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The Gifting Garden: Offering Spring’s Bounty as Homemade Gifts and DIY Edible Crafts

The Gifting Garden: Offering Spring’s Bounty as Homemade Gifts and DIY Edible Crafts

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

fresh seasonal fruit
Spring’s bounty | Image courtesy flick’r user Egan Snow

In the four years that my fiancé Nick and I have been together, we’ve lived inside the flow of many changing seasons. When we first met, it was a cold winter in San Francisco and days were filled with warm cioppino stew and big pots of tortilla soup. Autumns are always spent finding any excuse we could to eat (and carve) pumpkins, butternut squash, and pomegranates. Summers came, promising homemade fruit sorbets and garden fresh heirloom tomatoes—but, first, there was spring.

Beautiful, often unexpected, but much looked for spring.

For us, the season is a time of rebirth, renewal, and transformation. It promises bountiful amounts of fruit and produce, whether from our garden or at the local farmer’s market down the street. The flowers bloom, the sun shines, and our feelings of creativity flourish.

And that is how the idea for an annual Gifting Garden celebration was born.

 

The Essence of the Gifting Garden

spring lilacs
Spring lilacs | Image courtesy Etsy seller WowBloomRoom

We’re big fans of homemade gifts during the holidays, notorious for our gingerbread loaves topped with maple cream cheese frosting. With this in mind, we started a springtime gift giving party tradition so we can intertwine our famous edible gifts with a spring twist, pulling from the season’s natural bounty and focusing on what each ingredient in the gift symbolizes. Lavender, for instance, eases the nerves, while grapefruit offers optimism for the future. We open our home to our friends and family, all toting their own homemade offerings.

We ask our guests to bring a spring wish for themselves written on a slip of paper along with their gift. The party then becomes a true exchange as we work together to choose whom each gift should go home with. Perhaps one friend had just lost a family member and needed comfort, another stability from an uncertain job. The gift each guest receives is meant to pave the way for a plentiful and inspiring spring to come.

 

DIY Lovely Lavender Invitations

lavender party invites
DIY Lavender Invitations | Image courtesy Etsy seller WeddinglamOfficial

Keeping with the natural, tangible spring feel of the party, we like to make our own invitations using lavender from our garden. It offers a tantalizing smell, and can also withstand a trip through the mail. Keep things simple with a fresh sprig or two, a cream colored piece of cardstock or recycled material, and some raffia or twine.

Include a handwritten message for each friend, and simple print out with the invitation offering ideas for homemade gifts like rosewater, marmalade, or basil-infused olive oil (instructions below). Often, folks are intimidated by the idea of crafting their own gifts, so reassure them that homemade gift-giving can be simple and invigorating. Pinterest offers another easy way to get inspired, or encourage friends to get in touch with their roots, opening old craft and DIY gift books from their mothers or grandmothers.

 

Naturally Good Homemade Gifts

The idea of being hands on, quite literally getting in touch with the season, whether through the soil in your garden or the scents and feelings at the market, is one we like to share with our friends through DIY treats and gifts. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

Basil-Infused Olive Oil

Herb-infused olive oils are absurdly easy to make, yet also versatile with room to experiment. They’re delicious mixed into a bowl of pasta, drizzled on top of spinach with sea salt and black pepper, or served alongside hunks of cheese and a loaf of bread. Here’s my favorite infusion recipe:

basil infused olive oil
Homemade Basil-Infused Olive Oil | Image Courtesy Etsy Seller thegreekpantry
  1. Blanch 1 cup basil (briefly boil, then plunge into ice water).
  2. Blend the basil in a food processor with a 1/2 cup of oil and a pinch of sea salt.
  3. Pour the olive oil and basil mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Canning jars work well, but, for the classic look, opt for a glass bottle with a rubber or cork stopper.

Basil, like all other herbs, is symbolic of Mother Earth. Although its meaning has changed throughout time, it’s now commonly seen as representing love and protection—two things that, without a doubt, we all hope for in our lives.

 

Grapefruit Marmalade

According to Chinese symbolism, the grapefruit offers abundance. A simple and quick grapefruit marmalade, or marmalade of any sort depending upon which fruits and herbs are available in your region, is a wonderful addition to a Gifting Garden party. It’s divine when spread on crackers with a bit of goat cheese or used as a glaze for shrimp and chicken. This recipe makes about 4 cups:

  1. Place two grapefruits in a large pot with enough water to give them a bit of room to float.
  2. Boil for 2 hours, adding water once or twice if needed.
  3. Drain the grapefruit and let them cool.
  4. Finely slice the grapefruit. This may take a while, so just enjoy the process!
  5. Throw the grapefruit back into the pot with 5 cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons.
  6. Bring it to a boil and allow the mixture to bubble for about 15 minutes, or until you reach the correct consistency
  7. Blend the jam if you’d like it to be smooth, or pour into a jar as is.
grapefruit marmalade
Lemon Thyme Grapefruit Marmalade | Image Courtesy Etsy Seller cupboardcook

Chances are, many of your friends and family have stories about homemade jams or marmalades. My grandmother, for instance, used to make marmalade from the kumquat tree in her Southern California backyard every year. That makes this gift particularly nostalgic and fun to share.

