Tag Archives: holiday

Make Your Own $80 wreath for less than $8

Knock knock knock.
Gentleman Caller.

Know what’s expensive? Christmas!

Now don’t misunderstand, I am more than accustomed to emptying my wallet for a pair of $1000 sneakers or a ridiculously overpriced backpack, but if I can save money on something, I will. Someone I was very close to used to say, “Austin, you will drive across town to save a nickel on an orange.” Accurate! What can I say? It’s my legacy. My great-grandmother was a Scot, like, off the boat immigrant. Scots are cheap. Ahem, frugal.

So when it came time to decorate for Christmas this year, I was confronted with two realities. If you invest in artificial pine things you have to STORE THEM. If you buy real throw away pine things, you still pay an arm and a leg and then you chuck it in the bin on January 2. Both of those options seemed unacceptable.

I live next to a Whole Foods. Like there would be no asking my neighbor for a cup of sugar because my neighbor is Whole Foods. I noticed they had put up a makeshift Christmas tree lot and the guys who worked there were trimming branches off the trees and putting them in the trash. Hmm…

So I decided to ask them for branches. Worst thing they could do is say no. But they didn’t, so up to my apartment I trekked, loaded down with two great arms full of aromatic fresh pine boughs. I got out a 5 gallon bucket and put some water in it. I put the ends of the branches in the water until I was ready to work with them to keep them nice and verdant.

As pretty as my pine branches were, I wanted to amend with some other varieties of plant. Cypress, juniper, boxwoods. You’d be surprised how many overgrown shrubs you see when you are thinking about gathering branches. So I started asking people: May I trim your shrubs? An odd request, I admit. But it worked and I came home with a sack full of cypress, juniper, and boxwood. If I had been in Texas, I would have used those waxy leaves from magnolia trees. That would be gorgeous. Maybe next year.

Now to construct a foundation. I just used three layers of stiff cardboard. I turned a round table upside down and traced a big circle. I then found a mixing bowl and traced the internal circle. I had about 3 inches of width to work with.

I hot glued the layers together. I brushed on some acrylic paint, but I mixed white and dark green together as I brushed so that it had dimension.

We have arrived at the Dollar General portion of this project. So far we have spent about zero dollars, especially if you have old paints available.

Your dollar store is going to have everything else you need. Fine gauge wire, a couple feet of ribbon and a handful of ornaments.

Now let’s build. I would advise that you either do this outdoors, in your garage, or put down a plastic sheet or something. This project is messy.

Lay your foundation on a flat surface. Cut about 8-10 inches of branch and just start layering, working backward. Branch, wire, branch, wire. At first you are probably going to think Wow, this looks like some kind of shitty 3rd grade arts and crafts project. Keep at it. Fill it out as you go. If you make the circumference of the wreath and it looks anemic, get more branches and keep shoving. You can continue shoving supplemental branches in existing wire. Do that until you reach the desire fullness.


Embellishment time. I cut 10-inch segments of ribbon and hot glued the ends to the back of the wreath on opposing sides. Then I wired clusters of ornaments together and wired them into the greenery. It’s basically like decorating a tree. Be creative.


In all honesty, I almost pulled all the ornaments off after I put them on because the simple greenery itself was really stunning. You be the judge. Sometimes less is more.


Time to hang. I had a hole available on my door that I could easily put a wire through. You might need a 3M hook or something like that. I am sure you can figure it out.

Here we are at the end. I spent about $4. Not bad indeed.

Now get to work! Send me photos of your endeavors!

Out for now,

The Gentleman Caller


Spiced Up Holiday Apple Pie

Printable PDF at the bottom of the page!

Knock knock knock.

Gentleman Caller.

Happy Holidays, Ho Ho Hos. I am back with another treat for your holiday table that’s gonna send you straight to the treadmill January 2nd. But we’re American, that’s what we do. So cook, enjoy, celebrate, and don’t fret right now. Eat PIE.

My Granny was an exceptional pie maker, and she passed on her skills to my Aunt Marcie, who is also an exceptional pie maker, my sisters and my stepmom Laurie. Laurie was so determined to become a pie master that she had Granny give her a full instructional kitchen seminar and Laurie video-taped it. Maybe I should get ahold of that video and post it here! On second thought, maybe not because my Granny is really cute and someone would probably see it and put her on TV.

There’s a different pie for every palate, but one enduring classic and likely favorite of most people is apple. Here I will provide you a spiced up version guaranteed to delight your guests and their taste buds with its aroma, looks, and deliciousness.

What you need:

  • One recipe of The Gentleman’s Perfect Pie Crust http://thegentlemancaller.net/perfect-pie-crust/
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • about 8 apples (3 lbs.) ideally a mix of greens and reds (Granny Smiths & Fujis are my ideal combination)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg*
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves*
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice*
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • zest of a lemon
  • juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 pats of butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half, beaten with one egg yolk
  • turbinado, coconut sugar or other coarse sugar for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Zest the lemon. Cut it in half, set one half aside. Fill a large bowl halfway with water; squeeze half the lemon in the water and drop the rind in there, too. Peel apples, core, and quarter them, and put them into the mixing bowl filled with water and the half lemon squeeze.


