Handmade Holidays

When you hear stories of New York women using their ovens for shoe storage, please don't assume that we are all a bunch of fashion obsessed domesti-phobes. This is merely an attempt to maximize the use of an appliance which, in many cases, has been shrunk down to the point of being almost useless for anything other than, oh, I don't know, drying your delicates by hanging them on the half open oven door. Its worth noting here that if you do use your broiler for shoe storage, make a little reminder sign so that when you do attempt to dry your unmentionables or anything else on the half open oven door you do not make your entire building smell like foot. Not that I have done that. Recently.

For this reason, I haven't done a lot of delicate baking since moving here. My little stove means well, and can actually broil and boil like nobodys business, but lacks any real self control in terms of its exact temperature. My oven, regardless of the numbers on its dial, has only two settings. OFF, and #$%%#@!.

This christmas, however, I was pleased to run across this recipe for peppermint bark, which is surprisingly easy to make and absolutely delicious. It requires no candy thermometer and depends on a barely warm oven to melt chocolate. Undeniably festive and hardy enough to survive a trip via post to California, it might just become my new signature holiday baked treat give-away, which will please my inlaws to no end. Last time I visited them for Christmas, I took over the kitchen for close to six hours in order to make a Bouche Noel. I got a little carried away (obsessed) with making the little red mushrooms and red bellied newt from colored marzipan, and drove everyone so nuts that when I announced that I planned to make it EVERY christmas, my sister in law rolled her eyes so hard that it was audible. This recipe should make her very happy.

I followed the recipe exactly, and tried a few different types of chocolate, all of them high quality and all of them semi-sweet. I found it very easy to melt chips or wafers, not so easy to melt big cubes. On the third batch, just to see what would happen, I melted the white chips in the microwave, cutting out the double-boiler step, and had very good results. I only needed to melt them about half-way, which in my old microwave took about three minutes, and then a quick stir with a rubber spatula helped them to melt completely, while allowing me the chance to blend in the peppermint extract. I do love my double boiler, its a vintage glass pyrex model with wooden handles that allows you to see exactly what is happening. Double boilers aren't as scary as they look, and work very well for melting just about anything or making delicate sauces like a hollandaise. I admit that I am a sucker for any recipe that allows me to bust out my blender, my pyrex, or my orange kitchenaid mixer, especially this time of year.

 For my local friends, super, veterinarian, hairdresser (even though she got carried away with her big round brush after my cut and color session last week... even she had to admit that I looked like My Little Pony), dog walker, postwoman, etc., I broke up the peppermint bars and put them into little wax paper bags, (which I found at While Foods and are a great biodegradable alternative to plastic sandwich bags) and sealed them with labels and ribbon. For my crafty friends and the crews at Purl Patchwork and STC, I wrapped bars first in wax paper and then in squares of scrap fabric, and for a few mom-friends living in cold climates I tied them up with little mittens-on-a-string made from embroidery floss and felt. I found these envelopes that are padded and bright white to use for sending my peppermint bark far and wide. If you live near a Container Store, you might be able to find this paper, which I am determined to stock up on next year.

If you have found yourself in the hand-made holiday spirit this year, its time to head over to Melanie Falicks blog. Melanie is the editor of my upcoming book as well as many well loved craft titles including the Last Minute Gift series, Knitalong, and lots of other titles. She has a very cool post up right now about making gifts by hand, with a give-away to boot! I am ordering a bunch of STC Craft books for gifts, intended for the long list of friends who love to make things by hand. I plan to order them through Purl Patchwork and Reprodepot, and in a few cases throw in a gift certificate for fabric or yarn. There is something about this season, especially this year, that makes me want to make more by hand, don't you agree? I'm also giving away my friend Domenicas cookbook, Mamalicious. Its my favorite cookbook of all time. If you know someone with children (picky eaters included) who needs some healthy and easy dinner ideas, this is the book for them. She has a few free recipes on her blog now, and they are all amazing. My nieces and nephew now demand this one regularly.

My Little Pony Out.