Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Festive Pinecones

You can transform ordinary pinecones into beautiful festive decorations. It is a fun project where you can use your creativity and spice up your holiday decor. You will need:

- Pinecones (Available in you local craft store)

- Acrylic Craft Paint (Non-Toxic) in holiday colors like red and green

- Artist Paint Brushes (Available in your local craft store or pharmacy)

Begin by making sure you remove any loose wood splinters from the pinecones. Brush with a clean cloth to make sure that surfaces are smooth and free of splints. Paint the entire pinecones red. Use the elongated brushes to make sure you get into all of the crevices of the pinecones. You will probably have to apply 2 to 3 coats to get a nice color. After the paint has dried, dip your paintbrush in green paint and paint just the outer edges of the pinecones. Of course you can reverse the colors as you like, or use entirely different colors.

When your pinecones are finished, you can wrap string around them and hang them as festive decorations or you can place them in a bowl or basket with dried fruit, dried fruit slices, cinnamon sticks, and cloves for a lovely fragrant holiday display.

Christmas Cookie Recipes

If you are looking for yummy Christmas cookie recipes, look no further than, a database filled with wonderful recipes not just for cookies, but all kinds of holiday baked goods and candies. You're sure to find what you're looking for and more.

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Orange Pomanders

Orange pomanders are a wonderful way to add fragrance to a room. They are pretty and fragrant. They can be hung with a decorative ribbon or placed in bowls with potpourri and/or country fixins. They look great during the Fall season and the Christmas holidays.

They are very simple to make. You will need:



-Powdered Cinnamon

-Powdered Allspice

-Powdered Nutmeg

-A round toothpick or skewer

-Decorative Ribbon (optional)

-Dried or artificial flowers (optional)

-Pins (optional)

Before you begin, decide what design you would like to make on your orange with the cloves. You can make lines, swirls, or cover the entire orange with cloves. If you plan on hanging your completed pomander it is a good idea to place the ribbon around the orange and secure it in place with pins before you start adding the cloves. In this way the cloves will not get in the way of your ribbon and it will fit snugly around your orange for hanging. When you have decided on your design, create your pattern by making the holes in your orange with the toothpick or skewer. After you have completed the holes, insert the cloves into the holes you have made. After you have inserted all of the cloves, remove the ribbon if you are using one, and sprinkle your orange with the powdered cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, and wrap it in tissue paper. Store it in a cool dry place for a few weeks (2 to 3) until the skin becomes hard. As the orange begins to dry the natural scent will blend with the scent of the cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon resulting in a wonderful orange spice fragrance. Check your orange regularly during the drying process to see whether it is ready. When it is ready, it will have shrunk a bit and it will be dry and hard. Your pomander is complete.

If you want to hang it, place your ribbon around the pattern that you have made. You can also decorate your pomander with dried flowers or artificial flowers in seasonal/holiday colors. *Our pomander in the photo above is decorated with dried carnations.

Insect Theme Gardens: Bees

You can create fun and interesting theme gardens by planting certain plants together to attract beneficial insects such as bees. Bees perform the essential task of pollinating the plants in your garden. They are attracted to plants by scent and color (except for red - they cannot perceive the color red. They are mainly attracted to flowers that are yellow, blue, and purple.) You can plant a variety of fragrant herbs and flowers for a bee garden. They are very much attracted to the scent of Basil, Chamomile, Dill, Borage, Bergamot, Fennel, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Oregano, Sage, Mint, Thyme, Daisies, Sunflowers, Dahlias, Larkspur, and Snapdragons.

Bees are pretty little creatures as you watch them hovering around your garden, landing from plant to plant. Even though bees are beneficial to the garden, some people fear their presence becuse of the possibility of being stung, (some people even have allergic reactions to stings from bees & wasps). It is important to remember, however, that bees are not aggessive insects, they will not sting unless they feel threatened. If you are around bees, please remember to use the proper precautions to avoid being stung.

Insect Theme Gardens: Ladybugs & Butterflies

You can create fun and interesting theme gardens by planting certain plants together to attract ladybugs and butterflies.

Pretty little spotted ladybugs are are not only attractive but they are also very beneficial to the garden because they control aphids and other plant pests. If you would like to attract ladybugs to your garden, plant flowers such as Dandelions, Marigolds, Tansy, and Yarrow. Ladybugs are also attracted to fragrant herbs such as Dill, Fennel, Coriander, Angelica, Cilantro, and Parsley.