Process the apples in a food processor with the slice attachment. This is going to give you a consistent slice. Put your apple slices in a large bowl (you can dump the water and re-use the one you just had them in), add the flour, sugars, honey, spices, lemon zest and the juice of the other half of the lemon. Let it rest a sec. *Regarding the asterisk beside the spices, grinding or grating your own makes them more robust. If you have a grinder and a microplane grater, use them on your spices and get more flavor.

If you’ve followed the Perfect Pie Crust recipe, you should have two disks waiting for you in the refrigerator. Roll out one of your disks on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 9 inch pie plate. Trim the excess.


Spoon the apple mixture into the bottom crust. Place the 5 pats of butter evenly dispersed on top of the apples.

Roll out your second crust. Roll on the top of the apples to cover with ample overhang.


Using your kitchen shears, trim around the perimeter leaving about a 1/2 inch overhang. Tuck the overhang under and crimp the edges. Crimping is simply the process of smooshing the two crusts together and creating a nice looking rippled pattern.  If this isn’t something you do often, you might get a little frustrated. Stick with it; take deep breaths.


Put 5 little vent slits  in the top crust. You may also cut a little decorative vent if you like.


Brush the top with egg yolk and cream mixture. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.


As you can see, I put the pie on a baking sheet with a piece of foil. Pie has a tendency to leak, and scrubbing baked sugar out of your oven is not a chore you have time for at the holidays. Or ever.

Final step pre-oven (and I should have photographed this): make 4 four inch strips of foil. Crimp them together end-to-end so that you have about a 48 inch strip of foil. Carefully place this around the perimeter so that it’s not really touching but gently resting on the crimped edge. There is a silicone tool for this process https://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/adjustable-pie-shield/1017857401?Keyword=pie+shield but foil works just as well.

Into the oven she goes!

One hour at 400 degrees. At about 45 minutes remove the foil cover on the edges. Continue baking for 15 more minutes.

Yes, your house is going to smell heavenly but you MUST allow it to rest for at least an hour after you remove it from the oven. Otherwise it’s gonna be slop pie. And you’ll probably burn your tongue on the molten sugar. So just wait, ok?


Look at that! Don’t worry now, friends… I am going to post an easy ice cream recipe that you don’t need an ice cream machine to make very soon. Perhaps an egg nog ice cream… Pie and ice cream is an unbeatable combination.

Hope yours turns out beautifully.

That’s all for now.


The Gentleman Caller


Perfect Pie Crust

Printable PDF at the bottom of the page!

Knock knock knock.

Gentleman Caller.

Kwana – Hannu – Christmas Corridor is here! Time to spread love and cheer! And glut ourselves on fatty carbs! Ahhh, thank the baby Jesus in the manger for elastic waistbands.

Pie is one of the many tools of the devil for me. I love pie. I LOVE PIE. Actually, I like well-executed pie. And I can be a pretty critical taster. As a pie critic, I feel it’s my duty to provide you readers a tool to add to your arsenal. Pie crust is a skill one evolves, but this basic recipe will help you in your plight for pie perfection.

Warning: I am going to use Crisco. Don’t throw your computer out the window or block my site. Give it a try. I shall be waiting here to gloat when you’re ready to concede how good it is.

This recipe is for a double-crust pie or 2 blind bakes.

Here’s what you need!

Pie Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (I like a little more than that personally but that’s just me…) salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes, frozen
  • 1/2 cup (half a log) butter flavor Crisco, cut into pieces, frozen
  • 1/3 cup cold water with two ice cubes in it

This is a deceptively easy list of ingredients, isn’t it?

Sift dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor. Add the butter and Crisco. Pulse judiciously, about 8 seconds worth of pulsing. (See video for visual in the Holiday Apple Pie post.)

Pour water in a slight stream through the feed tube while pulsing. Add just enough – if it’s humid you might need only a quarter cup. If it’s dry you might need almost half a cup.  This is where judgement comes into the mix. It should not be dry, but shouldn’t be wet or tacky, and you must not process it more than 30 seconds. You can test this by squeezing a little ball together and seeing if it sticks.

Form two equal size balls. Avoid touching it too much or kneading/overworking it. Flatten into disks. Wrap with plastic or put into Ziploc bags.


See the flecks of frozen butter still intact? That’s your goal.

Put your wrapped disks into the fridge for at least an hour! These also freeze really well for future use.

See Holiday Pie entry for further inspiration.

That’s it for now.


The Gentleman Caller


Make them say OOOOH with a Punchbowl Ice Wreath


Knock, knock, knock.

Gentleman Caller.

This is an oldie but a goodie, friends. The classic ice wreath.

