Quick and Easy Pickling

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This is the perfect season for pickling because produce is extremely delicious right now. So it’s very tempting to try to preserve that flavor by pickling and jarring these fresh veggies at the peak of their flavor. Unfortunately, if you really want to preserve the flavor for an indefinite period of time, you have to go through the extra step of sterilizing jars.

But you can also do a so-called “quick pickle,” which skips the sterilization steps and allows you to brine fresh veggies in a mixture of vinegar, herbs, water, sugar and salt overnight. There are many recipes out there, but I used one from my recent edition of Food and Wine that had the interesting step of pouring boiling water over dried porcini mushrooms, letting them steep for 30 minutes. Then you stir that mushroom broth (with actual mushrooms removed) with apple cider vinegar, garlic cloves, salt and sugar to make the brine. It’s so easy a three-and-a-half-year-old can do it!

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You can use a lot of different veggies in this tasty brine. But I liked green beans, carrots, cucumbers and radishes. It helps to salt the veggies first and let them sit in a colander for half an hour before pickling. Then rinse the salt off and pat the veggies dry with a paper towel.

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Let the veggies sit in the brine overnight, then drain and serve them up with the vibrancy of the summer season still intact. Unlike a real-deal pickle, they are only good for about a week, but boy will that be one salty, crunchy, flavorful week.

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An Alice in Wonderland Tea Party—for Adults

Alice in Wonderland Party
When my friends Abir and Angela got engaged, I immediately declared that I was going to throw them an engagement party. They said they wanted a garden party feel and that they loved an Alice in Wonderland theme bar in San Diego that they visited right after their engagement. And with that, my descent into Alice in Wonderland-themed madness began.

There are lots of pics out there of Alice-themed parties, but a lot of them are for little kids or for girly bridal showers. Since this party was for the bride AND groom, I decided to concentrate on the “mad tea party” aspect. I knew I wanted people to know this was going to be a “different” kind of party before they even walked in the door.

Rabbit Hole This Way

Follow the White Rabbit

 

I also knew that it was likely that the weather wouldn’t hold up, so I wanted it to feel like the outside, inside. It would be a topsy-turvy Wonderland kind of thing to do, and it would create that “garden party” feeling, even if we couldn’t go out in a real garden.

I wanted to do an astroturf table runner, but my mom suggested I use real grass. I got a roll of sod from Home Depot and created an easy “mad” garden centerpiece with real produce and fake balls of grass on top of my real sod runner.

Indoor garden party centerpiece

On one side of the centerpiece, I stuck skewers with meats and cheeses along with a sign that read, “Don’t step on the mome raths.”

Edible Mome Raths

 

On the other side I had my “mad teas.” One was an Arnold Palmer made with tea-flavored vodka and lemonade and the other was a West Virginia Iced Tea, which was a West Virginia take on a Long Island Iced Tea since the happy couple are from West Virginia. These were served with “Drink Me” glasses, of course.

WV Iced Tea

"Drink Me"

 

I also served an assortment of finger sandwiches, make your own roasted rosemary lamb sandwiches, and “white rabbit” meatballs. The meatballs were actually a mixture of rabbit and pork (because its really hard to get ground rabbit) and they went so fast I wasn’t able to get a picture.

Finger sandwiches

 

Roasted Lamb Sandwiches

 

And what would a tea party be without a little something sweet? I originally planned to make this big jello wedding cake but I foolishly decided to put alcohol in that as well, and it completely fell apart when it came out of the mold. Luckily, my Martha Stewart Cherry Almond Tea Cakes came out great, as did my black and white cake pops.

Cherry Almond Tea Cakes

Black and White Cake Pops

 

Unfortunately, more disaster struck with my meringue mushroom forest. I thought it would be a good idea to keep them upright with a little dab of chocolate on the bottom of their “stems.” But when the chocolate hardened it was almost impossible to get them off the tray. They still looked cute though.

 

Mushroom close up

 

And, as it turned out, the sun held out for a little bit and we were even able to get some real garden time into the garden party. Of course, the Cheshire Cat surveyed the scene with glee.

Cheshire CatAnd since I had brought the outdoors in, I wanted to bring a little civility outside. So, I planted some flowers in teacups for a cute, quick and easy outdoor centerpiece. I used some of my leftovers teacups on the entry table, along with some flowers in a mason jar.

