christmas tree tips

Charlie Brown Christmas 2019Merry Christmas, Texas

If I had to pick one holiday that was our family favorite, CHRISTMAS would be the chosen one!

My Mom “Betty” made our family holidays complete with delicious surprises from the kitchen and let’s not forget about the Christmas decorations *and the tree!* Below are some tips to keep your house alive with the wonderful scent of the holidays, compliments of the live Christmas tree.

Note: There’s no doubt my Mom was a master seamstress plus the Queen of the Kiker kitchen – she scissored-out the recipe below with “pinking shears” – something most people have never heard of!

Foodie Tips

❤  More Christmas? Read this post to learn more about how to choose your yule tree plus score some moderately useless Kiker family holiday history. : )~

❤  There are more not-so-hidden holiday treats here to surprise and delight. Just use the nav at night. Need a boost? Here’s a pic where you can see my Grandmother “Nanny” posing by a tree wider than it was tall!

❤  Bonus recipe! “Wilt proof” preservative might have been the wizard’s magical way to keep holiday greenery alive. Pic below!

MERRIEST to you and yours for the greatest holiday season!

Pine Needle Scent Extracti. Ingredients

1 cup  |  pine needles
⅓ cup  |  rubbing alcohol
⅔ cup  |  water
⅓ cup  |  unscented baby oil

ii. What to do

1. Strip the soft, green needles from the tree (sorry, tree)!

2. Mix together the alcohol and water then add the baby oil.

3. Place the tree needles into the water-oil mixture and blend until smooth (about 2 minutes).

4. Pour the holiday mixture through a strainer and into a container.

Open the container whenever you need a little holiday lift!

~ Patrick

Betty’s Son
Founder and “Nostalgic Food Blogger” of Betty’s Cook NookWilt Proof

magic salt crystal garden

magic salt crystal garden recipe from betty's cook nook A Recipe With No Name

Since recently sharing out tips from the gardening section of Mom’s cookbook I’ve realized that you never know where a surprise might be hiding in her treasure chest of recipes. This recipe had no name but reading the instructions peeked my curiosity so I decided to dive in deep and make it.

I didn’t know what “bluing” was but after a few quick online clicks I landed at this site that solved the mystery. We’re gonna make our own magic crystal garden!

Flashback Fun Days

Back in my day, “fun” wouldn’t have cut it by today’s standards. 

My rock tumbler was about as much fun as watching paint dry or what’s even more exciting … watching a real rock sit still. Don’t even get me started about Pet Rocks. My G.I. Joe helicopter was attached to its clunky battery pack with a wire, not bluetooth. #NoRealFun. Board games were pretty much that – boring! There were days when it seemed like sitting and staring at the sun was just as fun, just as Grumpy Old Man would say! Let’s have a laugh:

There were a few truly fun things that broke through the mundane sea of insanity. In walks magical fun with the likes of Sea Monkeys, Ant Farms and the super melty fun of Shrinky Dinks – these were some of my childhood favorites.

I do remember seeing my first crystal garden – it wasn’t mine but it was just as cool.

I read on Mrs. Stewart’s liquid bluing website that making salt gardens became popular during the Great Depression. So much so the creations are often referred to as a depression flower or a coal garden. Good times! Let’s get to crystal gardening!

Mrs. Stewart's Liquid Bluingtips ~

  You’ll want to secure your bluing before making this garden. It was hard to find it here in Austin so I wound up ordering a 3-pack via Amazon … or  you can order it directly from Mrs. Stewart’s website. I’m going to give it a “go” in the laundry as well!

  While Mom’s original recipe calls for brick or clay pot, you can use anything porous including coal, coke (fuel), charcoal, or pieces of sponge. I decided to go the clay pot route and thought I’d try my hand at fashioning a faux cake out of a mini pot and saucer I found. So I didn’t need the sponge cut into 4 pieces noted below, which were used for blotting.

  Do not use metal or tin containers – Do use glass or plastic!

  Do not touch your crystal formation or it will crumble.
magic salt crystal garden recipe from betty's cook nook
i. ingredients

various | pieces of brick, clay pot, or sponge (anything porous)
| sponge, cut into 4 pieces (optional – see tip above)
assorted colors | food coloring
4 tablespoons | bluing
4 tablespoons | ammonia
4 tablespoons | distilled water
4 tablespoons | iodized salt
| glass or plastic bowl – the flatter the easier to enjoy

ii. what to do

Step 1. If you’re using brick, blot it with a sponge to clean it. Otherwise, skip to Step 2.

Step 2. Drop food coloring onto your base – this will create the colors!

Step 3. Mix together the bluing, ammonia and distilled water to make your solution. Pour this solution over your base material. Sprinkle your creation with salt. Mom’s recipe said it would take 6 hours to grow  but I saw results in about 20 minutes.

Step 4. To keep your garden growing you can add a little more ammonia. I read on Mrs. Stewart’s website to add more of the food coloring, solution and salt on Day 3, but experiment and adjust to your preference.

Next time I’m going to use plain ammonia instead of lemon-scented ammonia which is all I could find at HEB. My crystal garden cupcake was a little “flat” side. I’ll make sure and post updated pictures! I hope you enjoy making your own garden as much as I did!

~ Patrick

Betty’s Son
Founder and “Nostalgic Food Blogger” of Betty’s Cook Nook

Magic Salt Crystal Garden Recipe

A scan of Mom’s original recipe for making a crystal garden!

what to plant in june

A picture of Portulaca from Betty's Cook NookA Rose By Any Other Name…

Funny how life sometimes just reconnects.

