Among the many ways the pandemic has altered life in the past two years, it’s really mucked with my ability to remember to have a reusable bag at the ready for grocery store trips. Pre-pandemic, I employed several memory joggers to ensure I wasn’t caught empty-handed at the register. Bunches of bags lived in both Rudalevige vehicles. “Shopping Bags” topped my shopping list, reminding me to go back out to the parking lot to collect them before I placed any items in my cart. I developed a routine of putting away my groceries, wiping down or laundering the bags, and returning them to the cars.

Repurpose paper bags into beautiful wrapping for your holiday presents. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

But that months-long stint early in the pandemic when customers were forbidden from bringing their reusable bags into stores rendered my efforts to remember to use them moot. During that period, I opted for paper bags over plastic until I took to rolling the cashed-out cart of groceries to my car to pack them into bags there in my trunk. Since the statewide single-use plastic bag ban went into effect in July, paper is now my only option when I forget the reusable bags at home, which still seems to happen at a rate of one out of every 10 times I run to Hannaford. My pile of paper bags is considerable, which is why I decided this year’s anchor color for my holiday wrappings is going to be paper bag brown.

A warming cocktail makes the wrapping go faster. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Yes, I always have an anchor color for my holiday wrapping. I make no bones about being an excellent wrapper. Of all the joyful things around the tree, on my table and in the air this time of year, pretty packages hold a special place in my holiday preparations. The ritual of wrapping is part of all my gifts to those I cherish. I typically do it by myself, in the evening, with a bourbon beverage on hand to help stir nostalgia about holidays past.

Disassembling the bags proved to be the most arduous task of producing my upcycled holiday wrapping paper. I used a pair of sharp craft scissors (NOT my kitchen shears, as cutting paper dulls them rapidly) to cut along the seam that every bag has from its open top to its closed bottom. I cut along the bottom of the bag, around all edges of the rectangle, to free the bottom from the sides. The bottoms stack nicely in a kitchen drawer, to be pulled out when I need to drain bacon or other fried foods. Some bags have handles, so I had to gingerly, yet forcefully, separate those and pull off the extra strips of paper and glue that holds them in place. Removing these makes it scads easier to fold the paper around corners. You can iron the paper between dish towels to make it smooth, but I think the creases are part of the paper’s charm. Do use high quality scotch tape or packing tape to secure paper bag wrapping paper around your packages, as little bits of the cheap stuff will not hold.

I’m a long-time fan of wired ribbon because it holds a bow exceptionally well. As my family members and friends open their gifts, I surreptitiously collect the unfurled ribbons, roll them neatly and tuck them away for use the next year. I have ribbons dating back 15 years and I smile when I unroll them for use each year, remembering past Christmas mornings when the kids were little. Some of these ribbons are a little worse for the wear, but I see delight in the frayed edges and patches of worn glitter.

As I did in my annual Martha-Stewart-wannabe-column last year, when I wrote about making clay dough ornaments and gift tags, I employed a few rubber stamps to make fun patterns on the blank paper before wrapping gifts. I also employed a hole punch in a flat piece of paper and lined it with tissue paper for a peek-a-boo feel. For some packages, I made vertical slits in the paper and wove ribbons or pieces of yarn through them to create colorful crisscross patterns. And, finally, I turned to the hemlock and pine trees in my backyard for cones and tiny boughs that add a sustainable feel to my wrapped gifts.

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OK, I’m not just an excellent wrapper. I am a super wrapper, possibly a borderline over-the-top wrapper. I fully understand that many gift givers loathe the wrapping part of the holidays. Regardless of your feelings about the matter, I wish you many hours this holiday season doing whatever it is that brings you joy.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Sip a Brown Paper Plane cocktail while you wrap. Derek Davis/Staff photographer

Brown Paper Plane

Bartenders at famed New York City bar Milk & Honey developed The Paper Plane. I’ve removed the Aperol and added maple syrup to make it more of a Maine-sourced sipper. Other Maine ingredients I use are Liquid Riot Bottling Co.’s Fernet Michaud (an amaro); Split Rock Distilling’s single barrel, cask strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey; and Stonewall Kitchen’s Tillen Farms Rainier Reserve Cherries. I get my maple syrup from Coombs Family Farms.

Makes 1 stiff drink

1½ ounces amaro
1½ ounces bourbon
1 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Lemon twist and cherry for garnish

Combine amaro, bourbon, lemon juice and maple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well for 60 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with lemon twist and a cherry.


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