Necessity Is The Mother of Invention–This Year’s Christmas Wreath

Remember the tale of the Stone Soup? This year’s wreath is the equivalent of that. I had already my wreath all planned out, when I discovered that those lovely hay wreaths I bought last year were sold out in the size I wanted them. I had already bought two boughs of pine leaves, so what to do?

wreath1I took two switches of pine, and bundled them together with a thin green craft wire. Added two more switches about 10 inches from the base of the first switch, and roll the wire around the leaves to hold them in place. Repeat the process  and bend the  boughs into a wreath. The wire should snake around the boughs as support to keep the shape. It wasn’t exactly round, and it had more of an oblong shape. It turned out fine in the end.

Taking a square plastic fruit dish, I put a cork coaster over it as a base for the four candles. I always buy candles when they are on sale, so I didn’t need to buy anything extra. The dried-up apples came from my kitchen counter from this year’s harvest, so I was glad to find a use for them instead of throwing  them away. The cinnamon sticks and star anise also came courtesy of the kitchen pantry. The pine cones came from the park, so did the walnuts.

It turned out great, using materials I already had around the house. I was really glad I found a way to use them apples!

Goodbye, Lantern

Missing: This year’s lantern

Alas, this year’s Martinmas lantern was lost in the crush of people in the tram back home. It was a lovely papier-mache lantern made with layers of pink, white, and red glossy transparent paper, also known as papel de japon.

I was quite proud of this lantern. As a former cosplayer, papier mache is a familiar medium to me, as I used it a lot to make props.

lantern1It is quite easy to make, too. Just take an appropriate-sized balloon and in a small container, dilute a dollop of white or clear glue with a tablespoon of water and mix with a paintbrush.

Cut the appropriate-colored paper and cut into squares roughly 1 inch square in size. Paint a small area of the balloon with the glue mixture, paste the strip of paper on the balloon, then paint it over again with glue. Do this repeatedly, with the papers overlapping each other, making sure that the balloon is covered without holes. Make a bowl of papier mache, and let it dry overnight before repeating the process and adding the second layer. You need at least three layers for the paper not to cave in when you pop the balloon after the third layer. To make the design, reinforce the area where the design should be by adding a third layer of the same color. When it dried, I traced the shape on the area, then covered the area around the shape with a darker-colored paper.

Oh well, at least I get to make it again next year 🙂

Tow Mater Cake

cakeSo my boy’s birthday just rolled by. Wow, I gave birth to him how many years ago? Time flies so fast…

This time of the year, I turn into a baking dervish (is that a term?) cooking and baking for my kid’s birthday party. This year was a little different. Since I have a full-time job, I was a little pressed for time to make a 3-D Mater Cake–my kid’s special request this year. So I made a compromise and adapted a cake from this recipe.

I am not a big fan of box cake mixes, so I made my go-to recipe for moist chocolate buttermilk cake. Like with all other cakes I’ve made the past birthdays, challenges cropped up when I least expected them. First of all, I am so grateful to have found ready-to-roll out fondant at the local Xenos shop, and not the liquid goop they sell at the supermarkets here. This means I did not have to make my own fondant this year.

Basically the hardest part was finding substitues for the American products suggested my the recipe. No way in hell I was gonna order a whole pack of Jolly Ranchers online when I only needed two of them for a cake. My goodness, I had no idea that finding chocolate chocolate donuts were gonna be a challenge. I finally found them at the local McCafe for a euro fifty a pop–quite steep but I hoarded all three left at the stand. This place seriously needs an Dunkin’ Donuts.

So basically the side mirrors and wheels were made from two donuts, the bars holding the mirrors in place were yellow fondant, the eyes and teeth were made of white fondant, and irises were a mix of white/green/yellow, and the busted headlight black fondant cut out using a cough medicine bottlecap. The other headlight is a Haribo Jogi-Bussi. The pupils are brown mini-Smarties

Now the recipe had a template for the eyelids and the mouth, but it was more difficult to get the fondant in that dark color. It was easier to mix more brown coloring into the chocolate buttercream icing, and just free-style scratched out the areas where they were supposed to be and carefully spread out the darker icing in that area.

cake1I guess my frustration at not getting to make the 3-D cake that I wanted drove me to make three mini-Mater cupcakes made of honey loops, M&Ms, and white fondant (God forbid I use Eclipse gum on a cake!). The one pictured came from my 4 inch springform pan and a normal cupcake, while the two others were made with normal.sized cupcakes and mini-cupcakes. I left out the frosting except at the places where the wheels and the headlights had to stick.

