The Season of Giving

December 22nd 2009

bow The Season of GivingIt’s easy to keep your head down, hold your breath, and just get through the holidays to the other side. Sometimes the season just doesn’t seem as much fun as it did when we were kids. We let our obligations remove us from the enjoyment.

Don’t try to do everything and don’t try to do more than you really can. We are all Martha Stewart wannabes, but remember that you don’t have a staff of people like she does.

Hanging out with your friends can help drag you back into the holiday spirit. Often the holidays become more about marking things off a list than really giving of yourself. Talk to your friends about volunteering together for the holidays. You could serve food at a mission or soup kitchen. They always need extra help around the holidays. Another option is to help out a food pantry by scheduling some time there. This year the food pantries have been hit hard serving more people than expected.

Of course, you can always donate money if time is not an option. The purpose of this is to get that spirit of loving your neighbors and helping those who need it, anyway you can.

If you are handy you could look into Habitat for humanity or another organization that helps elderly people do painting and repairs on their houses. Or maybe you want to start something that can last all year. Check out idealist.org for hundreds of opportunities you can search for by location and type of skills required. Another wonderful source is Volunteermatch.org.

You and your friends can also adopt a family to bring presents and Christmas dinner to. Children who would go without if you don’t help. Most of us have so much in our lives and it only makes it better when we share it with others.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Occasions | No Comments »

Secret Santa Party

December 16th 2009

santa cat Secret Santa PartyShow your friends that you’re thinking of them this holiday season without breaking the bank. It’s nice to buy presents for everyone if you can afford it, but there are ways to spend less money and still have a ton of fun.

The traditional secret Santa requires a little planning but it’s not too late. Each person only buys one present and everyone leaves with something just for them. I like secret Santa because you can match people together and all but assure that everyone’s holiday will be a little happier. Of course you can also leave it up to fate and have people draw form a bag (or you can download a program that duplicates it right on your computer).

Either way you can send out email to let people know who they are buying for. It’s best to have a price range. Usually under 20 dollars, but if someone is making something make sure they take their time into account too. In fact if your friends are crafty you could have a completely handmade exchange.

You can arrange your party around an exchange theme if you want. Exchange ornaments, liquors, funny shirts, anything that you think all of your friends would like. This year I’m focusing on handmade items for my friends. Check out instructables.com or http://blog.craftzine.com/ for great crafty ideas.

Have everyone bring their favorite holiday dish for a nice buffet spread and put out on your bright red Pimento sengware dinnerware to create the perfect table. Ahead of time mix a nice drink with a bottle of sparkling wine and Chambord in a pitcher for a festive red drink. Also grab some lime sparking water and add some cranberry juice for your non-alcoholic alternative that’s just as pretty.

Send out an evite about your little soirée and give all the pertinent details to your friends. No matter how you decide to exchange gifts you will all enjoy celebrating the holidays together.

Posted by Myriam under Gifts & Holiday Entertaining & Occasions & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Food and Cooking Holiday Gifts

December 9th 2009

gift Food and Cooking Holiday GiftsI love to give gifts and try to sprinkle them in all during the year. Buying gifts can be one of the hardest tasks during the holidays if you didn’t plan far enough ahead. One of the things I do is start filling up my gift closet the day after Christmas to prepare for next year. (And all the birthdays in between!) It also spreads the cost across the whole year. I don’t know about you but I have to buy for 4 birthdays in early January in addition to Christmas presents.

But it’s December now, and you can’t go back in time and have all your shopping done. Avoid breaking the bank with some of these inexpensive gift ideas.

Gifts from and for the kitchen are always welcome. Think about your friend and what they love to have in their kitchen. A collection of hot sauces for a chili pepper lover, fresh herb seeds or a few herb plants for the locavore in your life, or even a slow cooker for someone that’s having trouble fitting cooking into their schedule. An inexpensive slow cooker and/or rice cooker can really help out a spread-thin Mom everyday to cook for her whole family.

Don’t forget that a tin of holiday cookies or gingerbread can bring the holiday smells into a house that might otherwise go without. This is especially welcomed by elderly relatives or neighbors, students, and new parents. If you know that someone really likes your special muffins or another signature dish of yours, make a nice recipe card for them and include it in a basket of the ingredients to make the dish.

