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Tag Archives: Christmas

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Spritz Cookies

A Christmas Tradition: Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom made these every Christmas and they were always a hit:

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

1 lb butter (can use 1/2 butter, 1/2 stick margarine for these–don’t use vegetable oil spread!) at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 TBSP warm water

6 cups of flour

Cream the butter and extracts. Add the eggs and beat until smooth

Add the dissolved baking soda and blend.

Gradually add the flour until a stiff, moldable dough forms. Do not add too much flour; it should hold its shape and stick together without crumbling

The dough can be put through a cookie press as-is, or you can divide the dough into three portions. Leave one untinted, tint one portion green, the other portion red and form 3 ropes together to put through the cookie press

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until just set and bottoms are starting to JUST brown.

Yield: About 5 to 6 dozen press cookies, depending upon shapes used.

You can add maraschino cherry bits, colored sugars and other decos to these just before baking.

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Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

December offers many wonderful plants to grace our homes and to offer  the gardener on our holiday lists. One of the most interesting and beautiful of plants is the Christmas cactus. This plant has one of the more unusual of botanical names, though: Schlumbergera bridesii. No matter which name we use, common or botanical, this native of South America is quickly becoming a very popular plant to add to our indoor plant collections during the holiday season and beyond. It is a most fitting plant to feature as December’s spotlight plant.

Christmas cacti come in various shades of pink, white, and near-orange, or salmon. They offer color and a touch of the tropics when many of our homes are starved for durable blooming plants. Not a true cactus, but a succulent by nature, many make the mistake of under watering this plant.

Unlike poinsettias, which can quickly turn leggy and die, the Christmas cactus is a bit more durable. After the blooms cease, withhold water for about five or six weeks. It needs to “nap” a bit. Repot with fresh soil which is light and fertile. When new growth resumes, fertilize with a weak organic fertilizer every three weeks.

This plant likes shade in the summer and constant moisture. Not sogginess, but moisture. It makes an excellent porch plant in the shade. When the kids return to school, start to decrease the amount of water that you give it. Let it go thirsty in October. In November, keep it in a humid area, or place it on a bed of moist pebbles that do not “wick” into the pots. Water, but not too much or too often, just to keep it moist. This plant appreciates a bit more light indoors than out, but not the sunniest spot in your home.

To induce blooming, give Christmas cactus bright, indirect sunlight, and keep it in a temperature range of 55 to 60 degrees. If you have a cool, bright room, this is ideal. If the temps have to go higher, as it does in most of our homes this time of the year, keep it in a dark closet until bloom buds start to develop. You can start this process as soon as you bring the plant in from its summer vacation.

So, if you want a little different plant to share your digs with for the holidays, pick a Christmas cactus or two. I think you will be pleased.

December Gardening Calendar

December Gardening Calendar

 

Holly

Holly

December is, as it is everywhere, a festive season in the Southern Great Lakes Region. It is a busy time for all: Shopping, decorating, and entertaining all take top billing this month. Fall changes officially to winter this month, but with the winter holidays, one hardly notices the official passage into winter.

Generally, our region has already experienced a good snowstorm or two by the official turn of the season. Some years, however, autumn lingers long into the month. By now, planting chores and winter prep are completed with the garden and yard. Many of the leftover chores are hold-overs from last month’s list. Yet, there are a few other things we can continue to do in the home, yard, and garden this month:

1.  Purchase some Christmas Cactus, Kalanchoes, Cyclamens, and Poinsettias to make your home more festive. Be sure to remove any foil wraps on the containers. These can hold water in the pots, which might cause the plants to rot from excess moisture. Make sure these plants are well wrapped before leaving the store for the trip home.

2.  Buy some amaryllis bulbs to grow on the windowsill. Depending upon variety, some staking might be required.

3.  Houseplants can suffer from the lack of humidity. Growing plants in pebble filled trays and saucers can help maintain humidity around plants. Set your plants on the pebbles, and fill the saucer or tray with water to just the top of the pebbles.

4.  If your roses aren’t protected, do so early in the month. Spray anti-dessicant on any exposed canes when the daytime temps are above 40. Mound soil, mulch, and leaves around the base of the plants to about 18 to 24 inches above the base of the bushes. this is especially true of hybrid teas, floribundas, and roses that have been growing in the yard less than two years, and any other marginally hardy rose. Some of the bush roses, such as the Explorers, Rugosas, Mordens, and Buck’s roses can overwinter successfully in our zones 5a to 6a region without protection. Again, if any variety was newly planted this past season or has been in the ground less than two years, protection would still be a good idea.

5.  Continue watering outside when the weather is above freezing, if there has not been sufficient precipitation and the ground has not frozen. Drain hoses after removing them from the faucets to prevent damage to hoses and plumbing.

