jalapeño-infused blood orange margaritas + savoring the goodness of winter

Although it has been nearly three weeks since my last post, believe it or not, blood oranges are still showing up at my grocery in vibrant form.  Aside from recently attempting blood orange marmalade for the first time, making blood orange vinaigrette for a winter salad, and enjoying a few Sunday blood orange mimosas, I have also been dreaming up renditions of blood orange margaritas.  They’ve kept me quite busy on my evenings off and have quenched the thirsts of a couple of friends, who have stopped by.  The conversations lingered, and the juicing continued long after the first sip.

Margaritas are a rather simple cocktail to craft.   Traditionally, the classic recipe calls for 2 ounces Tequila, .75 ounces Cointreau, .75 ounces lime juice, with the option to add simple syrup for additional sweetness or balance.  This is a great place to start.  You can always add different citrus juices, change up the style of Tequila, or even infuse the simple syrup or the Tequila for some interesting iterations.  I had some jalapeño peppers from last season’s garden waiting for me in the freezer, so I placed one of them, sliced and unseeded,  in a jar, and filled it up with a cup of silver Tequila.  I let it sit and mingle over night in the refrigerator.  By morning, it was a beast of a spicy spirit, perfect for pairing with tart blood oranges and fresh limes.  Seeding the jalapeño is probably a good idea, for those who are rather faint at heart.  I tend to walk on the wild side.

Jalapeño-Infused Blood Orange Margaritas

  • 2 ounces jalapeño-infused Tequila {I use a silver or blanco Tequila for a clean taste}
  • 1/2 ounce orange liqueur {Leopold Bros. makes an excellent example, #coloradorepresent!}
  • juice of one lime
  • juice of one large blood orange
  • agave nectar, to taste {you may need more, if your Tequila is super spicy}

Build the ingredients in a shaker tin, filled with ice, and shake it like crazy to integrate.  Pour the liquid, along with the ice into a salt-rimmed highball and grace it with a slice of lime or blood orange round.  I love the balance of spicy, sweet, citrus in this particular margarita.

Closing with some photos and Instagrams from the past couple of weeks.  Denver never leaves you bored, as far as weather patterns go.  After a few snow-filled days, balmy afternoons hovering around the upper 60s returned, thankfully.  I took full advantage of them and visited one of my favorite local parks, Castlewood Canyon State Park.

The south trail of Castlewood Canyon is an excellent cardio session first thing in the morning, with a nearly vertical rocky stairway. The park covers 12 miles of trails.

The lower trail that follows the creek, boasting views of waterfalls and fallen rocks. I’d wait until mud season is over before braving the snow-covered shadowy trail along the creek. Cleaning my car from all of the acquired mud on my shoes was a lot of fun.

Another impromptu blood orange cocktail, made with Prosecco, thyme simple syrup, Solerno blood orange liqueur, and Campari.

The first pops of green in our garden about a week ago! Crocuses have arrived.

Giant alliums have emerged, as well, signalling spring’s upcoming debut.

My wish came true this week, and I was able to taste a portion of the Egly-Ouriet Champagne portfolio, one of the best grower Champagnes around. I seriously thought about it the night before, and the next day, one of our representatives brought a bottle by. Talk about instant gratification!

They follow us, wherever we go…corks outside our house. The neighbors must think we have a serious problem.

Sweet Ash cat, sharing some tea and sleeping beside me, while I study up on Argentine Malbec.

Enjoy your weekend and make some margaritas the right way, with freshly squeezed juices and quality products.  You’ll thank me in the morning!  If you need further inspiration for what to do with your overabundance of blood oranges, look no further than here:

whole wheat pancakes with blood orange butter + thyme maple syrup

If you ever drop by our house mid-morning on a Sunday, you will most likely find us in the kitchen, creating something decadent.  Regardless if I work that evening, I make sure that Sunday is a day for gratitude, enjoyment, celebration, and general relaxation.  I want to savor those feelings and take them with me for the rest of the week.  Why wouldn’t you?

With blood oranges showing up everywhere lately, I was immediately inspired to do something creatively with them last Sunday.  Blood orange butter sounded just about right, paired with thyme-infused maple syrup over whole wheat pancakes.  This brunch spread sounds complicated, but it all took under 45 minutes and was completely worth the effort. 

