Citrus in jar with vodka

Citrus-Infused Vodka

Citrus in jar with vodkaI adapted this creation from Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe for Aquavit for holiday gift-giving several years ago but never got around to posting it.  The recipe was such a hit and so amazingly delicious, it would have been a shame to keep this under wraps any longer. 

I never attempted to recreate Samuelsson’s original recipe, so I don’t know exactly how my infusion differs from his.  All I know is that my version is dangerously good!

Samuelsson has a great thing going with his Aquavit, but I made it a bit easier for you.  Fresh mandarin oranges, kumquats, and kaffir lime leaves aren’t always readily available–at least in the Northeast United States–so I did some ingredient swapping.  I used clementines instead of mandarin oranges, but navel oranges and tangerines work too.  Instead of kumquats, I substituted the flesh of lime to get that tangy/sweet flavor.  Lime peel (just green part, no pith!) took the place of kaffir lime leaves.  Another tip: You don’t need to go with expensive vodka, as the infusion flavor is so strong, but do choose a decent potato-based one.  

citrus in jarsAlthough this recipe takes very little time to prepare, it does take planning…the infusion won’t be ready for a week or two (give it a taste after 1 week to see how it’s developing).

Before you run out to collect your citrus, make sure you have a very large glass jar or two, whatever can hold around 3 quarts (or 12 cups) of liquid.  I had to use two jars.  Make sure they are thoroughly sanitized.  That goes for the citrus too.  Don’t store the jars in the kitchen or other areas that get too warm.  I used a nice cool corner of my closet to store the jars.

The resulting liquid will be a vibrant yellow and looks striking in a glass bottle. If you plan on gifting this tasty spirit, find some nice bottles you can sterilize. I’ve used apple cider vinegar bottles, 1800 Tequila bottles, maple syrup bottles…so many options. You can also return the infusion to the vodka bottle for serving at home.

Recipe for Citrus-Infused Vodka

For syrup

  • ½ cup filtered water
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced – Using the edge of a spoon is a simple way to peel the ginger and wastes less than using a knife.
  • ¼ cup sugar (turbinado, sucanat, or whatever you have on hand)
  • 2 small limes (or 1 large lime), peel only – You want the green part of the peel only.  A peeler provides more control and you get larger, easier-to-strain pieces than if you use a grater or microplane.

For citrus infusion

  • 2 limes, cut into 6-8 wedges
  • ½ of small lime (or ¼ of large lime) flesh only, cut into 4 pieces – Remove remaining peel and white pith from lime used in syrup recipe above.  Use any remaining lime to squeeze in the water you’re drinking…You ARE drinking water, right? 🙂
  • 1 pink grapefruit, cut in half and then sliced to ¼-inch thickness
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced to ¼-inch thickness
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced to ¼-inch thickness
  • 2 clementine oranges (or tangerines or navel orange or mixture), peeled and divided into sections
  • 1 liter potato-based vodka

Combine water, ginger, sugar, and lime peel in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove syrup from heat and let cool.  Drop fruit into clean 3-quart glass jar.  Add syrup and vodka.  If using two jars, divvy up fruit, syrup, and vodka between them.  Screw top on jar and let sit at room temperature (or cooler) for 1 to 2 weeks.  Pour infusion through mesh strainer into different container to separate fruit from liquid.  Discard solids.  Pour infused vodka back into original bottle using funnel.

Red fabric wrapping

Gift Wrapping Ideas that Wow

You’ve got the gifts.  Now…how to wrap them?  In wrapping paper that makes all your gifts look like clones?  Or in materials you’ve got lying around your house that will turn them into unique, special, gifts-within-gifts?  I really hope you said the latter, otherwise this post is pretty useless!

There are so many upsides to bypassing the paper for dressing your gifts:

  • You don’t have to waste money on expensive wrapping paper or endure wrapping paper of the cookie cutter sort.
  • You’re recycling!
  • You have the opportunity to display your craftiness and the recipient’s personality.
  • Your gifts turn out unique and (hopefully) lovely.
  • It’s fun!

The only “downside” is that this sort of wrapping takes some resourcefulness and perhaps a bit more time to acquire the materials.  What? Doesn’t everyone save all the bits of prettiness they come across throughout the year?! 😉

Ideas for Wrapping Gifts

  1. Shoes/boots (in the box):
Curtain fabric gathered on all sides and tied into a bow.

Fabric (from a curtain) gathered on all sides and tied into a bow.