If you have a sick relative or even just an overwhelmed friend, you could fill their freezer with individual homemade microwave dinners. Make some extra for your freezer too and you’ll be assured to start the new year off eating right.

If you have a friend that was diagnosed with a gluten allergy, a great gluten free baking book like ‘Babycakes’ would be a huge help. A basket full of gluten-free holiday goodies would go pretty far too! It can be really hard to avoid wheat during the holidays, so you’ll really be giving them the holiday they didn’t think they would have this year.

The old stand by of coupons for one of their favorite home-cooked meals is still a perfect gift. The most important thing to keep in mind is that a gift supports the person’s lifestyle and hopefully makes it just a little bit easier.

Posted by Myriam under Gifts & Holiday Entertaining & Occasions | No Comments »

Throw an Ornament Making Party

November 30th 2009

dinnerware ornament Throw an Ornament Making PartyEver since I was in college I’ve hosted an annual Christmas tree decorating party. I’d buy a live tree and all my friends would make ornaments out of things they had around the house. You’d be surprised at how creative you can get when you don’t have the money to run out and buy ornaments. Cotton ball snowmen with felt cut out for their faces, paper cut out snowflakes, fresh oranges with cloves stuck in them all make an unique tree.

Now I have a whole supply of crafting supplies and tools, not to mention access to half price Michaels’ coupons. You can still make popcorn balls, string fresh cranberries, and create paper doll angels. But there’s a wide variety of crafting ideas for you to choose from. You can make ornaments from wire, cereal boxes, silk flowers, beads, yarn, and more. Need some help getting you ideas into reality? Disney’s Family Fun site has a ton of great ornament tutorials. I love the felted wreath one myself.

Decide on a few specific ornaments to make and purchase the supplies ahead of time. It’s a good idea to cover your dinner table with plastic bags and tape them securely underneath. If you will have kids at the party, you might want to put down a drop cloth too. It won’t make you happy if you have red paint on your beige carpet. But with the right precautions, there will be nothing to worry about.

Put on Christmas music to set the atmosphere. If your prefer play a few old Christmas movies or cartoons. Either way it will set the mood for your party. Make a Crockpot full of hot apple cider. Add cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole peppercorns, and orange rind to make it taste really special. You can have a nice rum or bourbon for adults to add to theirs if they want. Next year I bet someone will ask you to make it again. It’s always popular at my house during the holidays.

People work up an appetite creating ornaments, so you’ll need to make some snacks. A tray of finger sandwiches is always a welcome sight. Make sure to include something for vegetarians, and make a few lettuce wraps if you have any friends with a gluten allergy. You can use the same fillings in the lettuce wraps. Bib lettuce or iceberg hold up the best as a wrap. They will all look beautiful arranged on a Noritake holiday plate. Assorted bar cookies are another winner. Peppermint brownies and cranberry blondies are beautiful additions to your spread. Your table will be all dressed up for Christmas as well.

Posted by Myriam under Decorations & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Throw a Leftover Party

November 27th 2009

dinnerwareturkey Throw a Leftover PartyChances are no matter where you were yesterday for Thanksgiving, you have leftovers. Even if you didn’t host dinner, you probably had a bag of leftovers packed up and sent with you. Relatives and friends alike love to think they’re helping us out. Especially when they are overwhelmed with leftovers themselves.

You could heat and eat the same old meal. Or you can think of each dish as a single ingredient and create some new dishes in a mini Iron Chef competition with yourself. By creating new dishes you’ll stretch your food budget, and surprise yourself with your creativity.

Have a pizza shell in the fridge or some dough in the freezer? Try making pizza with some of your leftovers. Try bbq turkey with shredded turkey, pre-made bbq sauce, chopped onions and bell pepper. Add some drained, canned pineapple if you’re feeling adventurous. You could also toss some turkey in pesto sauce spread over a crust, top it off with crumbled goat cheese and some leftover cranberry sauce. Make a vegetarian pizza with sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce on a crust covered in a garlic butter sauce.

Pasta is another great option. You could make a left over casserole with whole wheat ziti, turkey, leftover veggies, Use leftover gravy or a mushroom sauce to bind everything together. Toast leftover dressing and crumble over the top.

