Using All Parts of the Pumpkin

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This year, I decided to get ambitious and not let any parts of the three pumpkins I turned into Jack o’ lanterns go to waste. So I rinsed and roasted the seeds and salvaged the parts of the pumpkin “meat” that I cut out to make the Jack o’ lanterns and roasted that as well with some sweet potatoes and parsnips.

The roasted pumpkin we gobbled up that day, but the pumpkin seeds ended up lasting longer than the Jack o’lanterns themselves since it rained right after I put them out. They were covered with black mold well before Halloween.

Luckily, it’s easy to score more pumpkins in late October, but three carved pumpkins were enough for me. I took an easier route for round two.

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To-Go Sukkahs

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I recently invited Alex’s whole preschool class over for Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival. I’ve done a few of these lessons with his class before and I’ve learned a few things about what the kids can handle as far as crafting goes (answer: not much). Plus, it was going to be in our backyard, not at the school, since even my city-sized sukkah isn’t exactly portable. So I wanted to make sure it was simple, but held their attention long enough that they didn’t run amok in the yard.

I decided to have two stations: one with a sukkah coloring page that they could decorate with crayons and fruit and veggie stickers, and the other with a more complicated project where they would make their own “To-Go Sukkahs.”

The coloring went fine, as that’s something they are pretty good at and used to doing at this point. Plus, kids love stickers!

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The To-Go Sukkahs were a little more challenging because it involved a few steps. I had already harvested some leaves from the yard and given them a quick rinse to get the really glaring dirt clods off.

imageThe kids had to take the clean leaves and draw on them with metallic markers. I did an example where I drew on the veins of the leaves, but that seemed to much to ask of 2-4 year olds, so I told them they could draw whatever they wanted.

Then they had to write their names (or have the teacher write their names) on a little tag that would be attached, so we could tell which is which and so they could use these harvest-y stamps that I got at Michael’s. Kids love stamps! Here’s how my example turned out:

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Obviously, the kids were a little less precise, but they got the general idea. Maybe because Alex saw me make the example, he really tried to follow the lines of the veins and did a pretty good job! Most of the other kids just scribbled, but they still looked nice in the end.

Then, while I taught the kids every variation of the horah that I know—one of the best moments of my life, incidentally—one of the teachers tied the appropriate name cards together with each kid’s decorated leaves. Now each preschooler had a little “sukkah” to take home with them and hold over their heads while they are eating at home. (Kind of like mistletoe, but Jewish, so obviously there’s eating involved.)

I’ve done a lot of these Jewish lessons over the last year, and I got by far the most feedback from this one from parents saying that their kids really loved it. I’m not sure if it was the to-go sukkahs, learning the horah or just getting to go on a field trip, but it really seemed to stick with them more than some of the other things I’ve done.

Alex’s to-go sukkah went right into our real sukkah, along with the kids artwork. It was a really fun and festive way to kick off the holiday!

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imageHow do you like them apples? They were made by some very sticky preschoolers in Alex’s class.

I came in to do a lesson on Rosh Hashanah armed with a few PJ Library books about the holiday, a coffee table book with hundreds of apple varieties in them (for inspiration(, some simple apple outlines and lots of cut-up tissue paper.

tissue paper

Each kid had a little bottle cap full of glue (a system the preschool designed, which did keep the over glueing to a minimum). They had a blast dipping the ripped pieces of paper into the bottle caps and then placing them carefully (some more than others) into the apple outline.

Alex and the apple

I had given a little biodiversity lesson beforehand and showed the kids the different sizes and colors for different varieties of apples. I also told them that they could use whatever color tissue paper they wanted, but most stuck with the same color family and didn’t mix it up too much.

The kids did a great job, but of course my favorite came from the little girl who had more than a little help from the teacher.

Finished apple

 

DIY Taco Piñata

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Here is the thing about Pinterest. It’s such a great source of party ideas that I couldn’t help but look at it when I was planning Ethan’s Taco and Beer birthday party. But then I saw this amazingly adorable Taco Piñata from Studio DIY and suddenly the completely acceptable premade chile pepper piñata I was going to buy at the party store just wasn’t good enough anymore. So, off I went, down the taco piñata rabbit hole.

At least my mom was visiting, so that was a big help. The entire piece was definitely more structurally sound because of her input. But I also wanted the piñata to be a surprise for Ethan, so I had to work on it when he (and Alex, who does not yet understand the concept of a “secret”) was out of the house.

But, I got it done! And honestly the construction didn’t take that long. I started with a giant piece of cardboard that I folded in half and cut into my “tortilla.”

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Then I added another piece of cardboard down the center and used A LOT of tape to hold it in place. Note the little door for putting candy in later.

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Before I sealed it up on top, I cut a small hole and pulled the top of a wire hanger through. This is where I would hang the string. My mom also added these little cardboard buttons to each side with twine running between them to give the whole thing a little more structure. IMG_3641

 

The construction of the cardboard portion took about two hours, and that’s with my mom’s help. Then we covered the whole thing with yellow tissue paper and set to work with the really fun (and time-consuming) part: the decorations.

Following Studio DIY’s directions, I bought some yellow crepe paper and cut it into fringe. It took two rolls of crepe paper, but I covered the whole thing.

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My mom covered two big plates with red tissue paper to make the tomatoes, and I manipulated black and green tissue paper to make the other “toppings,” plus added some curls of construction paper “cheese” on top.

 

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I loved it so much I was very sad its entire purpose was to get mangled and destroyed! But I did manage to use it as decoration for the whole party before we brought it out back and tore it to pieces.

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I was a little concerned it was going to fall apart in two seconds (especially when I realized too late that I had put WAY too much candy inside). But it lasted forever! All the kids at the party had a chance to whack at it a few times. (Thanks to my cousin Val for these great pics!)

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Then all the adults who wanted to got a chance to go at it as well.

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As you can see, by the end the poor thing looked pretty beat up, but the structure remained more or less intact. I started to get concerned that maybe we had built it too well. In the end, it was the hanger that gave out and the whole top ripped off. The kids converged on the fallen taco like animals on wounded prey. (Ethan said it reminded him of several of the gorier scenes from The Walking Dead.)

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Everyone had so much fun destroying it that it actually didn’t bother me to see it go into the trash after being picked clean. But if Alex wants a T-Rex or a steam train piñata for his upcoming birthday party, I’m going pre made all the way.

 

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

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