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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

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You can now purchase microwavable bowls of white, dark, and semi-sweet chocolate for dipping strawberries.
You can now purchase microwavable bowls of white, dark, and semi-sweet chocolate for dipping strawberries.

A gift a day: homemade decorations and tasty treats

Looking for some inexpensive holiday gifts? Why not give from the heart, and feed the stomach, or your child's imagination?

Especially if you have little ones, making holiday gifts together can help teach them the true value of holiday giving, and following the old adage, "it's the thought that counts." If you have time to go thrifting or antiquing, you can usually find some beautiful, kitschy, or just fun containers for items like homemade cookies, infused olive oils, or even from scratch Irish cream, wine, beer, or eggnog. Just be certain to properly clean and sanitize your containers as needed. Here are a few easy ideas to get you started:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries
You can now purchase microwavable bowls of white, dark, and semi-sweet chocolate for dipping strawberries which is a great project to do with the little ones. Just wash and thoroughly dry about 5 dozen strawberries and spread them out on waxed paper on the counter or table. Follow the directions on the package for melting the chocolate, and then grasp the top of the strawberry and dip into the chocolate, swirling slightly to remove the excess. Set on the waxed paper and allow to cool about 30 minutes before refrigerating.

Salt Dough Ornaments
2 cups of plain flour (not self-raising)
1 cup fine grained plain salt
1/2-1 cup water at room temperature or a little warmer
Acrylic paints or markers
Clear varnish (if you want shiny ornaments)
Ornament hooks or silver, clear, or gold string

You probably remember using salt dough as a kid, but it's a versatile enough dough that big people can use it for crafts and holiday gifts as well. Mix together your salt and flour and then slowly add in your water until the dough takes on a firm, but not too wet consistency. Knead the dough thoroughly, and then use rolling pins, cookie cutters, cups, or whatever you like to create your ornaments. (Don't forget to make a hole with a straw for the hook or hanging string.)

Once they are shaped, decorate them, …

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Good service can make a simple plate of french fries all the better.
Good service can make a simple plate of french fries all the better.

A nearly perfect dining experience in Door County

On a recent trip to Door County, Scott and I enjoyed one of the best restaurant meals we've had in awhile.

We came upon this meal at a little place in Fish Creek called The Cookery.

The place, while pretty, is really nothing to look at, and it kind of reminded me of a fancy school cafeteria when we walked in. There was an all you can eat soup and salad buffet set up frilly lunch-lady style with a big tureen of whitefish chowder and big bowls of salads with various containers of toppings, and at the end of the table was an assembly of tiny sweets.

The menu was nothing fancy, and everything was reasonably priced and simple. In fact, we settled in to two lemonades and we split a perch sandwich with French fries and a grilled ham and cheese with homemade potato salad and applesauce.

But from the second we walked in the door until the moment we left, everything was perfect.

We were greeted at the door, and immediately seated by a server who seemed happy we came; our lemonades and our sandwiches came quickly and correctly. The food was hot but not too hot, the bread perfectly toasted, the fish wasn't remotely greasy, and the fries were crisp. When our drinks got low, the server came over, smiling, and refilled our glasses and when we were finishing up our plates, they were cleared. She brought our check promptly, and thanked us for coming.

It was such an all around wonderful experience. It was simple, well-thought out, and perfect. And when I left, I literally had a smile on my face and a skip in my step.

It's amazing how the little things, like a friendly greeting, a cold drink, and a basic, but extraordinarily executed sandwich and a handful of salty fries can mean so very much.