This post is just the second vintage gardening tip I’ve made at Betty’s Cook Nook and yet it rings true to my home and heart more than 50 years later.

Boom, Portulaca

Thumbing through Mom’s cookbook I decided to check out what was sprouting in her gardening section. I found the article (below) for what to plant in June.

Some of the plant names I *do not* recognize (sorry, vincas, lycoris and fire bush) … but one resonated 1,000% clear because I just planted this recently discovered summertime favorite in my very own yard ~ PORTULACA!

This plant is a voracious bloomer that makes every blooming hour a happy hour supreme. It’s a low maintenance Texas-lovin’ plant that will treat you to high impact awesomeness. Portulaca is referred to by many names like rock rose, moss rose and eleven o’clock.

For me what’s most amazing is that when I read the June gardening tips in Mom’s cookbook I saw “portulaca” … yet 2 months ago I didn’t even know its name.

Funny how life reconnects.

~ Patrick

Betty’s Son
Founder and “Nostalgic Food Blogger” of Betty’s Cook Nook

gardening tips ~

  My friend Amber who lives in Florida reminded me to finger snip off the blooms after their get-up-and-go has got-up-and-went. It encourages newer blooms.

  Portulaca will freely reseed. I read that if you plant it in a hanging basket to not be surprised if you have baby Potulacas sprout down below. Probably a good problem to have. :)

  You can likely find Portulaca sold in solid colors like yellow and white. But for me the multi-color magic route is the way to go!

What to plant in June from Betty's Cook Nook

What to Plant in June: A snap from Mom’s cookbook. PS ~ Here comes July!


select your yule tree carefully

♫♩♩ It’s Christmastime In The City

My Mom “Betty” had many talents in addition to being a fabulous foodie. She loved crabbing at the Texas Coast, sewing her own clothes (and clothes for us), painting, and gardening.

Mom’s black binder cookbook originated in the 1950s and its first contents were not recipes, but actually gardening tips! I decided to expand this cooking blog of her favorite food picks to include some of the gardening articles that she curated over the years. And what better way to kick us off than with some tips for how to care and feed for the freshest Christmas tree on the block?! Read the 1977 San Antonio Express-News article below for all the details!

Christmas With The Kikers

As soon as the Thanksgiving dishes were clean and safely stored away, all thoughts turned to Christmas. Each year we decorated the house with lighted garlands, hung white lights in our signature front yard mesquite tree, and we found ourselves spending more time sitting by the fire than glued to the television. The kitchen was usually rockin’ the house with wonderful smells. There was ribbon candy, a homemade gingerbread house and if we were lucky, divinity. Also dancing in the air was likely some Bing Crosby or voices singing “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” from a gathering of young and old around our player piano.

Kiker Family Christmas 1976

Kiker Family Christmas 1976

No other holiday time accoutrement could possibly top the Kiker Christmas tree. We usually scouted for the perfect tree at Wolfe Nursery on San Pedro or the Optimist Club’s Christmas tree lot in Alamo Heights. Until the year when Mom and her great friend Joyce both returned from JCPenney with our first artificial Christmas tree ever (gasp!), we had fresh green trees that were perfectly formed, full, and fragrant.

Holiday Streaker

My greatest childhood skill was my ability to run faster than the wind when Mom said dinner was ready. My parents greatest skill? Always having the Polaroid at the ready whenever I was streaking in my favorite leprechaun shoes.

This happened A LOT!

Some years we strung popcorn. In my earlier years our tree was outfitted in tiny multi-colored lights. And as the years advanced we migrated to blue spruce trees adorned with what seemed like hundreds of shiny glass-blown ornaments set among all-white lights. I still have Mom’s green felt tree skirt that was turned into a Christmas tree skirt that she wore when she ice skated as a teenager. Her waist must have been no bigger than 20 inches!

Today I’ve migrated away from live green trees to silver tinsel (shown in the video above). I find it cheaper, faster, and shinier than traditional tree trimming. But I do miss the smell of a fresh tree!

The Main Event

We usually went to Christmas Eve midnight mass at St. Pius – something that was torture for a young kid who crept in and out of consciousness trying to stay awake only to count the seconds until morning would arrive and I could score the presents I “worked” and waited for all year to finally collect! If we were lucky Mom would let us open one present before we went to bed – it was never our grandest gift but something to wet the appetite … and more importantly to keep us (me) quiet.

The next morning I was usually the first one up and I was salivating at the thought of ripping open all the presents I had been counting and coveting for weeks. Usually Mom’s Mom “Nanny” would drive over for “high-time” around 9 or 10 AM when things were in full force. Nanny would often bring her coconut ambrosia fruit salad and Mom would make a meal as grand as Thanksgiving. This was a time for the “good china,” as Mom called it.

Life was plentiful and good.

~ Patrick

Betty’s Son
Founder and “Nostalgic Food Blogger” of Betty’s Cook Nook

Christmastime Tip ~ Why not explore more of the Betty’s Cook Nook Blog by clicking this link. You’ll find more stories and recipes perfect for the happiest of holidays! And check out our old family photos page where you’ll see me sitting on Santa’s lap on one the most frightful days of my life!

A Pic Of Mom's Twelve Days Of Christmas Glasses

A Pic Of Mom’s Twelve Days Of Christmas Glasses

A scan of my Mom Betty's "Christmas tree tips" article

A scan of my Mom Betty’s “Christmas tree tips” article, San Antonio Express-News, December 1977