- Don’t worry about the table setting. The pictures we took for this post were created with Airbnb dishes, a scrap piece of fabric, and a potted plant we got at Trader Joe’s (have we mentioned that we love TJ’s? Too often, you say?). Use paper plates, your every day dishes, or pull out that wedding china you registered for and never use. It doesn’t matter. We just ask that you try not to buy anything extra for a gathering. A jar of roadside wildflowers or random greenery from in front of your house, a half burned candle, a plant you already have, a pretty scarf, a handful of pine cones, or just about anything can be spread out on your table, floor or counter to create a lovely atmosphere.
- Keep the food simple. We love cooking, run a food blog, and dream about our kitchen at night (yes, really. We’re a couple nuts.), but neither of us would have an issue serving a salad kit and ordering pizza for a quick and easy gathering. There is nothing wrong with easy and simple. You’ll be happier and more relaxed for your friends, and everyone wins when that happens. Let go of the “supposed to”s and “should”s.
- If you want to have new friends over for the first time, but you’re worried about it being awkward (something Hannah thinks about on the reg #halp), make dinner interactive! Let your guests help you by mixing the salad, chopping up fruit for a pie, or even have a make-your-own-pizza night!
Over here at CSK, we really love Trader Joe’s. From the prices to the variety of items, it just doesn’t get any better. During the holidays it can be hard to find the time to figure out decorations, make cookies, etc. so we thought we’d share some of our favorite Trader Joe’s shortcuts.
- Pie crust
- Making your own pie crust is (though worthwhile) very time-consuming and most pre-made pic crusts taste like all the preservatives they have in them. But let us sing the song of the Trader Joe’s premade pie crust. They’re flaky; they’re subtly sweet; they’re crumbly. It’s the perfect “buttery flaky crust.” (Anyone? Anyone?).
- Tip: make sure you roll it out yourself to make it a little thinner. These pie crusts can be pretty overwhelming to a galette or a two-crust pie if you don’t thin them.
- As we said, who has time to make fancy desserts for all the Christmas parties? Not us. But thankfully ol’ faithful TJ’s has so many great premade desserts. These are one of Essie’s all-time favorites.
- Veggies & Greens Salad Mix
- We love all of their salad mixes, tbh, but this one takes the cake. The crunchy veggies with the sweetness of the dried pear and the saltiness of the pistachios is a combination worth fighting for. And don’t get us started on the honey-ginger dressing. We also like to add a little sharp cheddar crumbled on top for an extra boost of protein.
- 3-Cream Brie
- Good cheese can be SO expensive. We used to groan when we saw photos of beautiful charcuterie boards, because we knew it’d be around $50 to make even the smallest one. Not so, thanks to TJ! You can get this creamy, sexy brie for so cheap. Grab a baguette and some dry Italian salami and it’s the prettiest little appetizer you’ve ever seen.
- Balsam is great. We love evergreens, really we do, but sometimes you just want something a little different for your Christmas wreath or centerpiece. TJ’s has beautiful eucalyptus for cheap and when combined with a sprig of red berries it looks delicately festive.
- Chocolate Mousse Cake
- Really this should read: CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKE. CHOCOLATE. MOUSSE. Want us to say it one more time? No? Ah, ok. We can chill. But really, we don’t think this one needs any explanation.
There you have it: our top six favorite shortcuts for this month. What are your favorites?
-Essie + Hannah
Have you decked your halls? Hung your mistletoe? Filled every nook and cranny of your home with cheer and joy?
Oh no? Don’t worry, neither have we. Hannah is still living in an Airbnb and Essie hasn’t done anything other than put candles everywhere. It’s ok, decorations are meant to bring joy and not stress. Let them happen organically, as time and inspiration find you.
We enjoy simple, homemade decor, especially if the ingredients are cheap and already in our kitchens. Here are two of our favorites!