You can also attract beautiful, colorful butterflies to your garden by planting flowers rich in nectar such as Aster, Lillies, Violets, Thistle, Cyprus Vine, and Liatris. Butterflies also like aromatic herbs such as Dill, Marjoram, Oregano, Mint, and Creeping Thyme.

Are Candles Made From Gel Wax Dangerous?

Are Candles Made From Gel Wax Dangerous?
There have been chain emails circulating around the internet claiming that gel candles are dangerous because they explode while they are burning. Here is an example of one of the emails:

"Thought you all need to know about this since you love to burn candles. This came from a friend in Texas. jw

My former secretary had a gel candle burning in her bathroom ... it exploded and caught her house on fire. The house burned down and they lost everything. The Fire Marshall told her that this is not the first incident where a gel candle has exploded and caused a fire. He said that the gel builds up a gas and often times it explodes and sets fire to the room it is in, which is what happened to her. The fire was so hot it melted the smoke alarm, and they didn't discover the fire until there was an explosion, which was her toilet blowing up, and then it was too late...the entire upstairs was engulfed in flames. Smoke damage and water damage have destroyed what wasn't destroyed by fire.

Another incident, "Mary" had one burning on her mantle and it caught fire just like the message above. She has at home at the time and saw it happen and grabbed the candle to keep it from setting her home on fire and it came apart in her hand. She saved her home but suffered 3rd degree burns to her hand and 3 fingers.

And as if those two stories weren't enough...My husband was home on vacation and had a gel candle lit on the top of the entertainment center. He too saw the candle burst into flames. His first instinct was to blow the candle out. Well, that didn't work; so he blew harder.... the gel from the candle splattered and went everywhere; everywhere including his face. He had 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over his face. The gel doesn't cool like wax does, so the bits that were still on his face continued to burn him. And you can't wipe the stuff off; it just rolls up and keeps burning. Another friend had a similar experience. She received as a gift a gel candle from Avon. It was contained in a wine goblet, was sort of purple gel with glitter in the gel. She had it on her dresser in the bedroom. Once when it was burning, the entire solid turned to liquid and the glitter pieces "jumped" randomly out of the wine glass, taking drops of gel with it, getting all over the dresser and window curtain. A weird scene to say the least. Needless to say, she put the flame out and emptied the remaining liquefied gel into the toilet."

The truth is that gel wax does not build up any type of gas that causes it to explode. But the burning of certain gel candles does pose a risk - candles that are in glass containers. Gel wax does not explode as is stated in the emails. But gel wax is not really a wax per se, like soy, paraffin, or beeswax. It burns much hotter than all of the other waxes and if the candle is in a glass container that is not heat resistant or has slight cracks or imperfections, the intense heat of the gel wax will cause it to shatter. So the gel itself is not dangerous and does not explode, but if it is in a weak container, the strong heat may cause it to break apart. Gel candles in strong heat resistant containers are safe to burn. Make sure you purchase your gel candles from a reputable source.

Candle Waxes

Wax is the material that fuels a candle as it burns. Throughout history, people used many various substances as candle waxes. Various fats and oils were used, as well as materials obtained from animals and insects. Nowadays there are several different candle waxes from which scented candles are made. Different waxes have different properties.

Paraffin Wax: The most common wax is paraffin wax. Most scented candles are paraffin candles. Paraffin wax is a white odorless wax. It is a blend of organic compounds and it is derived from filtered petroleum.

Soy Wax: Soy wax is made from the oil of soy beans. After soy beans are harvested, they are washed, crushed, and rolled and the oil is drawn out and hydrogenated in order to be used as wax.

Beeswax: Beeswax is the most expensive wax. It is made from the material that honey bees use to build the honeycomb. It is produced from the glands of worker bees. It has a naturally sweet scent. Beeswax is yellow due to the natural coloration from the pollen and propolis that the bees gathered. But beeswax is often refined to remove the yellow coloring and therefore is available in both yellow and white.

Gel Wax: Gel wax is not really a wax at all. It is a clear jelly-like substance that consists of 95% mineral oil and 5% polymer resin. Gel candles burn much slower than regular waxes and last longer. Due to it's transparency, gel wax is used to make many beautiful designer candles and because it has a jelly-like consistency, objects can be embedded inside the candles.

Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe

Stuffed grape leaves, also known as "Dolmathes" are a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacy made with tasty and fragrant herbs like dill, fennel, and parsley. They are usually served as an appetizer. There are many variations to the recipe, some include meat. This is a family recipe from Greece. It is meatless and contains fresh herbs. The rolls are traditionally accompanied by Feta cheese and olives.