Turkey lasagna with a sweet potato cream sauce and spinach is another favorite. Or try egg noodles combined with turkey and green bean casserole – add a little milk to loosen it up if needed.

Have some leftover creamed corn? Try mixing it with diced pepperoncini peppers, and some turkey or grilled shrimp. Toss the mixture with angel hair pasta. Creamed corn is also the perfect base for a corn chowder. Just add milk, diced red peppers, cubed potatoes, more frozen corn if needed, and some fresh thyme. It’s my favorite cold weather soup.

If you made the turkey at your house this year, you can use the carcass to make turkey broth. It freezes great. You can put it in quart containers, or freeze in ice cube trays and store in Ziploc bags. It’s great to be able to take out a few cubes of stock at a time. Much better than opening a carton of stock for a few tablespoons worth.

Don’t forget the power of omelets. Any of the mixtures above would work great. Turkey and goat cheese is one of my favorites, but you can use any cheese you have on hand. Omelets are perfect for using up the tiniest leftovers.

Take these ideas and invite some of your friends over for a Thanksgiving leftover party. It just may be the least expensive party you’ve thrown all year!

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Occasions & Recipes | No Comments »

Be a Calm Holiday Hostess

November 20th 2009

dinnerware peppermint candy 1 Be a Calm Holiday HostessThe holiday season is starting and you may already be stressed out. It seems that the holiday season starts earlier every year. My parents said that because the end of the year just seemed to sneak up on them. Now, it’s from going into Lowe’s and seeing Christmas decorations up. And that’s before Halloween even starts!

The stores are marking down prices now to get the jump on Black Friday sales. The congestion in Costco makes my weekly errand something I won’t do on the weekend anymore. I hate being bumped into, but even worse is when someone actually hits you with a cart!

The hard part is really enjoying the holidays instead of letting them sap your energy. In the midst of taking care of everyone else, you really must take some time for yourself. A 5 minute coffee break isn’t going to do the trick. In fact, now is the perfect time to limit your caffeine intake. Too much caffeine, sugar, or even alcohol can actually make you more stressed out. They may seem to give you a burst of quick energy, but you will pay the price of being even more exhausted later.

Try cleaning up your house a little each day instead of in a marathon the day before your big holiday party. Make a batch of holiday cookie dough each week, and freeze most of the dough to easily bake an assortment for visitors. Depending on the type of cookie, you can even roll them out and put between sheets of wax paper. That way you don’t have to make 5 batches of different cookies at one time.

Stock up on cream, coffee, tea, and cocoa. This way you won’t run out. More people will just be dropping by to visit. Sharing time with close friends is the best way to get the holiday spirit.

Take a half an hour or so each morning, to do whatever your favorite things are. Simply read the paper with a nice mug of tea, or take a walk. Getting fresh air and exercise is a perfect way to de-stress yourself. It doesn’t hurt to start the day at your calmest. In fact, it can make you more tolerant of the stresses that may surround you during the day.

It goes without saying that getting the proper amount of sleep can make a world of difference. Running around can cause you to eat too many fast food meals. Make sure you have salads prepared ahead of time to take to work. Make slow cooker soups and stews, so you can have dinner waiting for you. There’s nothing better than a home cooked meal after a long, tiring day. Pull out your good Noritake dinnerware. Serve yourself up a bowl of comforting slow cooker baked potato soup. You may find these new good habits outlast the holidays.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Turkey Alternatives for Thanksgiving

November 17th 2009

dinnerware turkey Turkey Alternatives for Thanksgiving

Sometimes a tradition seems like a perfect fit, but it’s always ok to stretch your culinary muscles. Some families do ham instead of turkey, but I want to get you thinking about a few main dishes that are less ordinary. In fact, they’re so delicious you’ll want to serve them all year round.

One reason to skip the turkey this year is to avoid all the leftovers. If you are just a couple or small family, you’ve probably had enough of turkey sandwiches and tetrazzini to last a lifetime. While you can always freeze turkey for another time, you could choose something less expensive and put that money towards holiday presents.

You could stick close to the usual theme and cook up some turkey cutlets. Rachel Ray cooks up some Turkey Cutlets with Corn, Sage and Prosciutto Stuffing. Or try Bon Appétit’s Turkey Cutlets with Brussels Sprouts and Dried Cranberries to pack all the flavors of the holidays into one dish.