Entry Table Arrangements

Flowers in a Teacup

A” for Alice, “A” for Abir and Angela, and “A” for “A Complete Loon,” which is what I was for planning so many projects for one party. It did turn out A-dorable and A-mazing though, so maybe it was all worth it? I’ll let you know when I’ve recovered.

 

 

 

Upcycled Glass Mushrooms

Upcycled Glass MushroomsI love thrift store shopping, especially when I’m on the hunt for an upcoming DIY project. I thought I really lucked out at Goodwill this time, when I was looking for “stems” to make upcycled glass mushrooms. There were a set of four colored vases, which were fatter at the bottom and curved toward the top. I bought three out of the four and took them home. All I had to do to get them ready was wash them and use a funnel to fill them with some pretty vase filler, so they wouldn’t topple over when the tops were glued on.

Filling the mushrooms
On a different thrift store run, I found three clear, glass bowls to turn into my mushroom caps. I picked the lightest ones I could find, that also had some visual interest. With a quick spray of white paint, they were quickly transformed into mushroom tops.

Mushroom tops

Then came the hard part: attaching the tops to the bottoms. I had bought some heavy-duty glue (E6000) especially for the project and I thought that if I just held the top firmly for a few minutes, the adhesive would kick in and I could let go.

Holding on Tight!Big mistake! It turns out that the slightly sloping tops of the stems (which is exactly what I thought made them such a good choice) did not want to adhere to the sprayed tops, even after I held them for several minutes. Unfortunately, one of my mushrooms fell apart and broke into about a billion pieces all over the kitchen floor before I figured out a much easier solution: a tower of supporting books and boxes to hold the mushrooms steady until the glue was set.

 

A tower of supportLuckily, I only lost one mushroom before I learned this lesson and the other two turned out great! But, since I was down a mushroom, I couldn’t resist adding this little caterpillar to complete the scene.

"U? Who R U?" Making this blue nightmare took about a year off my life and I would not recommend doing it again. But the mushrooms were very easy and would’ve been easier still if I had gone with completely vertical stems—or realized I needed a support system earlier.

 

 

 

 

Beach-Inspired Party Favors

How to make a beach giveaway

 

When I’m inspired by things on Pinterest, I rarely recreate them exactly, but this cute sea glass candy bag was so perfect, I pretty much used The Partiologist’s blueprint exactly.

I had never made candy before and I was so harried during the process, especially since I horribly burned the first batch, that I forgot to take any pictures. (Ever wondered what burnt watermelon tastes like? Don’t!) But The Partiologist has an excellent tutorial, complete with recipe, at the above link and I suggest following that.

The other main components of the bag were simple. I made white chocolate sea shells using melted white chocolate with some yellow Candy Melts mixed in to give it a nice swirled appearance.

White and Yellow melted chocolate

 

The shells came out pretty easily, though the ones that overflowed the top of the mold a little needed to be cut down to lose the extra chocolate around the shells.

Chocolate sea shells

 

Then I filled the gift bags with about 2 tablespoons of raw sugar, to give it a nice “sandy” base. I placed the coconut-flavored “sea glass” in first, and then the chocolate shell in front.

Candy sea glass, shells and sand

 

I made the gift tags by printing out the design on card stock and then using my new gift-tag hole punch and a regular circular hole punch. (You could also just buy ready-made tags and write in or print the info, or go without tags completely.)

Gift TagsI tied the whole thing together with a twist tie, covered by a little piece of aqua tulle and the gift tag, which had the date of my friends’ beach wedding on it. I was really trying to mimic the Partiologist’s bags as much as possible because I thought they were perfect as is. Aside from the fact that my sea-glass turned out a little greener (because I added a drop of green food coloring to my candied sea glass, instead of all blue) I think I did a pretty good job!

Completed gift bagI nestled all 30 gift bags into a basket with a little raffia and left the basket by the door for partygoers to take with them as they left the engagement party. I’m not going to lie: this whole process, from making the two different candies, to bagging them all up, to making the gift tags, took a lot of time. But it was also my first time making candy and now I will not be intimidated about doing it in the future. Really, each of the steps was pretty simple. There’s just a lot of them. The results are pretty adorable though and perfect for promoting or remembering a beach-themed event.