- 1 Cup Rice

- 1 Jar ( 8 ounces) Grape Leaves

- 3 or 4 Scallions, chopped

- 4 Cups Water

- 1/4 Cup Chopped Fennel

- 1/4 Cup Chopped Dill

- 1/4 Cup Chopped Parsley

- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil, Plus 2 Tablespoons

- Juice of 1 Lemon

Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet and saute the scallions until tender. Add the herbs, rice and 2 cups water, cover and simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes, until water is absorbed and rice is al dente. Salt the mixture to taste.

Remove the grape leaves from the jar and wash gently and remove the stems. Place the leaves in a saucepan and blanche for a few minutes until they are tender. Remove them from the saucepan and place them in a collander to drain and cool. When they have drained and cooled, begin by laying out a grape leaf with the shiny side down. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture on the stem end of the leaf - bottom section of the leaf where the stem was. Begin rolling the stem end of the leaf over the rice mixture and folding. Take the 2 sides of the leaf and fold towards the middle. Now continue rolling the leaf like a cigar. Don't roll it too tightly though, because the rice will expand when it cooks further and it will break out of the roll. Repeat the process with the rest of the grape leaves and rice mixture. When the mixture is done, you will have some grape leaves left over.

Take a large saucepan and line the bottom with your remaining grape leaves. You can use imperfect/torn leaves that you could not use for rolling the mixture, to line the bottom of your saucepan. After your saucepan is lined, take your stuffed rolls and begin arranging them on the bottom of the saucepan side by side. Make sure that the seam side is down. Arrange them snugly but not too tightly together. Continue making layers of rolls in the saucepan. It's best to have 3 or 4 layers, if you have more than 4 layers, the rolls will not cook properly. When you are finished arranging your rolls, pour in the remaining water (2 cups), the remaining olive oil (1/4 cup) and the lemon juice (1 lemon). In order to keep the rolls from jumping about during the cooking process and the rice possibly breaking through the roll, take a heat-proof plate that is slightly smaller than the width of the saucepan and place it upside down on top of the rolls. This will weigh down the rolls and keep them together. Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook gently for about 30 minutes, until the rolls are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove the rolls from the saucepan, let cool and serve garnished with fresh herbs.

Lemon Scented Herbs

There are 3 herbs whose leaves give off a lovely lemon fragrance. In addition to their fragrance, their leaves have a lemon flavor and they are used to season foods and drinks. Their fragrant leaves are also used in fragrance crafts like soap, bath products, and potpourris.

Lemon Grass

Lemon Grass is a perennial herb that grows in clumps with long, thin, grass-like leaves. It usually grows 3 to 4 feet tall although it can grow to 6 feet tall. It can be planted in full sun or partial shade. When the leaves are broken, they release a lemon-flavored oil. Lemon Grass is mostly used as a seasoning in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. It also has antiseptic properties and is used in cosmetics. When dried, the fragrant leaves can be added to citrus potpourri blends.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena is a deciduous woody shrub with pretty elongated leaves and tiny pale flowers. It grows to 4 feet tall although it has been known to grow up to 10 feet tall. It grows best when planted in full sun. Since it is a decidous herb it drops all of it's leaves during the winter. It does not survive well in cold weather and therefore should be potted and brought indoors during the winter. Lemon Verbena leaves have a strong lemony flavor and can be used instead of lemon juice to flavor both hot and iced teas. The leaves themselves can be made into a flavorful tea that is soothing and calming to the digestive tract. The flavorful leaves are used to season pastires, jams & jellies, chicken, and fish. Lemon Verbena is a soothing gentle herb and it's fragrant leaves are used as additives to soap and bath products.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb with oval shaped leaves that have a delicate lemon scent and taste. In late summer, it grows tiny white flowers that attract bees. Due to the fact that bees are attracted to the fragrant flowers, the scientific name for Lemon Balm is Melissa Officinalis, the Greek word for bee is Melissa. Lemon Balm grows about 2 feet, and does best when planted in full sun, although it can grow in partial shade. It's lemon flavored leaves are used to season chicken, fish, vegetables, pastries, custards, and ice cream. The fresh leaves are used to add a lemony flavor so cool summer drinks like iced tea, punch, and lemonade. The large oval shaped leaves look very attractive in a glass with a cool summer drink. The fragrant dried leaves can be added to citrus scented potpourri blends.