Make: Winter Garland

I can say with full confidence, our home is holiday ready. We've purchased gifts and even designated a bin in our closet for everything we need to transport for our annual pilgrimage to South Carolina next week. It's been so cold outside, I've been trying to spend as much time as possible indoors. Cleaning and sorting so that when we return in the new year everything will be set for us to jump right back into work and life. I hate coming back to a messy house after vacation, it's a miserable feeling. I want the apartment to feel warm and occupied, not like it's been abandoned for a few weeks.

As cozy and clean as I can make our space on the inside, what happens outside our front door is beyond my control. We live in what must have been a gorgeous brownstone in 1915. Unfortunately, judging by the cracked plaster, rickety staircase and maroon tiling, the building hasn't been renovated since the late 1970s. The eggshell color of the hallways which (with no declaration of war) shifts into what can only be described as burnt custard yellow is a dead giveaway. Seriously, I was shocked that our building wasn't scouted as a location for the new David Simon show "The Deuce", all about the underbelly of New York and the rise of porn in the 70s. They wouldn't have to do much at all, maybe add some ceiling mirrors or a shag carpet. The original decor is that seedy.

If you're lucky, you can ascend this staircase to our front door.

If you're lucky, you can ascend this staircase to our front door.

Our super is a lovely man who lives downstairs with his two sons, but there's only so much they can do without the help and financing of a less than interested landlord. In light of all this, hanging a loud and super ornate holiday wreath feels forced. There's also the bit where I don't want to spend a fortune on something which won't be seen all that much- it's not like people are driving by our third floor walk up. Even if there was traffic, you wouldn't be able to see too any of it by the light of the single exposed bulb by our front door. I'm also not sure the door could even handle that much weight. The entire building leans to the left so I'm always nervous to hang anything too heavy. Ok, I feel like I've really painted a picture for you.

For now, my Pinterest wreath dreams are going in the "when we have a house" drawer and I'm sticking with the theme of my last post- no fuss holiday.

Someday I will be incredibly fussy and have this holiday wreath of my dreams.

Someday I will be incredibly fussy and have this holiday wreath of my dreams.

I had one branch of evergreen leftover from decorating the rest of the apartment which I decided to use for a door garland. Instead of dealing with wire and traditional images of a wreath I stuck with decorating the branch as is. Like I mentioned before, I don't like to go too heavy in one direction or the other with Hanukkah + Christmas. We celebrate both, so I try to land somewhere in the middle. Plus, I like to keep our decor seasonal more than holiday because we can keep it up through the winter!

All you'll need to make this garland/wreath/hanging (you can call it whatever) is a spool of string, a branch of evergreen, some baby's breath, and a pieces of winter citrus. This whole project cost $5 and took me less than the length of an episode of The West Wing.

  1. Preheat oven to 200°F. Use any citrus or old fruit you have in the house. I had two lemons, two oranges, one persimmon. (Full disclosure the lemon was moldy. So no waste!) Cut the fruit into slices and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a cookie sheet to dry out for a few hours in the oven. Low and slow. You might burn a few slices but whatever. It's rustic. If you need more direction there's an excellent tutorial on drying fruit for ornaments here.

  2. Once ornaments are dry use the string to gently tie them to the branches of your garland. I used dark green string for camouflage purposes. You use whatever you have on hand. Don't let anyone judge you. It's string.

  3. Tie and tuck other wintry flowers into the branches of your decoration. I like baby's breath because it's inexpensive and a delicate offset to the rustic and heavy feel of the dried fruit and evergreen. It also reminds me of my wedding and I get sentimental like that sometimes.

  4. Hang it on your door. Revel in your craftiness and thrifty ingenuity. Add more bourbon to your coffee. Go back to watching The West Wing.


Festive AND it accentuates the fire exit sign.

Festive AND it accentuates the fire exit sign.

No Fuss Holiday

Here's a holiday confession: I am an Eastern European Jew who loves Christmas. I don't mean to say I love any of the religious aspects of the holiday. Believe me, Hanukkah does me just fine. The candles, the warmth, the magic of the menorah. I'm totally covered in the spiritual department. (Don't even get me started on latkes. My favorite food of the season!)  But there's nothing that says "Winter Holiday" to me quite like a Christmas tree, ornaments, twinkly lights... Hell, I even like it when the Starbucks red cup appears. Thing is though, I don't love too much of it in my home. My husband celebrates Christmas and I celebrate Hanukkah and it would feel a bit absurd to drape our 950 square foot apartment in full decorations for both holidays. The last thing we want is for our home to look like a Macy's, the ninth circle of hell during the holiday season, as far as I'm concerned. A pool of red, white, blue, dancing Santas, gaudy menorahs, oppressively hung ornaments, dreidls that looks like boulders... You get my point. Not exactly a relaxing setting to walk into every night.

So how do you solve for this problem: Decorating a small space for two holidays without going overboard but still making it look festive?

