Holiday Decorating Ideas on the Cheap

We never really used to decorate too much for Christmas.  We’d have the tree, and our stockings would come out Christmas Eve, and if it happened to occur to someone, we got a wreath as well.  These days, since my parents have retired, they get a bit more into it.  Last year, because they were down in NYC visiting Ando’s family, it was up to the Pie and I to decorate the house for the holiday season.  This was the first year that my mother had let my dad put up white LED lights in the bushes outside (something he’s been wanting to do for thirty years, though I’m still holding out for the animatronic Santa on the roof).  So I knew we could go a bit more out there than we had in previous years.

The idea was to work with what we had, and my parents have collected a vast number of Christmas tree decorations in their almost forty years together.  So I took the biggest glass balls and suspended them from scrap ribbons tied to the banister on our upstairs landing.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Coming down the stairs you can see your reflection in the closest ones.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

And the view from the bottom.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Some of the more oddly shaped and heavier glass balls I looped around the curtain rod in the dining room.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Then I took a garland that came from Ten Thousand Villages and some paper IKEA decorations and did this to the window in the living room.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Christmas Decorating Ideas

For a wreath, I picked this one up at Value Village for $2.50.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

I pulled the artificial stuff off it and sprayed the actual grape vine underneath a nice bright copper.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Then the Pie and I went to Canadian Tire and went through their clearance decoration bin — this is where they sell off the bits of stuff that fell off other stuff the year before. We picked up a few wreath embellishments for about $2.40 in total, and I sprayed some silver.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Other bits we bought were already copper.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

The finished product is simple, easy, and cheap, and cost me less than five bucks (I forgot to take a picture of it until AFTER I’d hung it up between the two doors). And all those decorations can just be pulled out and reused somewhere else if I feel like changing it up next year.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

So you don’t have to spend a million dollars to create some winter wonderland. Simple accents here and there can also express the holiday season in the same way!

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.