Gray fabric wrapping side

Side view. Used velvet bow to glue around side of box to block out print showing through and keep fabric in place.

2.  Wallet or clutch:

Red fabric wrapping

Fabric folded like paper wrapping using glue gun. Bow added for flair and snugness.

3.  Jewelry (in boxes):

Silver wrapping duo

Small mailing boxes covered with scraps of clothing (from another era obviously!). Top: Extra fabric on each side tied with ribbon. Stars from broken decorations.  Bottom: Box centered on fabric and knotted at top.  Ribbon wrapped around several times and secured with hot glue.

4.  Clothing, option #1:

Pillowcase wrapping

Decorative pillowcase. Gift tucked in corner, folded in half to close, and extra fabric folded in on sides to show trim and inside color. Secured with glue gun and ribbon.

5.  Clothing, option #2:

Mailing tube covered with pages of old art calendar, trimmed to fit and glued.

Back view.

Back view.

6.  Clothing, option #3

Two pieces of fabric hot-glued together on three sides. Gift slid in pocket. Extra fabric on top folded over in front. Fasten with tape or very carefully with glue. Flower added to cover fastening point. Should have ironed fabric!

Two pieces of fabric hot-glued together on three sides. Shirt slid into pocket. Extra fabric on top folded over in front. Glue applied very carefully to center of flap to fasten. Flower added to cover fastening point and decorative effect. Should have ironed fabric!

7.  Clothing, option #4

Use a gift box as a palette for all those cute/beautiful holiday cards you receive! Fronts of cards cut to size if necessary and glued to box. Bare area decorated with silver pen. Box kept closed with elastic band with bow.

8.  Purses or bags:

Fabric option easily solves how to wrap oddly shaped gifts like bags. Left: Fabric tied into place in several spots. Right: Fabric folded over in back and edges glued into place (carefully!).

P.S.  There is a use for paper wrapping if you have some lying around…gift tags!  Cut off a square or rectangular piece, fold in half, and punch a hole near the top corner or on the folded side.  Write your message inside and tie to gift with bit of string or ribbon.

For more ideas, here’s another of my posts on fabric gift wrapping.

Well…That’s a wrap!

Happy Holidays!

Tangerine and star anise pods

Star Anise and Tangerine Infused Vodka

Tangerine and star anise pods

Tangerine and star anise pods

For those of you who aren’t familiar, alcohol infusions versus mixing flavors into alcohol is like the difference between letting sliced fruit marinate in a jar of water and merely adding fruit juice to the water.  Infusions don’t dilute the original liquid or add volume to it.  They leave behind pure flavor.  

I like to use vodka for infusions because it allows the flavors of what you add to really shine through.  Although you don’t need to go for an expensive brand of vodka, do choose a decent one.  The “rubbing alcohol” flavor common in the cheapest brands will ruin the flavors of the infusion.

This particular recipe is one that will either delight or disappoint…it all depends on if you enjoy the taste of licorice!  Star anise is used in many Chinese dishes, and has a distinct flavor very similar to licorice (but not in the sugary way of Twizzlers or Good & Plenty).    I’m not a huge licorice fan, but the addition of tangerine flavor resulted in a thumbs-up experience.  This drink is best chilled and enjoyed as an apéritif, or sipped on its own after a meal.

This recipe has the power of 3’s:  Only uses 3 ingredients and only takes 3 days to infuse.  Plenty of time to prepare for holiday sipping and gifting!

Store or gift in a fun bottle. This one is from 1800 Tequila

Store or gift in a fun bottle. This one is from 1800 Tequila (375 ml size)

Recipe for Star Anise and Tangerine Infused Vodka

10 star anise pods

1 tangerine, sliced

2 cups potato vodka

Drop star anise and tangerine slices in glass jar that holds at least 3 cups (24 oz) of liquid.  Pour in vodka.  Cover tightly and store in cool place.  Give jar a gentle shake each day to mix.  Allow recipe to infuse for 3 days.  Strain out solids with fine mesh strainer.  Store infused vodka in a jar or bottle.

Let the 3-day infusion party begin!

Let the 3-day infusion party begin!

Sweet potato casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casseroleDuring the holidays, people get a hankering for sweet potato casserole.  You know, that dish made up of sweet potatoes, marshmallows, and brown sugar?  My problem with this traditional side is it’s often made from canned sweet potatoes (full of corn syrup) and ends up being cloyingly sweet.  But since it’s one of my husband’s favorite parts of holiday meals–and I admit my eyes light up when I see it too–I was determined to make a healthier version.