Make a vegetarian traditional dish, stuffed winter squash. You could use your favorite stuffing, add your favorite sausage (meaty or veggie), apples, and celery in butternut or acorn squash. Take a look at this recipe to get a few ideas, Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Hazelnuts and Dried Cranberries.

Pot pie is an American favorite. You can fill it with minced poultry meat or leave it just veggies. Add in a cream sauce, cheese, or mushroom gravy to top your filling and sandwich it in 2 pie crusts. Meat loaf is another cheap and easy option. This Turkey Meatloaf with Mushrooms and Herbs is a step above the everyday meatloaf.

Make a stew in a pumpkin, a seasonal risotto, or try a pumpkin lasagna out. You don’t have to be without gravy for your mashed potatoes. You can even buy organic turkey gravy in the soup section of Whole Foods, and you can make mushroom gravy with no meat drippings. Why not try some stuffing muffins to go under all that tasty gravy? You can eat a couple and then freeze the rest for another meal.

Don’t forget your side dishes. If you do lasagna or pot pie, you will need to skip the mashed potatoes. But you can still make an assortment of vegetables, and without spending all that time on the turkey you’ll have time to make some new favorites. Add a spinach salad, cooked greens, Brussels sprouts to the traditional sweet potatoes and green beans. It’s your Thanksgiving. Start some of your family’s traditions this year.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Seasonal Entertaining & Thanksgiving | No Comments »

Throw a No Work Dinner Party

November 7th 2009

dinnerware sushi Throw a No Work Dinner PartyWith the holidays right around the corner, time with friends is at a premium. In addition to the typical holiday celebrations, you have to decorate the house, take care of work social obligations, not to mention shopping for the perfect gift for each of your loved ones.

There’s not much time for a proper dinner party so throw a lazy dinner party! No need for excuses about needing to clean your house since you won’t be having people over. You are still the hostess if you organize a dinner out with your friends.

Last year I arranged a dinner for 14 of my friends. Since they included picky eaters, holiday budgeters, and over workers it would not have happened if one of us didn’t take the initiative to go ahead and plan it.

The first thing to consider is how much everyone afford. Any price is fine if you’re treating. If not, always use the person on the tightest budget as your price gauge. You want everyone to be happy about dinner out, not worrying about giving something up to be there. The most important thing is to get everyone together. It doesn’t need to be at the fanciest restaurant in town.

The next thing on the list is making sure everyone can find something to eat at the place you pick. You need to think about the people who won’t eat fish, the ones who won’t eat veggies, and the vegetarians. It’s not hard to find a place that gives everyone has a few choices. Make a special effort for anyone who has food allergies. More places are offering dairy free and gluten free dishes on their menus. Call in advance with your reservation and most places will even make a special vegan dish without a fuss. The key is doing this in advance, if you wait until you are at the table it’s too late.

Choose a date, or range of dates to choose from, then send a mass email out to friends. Another great way to organize any event is through evite.com. Through evite.com you can even let your guests suggest dates and times. You can ask for suggestions for places as well. But be prepared for a range from no answers to too many choices to get a group consensus on.

To keep within a budget see if there are any early bird special at your favorite places. This works especially well if you want to go to a fancier restaurant. At my fav place we get a 3 course meal for 30.00, normally that’s what an entree goes for. You can also look at restaurant.com. You purchases a discount coupon through their website. They send out many codes for even more off  at the end of the month, so that’s the best time to score a great coupon. You can only use one per party, even if you sit at different tables.

Everyone will appreciate getting a dinner discount off the top. And you’ll have a great dinner party with no washing up!

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

What If It Rains on Halloween?

October 28th 2009

dinnerware toddlerpumpkin What If It Rains on Halloween?I don’t know about where you live, but surely it will be raining somewhere Halloween night. You may be the home that entertains all the ghostly kiddies before they go trick or treating. If it rains – are you prepared? The same goes for a snow storm. This year some of the cities in the far north have already had their first snow.

If you are already planning a party, you’ll have a house full of kids already. If not, you could call other parents on your block and have an impromptu one. That way everyone can enjoy Halloween, even if they can’t go door to door due to bad weather. Make sure to make a few alternative plans, just in case. That way no one will spend the night disappointed.