All in all, I was quite happy with the results and the best part was that the party was a success. I am looking forward to Disneyland next year when I don’t have to do any baking at all!

Squash Vase

squashI may have overdone it with the thriftiness this time. I have a shelf in my hallway that used to be a messy corner of my apartment. My aunt came over and gave it a make-over and turned it into a decorative corner of the house. Since the sun doesn’t directly shine on that corner, plants obviously can’t survive there, and I have had a rotating cast of cut flowers brighten up the place.

So I was at a flower shop when I saw the most ingenious flower arrangement ever! I hate decorative squash varieties cos I generally refuse to care for non-useful fruit-bearing plants. But they hollowed them out, put in floral foam, and gussied up that thing. Seasonal and pretty! It also would have set me back almost 9 euros. No way was I gonna shell out that much for a flower arrangement just for my hallway. So I bought a simpler arrangement, and remembered that I was going to EGA park the day after tomorrow for their kids Halloween party. They were giving away all the squash and pumpkins that made up their temporary squash sculptures, complete with a squash fight. After getting some mini-pumpkins to carve, I sought out a long-ish gourd with nice green-orange coloring. I didn’t wash away the mud because I felt it made for more interesting color.

I think it went very well with our seasonal display in our hallway. And it cost me maybe 5 bucks?

Romancing the Onion

Seems nasty, but tastes good.

October is a pretty big deal around these parts. Not just because of Oktoberfest (which actually begins at the end of September), but because Weimar is invaded by thousands of people for the Zwiebelfest, or the onion festival. Yes, when it comes to celebrating food, Germans pick the strangest ones to celebrate.

Since Weimar is close to a village that has the onion as its traditional produce, it is clear why this became the focus of the local harvest festival.

garlandSo they have onion cake, onion home decor, crafts made of onions, onion garlands, onion decorated sunglasses, earrings, head bands…you name it. Strangely, onion rings haven’t caught on yet. Thankfully, the cold weather means that most of us have the sniffles, and the cold, damp air blots out the resulting human stink.

Assorted kitsch completely unrelated to onions are also sold. This year I got myself a bundle of oats to stick over my door (reminiscent of a Filipino tradition to sticking a bundle of rice stalks over the door to ensure prosperity), an onion garland to rid myself of vampires, and a rice paddle decorated with onions and dried flowers, because it looked pretty. And a bird house made by a juvenile delinquent as part of her arts and crafts program in her detention facility. Just like with their choice of foodstuffs to celebrate, the Germans really show a knack for (not really) naming products. “Knast Made!” (Prison Made!) seems to be in really poor taste.

Anyhoo, as with most small town festivals, the best thing to do is not to take everything seriously and have fun! And drink copious amounts of alcohol while at it.

Christmas Wreaths

Germans are big into Adventsgesteck, or holiday decorations. The in-laws buy one for the family every year, but skipped it this year (I wonder why…)

Hay wreath

While shopping for gifts, I saw some wonderful hay wreaths that can be used as a base for a Christmas wreath, and they looked so nice that I wanted people to see the base and not completely cover the whole thing. After that I bought candle holders to stick into the hay wreath, candles, cinnamon sticks for decoration, and a switch of pine leaves. I found walnuts around the house and used that for decoration, too.

 

First, I cut off segments of the pine switches.

 Then I fastened the twigs onto the wreath using floral wire. If you don’t have enough wire or you aren’t coverting the whole wreath, you could fasten the wire onto the wreath by sticking both ends into the hay. Repeat the process until you cover the wreath, segment by segment.

When you are done covering the wreath in pine, you could stick in the candle holders, strategically covering the areas where the wire is visible.