Homemade Rose Water

Homemade rose water is one of my favorite ways to celebrate spring. It’s refreshing, smells sublime, and always seems to lift my spirits. I give my face a spray before bed at night and in the morning after I put on makeup.

The rose itself is a symbol of balance—perfect for spring—and using a recipe with actual rose petals in the mix enhances this feeling. Here is my favorite recipe to brew up a bottle of rose water:

  1. Pluck the petals from a dozen fresh roses, layering them in a large pot and covering with distilled water. Bring to simmer.
  2. Cover the pot with a lid, allowing to simmer for 15 minutes or until the roses begin to lose their color.
  3. Drain the liquid into a spray bottle.
  4. Pamper someone you love.

A Spring Bouquet

For a unique twist on a natural wildflower bouquet, ask your guests to each bring a few flowers or bits of greenery from their own yards. Combine the efforts of your friends into reused glass bottles, or wrap in a piece of parchment paper, so everyone can go home with their own floral party favors.

A Gifting Garden spring celebration has become a sweet, simple, and ever-evolving tradition in our home. It brings friends together to celebrate the season and each other, offers our loved ones hope and well wishes, and helps us to remember the essence of sharing. The true gift, after all, is being able to sit together under our favorite trees outside, sipping, eating, and learning from each other. Happy spring! May yours be filled with the magic of the natural world all around us.

Elfster loves spring, and knows you do too. Keep your gifting fresh with our food and drink gift guides. Share your own DIY inspirations on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Fourth of July Party Ideas : Decorations of Independence

Fourth of July Party Ideas : Decorations of Independence

Fourth of July Party Ideas - Decorations of Independence

 

Looking for some pretty ways to show your patriotism this Independence Day? Well, thank your lucky stars and stripes, because Elfster has a handful of helpful hints. This weekend, we’re celebrating the land of the free by rounding-up a few complimentary party-planning ideas to help make your Fourth of July sparkle.

Take a look at these great tips and tutorials from our favorite holiday events bloggers, and feel free to join the blog party by adding your own ideas and links!

 

Pretty Printables- Sparkler Holders

Porch Decoration- Patriotic Bunting

Party Favors – Let Freedom “Ring”Photo credit- Simply Creative Insanity

3D Cookie Cupcakes- Tutorial

Berry Lemon Napoleon- Dessert Recipe

Polka Dot Tablescape

Star Medallion- Tutorial

Pennant Banner Printables

Pie Decoration and Party Ideas

Tee-Shirt Pom-Poms- Tutorial

Strawberry Shortcake Popsicles

Red, White and Blue Kabobs

Confetti Popper Rockets- Tutorial

Photo credits: Lisa Storms , Simply Creative Insanity
Friday the 13th : Spooky Treats by the Baker’s Dozen

Friday the 13th : Spooky Treats by the Baker’s Dozen

Friday the 13th - Spooky Treats by the Baker's DozenJust hear us out. If Christmas in July can be a “thing”, why can’t Halloween in May?

Friday the 13th isn’t just about avoiding ladders and knocking on wood. (That stuff is mere “Child’s Play”, if you ask us!) No, this day is the perfect excuse to dust off the culinary cobwebs and revisit some sinfully sweet Halloween treats.

Though you might be hesitant to go anywhere near the kitchen on such a notoriously unlucky day, here are a few recipes from our favorite food bloggers for those of you willing to tempt fate.

 

1. Ghost Crepe Cupcakes

2. Owl-Ween Treats

3. Meringue Bone Cookies

4. Black Cat Cookies

5. Gingerbread Skeleton Cookies

6. Silhouette CookiesFriday the 13th - 1

7. Spider Web Shortbread

8. Owl Cookies

9. Mini Ghost Cupcakes

10. Gingerbread Sandwich Bats

11. Spooky Sugar Cookies

12. Mini Cookie Cut-Outs

13. Nutter Butter Ghosts

 

Photo Credits: Cupcake Project , Celebrations at Home
The Elf Week Glitter Gala: A Grand Finale!

