Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Searching for a last minute baked good for your holiday gathering that is sure to impress? Try baklava! That almost magical concoction of layered phyllo dough, butter, walnuts, and sweet honey syrup that you find in bakeries or at international fairs as a representation of Greek cuisine is actually something you can make at home, and your family will marvel at your mad pastry skills, guaranteed. 

This version is extra festive because there is orange zest in the filling and the honey syrup the finished dessert is soaked in is infused with mulling spices and fresh squeezed orange juice. It's also not very technically difficult to make, but it does involve some assembly time. It's great though because it's a repetitive, relaxing assembly, during which your mind can wander and you don't have to be stressing out and super focused on doing each step perfectly.

I'm not a huge walnut fan; baklava is one of the foods I'll tolerate and even enjoy them in. So in this version I don't use a lot, and I process them pretty fine, since I don't care for huge chunks of walnut. But that's just my personal preference. Plus, nuts are pricey, and using a smaller amount worked great for me. A lot of recipes I've seen also call for a full 16 ounce box of phyllo dough, but I used the Athens brand which came with two 8 ounce rolls, and I used just one, which made for a slightly shorter baklava but sure cut down on assembly time and gave me an extra roll to make another one later. And these are plenty rich without the extra layers. I recommend the Athens brand because the sheets are the perfect size to fit inside a 9 X 13 pan with no trimming needed. I also had a minimal amount of tearing, which made things easier too.


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Here are some of the ingredients you'll be needing:


While you preheat your oven to 350 degrees, use a food processor to process 8 ounces shelled walnuts, the zest of two oranges (save them as you'll need the juice for the honey syrup), 1 tablespoon baking cocoa, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2/3 cup sugar until the walnuts are finely chopped.



Prepare your work space. You'll need a 9 X 13 pan lined with foil, your walnut mixture, 1 cup melted butter and a pastry brush,  8 ounces of thawed phyllo dough and a slightly damp paper towel to set over it while you're working to keep it from drying out.
                                                                                                                                     


Brush the bottom of the pan with butter, and layer three sheets of phyllo dough in the pan, buttering each layer.


After you butter the third sheet, sprinkle 1/4 cup walnut mixture over the top. Keep repeating this process: single phyllo sheet, butter, walnut mixture. You will probably run out of the mixture with a few sheets left, just continue layering with butter until you're finished.


Butter the top sheet and score the baklava carefully into triangles. I got 30 pieces from the pan. Pop into the oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.



While that bad boy is baking, make the honey syrup. Wrap up a tablespoon or two of mulling spices in some cheesecloth if you have it. You can add them loose, but you'll just have to strain the syrup before you add it to the baklava. Combine 1 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup honey, 3/4 cup squeezed orange juice from your oranges,  1/3 cup water, and two cinnamon sticks in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer to reduce for about ten minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks and spice sachet.



Pour syrup over warm baklava after you remove it from the oven. Let cool, cover, and set for several hours or overnight. These taste best after they've had time to soak up all that spiced honey goodness!



And there you have it! Flaky, sticky, buttery- sweet baklava...guaranteed to make you a holiday hero!

For those in a crafty mood this holiday season, today I bring you an easy, fun, and perfectly giftable project: sparkly glass etched ornaments!

This project is divided into a couple of fairly simple processes that you can do over a couple of days as you're able, but it's easy enough to do in one sitting too: the glass etching, the glittering, and the metallic wax application.

What you need for the glass etching portion is a set of clean, clear glass ornaments (available at pretty much any craft store, make sure they are glass!), some Armor-Etch glass etching cream, some vinyl stencils, a paintbrush or foam applicator, some painter's tape, gloves (please be safe and wear them, glass etching cream on your hand would not a Merry Christmas make) and a bowl of rinse water with a sprinkling of baking soda to neutralize the etching cream upon removal.



I recommend using smaller stencils that don't have a really intricate design, especially for your first few tries. This is because it can be a little tricky to get the stencil applied smoothly over the curved surface the larger the stencil is. And it's imperative that the stencil not have any gaps underneath where the etching cream can seep through, or the design won't look as crisp and clean as it could. Using painter's tape does help keep the stencil down, and also keeps you from accidentally going outside the intended etching area.





Once you have your stencil secured, use a brush or foam applicator to pat an even layer of etching cream over the design. It doesn't have to be a really thick layer. Let the etching cream do its thing for a few minutes. I didn't process mine for more than five minutes, and it worked fine.


After a few minutes, rinse off the etching cream, peeling off the tape and the stencil. Make sure the ornament is rinsed clean. As it dries the etched design will begin to appear. It's pretty as is, but the design is a little too subtle. So, if you're ready, move on to the next step: glitterfying!


For this step you need some Mod Podge and some fine glitter. Put some Mod Podge in a cup and thin it with water. You want a thin, pourable consistency.


Carefully pour some of the glue mixture into an ornament and swish it around, making sure all surfaces are coated. Pour the excess back into the cup. Really drain it, because you only want the lightest of coatings. Any more and the glitter will get gloppy and clumpy and oversaturated.


Then, pour a small amount of glitter in the ornament and promptly cover the opening with your fingers and give it some good shakes (ornament-makin' shimmies are highly encouraged). It's pretty cool to see the clear ornament explode with sparkly color from the inside! Tap out any excess glitter once it's evenly coated.


Now you can see the etched design a little better, but still, it doesn't really pop. So we are going to use some Rub 'n Buff Metallic Wax to highlight the design. I just discovered this stuff, and it's pretty marvelous. I only got one color, Antique Gold, but it comes in a variety of colors, and can be used to give many surfaces an antique, varnished metallic look (great for Steampunk projects!).


