One Christmas, when I was in my 20s, I decided to get crafty. Maybe it was the ubiquity of Martha Stewart at the time. Maybe I had too much time on my hands. But I decided I would learn to sew and make ornaments for my family Christmas tree by hand. I picked out adorable fabric in splashes of red and green, bought thread and needle, and hunched over the table with a light shining on my work. After a few of the seams burst when I stuffed them with soft cloth, I switched to plastic wrap. That’s right. I scrunched up plastic wrap and stuffed it inside bell and Santa ornaments. One of them still exists and ends up on the tree every year — it’s puffy and bulky and just plain wrong. My mom calls it Rambo Angel.
I just don’t have that gene.
But making salt dough ornaments? Well, this week I learned that I can at least do that.
Lucy is so jazzed about the season that I have let go of my stubborn insistence that I cannot do anything crafty. I’m realizing that what I have meant all these years is that I cannot do those things perfectly or even very well. But I can try. Nothing like a three-year-old’s excitement to remind you that none of this is about being perfect. (“What in this world is perfect?” —Mary Oliver) It’s about doing it, about sitting at the table together when it’s dark at 4:30, music on, hands moving, making memories.
Salt dough ornaments are super easy. Gluten-free? No problem.
Here you go.
2 cups gluten-free flour mix (we used sorghum, potato starch, sweet rice, and cornstarch here)
1 cup kosher salt
about 1 cup lukewarm water
(You don’t have to be so precise with these measurements as when you’re baking. It’s mostly by feel, anyway.)
Put the flour and salt in a stand mixer. Run it. Slowly, add the lukewarm water until the dough comes together around the paddle. It should feel pliable without being sticky. If it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry, add some water. Keep playing until it feels right.
Roll out the dough on a floured table, preferably while two 3-year-olds try to touch it. Persuade them to not eat the dough. It’s too salty. It’s not a cookie, kiddos. Roll out the dough to the thickness you want the ornaments to be.
Cut out shapes with the cookie cutters of your choice. You might want to demonstrate to the kids that the point is to make a clear, sharp line, instead of tapping the star cutter 27 times in the same place.
Put all the shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 200°.
While the oven is preheating, poke one end of a straw into the top of each shape. That will be where you put the hook.
Bake in the 200° oven until the shapes feel firm, which takes 2 hours. Turn off the oven and let the baking sheet sit in there for another hour.
When the shapes have cooled, paint them any way you want. And remind the kiddos that no, this still isn’t a cookie.
We’re making more this weekend, this time with paste and sprinkles. What a fine, imperfect frenzy it will be.
I asked some of my friends what holiday crafts they do with their kids. Here’s some of what they suggested:
“When Aalton was little, we made tiny houses out of cardboard that go under the tree. And at almost 17 yrs, he still pulls them out.”
“You might try a salt dough creche or a gingerbread house! We loved this last year.”
“We’ve done applesauce ornaments (some are still around, 5 years later!), gingerbread people, gingerbread houses, homemade ornaments from yarn and popsicle sticks and construction paper (that only a parent could appreciate), and this year we’re making our own holiday cards, using potato stamps!”
“When the boys were little, we made xmas ornaments with Fimo and Sculpey clay. We still have them… you bake the clay in the oven– it’s very easy.”
“Homemade wrapping paper. We took old paper shopping bags — dipped star and tree cookie cutters in glittery paint and we “stamped” them all over the paper — took two seconds and they will be proud to use it.”
“We cut out little Christmas trees and wreaths and number them to make a “count down” to Christmas. We tape them on the window in the shape of a big wreath and my daughter takes one down every day. That’s about as crafty as we get around here.”
“We decorate a tree outside for the birds. Bird seed ornaments, popcorn & cranberry strings, orange slices, peanut butter & cracker mixes. Then the birds come and we drink hot chocolate and watch them. The trick is to research to learn what our favorite birds will like and then observe to see if this is so.”
“Paper chains–strips of construction paper, glue sticks! (I love crafting, as you know.…but that’s almost as easy as it comes.)”
“Cutest Christmas craft I ever received was an ornament the girls preschool teacher helped them make. Take a largish colored glass ball. Dip child’s hand in white acrylic paint. Place the ball into the child’s hand and make sure each finger touches. Remove ball, do the next one. Each dip of paint seems to get about 3 balls printed with the fingers. Let dry and “help” add details to the 5 snowmen her fingers create. These are fabulous ornaments for all the family members who want to watch her grow.”
Lucy and I (and Danny on his days off) are going to try a bunch of these this week. How about you? What do you like to do?