Popular decorations on German Christmas wreaths are dried citrus fruits, nuts, pine cones, cinnamon sticks and red berries.

Another dilemma presented itself with the branches themselves. What to do with the extra tough branches? Good thing I had enough and made another Christmas decor with it using these cute pine cone tea lights I found.

To add to my insufferable hippie cred, I’d like to point out that the ribbon used to fasten the pine branches is recycled from the candle’s packaging, and so is the cardboard base.

I was two weeks late in making my Christmas decorations, but so what? They look great in the dark, and I’d try to make them every year from now on.

 

Agent Oso’s Pine Cone Bird Feeder

I try to limit my kid’s exposure to television…but I couldn’t help it. Agent Oso is a really cute Disney cartoon character! It’s one of the two cartoon series that I let my kid watch, and it really is very informative (and in English!)
One of the episodes shows kids how to make a pine cone bird feeder. We picked up a couple of pine cones and made pine cone bird feeders! So easy, my toddler could do it himself.

We used: bird seed, peanut butter, pine cones, and string.

First, we smeared peanut butter onto the pine cone, filling all the gaps.

 

My kid then rolled it in bird seed.

I cut a foot of string, tied it around the base of the pine cone, which I didn’t smear any peanut butter on

Et voila! Pine cone bird feeder. My kid was so excited to see the first birds feed on our bird feeder. So much joy for so little money!

Martinmas Lanterns

Photo by Anja W.

Photo by Anja W.

St. Martin’s Day is a big deal in Germany, just like trick-or-treating is in the US. I really like seeing cute kids go from house to house or from shop to shop with lanterns, sing songs, and get sweets or a pastry called Martinihörnchen, which reminds me of a croissant.

I didn’t know of St. Martin’s day  until I came to Germany. I know the word Martinmas, thanks to the novel Pillars of the Earth.

In Catholic parts of Germany, Martinmas refers to November 10, the day of St. Martin de Tours, a Roman soldier turned preacher/monk who saw God after giving a freezing beggar half of his cape. In Protestant parts of Germany, it is November 11, after Martin Luther’s birthday, the founder of the Protestant movement.

As a parent of a German child it is obligatory (!) that I make/buy a lantern. Common Martin lantern themes are heavenly bodies. This year, I made another one, and it was so easy.

You need:

Three A4 sized card paper/cartolina (available in Germany in different colors)

Colorful tissue paper (known in the Philippines as papel de japon)

Glue

String or twine

Step 1: Glue the bottom (last 1/2 inch) of the A4 paper. Stick the top edge (also the top 1/2 inch) of the second A4 paper onto it. Then you have a long sheet of paper.

Step 2: On the new bottom edge of the very long sheet of paper, make a fold/crease the last 1/2 inch of the bottom part of your paper.

Step 3: Fold the long sheet of paper in half. The edge of the paper should be even to where the crease is. Then fold that again in half. You should have four equal sides, with the crease forming a 1/2 inch “lip.”

Step 4: Draw easy patterns on the side of the paper that will be the “inside” of the lamp. Common themes are the moon, sun, and stars. Poke a hole in the middle, and cut out the patterns.

Step 5: Glue the edges of the cut-out figures. Cut up the tissue paper to fit and place over the glue-lined holes.

Step 6: Close the lantern by gluing the 1/2 inch crease and sticking it onto the other edge of the paper.

Step 7: Trace the square lantern over your 3rd piece of card paper, leaving a 1/4 inch allowance around it. Cut the square out, cut the corners of the square, and fold the edges inwards.

Step 8: Glue the edges and stick it inside the lamp. This is your lamp “base”

Step 9: The rest of the paper can be cut evenly into a 5 to 7 inch long strip. Poke two small holes 7 inches apart, and cut out a big hole about 2 inches in diameter in the middle. fold the paper to make it fit into the lantern, the paste the folds and stick on the top edge of the lamp. Wait to dry. When dry, you can thread the string through the small holes and tie the edges so it won’t slip through. The big hole is for the electric “fishing pole lamp” that is available in Germany at this time.

I’m going to brave the cold November night to walk around town begging for sweets. Have fun!

Photo by Anja W.

Photo by Anja W.