The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Christmas Country Kitchen

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1995

Issue: Winter, 1995

A Variety of Recipes and Crafts to Keep Your Kitchen Busy Through The Holiday Season.

Bread Beads

This is a new version of the old fashioned bread clay that can be fashioned into a variety of decorative and useful items. Our grandmothers made their own jewelry with it and you can too.

For the ingredients you will need three slices of white bread, regular sliced, three tablespoons white glue, and one teaspoon glycerin (you can purchase this at a drug store) for the basic dough. You will also need a variety of paints, and some round toothpicks to stick through the middle of the beads to make the hole to string them with. You can add food coloring to the "dough" to color the beads if you wish. You can get a marbleized effect by blending two or more colored doughs together before shaping into beads.

Instructions: Remove crusts from bread and discard. Tear bread into small crumbs into a mixing bowl. Add glue and glycerin. Stir and work with a spoon until it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead it until it no longer sticks to your fingers and is a pliable ball of dough-clay. (It will be sticky at first, but don't add more bread, it will work up right after a little time. It might take as much as a half-hour, so be patient.) Put dough in an air-tight container. It will stay workable for weeks if kept tightly closed in the refrigerator.

Work coloring into dough if desired at this point. Dough can be divided and different sections colored individually.

You are now ready to begin making beads and the shapes and sizes of the beads are only limited to your imagination. You might want to make several different sizes, shapes and colors. Pinch off small amount of dough and keep the rest of it covered. You can pinch off small hunks and roll them into a ball for a bead. Use a round toothpick to make the hole in the bead, twisting it a few times to make sure the hole is large enough. Set bead aside on wax paper to dry. If bead gets a little out of shape while you are making the hole in it, reshape carefully.

For oblong beads, roll a piece of dough into a strip and cut segments. You might wish to taper the ends of oblong beads with your fingers before making hole in them. You can make spiral shaped beads by rolling a piece of dough into a thin strip and winding it around a round toothpick.

This dough also makes good "carved" beads. If the dough is not colored, they look almost like ivory when dry. Shape a bead and then "carve" design on it with the point of a toothpick. You can use ordinary kitchen implements to make different designs and indentations on beads - such as pressing the edge of a serrated knife into the bead or the small sized hole side of a grater.

When all of the beads are thoroughly dry, you can string them as is or paint them with acrylic paints. You will probably also wish to coat them with a layer of clear nail polish or white glue to preserve them. With bread dough beads, you can have jewelry to match all your clothes!

Bread Dough Dolls

If you are really artistic and creative, you might even like to try your hand at sculpting a bisque-like doll head, arms and legs from the dough.

Just remember to sculpt the head to include hollowed out shoulders. Poke holes in the shoulders so you can sew on a cloth body. Also poke holes in the top of the legs and arms for the same reason. The arms and legs should be flattened at the point where they will join to the body so they will lay smooth when sewed on.

With a little practice, you could make heirloom dolls for pennies!

Spice Wreaths

Make some of these little spicy wreaths to decorate a present or Christmas tree and then enjoy them after Christmas by hanging them up in your kitchen.

Their spicy aroma will stay fresh for months and even after their scent fades, you can refresh them with a few drops of oil of cinnamon and cloves. They make nice small "thinking of you" presents for friends and family.

Materials you will need are 4 or 6 inch styrofoam rings to use as a base, a variety of whole (un-ground) herbs and spices (cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, dried dill weed, mustard seeds, etc.), any other leaves and dried flowers you would like to add for color, white glue and brightly colored ribbon for a bow trim. Small, dried, red chili peppers also make a colorful addition.

Stud the outside and inside edges of the styrofoam ring with cloves to hide the edges. Glue bay leaves in a circular fashion, overlapping each other around the top of the ring for a background cover.

Now glue cinnamon sticks and other spices around the ring until it looks fully covered. (Hint: Glue the largest ones on first.) Fill in any blank spaces with little bits of colorful dried flowers. A few sprigs of baby's breath also adds to the attractiveness.

Tie ribbon into a pretty bow and glue or pin to top of ring. Add a heavy thread for a hanging loop to the back, and your wreath is ready to use as a decoration. In addition to solid color ribbon, gingham ribbon is attractive on these wreaths.

Kitchen Window Plants

Brighten a winter kitchen window with an old fashioned favorite.

Can you remember back to your childhood when your mother grew a sweet potato plant in the kitchen window? It made a beautiful, lush green vine that grew quickly. It's probably been years since you saw that sight, but you can grow one of your own. Children and grandchildren love to watch things grow, and this would be a good project for them to follow.

Select a sweet potato that has not been kiln dried. (Perhaps a produce stand sweet potato would come closer to not being kiln dried than one from a grocery store.) Choose a rather short, stubby glass for a flower pot.

Submerge sweet potato, pointed end down in 2 inches of water and stick two toothpicks in it for "ears" to hold it in the desired position in the water. Place two more toothpicks in it to stabilize it on top of the glass. Now there are four "ears" or handles which rest on the rim of the glass, holding the sweet potato in place.

If you prefer to lay the sweet potato on its side in a container of water, be sure that one-fourth of the potato is covered with water. Soon a beautiful maroon colored stem and attractive heart shaped leaves will appear.

You can also grow interesting house plants from a variety of other common vegetables such as beets and carrots and avocado. Apple, lemon, orange and grapefruit seeds also will grow into plants interesting for children (of all ages) to watch.

Bird Treats

If you have a pet bird, you can grow a real treat for it. All birds like a taste of fresh greens from time to time.

Start with a small corn cob that has had all the corn removed from it. Roll cob in molasses or syrup which has been thinned down a little with warm water. Roll cob in grass seeds. Keep cob moist with a plant mister. It will sprout soon and make a "corn cob lawn" for a lucky bird to nibble.

The happiest memories are often created in the kitchen. Through the years, it has been the center of family gatherings and good times; the focus of sharing among all family members, young and old. Keep this in mind and keep creating good memories by letting youngsters help with baking. The extra trouble will be well worth the memories they will carry into the future.