I adapted a recipe for whole wheat pancakes from Fifteen Spatulas and added toasted pecans, a touch of cinnamon, and some delicious vanilla extract, locally crafted by Ashlae of Oh, Ladycakes.  I think I ended up eating about five!  No regrets.

Whole Wheat Pancakes – adapted from Fifteen Spatulas

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  •  1 cup buttermilk {or 1 cup milk, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice}
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, plus a little extra for cooking the ‘cakes
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Firstly, if you do not have any buttermilk available, combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, stir, and set aside, while you prepare the other ingredients.  Sift the dry ingredients.  Whisk the wet ingredients together.  Combine the two, leaving plenty of lumps.  The lumps give pancakes their fluffiness factor, so don’t whisk them away.  On a hot griddle, melt a little butter and pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter, flipping them over, once their sides are bubbly.  Serve with blood orange slices, thyme maple syrup, and blood orange butter.

Blood Orange Butter – adapted from Food Network

Ingredients:

  • zest from 1 blood orange
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice {citrus is easier to juice at room temperature and releases the most juice}
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur {I used Leopold Bros. orange liqueur}

Whisk the sugar and butter in a standing mixer, until light and fluffy.  Add the blood orange juice, salt, and orange liqueur, incorporating completely.  You may store the butter in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or freeze the butter for future use.  My boyfriend handed out some of the leftover blood orange butter to friends at work last week.  Many of them ate it directly out of the jar, and several friends suggested spreading it on top blueberry muffins or serving it alongside steamed Dungeness crab.  I think having this on hand will prompt many creative opportunities!

Thyme Maple Syrup

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quality, grade B maple syrup {why grade B is better}
  • 2 sprigs of fresh, organic thyme
  • pinch of salt

In a saucepan, combine the maple syrup, salt, and the fresh thyme.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about five minutes to “steep.”  Strain the sprigs through a chinois or strainer and keep the syrup warm on the stove, until you are ready to serve the pancakes.  Keep any unused syrup in the refrigerator for up to a week and simply heat, when you are ready to make some more pancakes.  We didn’t even have to run to the store for this one!  Despite the recent cold weather, there were several sprigs from our perennial thyme plants in the garden, ready for picking.

What brunch recipes are you enjoying?  Have you been obsessed with all of the readily available citrus?  As I type, I am sipping a jalapeño blood orange margarita, while tangerine and habañero marmalade is cooling in the kitchen.  I think I’m officially infatuated.  If only I lived back in Florida, where I could merely pull over at any given fruit stand and enjoy them as fresh as possible!  Florida friends, you are more than invited to box up some citrus and send it my way!

DIY rose salt bath soak + the perfectly paired bubbly

These recent frigid, snowy days have left me in cozy-up and slow-down mode here lately.  It seems as if I can’t get quite warm enough or relaxed enough or cheered up enough.  And I refuse to stay in that frame of mind.  As I type this post, I am anticipating a long, decadent soak in the tub later this evening to get me out of my {temporary} funk.  And out of my writer’s block for an upcoming post at the Kitchn.  Maybe a hot bath and a glass of bubbly will fix it all.  Here’s hoping!

I made a batch of this rose salt bath soak in late December with my friend, Yvonne, the same day we made candles and other goodies for our families’ Christmas gifts.  After testing out our recipe, I decided that I had to make several baths’ worth of this treat to stow away for myself.  A trip to Apothecary Tinctura in Cherry Creek inspired this recipe.  I spied a jar of their own rose bath salts and noted the ingredients.  I already had the baking soda, sea salt, and Epsom salt on hand, so all I needed to complete the concoction were some dried roses, pink Himalayan sea salt, and rose essential oil, which they conveniently had on hand.

If you are new to the Epsom salt experience, you are in for a serious treat.  Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, is a natural muscle relaxation aid that eases sprains and diffuses aches.  You don’t even need to get all fancy and duplicate this recipe; you simply need to add a cup or two to a hot bath, soak for at least 20 minutes, and experience relaxation nirvana.  That’s a lofty goal, but Epsom salt shows up and follows through.  Just add a few drops of an essential oil of your choice, and you can take it to another sensory level.

