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A Holiday Classic

Easy Christmas craft; vanity lighting; cool cooking

Simple-to-make pomanders use cloves to add a fragrant touch to holiday displays.
Simple-to-make pomanders use cloves to add a fragrant touch to holiday displays. (John Tlumacki / Globe Staff Photo)

I am not the arts-and-crafts type, but I would like to add some handcrafted decorations to my holiday lineup. Any ideas for simple homemade items?

Linda G. Dorchester

Pomanders – fruits stuck with cloves and rolled in herbs (usually some combination of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg) – couldn't be simpler. These aromatic balls get their name from the French pomme d'ambre, meaning “apple of ambergris,” a reference to gray amber, an aromatic substance used in perfume. Though their origin dates to medieval Europe, they were part of most Colonial American households. Pomanders are easy to make by studding oranges, tangerines, lemons, or apples with whole cloves. The raw materials are inexpensive, but be warned – each piece of fruit needs several cans of cloves, so that there's no fruit showing when you are done. I recommend buying the cloves in bulk from a supplier such as Penzeys Spices in Arlington (781-646-7707) or Christina's Spice and Specialty Foods in Cambridge (617-576-2090).

You can make the decorations while watching a movie or talking on the phone. Make the holes for the cloves with a skewer or hatpin, and insert the cloves as close together as possible. Clear directions for making pomanders are available at ehow.com and www.pioneerthinking.com.

Pomanders make great mantel decorations used alone or in combination with evergreen garlands, and they keep well through the holiday season. I've even kept some from year to year.

We're redoing our bathroom, and we're looking for attractive lighting that my husband can shave by and that I can use when I apply my makeup.

Helen F. Duxbury

To get good, attractive lighting, I suggest installing wall sconces on either side of the bathroom mirror. The fixtures should be around 36 inches apart and at eye level. While fluorescent lighting is more efficient and often uses less expensive bulbs, in this case incandescent lighting is preferable, as the color of the light is more flattering and easier on the eyes. Three quite modern fixtures we like are the Alkco Lincandescent (alkco.com), the Prandina Flou W1 (prandina.it), and the Ginger Kubic (gingerco.com). More traditional favorites are available from Lucid Lighting (lucidlighting.com), Thomas O'Brien for Visual Comfort & Co. (visualcomfort.com), and Rejuvenation (rejuvenation.com). Local retailers include Wolfers (wolferslighting.com), Chimera in South Boston (617-542-3233), and Neena's (neenaslighting.com).

For 25 years, I've used a gas stove to cook family meals, but now we are moving to an all-electric apartment. I'm a serious cook and wonder whether I'll be able to make the change to electric. What are the best options?

Liz C. Cambridge

Even though gas has long been the fuel of choice for serious cooks, induction cooking is an electric technology you should investigate. It's used in European restaurants, and several companies have developed induction cooktops for the American residential market.

On traditional electric ranges, the burner heats up, then the pan, and finally the food gets hot. Induction cooktops are made of a series of burners called induction coils. The coils generate magnetic fields that induce a warming reaction in certain pots and pans. It is the pan, not the burner element, that gets hot and heats the food. The cooktop may retain some residual heat from the pan, however, and therefore feel warm after it is turned off. If a burner is turned on and no appropriate pot is set on it, it will turn itself off. Because induction cooktops heat up quickly and are energy efficient, they require less cooking time than traditional electric cooktops. And they are easy to clean and come in standard sizes. Induction works only with pans that allow a magnetic flow through them; stainless-steel and cast-iron pots will work, but copper, aluminum, and glass pots won't.

Induction cooktops are more expensive than traditional electric cooktops, but over several years, their energy efficiency will help offset the cost. Companies that make them include Wolf (subzero.com), Viking (vikingrange.com), and Diva de Provence (divainduction.com). They are available at Tri-City Sales in Salem and Ipswich (tri-city-sales.com) and at Yale Electric in Dorchester (yaleappliance.com).

Interior designer Sandra Fairbank is a partner with her husband, architect Toby Fairbank, in Fairbank Design of Cambridge. Interior designer Sandra Fairbank is a partner with her husband, architect Toby Fairbank, in Fairbank Design of Cambridge.

NEED HELP WITH HOME DESIGN? E-mail questions to askthedesigner@globe.com or mail them to The Boston Globe Magazine/Ask the Designer, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819.

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