I baked my own sweet potatoes, which isn’t much harder than opening cans…just takes time and a little planning.  And fresh is so much tastier and healthier than canned!  To save time on the day of, bake sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh the day before.  I found some natural-ish marshmallows at Whole Foods.  Obviously, marshmallows are not found in nature–and due to their odd consistency there is no way to have a completely natural version–but this brand seemed least wacky.  I used Grade B maple syrup as sweetener, which lends a richer flavor (with vitamins and minerals!) than ordinary sugar.  I added some (again, natural-ish) crushed graham crackers on top for a fun twist.

Don’t forget to check out my recipe for Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce, the perfect condiment for Thanksgiving turkey!

Baked sweet potatoes

Best ingredients I’ve seen for marshmallows

First layer of casserole

Sweet potato casserole ready to go into oven

Recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole

  • sweet potatoes, scrubbed and rubbed with olive oil
  • 1 package marshmallows – I used Elyon brand
  • Grade B maple syrup
  • cinnamon
  • graham crackers, crushed/crumbled – I used Back to Nature Honey Graham Sticks

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Scrub sweet potatoes, pat dry, and rub with olive oil.  Place on baking sheet and bake until can pierce deeply with ease, about 1 hour.  Cut potatoes in half lengthwise.  Scoop out flesh into large bowl.  Mash thoroughly.  Spread an inch or two of sweet potato into baking dish.  Dot with marshmallows, sprinkle with cinnamon, and drizzle maple syrup lightly.  Add rest of sweet potato mash and marshmallows.  Reminder: Marshmallows will expand so no need to pack tightly.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle maple syrup.  Bake at 350°F until marshmallows puff up and melt, about 10 minutes.  Add graham cracker crumbs on top and lightly press into marshmallows.

Red cherry blossom fabric wrapping

Fabric Gift Wrapping

I love a nicely wrapped present.  I also love wrapping presents.  I take after my mother, the original fashion stylist for gifts.  Her adornments turn them into presents wrapped in presents.  I become giddy when I receive one of her works of art.  I want others to feel the same way, so I’ve adopted her inventive techniques for trussing and embellishing.

I must add that I haven’t bought wrapping paper in years.  So how the heck do I dress up my gifts?  I think outside the box, so to speak, by using fabrics and textiles.  Not only am I recycling–and saving money on fancy paper–but wrapping in this way serves as a surprising and beautiful way to present a present.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist the wordplay!  Using fabric is an easy way to deal with unusually shaped presents too.

If you’re a normal person and don’t have any bolts of fabric lying around, you can still take part in the fun.  I’ve used gently worn (and clean!) clothes with cool designs or fun materials.  This comes in handy when part of the fabric becomes damaged, the style is out of fashion, or you’ve grown out of it (either literally or figuratively).  I’ve even used gauzy drapes that lost their usefulness after a move.  Your imagination is the limit!

Note:  Inventive, beautiful wrappings will most likely be lost on children (of all ages) whose only goal is to beat their gift opening time from last year.  Regular wrapping paper would probably be best for them.  But I think the rest of the people on your list will delight in such personalized attention.

The easiest wrapping technique is to spread out the fabric, place the gift in the middle and bring up all the sides to meet above.  Tie the opposing corners into knots…

or use a rubber band and loop through as if you were making a ponytail.  In the picture below, I didn’t pull the fabric all the way through at the end in order to keep everything tucked in.

For this one, I cut a sparkly tank top down a side seam so it would open up, then wrapped as I would with traditional paper, but used a glue gun instead of tape.  The bow was fashioned out of one of the straps.

This is a bridal shower gift, but demonstrates how a tall present could be wrapped.  I used the ponytail tie method but kept the extra fabric for a different look.

I made a gift tag by cutting off a square from a magazine cover (I save decorative cards and pictures for this too) and gluing the inside of a Yogi Tea box on the other side so I could write my message.

Then I punched a hole in one corner and used a pearl twistie thing (probably from one my mother’s past gifts!) to attach it to the bow.

If you don’t have any little bits of string, ribbon, and doodads lying around your house, don’t despair.  It takes time and planning to amass a treasure trove of gift wrapping options.  But if this is the sort of thing you could get into, keep an eye out for things from now on that you could use to wrap and adorn future presents.  You might even see your wrappings or decorations turn up in next year’s presents.  In our family, it’s a big compliment!