Ingredients for Rose Salt Bath Soak:

  • 3 cups Epsom salt
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pink Himalayan sea salt
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • crushed, dried rose buds
  • rose essential oil

Gather the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to integrate.  Add a few shakes of the rose essential oil, to your personal taste, stirring along the way to distribute any clumps.  This recipe yields a large jar for yourself or about five 8-ounce jars to give to weary, winter-weathered friends.  You may opt out of the pink Himalayan sea salt, if you are unable to find it easily; I love using it, however, for the rosy color it imparts to the blend.  If you aren’t blessed with a local herbal shop, visit Mountain Rose Herbs for all of the ingredients listed here.  After making my batch, I discovered another rose salt soak interpretation that I can’t wait to try.  Via Erin Boyle at Gardenista, apothecary diva, Briar Winter, shares a rose, cardamom, and ginger body soak that exudes warmth and radiance.

And what indulgent salt soak isn’t complete without a chilled glass of bubbly?  And since I am on a pink streak, I selected one of my favorite Champagnes, Ruinart Brut Rosé, non-vintage.  It is definitely a splurge, but it is worth the monetary expense.  Opt for a half bottle, like I did, to ease any pain to the pocketbook.

Ruinart, Brut Rosé, Reims, France, NV

Breaking it down:  Ruinart is the producer; Brut Rosé is the style of the wine; Chardonnay {45%} and Pinot Noir {55%} are the grapes; Reims is the region within France, pretty much the best spot to source grapes destined for Champagne; and “NV” indicates that the grapes were picked from multiple years and blended.  Ruinart is France’s oldest established Champagne house, producing Champagne since 1729.

  • On the eyes  -  pale pink with hints of orange and salmon, actively bursting with fine bubbles.
  • On the nose  -  vibrantly aromatic, with ripe, red cherry, complemented with floral notes and spicy undertones.
  • On the palate  -  dry, with a lively, delicate mousse; silky, fleshy mouth-feel that confirms the nose with lush pomegranate and a hint of spice.
  • On the table  -  outstanding alone, with light appetizers, with poached salmon or broiled fish…or a lavish bath!
  • On the shelf  -  around $75 for the 750 mL bottle, $45 for my little half-bottle-for-one.
  • On the ears  -  Part of me wants to pair this with Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly,” but that’s way too easy.  This one, however, absolutely nails the very essence of this wine:  The Bird and The Bee‘s “My Love,” off their 2009 album, “Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future.”  Catchy, dreamy, head-over-heels-in-love giddiness, with Inara George’s lilt-like, ethereal voice.  I listen to this song at least once a week.  My boyfriend, Steve, added this track to a sweet playlist he made for me back in 2012.  I fell even harder.

Closing with some recent projects and life around the house.  There seems to be a trend of bringing in the sunnier side of life into the picture, right?!  Do any of you have creative ways that you bring life into the winter season?  Have you tried any fun bubbles lately?  Cheers to a beautiful week ahead!

Our Super Bowl wines, which far surpassed our anticipated outcome of the game: Moet et Chandon’s 2002 Grand Vintage, Domaine Chandon’s étoile, Veuve Clicquot’s Rosé, shown left to right.  #denverstyle

My first foray into cactus terrariums. A how-to post will follow shortly, with the requisite wine pairing, of course!

…and day two of the current terrarium obsession…

Another snippet of the forced paperwhite bulbs experiment.

Tulip and daffodil bulbs were on sale at the garden center for $1 apiece! Completely worth a try at planting them for some spring color.  #score

Blending up our “yard blend” of dried culinary herbs from our summer garden. So excited to release this with our “hot” pepper blend in a couple of weeks!

a new home for the houseplants

Well, hello, after a little break!  I hope you are enjoying the new year and are delving into lots of fun projects and holding true to your resolutions, if you made them.  I finally gave up my streak of baking pies, cookies, and cakes every other day, and I temporarily traded in my apron for my running shoes.  I am feeling a lot more invigorated because of the switch!  Until I find some balance, I am locking up the baking chocolate and the sugar.

Over the past few months, our home remodeling process is really showing us what we tend to hoard or obsess over in this house.  As we purge, reorganize, and rediscover “lost” items, while sifting through the boxes and piles, we are finding surplus amounts of the most random things.  Like six bags of brown sugar, each one hardened and collecting dust on a bookshelf in the basement.  How did that happen?!  I also came across five bottles of expired sunscreen, six pie plates, and four bags of cream of tartar.  I am finding that the more unorganized we are, the more the waste and clutter piles up.  It is time to shake things up around here.