The Elf Week Glitter Gala: A Grand Finale!

Tonight, we throw a season-end soiree to rival Mrs. Claus’s bachelorette party! In celebration of a Christmas well-done, the Elf Week Glitter Gala will honor our new initiates for their hard work and dedication. Newcomers will be officially inducted into the Christmas Club, enjoying bottomless eggnog drafts and all-you-can-eat cookie dough hors d’oeuvres (served raw, of course).

But just because the Holidays are over doesn’t mean you can’t keep the seasonal spirit alive!  New Year’s is just around the corner, so we recommend you take a look at these handy articles for your own party-planning pleasure!

Selecting a Venue: Bonjour Events’ Dinner Planning Advice

Eggcelent Eggnog Alternatives

Tickled Pink Cocktails

But those can wait!  Let’s get back to the party…

Glitter Gala Highlights

At a great gig like the Glitter Gala, every elf is a winner! Here are some of the perks enjoyed by our new elf inductees:

• Official “Santa’s Helper” uniform

• A pair of the pointiest shoes on the planet

• Occasional use of the Company Sleigh

• Full health benefits, including: Frostbite insurance and full Ear-Care coverage

• Commemorative Christmas ornament

• Free cookies for life

• The privilege to experience Elf Week all over again next year!

Happiest of Holidays, everyone!

Photo credits: George Deputee ,  Pink Sherbet Photography
Sweet Smelling Ornaments for a Natural Noel

Sweet Smelling Ornaments for a Natural Noel

This year, finding eye-catching, affordable Christmas ornaments doesn’t have to feel like searching for the Eternal Fountain of Eggnog. (Oh, it’s out there…)  But an easy, natural solution to tree trimming is as close as nearest the produce section!

We admit, sometimes the “smell of Christmas” can be about as subtle as a dip in a vat of aftershave, and the hunt for a more muted fragrance can be equally daunting.

That’s why when we came across this project from younghouselove.com, we couldn’t wait to show you their simple solution!

If you’re as excited about the Elf Week Glitter Gala as we are, you’re probably spinning garland in anticipation at this very moment. But with homemade dried citrus ornaments, you’ll get the added benefit of aromatically accenting that Christmas tree smell without overpowering it.

   

Here’s how…

• Cut citrus (lemons, limes or oranges ) into quarter-inch slices.

• Bake in oven on a cookie sheet for 2-3 hours at 225 to 250 degrees, checking often to be sure nothing’s burning. It helps to crack the oven door from time to time to release a bit of the built-up heat to encourage drying as opposed to singeing.

• When fully dried, remove from the oven and cool.

• Place on silver ornament hooks and hang. Arrange the ornaments about an inch in front of the individual bulbs of your tree lights for a pretty “glowing” effect.

There you have it! Natural ornaments with a refreshing subtle scent for your holiday home.

Photos and instructions courtesy of: younghouselove.com
Santa’s Choice: World Cookie Recipes

Santa’s Choice: World Cookie Recipes

This Christmas, don’t be caught with your oven mitts off!

We know your egg timer is counting down the minutes to the Elf Week “Rookies n’ Milk Marathon”, so now is the perfect time to start training with some savory sweets.

To help you pre-heat, we’re giving you a list of Santa’s all-time favorite cookie recipes from around the globe. He knows a thing or two about dessert, so thanks to some great international food bloggers, here are the Claus’s “Top 10” picks:

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Crumb roll, please…

Raspberry, Olive Oil and Thyme Shortbread (Great Britain)
Meringue and Raspberry Baskets “Korzinki” (Ukraine)
Ma’moul Cookies (Lebanon)
Chocolate-Dipped Palmieres (France)
Almond Cookies (China)
Alfajores (Nicaragua)
Nutmeg Tea Cookies (Indonesia)
Hamantaschen (Israel)
Sweet Potato Cookies (Liberia)
Amaretti (Italy)

With these international favorites on the plate, Santa is sure to stop by your place first this year!

Photo credits: Steven Depolo, The British Larder, Foodista, Global Cookies, Gourmet Traveller 88
Easy-as-Pie Thanksgiving Placemats

Easy-as-Pie Thanksgiving Placemats

History unfolds right before your pies, with this precious pop-up placemat idea!

We love how PubliQue Living transforms plain sheets of recycled paper into charming table pieces for every occasion. (Check out the products on their website.) But in the Pilgrim spirit of “making do,” this Thanksgiving, we just had to try the idea ourselves… DIY-style!

We armed Intern Steph with some Bristol Paper and an X-Acto knife, and told her to re-create the Mayflower for our Thanksgiving table… After a good cry, she got right to work and this was the result!