Now if you’re like me, you have sweet memories of cut glass punchbowls and ladies stirring concoctions of sherbet, 7-Up, pineapple juice and other sweet delights into it and watching the foam rise. Family parties, showers, holidays… A punch bowl was a staple. Granted you get a thimbleful of liquid in the dainty cups, but when it’s loaded with the calories of a traditional Southern style punch, perhaps that isn’t a negative.

Earlier I told you about a crisp Autumn cocktail with cranberries and cinnamon syrup. I made this beverage in a large quantity (just make all the ounces into cups…) in my vintage cut glass punch bowl and it was a hit.

Now if you know anything about me by now, you know half-assed is not an option. So I crowned the punch with a shining ice wreath. And it really did look like a crown.

Here’s what to do. This wreath is ideally for Vaccinium Autumn Vaccination.

  • Put a bundt pan in the freezer for a couple of hours. Make sure it’s flat/level.
  • Add about a cup of cranberries to the bottom. Add about a half cup of lemon Perrier mixed with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon syrup (see Vaccinium recipe). This shouldn’t cover the berries. Cranberries float; that’s how they are harvested. You only want to glue the berries down with the liquid mixture as it freezes.
  • Once that layer is frozen solid, add grapefruit juice to cover the berries and then some.
  • Allow that to freeze solid.
  • Slice and de-seed a lemon (thin slices). Leaving the mold in the freezer, adhere the slices into the broad side sections of the pan. The slices will freeze on contact like a tongue to flagpole.
  • Allow that to all freeze solid.
  • Mix about a cup of grapefruit juice, a cup of cranberry juice, a little cinnamon syrup and some lemon seltzer so you have enough liquid to almost cover the lemons. It should all be cold. Pour it into the mold.
  • Peek at it occasionally. When it starts to get good and slushy, poke a cinnamon stick into the narrower divots at the edge so that they will be visible.
  • Allow to freeze solid.


When you’re ready to serve the punch, run the bundt pan carefully under hot water. Don’t allow the water to come into contact with the ice ring. It should slide out quite easily. Add your crowning touch to the punch. You may put either side up; the one side will have red glistening cranberries, the other a crown of cinnamon sticks. You can’t go wrong.

I hope you wow your guests with this relatively simple show stopper.

All for now.

The Gentleman Caller

Sparkling Ice Ring Crown in a vintage cut glass punch bowl
Sparkling Ice Ring Crown in a vintage cut glass punch bowl


Walkin’ in a Winter Onesie-land – Simple Sewing of a Snuggly Onesie


Knock, knock, knock.

Gentleman Caller.

Here we are, our first sewing challenge! Who’s pumped?

This one is a lot of bang for your buck. A soft, cuddly onesie that is easily gift-able, or you can reap the benefits of your work for yourself.

The video is very helpful, even though it moves fast. Please overlook that you can see the band of my undies almost the whole time. The camera was mounted on the ceiling and I wasn’t going to ruin my shot worrying about my knickers.

This is a quick and easy sewing project; don’t be intimidated.

  • First you need about 2.5 to 3 yards of fabric for an adult onesie. I’ll do another post for a child’s onesie. I chose this funny Chicago Cubs polar fleece since the Cubs just had the big victory and all.


I always go to the same fabric store in New York’s famed garment District. This is Jorge who helps me out. There are several stores all on 38th and 39th Streets between 7 and 8th Avenues.


This is my friend who helped me select a zipper.

  • You need to choose a coordinating zipper, probably 22 inches long. Get something substantial, not a dress zipper. (Remember all these measurements are approximate. Please do math.)
  • Choose a coordinating thread.
  • Find a pair of sweats and draw a chalk line (see video).
  • Chalk outline with the sweats as a guide on the fabric. Allow a half inch for seam allowances.
  • Assemble and sew. Sew the shoulder seam first, then the side body seam, and the inseam seam. Follow on the other half. Put the two inseam seams together; stitch them together and continue the seam up the back. Go over the inseam seam one more time and sew up toward the belly button area to where the zipper should end.

Sewing in the zipper is a little bit of a trick. I line the top of the zipper up with the neck line on both sides and pin. If I hear for you all that I need to post a zipper “how-to” I sure will.

  • Sew the shoulder area but don’t close up the armpit area. Wait to sew the sleeve seam till you have sewn in the shoulder. Guiding off of where the armpit seam is on the body of the suit, figure out where the arm seam should be. Sew the arm seam. Then meet the arm seam to the body/armpit seam and sew them.
  • Add the hood or finish the neck hem if you aren’t adding a hood.
  • Hem the legs and arms.


Readers, if this isn’t clear enough let me know. I will post some diagrams and more video. I want you to know what you are doing! Sewing is your friend, and breaking in your skills on a simple sew like this will allow you to start doing money saving things like altering your own clothes.

Thanks for joining me today!

That’s all for now.


The Gentleman Caller

UPDATE! Kelly got a onesie too! With fur cuffs.

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