Our first plan of attack was to move a portion of our collection of 35 houseplants to a less obtrusive home.  During our kitchen renovation, we relegated the plants to a corner of the living room, where they couldn’t help but cram our sitting area and walkway.  We thought that moving the plants to a higher location would free up the space and give some action to a high window in the dining room.  This houseplant facelift cost us one trip to Home Depot, and we spent less than $20.  The results were beyond satisfying, and the area feels much brighter and lifted, not to mention, much more organized!  I especially love the off-centered position of the oak board.

As I write this post this evening, I am listening to Christmas music and packing up gifts for my family.  Yes, I am about a month behind, but the thoughtfulness and love are still going strong.  You see, Steve and I make a culinary herb blend every year.  We harvest the herbs from our garden, painstakingly dry the herbs throughout the summer, blend them in the fall, and share the blend with our friends and family.  It is always a hit.  We planned ahead and purchased the required glass jars and waited for their arrival.  And waited.  They never made it into our hands, for the box was taken from our porch over the holidays.  Whoever opened the stolen box was probably severely disappointed to find two flats of glass jars!

We finally received the replacement shipment this past week, and we took a snowy afternoon and blended the dried herbs.  As we processed the herbs in the Cuisinart, the aroma took us back to our summer garden and reminded us of the warmth and bounty to come.  The jars are completely adorable, and I can’t wait to showcase them here on the blog and make them available for purchase!  This year’s “yard blend” is heavy on parsley and oregano, making it perfectly suitable for a pasta dish or a vegetable omelet.

I am closing with some photos taken this past week.  Cheers to snowbound days, cats in boxes and sunbeams, bringing the outdoors inside, and cheerful bouquets.  I am off to craft a couple of winter bourbon-based cocktails to warm up this chilly evening!

bourbon maple pecan pie + vin santo

Yes, I am still defiantly avoiding a juice cleanse or a green smoothie marathon, almost two weeks into the new year.  And I do not apologize if this pecan pie recipe tempts you past your threshold and sends you back to your pre-2014 indulgent self.  You will honestly thank me, if this happens.  Pecan pie is a dessert staple, a baking “rite of passage” in my family, that always makes an appearance at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at my house.  In fact, the recipe I swore by for years was found on page 392 of the Cotton Country Collection, from the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana.  This past holiday season, I decided to stray away from the corn syrup that is almost always a primary ingredient in this sweet, southern standby, and opt for sweetening with maple syrup and brown sugar, instead.  I am officially converted.

You can add some fancy dough cut-outs, like I did on my first pass at this recipe creation. I would nix adding the whole pecans as a garnish: they ended up getting a little too toasty, even though they looked pretty.

Not shown: I also added a small dollop of Talenti’s Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato, and it really set off the flavors in the pie.

Ingredients:

  • dough for a 9″ pie {this is the one I use}
  • 2 cups pecans
  • 1/2 cup grade B maple syrup {yes, B is better}
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla {The Real Deal is my standing fave}
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place your chilled dough onto a lightly floured piece of wax paper.  Flatten into a disc and cover with another piece of wax paper.  Roll the dough evenly in each direction, until the dough will fit nicely into a 9″ pie pan.  Crimp the edges to your liking.  I spied some beautifully designed pie crusts here.  Chill your pie dough in the refrigerator, while you are assembling the filling.
  3. Chop the pecans and spread onto a baking sheet.  Toast pecans, until they become aromatic, for about five minutes, watching vigilantly, for they tend to scorch quickly.
  4. Remove pecans, set aside, and turn the oven up to 375 degrees.
  5. In a medium saucepan, combine syrup and butter on medium heat, until melted and incorporated.  Do not let the mixture boil.
  6. While the butter is melting, beat eggs in a mixing bowl.  Add brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla, flour, and salt.  Whisk this mixture into the maple syrup and butter mixture.
  7. Bring to a slow, bubbling simmer and stir for five minutes.
  8. Remove saucepan from heat and add chopped pecans.
  9. Blind bake your pie crust for five minutes and then pour pecan filling into the pie crust.
  10. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is no longer in a liquid state, but still remains “jiggly.”