Bookshelf garland.

Bookshelf garland.

My solution over the last few years has been simple. Cut out all the fuss. We don't put up a tree for two reasons, there's not a ton of space and we spend Christmas with Ian's family. There's no point in a tree that will stay up for only two or so weeks. The upkeep, not to mention the hauling it to our third floor walk up, isn't worth the money or effort to me. There's also the problem with storage. There just isn't a lot of it and any prime closet/under the bed real estate is going to my shoes, not holiday decorations. Instead, I make do with a reusable garland on our bookshelf and a Hanukkah letter garland in the kitchen. Both fold into a small box and the evergreen has built in lights. I like to hang a few small ornaments and ribbon scraps saved from last year's gifts to make it more festive. Cinnamon scented pine cones and plastic winter berries (the real things are incredibly toxic for dogs) scattered around the books add to the jovial vibe.

Evergreen and seasonal greens, riding the subway home with me.

Evergreen and seasonal greens, riding the subway home with me.

The other solution to my dilemma is to stick to what's most seasonal. Instead of going in one direction or the other with our holiday decor I give the entire apartment a natural, wintry vibe. This is super easy and really, really cheap. Every winter New York turns into what I (affectionately) like to call a "Christmas Tree Graveyard". Almost every corner store has them piled outside like some kind of testament to the logging industry. With evergreens inevitably come fallen branches. If you're nice, most store owners will be more than happy to sell or even give you their scraps for free! (Yes, they will look at you like an insane person when you bypass the trees and head for the trimmings but whatever. It's New York. For every time you look crazy there's probably a guy down the street wearing a doughnut as a hat.) I place the cuttings in jars and bottles around the apartment with other seasonal branches and leaves. Bonus, they dry well and don't require a ton of water. In a small space, a few trimmings of evergreen here and there really do the trick. You don't need much more.

Evergreen, pine cones, and some seasonal greens.

Evergreen, pine cones, and some seasonal greens.

A simple Happy Hanukkah banner and some flowering seasonal branches, in our crooked kitchen.

A simple Happy Hanukkah banner and some flowering seasonal branches, in our crooked kitchen.

So there you have it. My own little Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter wonderland. Not too much, not too little. Seasonal without being obnoxious. Also, hot cocoa every night but that doesn't need explaining. 

Twinkly lights above, dog toys below.

Twinkly lights above, dog toys below.

Mid-Holiday Meal Plan

Hi! First thing, I want to share some really exciting news- we got a puppy! Potato is a Boston Terrier pup who when not running laps around the house manages to fit 13 naps into each day. Describing him doesn't do much justice so here's the first photo my dad snapped of our new fellow while he waited for me to pick up treats and puppy pads on our way home. 

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday at my parent's house outside of Detroit where cool, damp weather was perfect for sitting around the fireplace drinking endless mugs of black tea. Instead of engaging in the madness of Black Friday we went through all the clothing my sister and I had left in various closets around the house. We purged of old, unfortunate style choices and reclaimed items with sentimental value. I came out with a full bag of sweaters and blankets, helped my mom ease her anxiety over stagnant and leftover teenage/college clutter, and didn't spend a penny! 

The drive back to New York on Sunday was long and coming back to the city so late left me feeling totally unprepared for the remaining weeks of madness before everyone breaks for the holidays. Between gift shopping and wrapping up the work year there's a lot to be done both around the house and in the office.  For me, it always seems like there's even less time than usual to spend hours in the kitchen or experiment with new recipes. Any and all energy that I can muster for cooking this time of year is channeled into latke making for Hanukkah. Due to the recent and very welcome addition of a food processor, my sister and I were able to churn out a batch of 200 (Smitten Kitchen's fool proof latke recipe is the best) and enjoy a lovely evening of dreidel at our apartment. 

So now Thanksgiving is done, Hanukkah is happening, gifts are being bought and wrapped, holiday parties are every weekend, and then we're off to South Carolina for Christmas. All while chasing around Potato who like a little tornado tears through our home and required constant attention. Like I said, it's a hectic time and there's not much energy for the kitchen or even grocery shopping. Mostly these coming weeks are punctuated by a lot of sighing and texting, "I wish I were in bed or it was Christmas already." followed by massive caffeine consumption and more sighs. So, if you're like us and things are absolutely insane this time of year, I'd like to share with you my meal plan for the next two weeks - what I have in my fridge and pantry and how I plan to use it. The idea is to make several bases and prepare foods that will last through for lunches and dinners. Nothing fancy, because let's be honest, the idea this time of year is just to get through.That's not to say that we're eating fast food, but it also doesn't mean I'm standing around trimming my homegrown organic basil plant while sipping kombucha and knitting a sweater for my grandmother. It's go, go, go around here and so are our meals.

Mid-Holiday Meal Plan

Below is a list of items I came home to the Sunday after Thanksgiving in my fridge and freezer. My pantry is always stocked with canned and dry goods from my Starting from Scratch post. 