You only need the tiniest dab of wax to cover your design. I just used a paper towel and buffed a small amount of wax over the design. It will only adhere to the etched areas of glass, but it will try to cling to non-etched areas if you don't quickly buff it off. The good thing is if any areas look messy, you can use an acetone nail polish remover to fix any mistakes and start again.

And when you are done, tie on a ribbon for hanging and this is what you have!






I'm going to hand these out to G's family as wee gifties on Christmas. Try popping these in festive take-out boxes cushioned with shredded paper fill as a quick and super simple gift.
 

And because Maisy must know what I'm doing at all times, a Christmas kitteh photobomb!


I hope you all have a wonderful day and thanks for reading!
Hi all, hope you all had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrate it. G likes to call it Thankstaking though, since it wasn't such a great dealio in the end for Native Americans. We went to his family's for dinner, which was nice. G's family is Scottish, and we tend to joke about the quality and nature of the food offerings. His experience has been that food is treated in a very perfunctory manner, viewed as merely sustenance, not really a source of pleasure or exploration. And, the blander, the better. For example, they serve roasted potatoes, but they literally are roasted potatoes. No salt, no seasoning, no butter, nothing. Perfectly edible, but meh. At least we had my maple cinnamon pumpkin pie with oatmeal cookie crumbles to liven things up!

I actually went out on Black Friday and did a little shopping. Very little, since money is tight. But I went to the craft store to get some supplies for making Christmas ornaments (hopefully I will get a tutorial posted soon!) and I got just a few small gifts. I'm not one to wait in huge lines for the latest gadgets, but I sort of enjoy shopping that day just in general, even if I only buy a sweater or a few things from Bath and Body Works. After a few hours though I had my fill and was happy to go home!

So...onto the tag! I don't do tags often but this one that Dee did sounded interesting, so here goes:

1. What was the first perfume you ever purchased?

I'm really not sure. The perfumes I got when I was much younger were probably gifts. Cheap scents my parents must have picked up at Big Lots. The first perfume I remember really loving was Jovan White Musk, and I wore that around the sixth grade. In high school I had a love affair with Avon perfumes. I wore Far Away my freshman year, I adored Perceive my senior year. It's possible I bought some of those myself, but I can't recall exactly.

2. What's your signature perfume?

I don't think I have one now since I'm so obsessed with perfumes in general, but in college I wore Revlon Ciara alot. Oh, I loved that perfume, and even though it's a pretty cheap one, it smelled amazing and super sexy on me. I also went through a phase of wearing Crabtree and Evelyn's Nantucket Briar on a regular basis. Also spent some serious time with Nina Ricci Nina, Juicy Couture and Prada perfumes as well.

3. What's your most recent perfume purchase?


Earlier this month I bought samples of Solstice Scents Foxcroft Collection, which I reviewed here. I've also bought bitsys of Big Top Train 2011 and 2013 and Galilee from Darling Clandestine, but they haven't arrived yet so I have no idea what they smell like. I may give Galilee as a Christmas gift as the little soapstone jar just begs to be gifted (plus a portion of the proceeds go to charity) but I haven't decided yet for sure.

4. What perfume would you wear at nighttime/date night?

Right now I am really loving Solstice Scents' Edge of the Night and Hex from Alkemia. They both have that bombastic, intensely in-your-face, classic sexy floriental thing going on, like Shalimar, Opium, or my beloved Ciara. 

5. What's your favorite spring/summer perfume?

This changes all the time, so I will just think of what I wore last spring/summer. Early spring (with just a touch of chill left in the air) is wonderful with Haus of Gloi's Odette or Solstice Scents' Lace Draped Spectre or Nightgown. Later spring/summer I wore Darling Clandestine's Small Saga, Haus of Gloi's The Brier Path and Milkmaid, and Solstice Scents' Tenebrous Mist and Coquina a lot. Also, Alkemia's Tryst of Grey and Neroli XXIII. But there are still so many I sampled I'm probably not remembering.

6. What's your favorite fall/winter perfume?

 That one's even harder since I am a fall baby at heart. This year I've been wearing:

Solstice Scents'  Witch's Cottage, Foxcroft, Jack and the Devil, Smoky Mountain Mallow, Kitchen, and Manor.
Darling Clandestine's Hellbender, Circassian, and Vardogr
Haus of Gloi's Samhain and Hearth
In the past week I've rediscovered my sample of Phoebe from Sweet Anthem, and I've really been loving it. So much so that I ordered a full size a few days ago during their Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale because it was a really awesome deal. I also picked up a solid scent in Anita for our family gift exchange. I've never tried it but the mocha/peppermint description seems like it might appeal to G's stepsister the coffee addict, whose name I drew. Hopefully she'll like it!

 

7. What's your favorite scent category? (fruity, floral, fresh, oriental, woody)

Since really getting into indie perfumes, I've learned to not limit myself and to not have knee-jerk reactions about certain scent categories. Even though I tend to not like fruity/super cutesy sweet scents, there are probably some that I do love. I do gravitate towards earthy, woodsy, resinous scents though, but I am a foodie, as well. 




8. What perfume are you currently lusting after?

I haven't been able to try any of Sugar and Spite's Yule Collection, but I did order two of Lysa's new scented tarts (one for me, one as a gift.) This might be my first foray into indie wax. Really excited to try them!

 9. What perfume do you really dislike? 

I really, really can't stand Clinique Happy, and am not much for Chanel #5. Probably a lot of the mainstream classics that a lot of people love. Those are two that come to mind.

I tag anyone who would like share! Thanks for reading! 



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