Debra Prinzing

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December has arrived!

Monday, December 1st, 2008

It was 74 degrees and sunny here today in Southern California, but I have wintry visions dancing in my head.

To get into the holiday spirit (even though the leftover turkey and stuffing is still packed in the fridge), I picked up the December issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine, out on newsstands now. That’s where my pal Susan Appleget Hurst serves as the talented senior associate editor for gardens and outdoor living. She blogs as The Everyday Gardener (with colleague Eric Liskey).

When we were last together in September, Susan mentioned that she had worked on a wintry design for iced botanical containers to hold votive candles. (Photo at right: Mary Ann Newcomer aka; Susan, and me, taken while gallivanting around Portland in September).

The idea Susan described sounded gorgeous and sparkly, a creative new way to use favorite ingredients from the garden — leaves, berries, colorful branches and conifer sprays — for holiday decorations. Her twist on the traditional luminaria even found a new use for poinsettias, which are rarely successful as cut flowers.

I spoke with Susan today and congratulated her on the alluring designs, which are splashed across five pages of the magazine. She sent me a web link to a BH&G video demonstration, which makes the project easy-to-understand and replicate.

All you need are a few ingredients and space in the freezer to transform a watery concoction into frozen floral luminarias. Susan’s article begins on page 58 of BH&G. It’s titled “Icy Hot: Bright flowers, twigs, and berries suspended in sparkling ice make naturally beautiful luminarias.”

Susan has a culinary and herb-gardening background, so it didn’t come as a surprise to learn that she has used a similar technique to freeze blooms and herbs into ice rings to float in punch bowls. That handy trick, combined with the editorial challenge of showing readers new ideas for using their garden during the depths of winter, added up to the holiday-on-ice project. The frozen floral ring, best employed for a summery brunch, also taught her that distilled (rather than tap) water is preferred because it freezes clear rather than cloudy.

Susan first captured ruby red poinsettia bracts in a flexible plastic container, arranging each leaf so it’s evenly spaced (see finished project, above). Pour in a little bit of water, say 1/2-way to the top. Then insert a smaller plastic cup, sinking it with a few stones. Pop the entire vessel into the freezer until it’s frozen solid. There are tips in Susan’s article for choosing the right containers and for slightly thawing your creation in order to remove the finished product from the plastic molds.

The poinsettia votive holder was so successful that Susan experimented with colorful cut branches, arranged to stick out around the top of a luminaria like a beautiful nest for an exotic winged creature.

“How on earth did you fit that into the freezer?” I asked.

She laughed and pointed out that the water-and-branch-filled mold (actually a big plastic cake carrier) froze in the outdoor environment of her Des Moines, Iowa, backyard.

“I just needed sustained, freezing temperatures,” she added (assuring me that these conditions do not occur every winter in Des Moines, but they did last year when Susan played around with this project).

Um, okay. Well, since we don’t have an open-air freezer here in my SoCal yard, perhaps I’ll stick to Susan’s smaller projects. Like the ones that use 1-litre and 2-litre pop bottles with the tops cut off.

The Icy Hot story illustrates Susan’s gifted floral design skills. She’s got more tricks up her sleeve and you can find them in future editions of Better Homes & Gardens. Here’s what I managed to get out of her: The February 2009 issue will feature Susan’s inspired new way to design with forced branches and fresh flowers. In April 2009, look for her egg story. I don’t want to give away the details, but suffice it to say she is NOT cooking an omelet or quiche with her eggs!

Happy December. I hope it’s filled with joy and peace for everyone.