Your DIY Guide to Christmas

One month before Christmas, I was being wheeled into the operating room for my second spinal surgery of 2014. I stared down at the tubes protruding from my arms and hoped that I would recover qIMG_0394uickly enough to enjoy my favorite time of the year, when New York City feels magical.

The only thing I wanted for Christmas was to not be in pain (and to get a puppy) but let’s be honest, one of those things is more realistic than the other. I was in luck – the surgery was successful and I was home from the hospital and recovering by Thanksgiving. The first three weeks leading up to Christmas were spent recovering couch-bound and fighting the omnipresent sickness that plagues me whenever I try to take (or stop taking) pain medication. Since I wasn’t up for leaving the apartment, I did my gift shopping online (using Amazon Smile so some proceeds go to charity) and kicked off the season with some DIY crafting as my boyfriend transformed our apartment into a miniature winter wonderland

IMG_0459Last Christmas, my craft of choice was burlap wreath-making, which took more coordination and patience than I had this year, but if you aren’t recovering from back surgery, it is a pretty easy and relatively inexpensive project that can really dress up a space for the holidays. I used this simple tutorial to create a wreath that has stayed in flawless shape from last season to this one. I would also recommend this tutorial on shaping burlap into roses – it’s much easier than it sounds.

This year, I needIMG_0437ed to take on projects that I could do sitting down and that wouldn’t take a lot out of me. The first thing on my agenda was making wrapping paper for my gifts. I ordered some plan brown craft paper and a snowflake stamp from Amazon, then proceeded to make the BIG mistake of wrapping the gifts before stamping them. It turns out that stamps work best on a flat surface, who knew? My snowflakes turned out a little broken in spots, but it created a vintage look that I ended up being pleased with.

IMG_0508I topped the wrapping off with homemade cards, using a simple silver and white chevron pattern for the back and a hipster santa image I found online for the front. After adding a few details in Adobe InDesign, I printed them out and glued the two images back to back. Double sided printing would also work well for this, but the printer wasn’t cooperating at all. I printed about a dozen of these at various sizes so they can be used as gift tags or full size cards.

I was determineIMG_0476d to do one more seasonal project this year that was more of a craft than a gift wrapping experiment. Since I don’t have a sewing machine, I ordered some pillow shams off of Etsy and bought some heat transfer material from Amazon. I used this craft blog as a guide, but the process is pretty simple. My tip would be to cut out a pattern that doesn’t allow a lot of room for error when cutting. After quite a bit of ironing, the pillows were finished and perfectly complemented our decorated living room.

The final project of the season was baking Christmas cookies, as I do every year. But this time, I couldn’t spend hours peeking into the oven to see if the macarons were cooking perfectly, so I chose some super low maintenance, yet elegant, recipes that would be sure to wow. First, I started with truffles, a really easy dessert to make that takes almost no time, but will impress at parties. Use this recipe or put your own spin on it by dipping them in chocolate or subbing out Kahlua for bourbon.

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Salted caramel recipes are everywhere these days – so much so that I hit three grocery stores and still wasn’t able to find any caramel. These ended up being my favorite baked good this year and they are also simple to make. Just melt some chocolate and caramel, and sprinkle sea salt over the mixture. Use this recipe as a guide and get ready to gain about 8 pounds.

The tartine brownie recipe that I stumbled upon sounded amazing. The batter is made out of a pound of chocolate and involves more folding than beating, so the texture is caky and airy. The tartine part comes in by placing Ferrero Rochers in the middle of each brownie, but as you can see here, even when you top the chocolate with batter, it is easy for the chocolates to burn. My friend suggested chopping up the chocolates and sprinkling them throughout the batter, which might be a better option for flavor and even baking.

My final cookie attempt was a BIG fail that I was able to somehow save. I took a crack at gluten free peanut butter blossoms using this recipe and it failed in both taste and appearance. The cookies were oily and the texture was very obviously just off. I refrigerated the dough overnight and threw in any ingredients from this recipe that I hadn’t yet used, making the dough not gluten free at all but looking like something that would taste better than my first attempt. Luckily, it all jived and the peanut butter blossoms turned out beautifully. If you want to take a crack at the gluten free version, I recommend using a different recipe.

It’s almost Christmas and I am recovering well and already planning next year’s craft and baking excursions. Happy holidays and happy DIYing! IMG_0454