Beach bags ready to go

 

 

Super Easy Herb-Infused Vodkas

A Simple Process to infuse vodka

Herb-infused cocktails are quickly becoming a staple in bars throughout the city, and for good reason. They can be delicious, add a little something special to an otherwise straightforward drink and, as I discovered recently, they are incredibly easy to make.

The whole process is really straightforward:

1. Decide on your herbs. I chose rosemary (since it is currently taking over the backyard), mint and basil. But you could pick anything else that appeals to you.

2. Get as many clear wine bottles as you need. I attended a weekend-long bachelorette party right before I started this project. So, not a problem.

3. Remove the labels from those bottles. Two of mine came off easily with hot water and soap. But the more stubborn one required  a little Goo-Gone, and it too was soon label free.

4. Artfully arrange your herbs and put them in the bottles. The rosemary was long enough to maintain a nice-looking structure on its own, but the others I tied up with a sprig of herbs before slowly pushing them into the bottles. They stayed intact the whole time and I didn’t have any herbs floating around untethered.

Herbs in bottles, ready for infusion

 

5. Use a funnel and pour in your vodka. I used a mid-range vodka that I got at BevMo and it worked great.

6. Look how pretty! It really did look impressive, both on my counter as it was aging and when I served it at an engagement party a week later. I got many oohs and ahhs.

Herb-Infused Vodkas

7. Let it sit. When I was researching this project, some people said you could infuse vodkas in just a few days, others said about two weeks. For me, a week was plenty of time for lots of herby flavors to develop.

8. Drink it! At the party, I gave people a list of cocktail suggestions. I don’t know how many people took those suggestions, but I had fun coming up with the combos and the cute names based on the happy couple.

 

The Cocktail List

 

By the way, the favorite by far, judging by how quickly it was gone, was the basil. I preferred the mint myself. But they were all finished off before the party ended and, since it’s so easy to do, I’ll definitely make more of all of them in the future.

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Jewelry Displayed As Art

imageI’ve been wanting to organize my jewelry, especially my most easily tangled necklaces, for some time. One day at the flea market I noticed that one of the vendors was selling a display case from a jewelry store, and bam, another DIY project was born.

I started with a 2′ x 3′ frame I picked up at Goodwill for $15.

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I removed the Monet-ish print and glass and lay down a yard of navy blue velvet that seemed very luxe, even though it was only $25 from Jo-Anne Fabric.

Blue VelvetThen I put in a 2′ x 3′ cork board, which I had ordered online for about $10, and put the cardboard backing that came with the frame back on top of the cork board. I folded the velvet over the top of the cardboard and just sealed it up with the metal prongs that came with the frame.

All Closed UpThe whole process took maybe an hour, and even before I put any of my jewelry on it, I loved how it turned out.

Framed Velvet CorkboardAs they say on Project Runway, “It looks expensive!” And that’s before I added the jewelry. I used jeweled pushpins to hold the necklaces in place, made some strategic decisions about what to place where, and it all came together really quickly. I did have some delusions that I’d be able to straighten up the entire mess that is my vanity with this project, but sadly even with a six square feet of hanging space it could only handle about a dozen necklaces. But I was able to find a home for the most delicate pieces and the chunkier items now have more room to hang on my vanity.

Jewelry DisplayWhen Alex first saw this, his mouth dropped open and he just said, “Wowwwwwww” in a very wonder-filled way. So that made it worth it right there. I just hope I haven’t made it too enticing and he leaves it alone.

As a side benefit, I was also inspired to straighten up my vanity. We’ll see how long it stays this way, but at least for now it seems like a very relaxing, luxurious place to get ready. Now I just need to find some time to sit down there, and I’ll be all set.

Entire Vanity

Toilet Paper Roll Purim Crowns

Purim is coming up and I searched all over Pinterest for quick crown projects I could do with Alex’s preschool class. Their attention span is about 14 seconds so it had to be quick, and I was coming back from vacation the day before going into the classroom, so there couldn’t be much prep. Luckily, I found inspiration from these adorable toilet paper crowns.

The crowns I saw online were great, but I knew I couldn’t demand anything too fancy from three and four year olds. I decided to just precut the toilet paper rolls for them and let them decorate the crowns themselves.