Say what you will of her historical accuracy (or the judiciousness of giving an intern a knife), we think Stephanie did the pilgrims proud on this one, and here’s how you can create your own!

Materials:

• Large sheet of bristol paper or poster board
• X-acto knife
• Pencil
• Silhouette drawing or clip-art

Instructions:

First, draw or trace a simple line rendering onto your canvas, using your imagination or clip-art. Position the image somewhere around the corner of the page, an inch or two from each edge.

When creating your image, be sure to account for “negative space” by drawing closed, polygonal shapes within the overall outline.

Next, carefully use your X-acto to cut out these interior shapes, little by little, with a cutting board underneath.

After the interior shapes have all been removed, trace the overall outline with your X-acto, leaving the image’s bottom horizontal line uncut.

Finally, fold the image upward (along the bottom horizontal line) to bring your pop-up to life!

Fast n’ Festive Halloween Favors

Fast n’ Festive Halloween Favors

Halloween Party Favor BagsThink quick! It’s almost Halloween and you’ve pretty much wolfed down your colossal candy stockpile. All that’s left for your guests is one measly bag of morsels, giving you the sense that somewhere in a day-glow painted boiler room, Willy Wonka is weeping.

Well snap out of it! Halloween is no time to neglect your friends, or your crafting either. You’ve got no time to waste going to the store to buy more candy and party supplies, so you’ll have to make do with the bare essentials…

Don’t just stand there! Grab that old pad of construction paper, and find some scissors and tape, pronto! Today we’re making decorative fun-sized candy bags. Even though you still have a tummy ache, and your tongue has yet to return to its original color, with these cute little favors, your guests might just overlook your stinginesss with the sweets!

Directions:

1.  Cut a standard sheet of construction paper in half, lengthwise.

2.  Fold the longer two sides inward to meet at the middle of the page.

3.  Make a fold (inward) at about 4.5 inches from the edge of the page, on each end.

4.  Cut the paper on the four creases created in the middle, stopping at the edge of the folds.

5.  Glue or tape the outer edges of each side together.

There you have it. You now have your very own miniature party favor bag, in any festive color that you want! Think of it as a blank canvas. Now, using more construction paper, you can customize the bag to look like just about any Halloween character imaginable.

For our motley crew, we created an owl, a mummy, a bat and, of course, Frankenstein. But the possibilities are endless. This Halloween, if you want to save your guests a trip to the dentist, give them these bite-sized party bags. (And enjoy the extra treats ’til Turkey Day!)

A Taste of Fall

A Taste of Fall

Little Pumpkin with Fallen Orange Autumn LeavesWe elves may make a mean cup of eggnog, but by the time autumn rolls around, we’ve only got pumpkin on the brain! We don orange body paint and sit patiently in the patch for hours on end.  We plead for families of four to take us home. We contort our faces, holding toothy grins for longer than is probably advisable… This works up quite an appetite.  That’s why we love this recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins! Forget the fancy Indian corn and pretentious sprigs of wheat. From now on, we’re filling our Horn of Plenty with these bad boys…
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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

makes 12 muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice mix (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

muffinsStart by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and lining a muffin pan with liners. In a large bowl, mix together the almond milk, vegetable oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract until smooth. In a different bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix to combine, and add in the chocolate chips. Add the dry ingredients to the large bowl with the wet ingredients. Mix together until combined, but don’t over work it! Spoon the batter into the muffin pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Photo and recipe: Another One Bites the Crust
Have Your Wine and Drink It!

Have Your Wine and Drink It!

Andretti Winery’s Romantic Red Duo and Huephoria‘s hand-painted glassware go hand in hand as an elegant pairing for any gathering!

The wine duo includes a bottle each of Andretti 2006 Montona Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Andretti 2003 Montona Reserve Zinfandel Port (375ml), marked down over 50% when purchased as a pair! They hail from the legendary Napa Valley, on Mario Andretti and Joe Antonini’s Old World Italian vineyard. The Sauvignon marries notes of blackberry, cassis, rhubarb and cranberry, while the limited edition Zinfandel Port captures dark chocolate, blackberry and caramel.

Photo courtesy of Andretti Winery

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huephoriaPop open a bottle and sit back with these custom hand-painted wine glasses! Providing an alternative to generic wine glasses, HuePhoria offers hand-blown, hand-painted, dishwasher safe stemware with a unique painted ball design. Your guests will never lose track of which glass is theirs from now on! They offer a grand selection of wine and martini glasses, salt and pepper shakers, and decorative ornaments as well!

Photo courtesy of HuePhoria

Note: This post includes products provided to us by the brands and/or their representatives.