste good too!)
Handful of ice cubes
Squeeze of Lemon.

DIRECTIONS:

Place first 4 ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Squeeze lemon wedge over top and gently stir. Poor into cold glass and sip in the summer sun.

Chipotle Lime Bloody Mary Recipe

Now that the winter holidays are behind us, I’m finding myself lusting for Spring already. The Flescher family really enjoys camping, so we do quite a bit of it every year. Starting in the late Spring we are gone almost every weekend; taking our last trip in early fall. I like to make these spicy Bloody Mary’s when we go camping in the Spring or early summer. The melting ice and tangy vegetable juice keep you refreshed, while the Tobasco sauce and fresh ground pepper help keep you warm enough to wear shorts in the cool Oregon air. (That’s where we live; not sure if I’ve mentioned that before).  I enjoy this Bloody Mary Recipe on a sunny riverbank, watching my husband fish, while I try desperately to establish a base tan. I can’t wait for Spring to come. In the meantime, warm up a little with my famous Chipotle Lime Bloody Mary Recipe. As always, your feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Chipotle Lime Bloody Mary Recipe

Mrs. Flescher’s Chipotle Lime Bloody Mary
Ingredients:
Pepper infused vodka (I like Absolut Peppar)
Spicy V8 Vegetable Juice
Worcestershire
Tobasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce
Ice
A Lime
Fresh Ground Pepper
Celery Salt
A BIG Glass (I usually make mine in a pint glass, but if you want to make it “fancy,” consider serving it in a hurricane glass.)
Bendy Straw for more relaxed sipping (optional)
Crushed sea salt for garnish (optional)

Directions:
1. Put 1 cup of ice in shaker.
2. Poor 2-3 ounces of vodka over ice.
3. Add the juice from one wedge and then the wedge itself into the shaker.
4. Then add 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce and a few dashes of Chipotle Tobasco.
5. Poor in 6-8 ounces Spicy V8.
6. Sprinkle about 1/4 tsp. celery salt and 1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper.
7. Cap shaker and shake vigorously then poor cocktail and ice into pint glass with sea salt rim (optional) and garnish with lime wedge.
Optional Serving Suggestion:
For another layer of flavor, try muddling cilantro in the pint glass before pouring your cocktail in.

Mrs. Clause’s Iced Coffee Recipe

My mom, sister and I are all serious coffee lovers, thus coffee liqueur is right up our alley! I decided to try my hand at making some for us to drink over New Years. It came out sweet and a little syrupy.  As decadent as it was on it’s own, we still wanted to try it in a cocktail. My first thought was to make a White Russian. We had cream, but the only vodka was my Absolut Peppar (I like it in my Spicy Bloody Mary’s.) That wasn’t going to work, so we dug a little deeper in the liquor cabinet, and found a bottle of Sambuca. Hmmmm, maybe we could substitute the vodka for that? We tested it out and “Surprise!”, we loved it! My sister, my mom and I drank them all weekend; we were hooked! Try it out, and tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your opinion!

Ingredients:
2 oz. Coffee Liqueur
2 oz. Heavy Cream
Splash of Sambuca
Ice
Rocks glass

Directions:
Fill rocks glass 3/4 full of ice. Poor two ounces each coffee liqueur and heavy cream. Add a splash of Sambuca, stir and enjoy.

Things may look a little sideways.

Make it Fabulously Fancy!
Wet rim of martini glass and invert in dish of instant cappuccino powder. (I like Hill’s Bros. Toffee.) Place all of the ingredients in a shaker. Dance around shaking hips and shaker vigorously. (That is a very important step in order to make the drink more enjoyable.) Strain into martini glass. Enjoy at your own risk, and don’t blame me if you get hooked!

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