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    Categories: Lifestyle

Crafts made with care

Alec MacLeod of Oodles of Chocolates sells popular HotChocStics at the recent Make It event in St. Albert. The stocking-stuffer favourite will be available at the St. Albert indoor farmers' market through December.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday – they’re huge shopping days in the U.S. and becoming more so in Canada every year. The appeal of great deals from big name retailers is understandable, but where does that leave the little guy – the crafters and the independent shops? These folk rely on Christmas holiday sales too, and they offer something that can’t be found at any big box store – personal service and unique, handmade gifts for the men and women, young and old, on your list.

Edmonton-area crafter Judy Dehoog brings year-round joy to flower lovers with her floral-filled windows – old wood frames and glass with colourful garden bounty perched between the panes. Using every kind of bloom from Dehoog’s huge backyard garden – peonies, roses, sunflowers, tiger lilies – even sheaves of wheat, wild oats and cattails, plus whimsical treasures such as ladybugs, butterflies, feathers and pieces of old wire, the artist creates a lovely summertime scene for eager buyers.

“It started years ago when my family doctor was retiring. He said he was always sorry he worked in an office without a window – I wanted to give him something to remember my family by, and so began this business,” said Dehoog. “I’m not doing it to get rich – only for the love of it. I’m a sentimental gal. I love when people find meaning and memories from the flowers.”

Like the weathered wood frames, often worn and peeling with paint, that Dehoog said people just bring to her, she also uses reclaimed wallpaper as a background for the flowers, though sometimes she just glues the blooms against the glass to allow light to come through. Dried in her basement in a space Dehoog lovingly calls the vortex – “it sucks the moisture out of everything” – the city gal, who spent much time in the countryside, makes the one-of-a-kind flower windows in all sizes, at costs ranging from $20 to $200.

“I keep stuff out of the dump – my husband said I’m the cheapest date ever, because I’m just as happy to go ditch-diving for bullrushes as anything else,” Dehoog said. Each piece is wired for hanging, signed by Dehoog and titled, with a story of the flowers on the back.

For the next four Saturdays – Nov. 29, Dec. 6, 13 and 20 – the St. Albert Indoor Farmers’ Market will offer late harvest produce and crafty Christmas gift ideas – things such as Oodles of Chocolates and the popular HotChocStics. It’s just what it sounds like – a solid milk chocolate and cocoa mix plus varying added flavours, hardened and set with a spoon stuck inside – and ready to drop into a steaming-hot cup of milk.

The simple but very popular idea that creates a quick gourmet-type homemade hot chocolate is the brainchild of Edna MacLeod. She has taken years of catering and a love of chocolate to a bustling home business of summertime cake bites and wintertime hot chocolate on a stick for sale at farmers’ markets in St. Albert and Edmonton.

“We just did the Make It event at The Enjoy Centre, and sold out of 2,500 HotChocStics by Saturday,” said MacLeod. “It’s a reasonably-priced gift or treat that anyone can afford, and it makes great stocking stuffers or gifts for the teacher or paper carrier. Everyone loves hot chocolate.”

From a zingy Mexican spice hot chocolate with the heat of Aztec chili and spices mixed in, to seasonal mixes with candy cane, mint or gingerbread, MacLeod said shoppers still want the traditional favourites – top-sellers such as classic marshmallow-topped, salted caramel and peanut butter chocolate. White chocolate makes an appearance too, but MacLeod said most buyers are purists when it comes to hot chocolate, opting for the classic flavours.

The individually-packaged treats are $3.50 for one, or six for $20, available at the St. Albert indoor market through December.

Lucy Haines: Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.