Zero Waste: Consumable Christmas Gifts

Nothing makes me more happy than receiving a thoughtful gift that procured zero waste in the process of its making and of its giving. Recently, I have preferred consumable gifts over material gifts. This could be something as literal as food or drink, and as metaphoric as a e-book or experience. The idea is that the gift can be enjoyed by the receiver, but does not linger after the enjoyment has concluded. It doesn’t require additional storage, and does not call for de-cluttering at the end of the experience.

If you are interested in such a gift idea, may I recommend homemade Christmas treats? My best friend from high school and her family make homemade treats every year, namely chocolate covered toffee, peanut brittle, and candied almonds. When I asked her what started this tradition, she says that every year, her family makes peanut brittle to ship to her grandpa in Pennsylvania. She just started to make more treats in additionto ship to their friends and family as a Christmas present. The positive outcomes are two-fold. First, it requires a bit of spending time together (gasp!) and gathering as a family to create something for other people. In the spirit of giving, it gives the gift of time, hard work, and personal touch. Second, it creates what I would consider a zero waste present, that is enjoyed and then, well, digested. It may be argued that she does use a shipping box and paper to package the thing and ship to the home, an easily skipped process if one would like to deliver in person. But personally, I love opening my mail box and finding the surprise every year. If you can stomach the small price to pay in order to surprise someone, then wonderful! If not, wrap furoshiki style and deliver at the next gathering, which I hope are many during this time of year. In either case, here’s a little how-to, for some last-minute gift wrangling, minus the excessive spending.

Candied Almonds

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Ingredients:

  • 12cup water
  • 12cups sugar
  • 1teaspoon cinnamon (or more to taste)
  • 1lb almonds, with skins

Directions:

  1. Bring water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil;stirring constantly.
  2. Add almonds and toss to coat.
  3. Remove almonds with slotted spoon.
  4. Arrange on greased baking pan.
  5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, basting twice with reserved syrup.
  6. Cool.
  7. Store airtight.

Peanut Brittle

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Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Grease a large cookie sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place, and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.
  3. Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14×12 inches; cool. Snap candy into pieces.

Chocolate Covered Chewy Caramel Candy

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound milk chocolate
  • Your favorite chewy caramel candy

Directions:

  1. Melt milk chocolate in a saucepan
  2. Cover caramel candy and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  3. Place tray in the fridge to cool.

Less Waste: The Art of Furoshiki Gift Wrapping

Can any one else believe that Christmas is right around the corner, less than a week away? Despite all efforts to slow down this season,  it still finds a way to sneak past us and onto the New Year. This weekend, it came time to (finally) wrap presents. With past posts claiming that I will skip on buying gift wrap this year, I must admit that I have been unsuccessful in sustaining the eye sore that lay beneath my tree. Like a messy pile, left behind by a  non-existing toddler, the presents lay askew without any sort of presentability. Unfortunately, esthetics run pretty high on my list of pre-requisites for peaceful living. Spending the past few weeks fighting the growing urge to cover everything in paper for the sake of uniformity (and sanity), I finally found the solution to my dilemma, without buying wrapping paper, and amidst my favorite activity … de-cluttering!

While preparing for our soon-to-be roommate’s move-in day, I was cleaning out the kitchen cupboards and consolidating our items into designated spaces so that she may have cupboards for her own loved possessions. Underneath a stack of placemats, I found a length of fabric, which I had bought about a year ago with the intentions of sewing my own dinner napkins. With the advent of receiving a set of 12 dinner napkins as a wedding present, I had stashed the fabric and completely forgotten about it!

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My initial thought was to add it to my de-cluttering box. Then I thought about my Christmas presents, and I proceeded to do the only appropriate solution in my mind. FUROSHIKI!

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Furoshiki are a type of of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth used to transport clothes, gifts, and other goods. More sustainable than one-time-use wrapping paper, the pieces of cloth can be opened, then refolded and stored. The art doesn’t require tape, but rather, a simple folding tachnique ending with a bow on top. No additional ribbons or bows needed!

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The fabric is all used up now, no longer sitting useless in a cupboard, and the presents are wrapped and esthetic once again! Sanity restored.

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Sidenote: Unlike previous years when our stack of presents equaled the size of our tree, we were very selective about who we were gifting to this year,  as well as WHAT we were gifting. More focused on experiences rather than things, I can count the boxes under the tree with my fingers alone. A feat few people can claim!

 

For an overview of the art, start with this video. For Furoshiki and other non-disposable life hacks, try here.

Travel: Rothenberg Ob Der Tauber, Germany

I am usually not a city girl. When I think of the ideal places to travel to and explore, I never come up with a city. Mike, however, loves exploring cities. We try to find a happy medium between the two of us, alternating destinations so that we discover something about each other’s interests while achieving interests of our own.

When we decided to go to Germany, it wasn’t because we had been dying to go for a long time or anything like that. Mike follows a website called Scott’s Cheap Flights and he has signed up to receive notifications for when flights go on sale. Usually, the deals are incredibly discounted, but you need to have flexibility as to where you want to go and when. For example, if there is a specific place you want to go to, you have to cross your fingers that a deal comes up sometime. It makes it even more difficult when you also have a specific timeline. For cases where you already know what you want to see and when, I would recommend other modes of finding cheap flights, such as the Hopper app. But it was through Scott’s Cheap Flights that we heard about a round-trip fare to Munich, Germany for roughly $500 per person. Additionally, the dates of Octoberfest were included in the dates available to get said discounted rates. Mike had wanted to check out Octoberfest in Germany with friends, so we mass e-mailed (or maybe we texted?) our core group of ten friends this amazing deal. We had only two takers, another married couple in our group of friends, so it is with this reasoning that we chose Germany as a fall trip. Unfortunately, something came up and the two friends couldn’t make it, which left us flying to Germany solo, but which also gave us more freedom as to what we wanted to see.

