Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wine Cork Christmas Trees--A Step-by-Step Tutorial

I have a confession: I like wine. A lot. And a few years ago, when my husband brought home a big glass jar, I started putting my wine corks in there, thinking it would be a cute decoration. Well, now that "decoration" has started to overflow:

So when I was poking around and saw some wine cork Christmas trees, I knew exactly how I was going to use up my extra corks--making these cuties:

The perfect addition to your mantle this holiday season!
I wanted to share these because they are SUPER easy to make and a great little gift for any wine lovers in your life (or for yourself!). I am not normally that crafty--no knitting or needlepoint around here--but I loved making these because they come together quickly and provide an instant holiday feeling. So without further ado, I give you my wine cork Christmas tree step-by-step tutorial:

Wine corks
Glue gun
Hot glue sticks
Green magic marker
Red or green ribbon
Sharp utility knife

STEP 1: Pick out your corks
I suggest choosing a range of colors if you have them on hand, as long as all the corks are about the same length/height.

As for the number of corks you'll need, it depends on how big you want your tree. The basic pattern is that, starting from the top of the tree, each row needs 1 more cork than the previous one. Plus you need 1 cork for the "trunk" if your last row has an even number of corks, or 2 if your last row has an odd number. For the 6" tree I made in this tutorial, I used 22 corks. 

STEP 2: Arrange your corks into a tree shape
Simply place them with the unpunctured side (the side you didn't stick the corkscrew into) facing up. If you have a cork with a design on the bottom, you can use it for the top of the tree or "star," like I did with the "Zins" cork below.

Again, the pattern is to start at the top with 1 cork and add an additional cork to each row.

STEP 3: Add some color (if desired)
The wine cork Christmas trees that inspired me to create my own had some green corks mixed in and I really liked that look. I used a light green magic marker to add a little color to the corks above (it will come out light green if you color over a cork that was in a bottle of white wine and a darker green if it held red wine.)

Step 4: Glue the corks together with hot glue
Heat up your glue gun. Once the glue starts to flow easily, pick up the cork on the lower left of your triangle (the dark green cork in the above picture) and spread a small line of glue down the side the face the cork to its right:

Press the glue-side up against that cork to the right and hold for a few seconds until the glue starts to cool (and bond).

Now put a strip of glue on the right side of that second cork and attach it to the next cork in the bottom row. Repeat with all corks in the bottom row:

With the next row up (and all subsequent rows), you need to glue both the bottom of the cork and the side(s) so it will attach to all of the corks it comes in contact with:

Repeat until all corks are glued together:

STEP 5: Add ribbon
Cut a piece of ribbon about twice the size as the perimeter of your tree, then tie into a bow at the top:

STEP 6: Make your trunk
This tree had an even number of corks (6) in the last row, so that means I needed to create a flat bottom for it to rest on. I did this by cutting a wine cork in half lengthwise with a utility knife:

If you have an odd number of corks in the last row of your tree, you can use 2 whole corks to make your trunk:

STEP 7: Glue your trunk on
Squirt a small bit of hot glue between the middle 2 corks in the bottom row in the tree and the ribbon you tied on. Carefully press the ribbon onto the glue and corks. Then add another strip of glue to the outer side of the ribbon in between those 2 corks and to the rounded side of the 1/2 cork of your trunk:

Press the two together to finish your tree! Tada!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Eating the Seasons: Kale and Sausage Soup

I recently joined a CSA here in Southern California. I love the concept of a CSA because it really encourages you to eat locally and seasonally. Unlike the CSA I belonged to back in Massachusetts, where I went to the farm myself and picked out what I wanted from the offerings they had on hand, my new CSA delivers a prepackaged box directly to my doorstep. That means I never know quite what I'm going to get until it actually shows up. Honestly, I kind of like this aspect of it because it forces me to get creative and use things I might not normally try (waste not, want not!).

In last week's delivery, I got a bunch of kale, a big leek, a few red potatoes, a bunch of carrots, a bunch of radishes and a selection of delicious pears, apples and persimmons. Some of that is regular fare in this household. But the kale and leeks? Not so much. My husband especially is not a big fan of any of either. But I really wanted him to give them another try. So I went in search of a recipe I thought would tickle his fancy.

Since he is a big fan of sausage and bacon (you have to admit, they do make a lot of dishes taste better!), I started looking for recipes that would incorporate one of those. Eventually I stumbled upon this sausage and kale soup recipe, which ended up being the inspiration for my riff below. I tweaked it to use the some of the other ingredients I got in my CSA box and to match my husband's tastes (no mushrooms or cauliflower allowed!). Served with a big chunk of crusty sourdough bread, I have to say it was the perfect meal for a chilly Sunday night. (Leave the bread out and it's a great gluten-free option, too!)

The broth was incredibly savory and there was absolutely no bitterness in the kale or overwhelming "onion-iness" from the leeks. My husband not only ate 2 bowls that night, but also gobbled up the leftovers for lunch the next day. That's a sure sign of a successful recipe in my book! I actually hope we get more kale in this week's delivery so I can make it again! I highly suggest you give it a try—even if you think you don't like kale (or you have a picky eater at home).

Kale and Sausage Soup
(Serves 4)

2 links mild Italian sausage
5 small carrots, sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 large leek, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 c. white whine
6 cups chicken stock
2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
2 cups coarsely chopped kale
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1. Slice sausages in half lengthwise and then again width-wise, creating 8 equal size pieces.
2. Place a large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausages in a single layer and cook until browned, about 3-4 minutes per side. 
3. Take sausages out of the pot and set aside on a plate for later. Leave the sausage drippings in the pot (do not drain!).
4. Add chopped leeks and white wine to the pot. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add carrots and cook another 5 minutes until leeks are fully softened and translucent.
5. Pour the chicken broth into the pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to help scrape off any caramelized sausage drippings from the bottom of the pan.
6. Once soup comes to a boil, add the sausages back in (along with any juices that may have run out as they sat), along with the kale, potato, bay leaf and oregano. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through.
7. Pull the bay leaf and sausage back out of the pot. Cut the sausage into bite-sized slices and add back into soup before serving. (Discard bay leaf.)