- 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!
Happy St. Nikolaus Day!
St. Nikolaus and I had a rocky start to our friendship. In southern German and Austrian homes, St. Nikolaus comes for a visit, bringing gifts in exchange for songs and kisses.
My first encounter with him at our door was when I was two. My poor father, who was in fact the man underneath the St. Nikolaus costume, still tells the story about how “pure terror” filled little Essie’s eyes when he came in the door. Even with his fake white beard removed, this is still the best picture my mom was able to snap:
In case you’re worried I always rewarded my parents’ efforts to create special traditions and memories for their children with fear and ingratitude, I offer these pictures that later years were more successful and smile-filled:
However, since I don’t live with my parents anymore and I have yet to convince Dave, my husband, to dress up as an Armenian Bishop, our St. Nikolaus Day celebration will be more low key. It’ll include some popcorn, Kinderpunsch, and cozy Advent candles.
Kinderpunsch is a hot beverage served in steaming mugs at German and Austrian Christmas markets. This non-alcoholic alternative to Glühwein is a mixture of cider, juice and tea.
Three years ago, Dave and I spent Christmas overseas with my Austrian relatives and visited as many of the markets as possible. We made a point to buy a Punsch at each one and kept the mugs as souvenir. Every Advent I love unpacking our little mug collection and making this Kinderpunsch recipe as a cozy tradition.
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bag hibiscus tea
- 1/2 tbsp honey
- Heat juice, cider, water and cinnamon to a simmer.
- Add tea bags for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove tea bags.
- Add honey.
- Allow to simmer for at least 10 minutes. You can just keep it on the stove quietly simmering while it fills your home with amazing smells.
- To serve, fill into cozy Christmas mugs and sip with loved ones, preferably with a lit candle or two or ten.
- Serves: 2 (I highly recommend tripling or quadrupling this in a huge vat and enjoying it every evening this week)
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