Essence of Christmas

essence of christmas

I used to throw an annual cookie exchange and would put together a little party favor for the guests. One year I gave each friend a bag containing the “Essence of Christmas”. This is something my mom always had simmering on the stovetop at our house during the holiday season; it makes your whole house smell like Christmas. It is easy to make in big batches, and if you are already in cocoa kit or rosemary nut production, you should have a large supply of clear bags and labels– perfect for packaging these goodies. Share with neighbors, teachers, co-workers, or bring as a hostess gift to parties.

essence of christmas close up


  • 1 t. cloves
  • 4-5 juniper berries (can be hard to find, Whole Foods usually has these with the bulk spices from Thanksgiving to Christmas)
  • 1 orange (navel oranges– cannot use clementines or tangerines)
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks


  • Slice orange and add slices with spices to a pot with 4-5 cups of water. Simmer on the stove to emit a wonderful Christmas fragrance. Refill water as necessary.

The Label

  • Include the directions listed above along with a little holiday message.

essence of christmas label

Nuts for Christmas (and I don’t mean crazy)

rosemary mixed nuts

It is only December 2, and I already feel like a crazy person. Every year, I decide to make all kinds of Martha Stewart-ish holiday treats (cocoa kits, reindeer food bags, gingerbread houses…) and then get testy with everyone in my house because they interrupt my projects when they want something– like dinner. Even though I had about 6 loads of laundry to do, several sets of school papers to grade, and various other weekend chores, I chose to mix up a batch of Buttered Nuts with Rosemary and Orange, print cutesy labels, and bag them using one of the clear gift bags I have in my vast collection.

This morning’s project is super fast and will be going to some of my husband’s co-workers or given as a thank you sirsee to the hosts at the (few) holiday parties we are attending if I run out of cocoa kits.

rosemary and orange mixed nuts


  • 2 cups lightly salted roasted mixed nuts can (an 11.5 oz can)
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 T. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 T. thinly sliced orange zest


  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the nuts, sugar, rosemary, and zest. Cook, tossing, until the sugar is melted and the mixture is fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.  Let cool on a baking sheet.

NOTE: Recipe can be doubled easily. I added an additional 1/2 c. of pecan halves and 1/2 c. of plain almonds and a few extra mixed nuts, then doubled the seasonings and butter.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts, a Summary

After I wrapped up the Christmas gift series last week (ha ha– wrap, gifts…), I realized you have to do a lot of scrolling through previous posts to see the full gift list. So, for those of you who came late to the party, here is a summary of the 12 days of gift ideas. I probably should have done it this way in the beginning, but it sure does make one long post.

Click on the names that go with each gift day for links back to the original posts to get specific product information.

Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!

Day 1: Watercolor Portraits

Watercolor paintings by Susan Woodard

Day 2: Jelly Marbles

Low price point, good stocking stuffer, great gift for children’s birthday parties

Day 3: Calling Cards

Give to adults or children, monogram or full name

Day 4: Monogrammed Ts

Purchase cotton Ts and take to your local monogrammer

Day 5: Man Gifts

Personalized steak branding iron

Reserve a spot at BBQ judging school with friends

Personalized needlepoint belts

Nike ID athletic shoes

Day 6: Mini Crock Pot

Keep dip warm at parties.

Day 7: Author’s Tool Kit

Write and publish your own book– order extra copies to give as gifts too

Day 8: Photo Gifts

Have a photo turned into a paint by number

Make “best of” albums to highlight any family events from the previous year

Personalized postage stamps

Personalized skins for smart phones or other electronics

Have photos, names, or monograms inserted into a set of Tervis Tumblers

Day 9: Gifts with Tiny Pieces

Barbie sized kitchen playsets

Calico Critter mini animal playsets

Quadrilla wooden marble run

Build your own Lego set

Day 10: Consumable Gifts

Cupcake supplies or other tools needed for a hobby– the other suggestion was unusual spices and rubs for a grill guy (like my husband)

Magazine subscriptions

Food delivery of some kind– Wolferman’s English muffins for Christmas day brunch

Day 11: Gift Ideas for This Year

Flavored olive oil

Personalized dog collars and other pet accessories

Neon cord wrap bracelets with charms

preppy casserole carriers

Custom rubber address stamps

Day 12: Family Calendar

Customized family calendar

Then I Considered Gifts for Christmas 2012 (Day 11)

SPOILER ALERT family blog followers– this post may contain information about your gifts this year.