When we booked Germany, I thought that I would not enjoy this trip at all. Mike was rather stoked on the prospect of visiting a bunch of different cities and this was our first time to Europe, but I hated visiting New York, disliked living in LA, and Queenstown in New Zealand was my least favorite part of our trip there – not because these cities were awful but I just don’t like the general vibe of large cities. I need the room to hear myself think, the smell of freshly cut grass or dewy trees, the sound of rushing water. So off course, since I had control over the planning of the trip, I actually tried moving us away from Munich and spending as little time as possible in Frankfurt. What ended up happening was that every night for five nights in a row, we slept in a different city. And I ended up falling in love with Germany. One city in particular took my breath away, with its sleepy cobblestone streets, its strong standing walls, and the lovely character and charm of its fairytale buildings.

Rothenberg ob der tauber used to be a very prosperous town. In between two main cities, many traders used to stop at this city in between their travels to get a night’s rest and something to eat. Guarded by a wall surrounding the entire city, they were well protected because they could choose who they allowed in and out. The nightwatchmen roamed the streets in the evenings, making sure no one but the inhabitants and their welcomed guests were within the city.

Unfortunately, during the Thirty Year’s War, protestant troops of 40,000 men wanted to rest at Rothernburg because the winter weather was making it difficult for them to progress from one city to the other. Rothernburg refused to comply with their request, and a siege occurred. Rothernburg was captured by the troops, and after the winter, the town was left poor and quite desolate. A few years later, the bubonic plague came to the city, killing many of the townsfolk. Without money or power, the city could not grow, and thus preserving its 17th century state. I learned all of this through the amusing Night Watchman’s Tour , a definite must for anyone who visits.

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We started off our exploration by entering the city gates and climbing one of the towers. We walked along the top of the city walls, peering into the city to get a preview, as well as looking out the manholes to see the outside. Walls that have stood since 950 BC or earlier, these monsters of stones held in the city’s traditional appearance, while the rest of the world lost its charm and moved on. From these walls, you can view the city in its entirety over the rooftops of residential houses.

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After meandering around the perimeter, we decided to go ahead and officially enter the city and roam the streets.

When we first walked the streets of Rothernburg, I felt like I was in such a dream state. I couldn’t believe that such a place not only existed, but functioned as a real city rather than a preserved museum. One of the largest houses on the street has been occupied by the same family for 300 years! As a girl who moved ten times before reaching high school, it was an unthinkable concept. The beauty of the place was just outstanding. I knew I had to see it for myself without any distractions.

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So the next morning, I woke up very early to explore on my own. I took my camera with me, and walked the foggy streets, with nary a visitor in sight. Sleepily, the town woke, as if from a spell. The scenes I captured were just so unreal. There was one in particular that I was on a mission to capture, and it’s of this street corner, which Rothenburg is very famous for.

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I was so happy to get to stand before it alone, and to just think about how many times I’ve seen that same place from someone else’s photograph. I was also super stoked to photograph out without the crowds that occupy this busy street during the day time. I continued to walk around the entire city for an hour or so at my own leisure, before heading back to the hotel to pick up Mike, who woke up, along with the rest of the town.

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There was a Christmas museum and ornament shop in the center of the square that we visited. It’s almost unfair to review this museum, since I was raised by a Filipino family whose DNA carries an extreme likening to this particular holiday. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time visiting the shop (the museum itself was not worth seeing and most definitely not free), but the shop had the biggest collection of ornaments that I have ever seen. We must have spent hours pouring over the bits and baubles, mouths agape, tongue hanging out.

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And it is also here where we had the best meal we had in Germany, which ironically was Italian food. But Mike claims it was the best Italian food he has ever had his whole life, and I greatly concur. The hospitality of the owner and chef was really well felt, and I can’t talk about Rothenburg without recommending his restaurant. How we came about eating there? We were walking back to our hotel (which was fifteen minutes outside of the city) the night prior, after completing the watchman’s tour, and we came across this tiny restaurant, filled with people. There was only two bistro tables outside seating two sets of couples, but the inside of the restaurant was loud, vibrant, bright, and packed. What I remember most was the aroma that wafted out of the place as we walked by. I remember turning to Mike and saying, “We have to come back and eat here tomorrow.” So that we did. Sooooo worth it. It was eating Italian food as good as that from Italy, with German hospitality. The name of the restaurant is Profumo di Pasta da Giuseppe.

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We also had Schneeballen, which were large doughy balls covered with sugar or chocolate or basically any topping you’d desire. It was good, but a little over hyped in my opinion. But still worth trying if you’re looking for something to munch on while you roam.

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Pretty much simply strolling the streets of this town was definitely my favorite part about Germany. Time seemed to have slowed when we were in the city, as if it meant to draw us in and put us to sleep for centuries to come along with it. I find I might have been okay with that.

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