Tip:  Bake your pie a day before serving it.  On day two, the texture is perfect, the filling has integrated, and the pie holds together better.  The trick is not sneaking a slice during the waiting period!

You can definitely enjoy this pecan pie alone or alongside a bourbon on the rocks; however, if you can score some Vin Santo {translated, “holy wine”}, an Italian dessert wine, you just might experience the most perfectly paired ensemble.  Sigh.  And if you have not yet discovered the luxury and deliciousness of dessert wines, this may very well be a great place to start!  Need a good breakdown on sweet wines?  Read this brilliantly simple guide or skim over this one.

Castellare, S. Niccolo, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, DOC, 2005

Breaking it down:  Castellare is the producer; “S. Niccolo″ is the name of the bottle; Malvasia and Trebbiano are the grapes; Vin Santo is the style; Chianti Classico is the region within Italy; and 2005 is the year the grapes were picked.  This sultry, amber-hued dessert wine is made from grapes that are harvested, dried in a ventilated room, and then fermented in small oak barrels.  The wine is aged five years in barrel and another six months in bottle.

  • On the eyes  -  brilliant amber, with rich, golden tones.
  • On the nose  -  toasted pecans, dried apricot, dates, golden raisin, browned butter, toffee, and spice cake.
  • On the palate  -  golden raisin, spice cake, buttery caramel, balanced sweetness and acidity, with a toasty, long finish, hinting at bitter black walnuts.
  • On the table  -  perfect accompaniment to shortbread, oatmeal raisin cookies, fruit tarts, and nutty pies.
  • On the shelf  -  around $25.
  • On the ears  -  I couldn’t resist pairing this duo with a track from the Avett Brothers.  “Kick Drum Heart” from their album, “I and Love and You,” highlights my excitement for this bourbon + maple + pecan pie.  The words are incredibly sweet and touching.

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Sunday was an exceptionally productive day, as far as home improvements go.  I know that I am overdue on posting an update on our kitchen remodel, but we are waiting for the back splash tile and the cabinet hardware to arrive.  Soon, I promise!  That afternoon, we hauled out the table saw and finished making cuts for our hallway door frames and an oak shelf to provide a perch for some of our houseplants.  They’ve been living in a cluttered stack, under the front windows, and are ready for a better home.  Finishing that project this morning!  Closing with photos from Sunday afternoon…

Bitter and windy, despite the sun’s warm rays.

Steve getting ready for finishing the shelf.

Our houseplants’ current home: no room to stretch out or thrive. Problem solved very soon and very cheaply! I see a post in the making…

Our little Ash cat, getting used to her cat carrier, so that an upcoming trip to the vet will be a little less scary.

crafting your own bitters

I am still not quite ready to write a triumphant welcome to 2014, but I will wish you all a very happy new year!  Like last year, I am still recuperating from a busy holiday season at the restaurant.  It seriously takes a good two weeks into the new year for me to even begin thinking about resolutions, but when I do, it is game-on.  And I really have some high hopes for this upcoming year!

I have been riding alongside the bitters bandwagon for a couple of years, but after a visit to a magical store in Portland this past October and bringing home several bottles of craft bitters, I have been obsessed with adding bitters to almost anything I am sipping.  I began my latest batches of cocktail bitters about a month ago, and after shaking them each day and tasting along the way, they are ready for bottling and enjoying.  While I do have my favorites {DRAM, Fee Brothers, and Bob’s}, I find that crafting my own bitters is creatively rewarding and makes a thoughtful handmade gift for the cocktail aficionado.

What exactly are bitters?  Bitters are a concentrated cocktail additive that balances a cocktail and adds a potent, aromatic, flavorful punch.  Most bitters contain some combination of herbs, spices, roots, or fruits, which are infused into a neutral base spirit, such as grain alcohol.  Many cocktails call for the use of bitters, and with the rise of the classic cocktail movement, bitters have, once again, taken center stage.