After this post, I will have tapped out all of my gift suggestions, but I am only one post away from wrapping up the 12 Days of Christmas Gift Series. There is usually one gift idea I have each year that really nails it. I have not found that one perfect gift idea yet, but the list below is the starter list of gifts that I am considering for my extended family this year. Readers, I am open to suggestions!

Bacon Olive Oil: Umm, does life get any better? Why have I not thought of this before? The interesting part about finding the Queen Creek Olive Oil website where you can order the bacon olive oil is that my web browser tab reads “Vegan Bacon Olive Oil”. After reading the description, I located the words bacon flavored. I still want to try it.

Preppy Dog Collar: Our puppy, Birdie, will be sporting one of these Christmas morning and perhaps other extended family member’s pets. These collars have the contact information engraved on the buckle. The ShopMimiGreen website has a variety of pet accessories.

Wrap Bracelets: These brightly colored bracelets are available on an Etsy site. Sunkissed Sisters makes a variety of neon colored cord bracelets and necklaces. I think they would work well for teens through mom-aged gift receivers. I know I want a set with a variety of colors and charms to wear stacked together.

Casserole Carrier: Almost all members of my family like to cook and love party food. We all seem to have occasions where we need to transport a hot casserole dish. I love the style of these casserole carriers. According to the AllAboutBlanks website, you must add the monogram on your own. It can not be done via the website. I am a little bummed because I thought the monogram was the best feature. It adds an extra step to take the carrier to a local monogrammer.

Return Address Stamp: There are a variety of places to order a custom return address stamp. I liked this one that looks like calligraphy. I also liked an Etsy site called ChattyPress that had unique designs and better prices. If you read previous gift posts, you may be aware I shop for a large family. I like these stamps because I could give them to a whole family unit, which would reduce the shopping list.

On the 10th Day, I Gave Consumable Gifts

Sometimes it is nice to give a gift that won’t be around forever. I know when I am trying to find new homes for all of the fabulous gifts we receive at Christmas, I like to have one or two that will be eaten or used and won’t need a specific space on a shelf. Over the past several years, I have given and received some great consumable Christmas gifts. Gift cards fall into this category as well, but I tried to list non-gift card ideas. I am thinking about restaurant gift cards this year– any thoughts?

BBQ Seasonings: My husband loves to grill. Not only have I given him the BBQ judging weekend with friends, which I think qualifies as a consumable gift (?), my kids and I gave him a box of spices and rubs. We went to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to hunt around for things like smoked sea salt and roasted cayenne powder.

Hello, Cupcake!: OK– so this is not a totally consumable gift. It allows you to make something that is consumable. Sewing Sister loves things like decorating cupcakes, so I gave her the Hello, Cupcake! cookbook and included supplies she would need for the recipes. I added things like white cupcake wrappers, Ziploc bags, and a small clear roller to flatten candies.

Magazine Subscriptions: One year all of the parents, sisters, brothers, brother-in-laws, and sister-in-laws received a magazine subscription. We like gossip-y magazines in my house, so I sent subscriptions to Life & Style, which is a little junkier than US but not quite as trashy as Star (I thought it was the perfect middle ground for a guilty pleasure). The men received ESPN Magazine. Other subscriptions that make good gifts for my family are Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food or the Sunday delivery of the New York Times.

Wolferman’s: My brother usually sends Wolferman’s English muffins to each family household a few weeks before Christmas, so we can eat them during the holiday break. They are fabulous English muffins. My favorite are the cheddar flavored. I toast well and spread with lots of butter and strawberry jam. There are multiple gift packages on the website from which to choose.

Omaha Steaks: The steaks (or other meats) are shipped overnight in dry ice. Since my husband grills, my parents usually send us a little Omaha Steaks meat care package at Christmas. It is great to have steaks, hamburgers, or pork chops on hand in the freezer.