6.  Try to take a daily walking tour of your yard, as the weather permits. Observe frost patterns in your yard in early morning. See where frost lingers, where frost does not hit, and write this down in your diary or journal. Often a surprise plant or two will be blooming in a protected spot. These are indicators of microclimates, and you can use this information when planning on where to site plants.

7.  Check the coldframe for any problems. Make sure plants are overwintering without the problems of standing water, field mice, disease, insects, or excessive cold. Prop it open on days that are sunny and above freezing to prevent excessive warming of your plants.

8.  Continue to keep birdfeeders filled. Birds offer a lot of winter interest, and by making your property attractive to birds, these helpmates might decide that your place would make a good home next year. Many birds migrate to the region from further north, but many birds make our region their year-around home.

9.  Take cuttings of holly and evergreen boughs indoors for Christmas decorating. Also fill outdoor window boxes with Christmas greens and decorative bows.

10. Keep fresh-cut Christmas trees in a cool, not freezing location. After bringing a tree home, cut 1 to 2″ from the base and plunge it into a bucket of tepid water with preservative added to prevent the cut end from sealing over. Don’t let the water run dry! When bringing a tree indoors for decorating, allow it to rest in the stand with water in it for several hours to allow the tree to “relax” its branches as it becomes acclimated to indoor warmth. Then decorate.

11. Gardening catalogs should start arriving this month. Start a list of items that you want to purchase for planting next spring. This is also a good time to take out any pictures you have taken of your gardens during the past growing season. You can see what you might need to add to your gardens and yard.

12. Potted Christmas trees should be placed in a cool, not freezing, area until brought indoors for decorating. These trees should not be brought in for extended periods. A day or two before Christmas and a few days after will not harm them. If kept too long indoors, they will break dormancy. After Christmas, take the tree out to the area where you prepared the planting site earlier (see October’s calendar), and plant it. Water well and mulch.

13. Continue to keep bird feeders full. Word will get around, and you will be amazed at how many visitors will come to call during the winter months if you provide a steady supply of suet and seed!

14. Remove any stray leaves that may have blown in around your plants. If they are not shredded, they can mat down around your plants and smother them or promote rotting.

15. Continue to apply mulch to your flowerbeds as the ground freezes to prevent freeze/thaw heave and premature breaking of dormancy.

16. Have a gardener on your gift list? A gift certificate to a nursery or garden center would be appreciated. You can also “gift” him or her with a gift certificate to a gardening-related mail order source. Another good idea would be a gift subscritption to a gardening magazine.

18. Most of all, have a Blessed Holiday Season, one and all!


Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

 

fresh evergreen arrangement

fresh evergreen arrangement

 

You know, so many of us have artificial Christmas trees these days. For most of us, it’s a case of saving money and having a tree that doesn’t dry out over the season. It is also a matter of convenience.  Less hassle to have an artificial tree and we don’t have to worry about straight trunks or the tree having a “bad side” to it.

But, we’ve sacrificed one of the best things about having a live tree in our homes: The rich scent of the Christmas tree, whether of pine or fir.

So, how to have our cake and eat it too??

Well, if you are like me, buying those room sprays or even candles often doesn’t duplicate the true scent of a Christmas tree adequately. Many of them are close, but not quite on the mark.

One of the best ways to add an authentic scent to the air is to add floral arrangements made of evergreen cuttings.

Now, most of us have a pine tree, spruces, cedars, junipers, or firs growing in our yards. If we don’t, we can find the greens relatively easily. Most Christmas tree farms offer either free branches cut from the bottoms of the trees for customers when they purchase their trees. That, or they will charge a nominal fee for cuttings.

Whichever way you gather these evergreen cuttings, if you prep them before using them, you can add authentic Christmas scent to your home.

Start with fresh cuttings. Be sure to use a sharp pair of pruners to cut the end pieces of the stems–be forewarned, though; the cut ends often will leak a little sticky sap. You might wish to use gloves when cutting.

Once cut, plunge the cuttings in water for several hours for them to take up water. By plunge, I mean submerge them.

In the meantime, gather the glass bowls, vases, or baskets you intend to use for your arrangements.  You can use empty small butter or sour cream containers, cut floral foam to fit tightly, and add to baskets or other non-waterproof containers. You can later on hide the foam and container with a little moss.  Remove and soak the foam until saturated, place back in the container.

Remove the cuttings and cut again: About 1/4 of an inch.

Starting at the outside with the longest branches, add branches all the way around the base of the foam. Add progressively shorter stems, working your way into the middle. You can add other decorative touches such as a flameless candle in the center, some ornaments, some cones and ribbons.

Keep the arrangement misted and do not allow the foam to dry out. If you find a few branches are brittle or browning, you can remove and replace the stems with fresh cuttings treated the same way.

These arrangements, if kept watered and misted, will last up to a month and will hold their fragrance well.