Essie: Cinnamon Ornaments
- 1 cup of applesauce
- 1 1/2 cups cinnamon
- 1 tbsp cloves (optional)
- Mix applesauce with cup of cinnamon and cloves in kitchen mixer. Slowly add additional cinnamon as mixer continues to mix. It should leave the sides of the bowl and become a nice ball of dough. If it looks too wet, add more cinnamon. Too dry, add more applesauce.
- Spread parchment paper on cookie sheets.
- Sprinkle cinnamon like you would flour on your surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/8-1/4 inch thick.
- Cut various shapes out with cookie cutters and use a tooth pick or straw to make holes for stringing.
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Bake for 1.5-2 hours. Turn off your oven and allow to continue drying overnight. They should be completely dry and rock hard, otherwise put them back in the oven and give them more dry time.
- Thread a string through the holes, hot glue onto ribbon or just hold them up to your nose and sniff the lovely cinnamony scent.
Hannah: Dried Oranges
So, I made these for the first time last year, inspired by my friend Libby, who lived in Germany at the time. She had decorated her beautiful evergreen tree with dried oranges and combined with the lights on the tree they look like tiny stained glass windows. I loved how festive and simple they are so it’ll be a returning decoration for our home
- 3 or so oranges
- thin string
- a tapestry needle
- parchment paper
- a baking sheet.
Slice your oranges into slices that are about 1/8″ thick. You want them to be thin enough that they dry in the oven, but not so thin that they’re very brittle and break.
Lay the orange slices on parchment paper on the baking sheet and bake them at the lowest temperature your oven has. Libby set hers at 100, but my parents’ oven didn’t go lower than 180, which worked just fine. Bake them until they’re dry and stiff. When I made them they were still fairly sticky and pliable. This could take quite a few hours, so pop them in while you’re doing other stuff and come back to it!
Thread your tapestry needle with the string and weave the thread through the top of the orange slice so it hangs flat. If you just thread it through once, the oranges will face to the side, which is a very different look. The stickiness of the oranges should hold them in place fairly well so you don’t have to knot the string or anything to keep them from sliding to the middle when you hang them on your mantle. If you hang them on your tree, simply thread it through the top of the orange and tie it off like a little ornament.
Tag @commonsensekitchen on the socials to give us a peek at your kitchen crafting adventures. Happy decorating!
Hannah & Essie
Everything and everyone is all about those sales right now. While neither of us is a Black Friday fanatic, we are hoping to take advantage of a few sales to snag some things we’ve had our eyes on.
Essie: “I love to take advantage of Artifact Uprising’s Cyber Monday sale and get our yearly photo book printed. It’s also a great time to have photo calendars and other photo gifts printed for Christmas gifts. I may also check on L.L. Bean’s sale because I just love their stuff and have had my eye on a couple things for a while now.”
Hannah: “I’ve never really been a Black Friday kinda gal, but once I got into the kitchen, I just can’t ignore the amazing sales on large appliances. A friend of mine got a KitchenAid mixer for $150. $150! I’ll also be lurking on llbean.com hoping that their nice down vest goes on sale for my husband.”
Whether you plan on braving the lines and hoards of people in stores or look forward to grabbing a few marked down gifts online this weekend, may we suggest you try a simmer pot to make your whole home smell amazing? It’s the perfect way to use up fruits that aren’t looking so yummy anymore, while giving your house an artisanal scent. We threw together a delicious recipe for one, but we also encourage you to experiment with your own.
- semi full pot of water
- Lemons, halved or quartered
- Rosemary sprig or two
- Dash of Cinnamon
- Sprinkle of Nutmeg
- Pinch of Cloves
- Directions: Simmer everything on low heat. Add more water as it cooks off.
But you could try any combinations of these: oranges, grapefruit, tangerine, lime, cinnamon stick, anise seed, whole cloves, apples, vanilla, ginger, and evergreen twigs. It’s such a low risk activity that you could really throw any fruit or spice in the pot and just test it out. No harm if it doesn’t work out.