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DEC. 12, 2013

Gifts for Outdoor Adventures: Have a Warm Holiday

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Caroline Toy, Assistant Director

Go into your local outdoor store during the holiday season, and you’ll see mountains of brightly-colored, high-tech gear for sale. Don’t get me wrong—good solid warm-and-fuzzy gear is crucial for camping happily in the winter. But there are tons of great outdoor gifts and activities that don’t mean you’ll break the bank at REI! Here’s a fun project that will yield some beautiful, natural holiday gifts.

Firestarter Cupcakes
Got a lot of old candles? Some sawdust or wood chips? Maybe some holly, pinecones, or acorns from your yard? You’re all set for this fun, environmentally-friendly cold-day activity—and you’ll have a great collection of beautiful firestarters for your winter fireplace or summer s’mores roast!

Collect a bunch of candle stubs from your friends and family—the more the better, because once this project is underway, you should make the biggest quantity you can (more stocking stuffers)! Using two pots, make a double boiler: fill the larger pot 1/3 to half full of water and set it on the stove on high heat. Take the second pot, which should be slightly smaller, and place it inside the first, floating on the water. Put a handful or two of your candle ends in that pot (you might want to use an old or thrift-store pot for this, because it’ll get messy). The double boiler will allow the wax to melt without burning. Stir occasionally.

While your wax is melting, set out some muffin pans and line each cup with a paper cupcake liner. When the wax has melted completely, use a fork to pick out the leftover wicks and throw them away. You can add food coloring at this point if you want. Then, take your wood chips or sawdust (small chips or coarse dust is best), and add them to your wax pot, stirring to make a thick, gloppy blend, like really lumpy oatmeal. Make sure the wood is all coated with wax.

With the pot still in the double boiler, use an old ladle to fill the cupcake liners with the wax and wood chip mixture. While the wax is still warm, use bits of beautiful natural winter foliage to decorate the tops of your “cupcakes”. Holly, acorns, sprigs of evergreens, and other plants that dry nicely work well. Arrange your decorations and press them into the warm wax. Then set the whole muffin pan aside—outside is great—to cool. You should be able to take the cupcakes out of the pan in a few minutes. Repeat until you run out of wax and wood!

When you’re building a fire, just stick one of these in the middle and light it along with your kindling. The wood chips help the cupcakes catch, and act as wicks while the wax burns for 10-15 minutes, long enough to make lighting your other fuel a piece of cake. And unlike other holiday desserts, they keep forever! For a beautiful, useful gift, arrange some of your decorated firestarters in a basket and add a holiday ribbon. Voila!

NOTE: It is possible to use other types of wax for this project (beeswax, paraffin, etc), but you should make sure you check the flash point of your wax before you begin. The double boiler should prevent fire during melting, but spilled low-flash-point wax on your stove can burn, so make sure you quickly wipe away any drops with a wet sponge. If the burning temperature of the wax is too high, you may have trouble getting it to catch in your fireplace. The wax in most candles is ideal for this project because it melts easily and catches fire well when the embedded wood is exposed to direct flame.