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders
  • frozen green beans
  • frozen vegetable mix
  • 1 package large tortillas
  • 1 large leek
  • cherry tomatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 head lettuce
  • bell peppers

Again, the idea is to make lots of meals which will be quick, filling, and work for both lunch and dinner. Instead of going through what we are eating every day I am going to share recipes for the dishes which are my go-to's when I am on a hectic schedule. We plan to eat out a few times to supplement meals and this does not include snacking, but mostly this is what we're eating for the next 2.5 weeks. Some of the recipes are linked out and my favorite easy soup is outlined below. I hope you find this guide helpful! 


My first tip for efficient meal planning is to prepare several bases which can serve as fillers or sides to have on hand. I filled 3 large tupperware containers with cooked rice, lentils, and bulgur. You can make any base from grains you have in your pantry.These can be easily reheated for sides, put into wraps for lunch, or used for bowls.

If I have sweet or regular potatoes on hand, I boil and mash them up. In tupperware they can last for the week and also work as excellent quick side or base options. 


Quick Chicken:


Frozen chicken is great to have on hand because it's really a meat that can work for you, while you're at work. I use two super simple methods for preparing chicken when I have almost no time to spare.

Dressed+ Baked:

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a dream for a rushed cook.

  1. I marinate the chicken in a full bottle of honey mustard (or use any dressing you have) overnight.
  2.  Come home from work and bake for 35 minutes at 400F, dressing and all.
  3.  Use frozen vegetables or your prepared grains as a side. Leftover chicken goes into a bowl of bulgur, cherry tomatoes, and walnuts for a work lunch. 

Easy chicken tenders:

  1. Defrost the chicken tenders and pat dry.
  2. Coat on both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Grill on a pan with vegetable oil until brown on both sides.
  4. Cut chicken into pieces and store in tupperware to add to bowls, salads, wraps, or the soup recipe below!

Beef Burritos:

When in a pinch for what to cook Ian often make beef burritos by using pre-made taco mix or just fixing his own with a basic taco seasoning mix. He grills the beef, I chop lettuce + tomatoes, then wrap everything into a burrito with some sour cream/salsa/cheese, basically whatever we have on hand. Quesadillas can be made with almost all the same ingredients, it's really a matter of preference. 


I use the bases I prepare at the beginning of the hectic week as bases for bowls which I toss together for lunch and sometimes, a quick dinner. The combinations are endless and really a question of taste, the two bowls I prepared this week are below. (I will go into my bowl lunch prep strategy in a post soon!)

  1. lentils + cherry tomatoes + feta + almonds + bell pepper then dressed with olive oil/balsamic/s+p.
  2. bulgur + honey mustard chicken + lettuce + walnuts then dressed with olive oil/s+p. 


When you're in a rush, soup made with canned ingredients mixed with whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand is your best friend.  Below is my favorite recipe which I developed while severely stressed for time and funds. The result is protein rich and flavorful - you can keep it vegetarian or grill some chicken tenders for extra flavor!

Easiest Chickpea + Vegetable Soup


  • 3 cans chickpeas, drained + rinsed
  • 1 leek or onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 head garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots finely chopped
  • 1 container mushrooms, rough chop
  • 2 cartons chicken or vegetable stock or 6 cups of water + 2 bouillon cubes
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. rosemary
  • salt +pepper
  1. In a pan sauté drained chickpeas in a glug of olive oil until they start to lose their softness and brown a bit, 10 min or so. 
  2. While chickpeas are cooking- in a big soup pot on medium heat sauté mushrooms, onions, carrots, and spices until mushrooms brown and lose their liquid. If using leeks add when the mushrooms are cooked through and browned. 
  3. Add garlic and chickpeas to the soup pot with mushrooms, onions/leeks, and sautee for 5-7 min. on low heat. If using bits of chicken tenders add them now. 
  4. Add all the chicken/vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then simmer and cook for 15 min. 
  5. Serve with grated cheese if you have it and some crusty bread. 

As with all soups I divide into tupperware or jars and we eat it for a week for lunch after we've had it for dinner. 

I repeat the recipes above throughout the mid-holiday season because they're no brainers and last us for several days. Fresh vegetables can be added to the chicken with a grain base for hearty lunch time bowls. Tortillas can be used to wrap up chicken, beef, lettuce, and fresh vegetables for quick salad wraps. I think once you nail the formula of base, protein, and fresh vegetable you have a lot of quick meal options to choose from throughout the work week. But most important, soup is your biggest friend. Huge quantities made with canned goods, means that you don't have to worry about making something new every evening. 

Please share in the comments if you have any recipes that you stick to during this hectic time of the year! I've found that's it's unsustainable to eat out too much and the above meal plans have really saved us time and money. 

Happy running around!! I'm so excited to slow down and take a breath over the Christmas break. I hope that you have a chance to do the same.