Grapefruit + Rosemary Bitters

  • 1 cup grain alcohol
  • peels from one organic grapefruit
  • 2 sprigs organic rosemary
  • simple syrup, optional

Tangerine + Spice Bitters

  • 1 cup grain alcohol
  • Peels from one organic orange or tangerine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 5 or so whole allspice
  • simple syrup, optional

Steps:

  1. Wash and peel citrus.
  2. Coarsely chop the peels.
  3. Combine all ingredients and pour into a mason jar.
  4. Cover and set in a cool, dark place, such as a cellar or a cabinet.
  5. Store for three to four weeks, shaking jar daily and tasting along the way for desired potency.  Remember that bitters are added to cocktails in small doses; they are intended to be intensely flavored.
  6. Once the flavors have incorporated and infused, line a sieve or chinois with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and strain into a jar.
  7. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into desired storage vessel.  I have found the most adorable bottles here, here, and here.
  8. Begin creating cocktails and experimenting with your bitters!  Bitters last almost indefinitely, but the flavors and aromas tend to fade after a year.

How have I incorporated my bitters?

  • Tangerine + Spice in a Negroni
  • Tangerine + Spice with hot black tea
  • Tangerine + Spice in an Old Fashioned
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary with gin, a little simple syrup, soda, lemon, on the rocks
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary in an Aperol Spritz
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary bitters in iced tea

Making bitters is almost foolproof, and the opportunities for creativity are endless.  Here are some links I came across that have some interesting twists on bitters-making:

  • A thorough breakdown on bitters-crafting, via the Kitchn
  • A uniquely made grapefruit bitters using lavender and rum, via Serious Eats
  • Grapefruit bitters using one of my favorite cocktail components, Campari, via Chow
  • Cranberry anise bitters, via Food and Wine
  • Orange ginger bitters, via Williams-Sonoma
  • Bitters inspiration and a pretty amazing “delicious apothecary” kitchen, via From Scratch Club
  • …and if you truly want to geek out, read The Drunken Botanist

Cheers to a more self-made, craftier, do-it-yourself, experimental, and daringly creative new year!  I would love to know of any links or recipes you’ve found helpful, if you’ve ever made bitters.  How do you incorporate bitters into drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic?  And, if you ever get the chance to visit The Meadow in Portland, you will never be the same.  I think this store has every variety of some of my most favorite things, all under one roof:  walls and walls of chocolate bars, fresh flowers, exotic salts, and bitters.  Oh, to open up a shop like this one!

making soy candles + brightening up the darker season

I am most likely channeling almost everyone’s thoughts right now, when I say that I seriously can’t believe Christmas is less than three days away.  I tried my best, under the circumstances, to finish making and packaging gifts much earlier in the month, but it just didn’t happen.  I did, however, manage to sneak in a day off, summon a friend’s assistance, and make some last-minute, handmade gifts this afternoon.  I might be late sending them out, but I will get some points for crafting my own gifts, even if I have to give out the points, myself!  It simply feels good to give a handmade gift, and many times, it is far less expensive than purchasing a similar gift in the store.

Strolling the aisles of Whole Foods a couple weeks back, I fell in love with this beautifully packaged, naturally dyed, sugared fig-scented candle.  The sweet, rich, spiced fruit scent literally stopped me in my tracks.  And so did the price.  $20 for a ten-ounce soy wax candle.  Ouch!  I didn’t need it that much.  Instead of forking out the bills, I settled on heating up some spiced cider later that evening to abate my desire for a holiday-scented house, curled up with my computer, and ordered the supplies necessary to create my own soy wax container candles.

I honed my candle-making skills last year at a class held at Moondance Botanicals here in Denver.  The shop is absolutely adorable, boasts handmade bath and body products, and hosts classes ranging from candle-making to aromatherapy to soap-crafting.  Throughout the past year, I salvaged jars, glasses, and containers for candle-making.  After purchasing the necessary supplies, I ended up spending less than $4 per candle.  True story.  And I used clean-burning, non-GMO soy wax flakes.  Beat that, over-priced fig candle, made by someone I don’t even know!  #knowyourmaker

Materials Needed:

  • various glass containers {I find many of mine at the Goodwill or a local thrift shop, or I simply save jam, pickle, and relish jars}
  • soy wax flakes {I use EcoSoya Container Blend}
  • cotton wicks
  • essential oils {I purchase mine in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs}
  • Bic pen {the barrel assists in wick placement}
  • hot glue gun
  • seamless aluminum pouring pitcher
  • saucepan
  • digital thermometer
  • water