Toilet Paper Crowns in Progress

 

I brought the blanks into preschool and let the kids put their names on them, or draw on them if they didn’t know their letters, and then had them go crazy with little rhinestone stickers. All of that went great, but then when it came time to put the crowns on, there were MANY issues with the elastic thread I got at the hobby store. I made a little hole on either side of the bottom of the roll and thought it would be no problem to get the string through and tie them on either side. The thread went through, but when the kids actually started playing with them, either the string snapped or the knots didn’t stay tied, so I would definitely recommend going with something a little stronger even if it isn’t as invisible.

In the end, they were very cute! I will definitely try this one again! It’s good for Purim, or birthdays or any other time teeny, tiny crowns are called for.

Crowns on!

King Alex

Why Is This Picture So Repinnable?

Like every other woman (and some men) in America, I love Pinterest. It’s a great place to find inspiration for decor, recipes and especially parties. It’s always very exciting when someone repins one of my pins, especially if it’s something original that I’m contributing to the Pinterest Universe and not just the millionth repin of a succulent under a bell jar. I’ve gotten a few repins for things I’ve posted, which always feels nice, but nothing has compared to the repinnapalooza of (drumroll please)…

Stacked Teapot and Teacup Centerpiece

 

It’s a teapot and teacup centerpiece that I found on Etsy while researching an engagement tea party I’m planning to throw this spring. It’s from Edie’s Chic Crafts in Queens and it’s one of the many stacked teapot and teacup centerpieces that “Edie” has on offer for about $50.

It’s not a bad price, but that doesn’t include shipping and I’m not sure how she gets it to you in one piece. But this is beside the point. The point is, ever since I posted that pic, I’ve been receiving several of those “someone has repinned one of your pins” emails every day. Just this morning, I got four more. I just cannot figure out why!

Obviously, it’s a cute centerpiece; that’s why I pinned it in the first place. But if you look on Pinterest (and I have) there are a million pictures of very similar tea party centerpieces, so I don’t get why this one stands out so much. Maybe it’s the addition of the flowers and butterflies? The single strand of pearls? By the way, this is one of Edie’s most restrained teacup centerpieces, so if people like the excess they should check out her other displays. Look at the doodads on this one!

Red and Black Teacup Centerpiece

Maybe it’s just that other people, like myself, are starting to look for inspiration for their upcoming spring parties so they are repinning every picture of tea party centerpieces they can find, this one included? Maybe Pinterest has given it some position of prominence I am unaware of? I really don’t know, but I find it fascinating. Fingers crossed that the pics I pin from my actual tea party get as much repining action as this one!

 

 

DIY Decals

If you live in California, or anywhere that is likely to be hit by an earthquake, you are very limited in what you can hang over your children’s beds, since you wouldn’t want anything to fall on them when the inevitable “big one” hits. Still, a kids room needs some interesting things on the walls to make it more fun, so I really wanted to put up some kind of wall decal in Alex’s room. I looked around ALOT but couldn’t find any that I really liked. Or if I did like it, it was ridiculously expensive.

Then I stumbled across this post with DIY Decals that Danielle Thompson of Kitschy Digitals did on her boys’ room. I loved the idea that if I couldn’t find a decal I really liked, I could just make my own. So I decided that, with Alex’s transportation theme and awesome map paper airplanes that I got at a craft fair, I would steal Danielle’s idea of overlapping clouds as well.

And that is where my long descent into DIY decal madness began.

Danielle created really fun technicolor cloud decals, but I wanted Alex’s room to be a little more serene (in the hopes of eliciting better and longer nap times). Plus I had already bought these vintage-looking airplane sheets on clearance from Pottery Barn Kids, so I had a blue, gray, olive color scheme going on, not to mention very beige paint.

Pottery Barn Sheets

 

I brought the pillow case to two fabric stores and selected a few fabrics that weren’t too expensive, would go with the color scheme, and also make for good clouds. I really lucked out with one that had a raindrop pattern on it! I had read online that you don’t want to use heavy fabrics for this project because they don’t stick as well. But some of the (cheaper) fabrics I ended up selecting were so light that they were really difficult to cut. There were many hand cramps and stops and starts with this project.

