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Holiday humor: Ninjabread cookie kit puts gingerbread men in action

Bored with those docile, smiling gingerbread men who show up on cookie plates and tins every year?

This year, Brand Castle a maker of fun cookie baking kits, puts gingerbread in action. The brand's new In the Mix Ninjabread Cookie kit includes the cookie mix, decorating supplies and ninja cutters in four poses: two kickers, one that could be flying through the air and one in a defensive position. 

Pipe on their clothes and scowling expressions, and they'll delight ninja-loving kids and adults alike. And, hopefully, this bit of fun won't be offensive to any true and living ninja warriors. 

Making the 20 cookies requires butter, honey, powdered sugar and a baking pan. Prices can change often at Amazon, but  the kit was selling for $14.14 when we checked. 

Just want to get your hands on some action cutters? There are a few options, including a set sold by Urban Outfitters. Fred, the brand that makes humorous household products (and likely the original Ninjabread cookie cutters) offers a set of three for about $10. They also make ABC cookie cutters, as in "already been chewed." For a smart gag gift or two, is worth a look. We love the "Dinner Winner," a $20 gameboard-style plate and a tray that can turn eating veggies into victory.   



Holiday floral arrangement: pomegranates, orchids and berries

Pomegranates can add unexpected shape and color to a fall floral arrangement. (Photo courtesy POM Wonderful) In the weeks closer to Thanksgiving, it might be challenging to find pomegranates without scarring and suitable for placement in a lovely centerpiece arrangement.

A solution is to keep an eye out now for the best-looking specimens. The website Ehow has instructions for drying pomegranates which we have not tested, but UC Davis in California recommends waxing as a commercial solution. Pomegranates are susceptible to water loss through their skin, and will shrivel with dehydration.

Try coating them with a craft store finish such as glossy ModPodge to add sheen and help keep them plump. 

The Golden Harvest centerpiece was made from a project by POM Wonderful, which supplies fresh pomegranates as well as pomegranate arils and juices to area supermarkets and gourmet food stores. Area florists sometimes stock cymbidium orchids around the holidays, and they can also order them.

Fresh materials: 9 pomegranates, 8 gold cymbidium orchids, 10 stems hypericum berries, 20 magnolia leaves

Supplies and tools: 10-inch by 4-inch cylinder-style glass vase, 2 blocks of floral foam, 8 water tubes, 18 food-safe wood picks (6-inch size, from a florist or found online), 2-1/2 yards double-sided
tape, knife, floral shears, floral tape.

1. Wrap two parallel rows of tape, covered side facing out, horizontally around the very clean vase. Keep the tops of the leaves somewhat even, trim off the leaf bottoms. Remove paper and press leaves around the outside of the vase with the underside facing out, forming an even line at the vase’s base.

2. Submerse foam blocks in water until saturated (about an hour); don’t force down. Cut the blocks with a knife to fit the vase, allowing the foam’s top to extend about a half inch above the rim. Secure with floral tape.

3. Insert two wood picks into each pomegranate and insert evenly around the foam. Tuck the cut hypericum berry clusters between pomegranates.

4. Trim each orchid stem, place in a water tube and tuck into the arrangement.

Note: Lilies, roses, alstroemeria and mums can be used in place of orchids. Omit water tubes for those flowers, which be pushed directly into the moist floral foam.


Easy three-ingredient soup recipe: Creamy kabocha squash and peanut butter

Easy soup recipe: three-ingredient kabocha squash and peanut butter soup 

We could not wait to make the year's first batch of the unbelieveably easy soup made with kabocha squash, a pumpkin with mottled green flesh, and, typically, a small patch of orange. It makes the creamiest, slightly sweet fall soup, and our recipe has only three ingredients: peanut butter, kabocha squash and water. Try it and I guarantee you will become addicted to the ease, the velvety texture and the rich flavor. It's great in a cup for lunch, but also elegant enough to hold its own in a soup tureen on the Thanksgiving buffet table.  

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Hungry kids to clean up grounds at Reeves-Reed Arboretum 

Goats will be arriving at Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit later this month to eat away unwanted vegetation.It's time to get the landscape ready for winter, and if you're feeling exhausted at the mere thought of pulling weeds and removing spent plants from your garden beds, you might wish for a back-saving alternative.

Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit is bringing in hungry kids to do the dirty work.

Don't go calling the authorities about child labor violations, these youngsters are the four-legged type. 

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