Steps:

  1. Fill a seamless, aluminum pouring pitcher with soy wax flakes.  I use a 3-quart pitcher and fill it with about a pound of wax.  I am able to make four or five 4-ounce candles using this amount.  Don’t get too precise here:  just melt the wax and if you don’t use all of it, let it cool and use it again another time.
  2. Heat your glue gun.
  3. Pour about an inch or two of water into a large saucepan and place the pitcher into the saucepan.  Let the water simmer, allowing the wax to fully melt, in a double boiler fashion.
  4. While you are waiting for the wax to melt, prepare your containers.  Thread the wicks through the “barrel” of a Bic pen {or something similar}, so that you can accurately place the wick base into the container.
  5. Dot a bit of hot glue onto the wick base and press firmly, placing the base in the center of the container.
  6. Once the wax has fully melted, remove the pitcher from heat, and add your essential oil or fragrance oil.  I usually add my oils between 130 and 150 degrees.  I find the best scent “throw” results at this temperature range.  I use about one and a half ounces of essential oil per one pound of wax.
  7. Pour the wax into the containers.  Many sources state that the wax adheres better to preheated containers.  I haven’t tried doing this, and so far, I haven’t had any challenges with non-adherence.
  8. Steady and center the wicks by placing chopsticks or pencils atop the containers, so that the wicks have a steady surface upon which to lean.  Wait for the wax to fully cool.
  9. Once the candles are cool {I wait overnight}, trim the wicks to 1/4″ thickness.
  10. Now you’re ready to burn, baby, burn!  Burn for four hour intervals, at max.  Keep the wick trimmed to 1/4″ at all times to lengthen the burn time.

Making soy wax container candles is incredibly easy and is a thoughtful, classy gift.  I keep a ready stash at all times, so I have a memorable, handcrafted gift for any occasion.  My dear friend, Yvonne, came over this afternoon, and we made nine candles for Christmas gifts.  We also collaborated on a rose + sea salt bath soak, vanilla + lavender sugar scrub, peppermint shea butter lip balm, and a batch of rosemary + mint cold-pressed soap.  More to come on those endeavors!  Cheers to a thrifty, creative, DIY Christmas!  Next candle-making session, I might try these embellishments…

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And, of course, we had something delicious to sip on, to get those creative juices flowing!  What to imbibe when candle-making on a chilly, snowy afternoon?  Something red and Italian, like a Barbera.  Tasted and paired this afternoon…

Vietti, “Scarrone,” Barbera d’Alba, 2009

Breaking it down:  Vietti makes some of THE most delicious wines from the northwestern corner of Italy, the Piemonte.  Their expressions of Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Arneis are benchmarks for quality and uniqueness.  This wine sources its grapes from Castiglione, specifically from the Scarrone vineyard, and is fermented in stainless steel tanks for two weeks.  It is aged in French oak barrels for 14 months and is bottled unfiltered.  Only a little under 800 cases were made.

  • On the eyes – deep ruby and purple.
  • On the nose – concentrated ripe black cherries, spiced vanilla, faint licorice, and dried herbs.
  • On the palate – dry, with bright, mouth-watering acidity, lush tannins; ripe, black cherry notes reaffirm the nose and suggest baking spices, complemented by rich plum; medium tannins, with a lingering finish.
  • On the table – perfect with sharper cheeses, poultry, pasta with browned butter and mushrooms, and roasted game.
  • On the ears – unintentionally paired with Neon Indian’s “The Blindside Kiss” from their album, “Era Extraña.”  The CD was in the player and sounded just about right at the moment.  This particularly dreamy, fuzzy, synthpop-influenced track was a perfect backdrop for today’s adventures.  Every time I listen to a synth-driven track from this album, I decide to hang on to my under-explored Alesis A6 Andromeda keyboard.  I’ll try figuring that thing out one day…

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!  Did you decide to make most or some of your gifts this holiday season?  Do you think it’s worth it?  Did you give up and just pour yourself a glass?  If so, what did you pour?  Signing off to enjoy some peace and quiet here at the house, before the craziness ensues at the restaurant this Tuesday night.  Just might have to pack some bubbles to celebrate making it through the 450 covers on the books…