 

Cloud cutting

 

When I switched to the nicer fabrics with a bit more structure to them, things went a lot faster and soon I had all my clouds cut. I decided to use the same fabrics to make a decal of Alex’s name. I did the clouds more or less freeform, but I wanted the letters to be consistent so I printed some I found online, traced and then cut.

"E" Stencil

 

The next step was to make the cornstarch “glue” to hold the decals on the wall. The recipe I got from How About Orange was very easy: Stir 1/4 cup corn starch into 1/2 cup cold water. Then pour in 4 cups of boiling water and mix it up. I even had Alex help with the stirring. As you can see, it made a lot of cornstarch. But then, I had made a lot of clouds.

Cornstarch

One day when Alex was at preschool, I got to work. I laid out the clouds on his dresser and just started painting the cornstarch on, one by one.

Clouds and Cornstarch

I was actually really surprised by how well the cornstarch worked. I would “paint” the back of each cloud on the dresser, stick it on the wall, and then paint over the front when I had it in position. One of the nice things about doing decals this way is that if you mess up your placement, you can just move things around. (Unlike many store-bought decals, where you only get one shot to get it on right.) I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, but it was nice to have that flexibility. I used his wipes to wipe up any extra cornstarch on the table or the wall.

The whole thing was pretty easy, EXCEPT that I had traced the letters on the fabric with Alex’s magic markers, thinking any leftover ink would be on the backside, and wouldn’t matter. But, very predictably, the ink started to seep through the fabric as soon as I added the cornstarch. I ended up having to redo a few letters, which was just annoying and completely my own fault. But aside from that one issue, the clouds and letters all went up in about two hours.

And I have to say, they came out amazing.

Clouds up

Alex's Room

Clouds Complete

 

I was so excited for Alex to see his new and improved room when he got home from school. I didn’t say anything to him about it and let him discover it on his own. At first, he absolutely HATED it. I think, “You have until the end of the day, and then these are coming down!” was how he put it. Understandably, I was completely crushed.

But when we started showing him how he could interact with the clouds with his superhero and airplane toys he came around. They’ve been up for about a week and I haven’t heard anything negative from him about it in days. I don’t want to rock the boat, but I was thinking about adding a clothes line where we could hang various air transportation cut outs (biplanes, hot air balloons, etc.) or I may just leave it as is. I really do love how it turned out!

Toy Bins: From Baby to Big Boy

Toy bins are a great update on the old toy box most of us had as kids. Rather than one big heavy box with an equally heavy and hard to prop up lid that might knock your toddler unconscious, you have numerous bins that kids can get out themselves and help put away during clean-up time. Many people also use different bins to help keep toys organized, but I have to admit that as long as it’s in a bin and not out on the floor I consider that organized enough.

When Alex was a baby, I got lots of cute animal bins from Target’s in-house Circo brand. The animals were fun and lively and the primary colors went with his crib bedding and drapes. Especially since his closet didn’t have a door on it, it was really important to at least give the appearance of organization and the soft, cloth Target bins were perfect.

Organized Doorless Closet

 

But now that Alex is older, the old animal bins don’t excite him the way, well, anything with wheels does. They also don’t go with the vintage transportation theme and more subdued color palate of his new big boy room. So, time for new bins!

Luckily, One King’s Lane was doing a kids storage sale, so I snapped up these great transportation-themed storage bins from Sprout at a discount.

Sprout Cardboard BinsEach cardboard bin has a small car, bike or plane printed on one side and a close-up of that mode of transit on the other side. This way you look like you have six different bins but it’s really just three that you can mix and match. I also repurposed some of Alex’s old bins (for example, turning a frog bin around so the frog part faces inward) to add a little color and provide more storage. (Six bins was not going to cut it for all his toys and books!)

 

New Bins in Place

 

 

As you can see, not everything makes it into the bins every time, but most things do and I consider that a victory. Even though I was a little concerned that the cardboard wouldn’t stand up to his constant pummeling, so far so good! He even put his toys away without being asked the other day—a feat so uncommon it literally stopped me in my tracks when I came in to get him after nap time and saw the rug clean and Matchbox car free.

So, the transportation room inches forward. The next big mission is to get something up on his still pretty bare walls. Hopefully, I’ll have something to show (other than his awesome stage coach magnet wall) soon!

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