If it’s just lightly raining (or snowing), you can still go out. Ask each parent to bring an umbrella for their child. You could also keep a stash of dollar store ones, for this and future group outings in the rain. I promise you will use them again in the spring. Small children love to carry their own umbrella – especially while they jump into puddles! Of course, you need to gauge the ages of the kids at the party. If they are too young to carry their own, a parent will need to carry it for them.

An unexpected solution is to create candy stations in most of the rooms. Each one hosted by an adult, who will make sure no one’s getting more than their share. This works great if you’re having all the families on the block over. It helps if you have some decorations for each of the rooms you use, and you can ask each parent to bring some to the party. Also adults in costumes make it seem more like ‘real’ trick or treating. This idea would work very well with young children. After they have gone to all of the houses (rooms), they can sit down and trade candy just as if they had gone out. A bonus is that they are not soaked to bone or cold from the elements.

Maybe you don’t have the space or the adult help to pull off indoor trick or treating. Make up some party goodie bags ahead of time. Put in age appropriate toys, cards, even wax vampire teeth if you can find them. You can always have the parents to check the bags ahead of time, to make sure they are ok with everything in the bag.

Have a costume fashion show. It’s less pressure on everyone than a contest. Plus everyone gets to show off all their hard work. Have each kid (and adult) get into character as much as they can. Everyone will be laughing before you know it.

This would also be a great time to make up a batch of sugar cookies. The kids can help cut them out with Halloween cookie cutters, and then decorate them with different colored icings. Anytime of the year cookies are a big hit.

You could turn down the lights, sit around the fireplace, and tell scary stories. Even roast marshmallows and make smores, if you have a wood burning fireplace. Make sure the stories are not too scary for your age group. Plan an alternative activity for kids who don’t want to participate. You could set up a coloring station with copies of pumpkins and the children can create their own jack-o-lanterns with crayons.

If the kids are still ready for more after you’ve done all that, games are the next step.

Here are a few links to sites that have tons of ideas:

I hope your Halloween skies are clear and lit bright with moonlight.

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Halloween & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing | No Comments »

Make Some Halloween Trees

October 5th 2009

dinnerware scary tree xsmall Make Some Halloween TreesWhen you think of a spooky setting, one scene that may come to mind is a forest – a haunted forest of course.

The most inexpensive way to set up a haunted forest at your house can be found in your own backyard. If you don’t have any trees in your yard, you can ask a neighbor to help you out, or even buy some fake branches at a craft store.

First, think of how you want to display your Halloween tree(s). In a vase as the table centerpiece you would want a smaller, more narrow branch. But for a large front porch display, you could use branches as large as small trees.

Look for branches that are not rotted or crumbly. We want them to hold together through our crafting, and the bewitching night as well. You want to get some spray paint. I’d recommend black for a traditional look, but you could be bold and use glow in the dark paint. I’m thinking of making a few small ones to line my walk and paint them with the glow in the dark paint for a creepily ‘lit’ pathway. Feel free to match them with any Halloween party theme you may have chosen. Red, silver, green, and purple are also good Halloween paint choices. Not to mention you can glue glitter on them for a glam look as well.

I like to keep my trees simple. Painted black and showcased in a tall, clear vase filled with Halloween trinkets, or in a large fake stone planter stuck right into the dirt. I try to select branches that look more like little trees, with quite a few limbs to hang things from.

Go through your trunk of decorations from Halloweens past, and see what would look stylish on your tree. You will want to add a string or twisty tie to secure them. This is especially important if you plan on having the tree outside, where wind and rain could be an issue.

Part of the fun is decorating your own ornaments. You can use shrinky dinks, glass ornaments, even cutouts to decorate to your party theme. Any craft that you love can be used. I love the felted ornaments that I’ve seen. Just remember to only use weather resistant ones outside. You can dip glass ornaments into a solution of alcohol inks and water to create a ghoulish swirl. Take a look at this tutorial on the Ranger Ink site.

You’ll have a bewitching time making your own decorations. It’s also an opportunity for a tree making party, so invite a few friends over and let them enjoy the fun too.

Posted by Myriam under Decorations & Fall Entertaining & Halloween | No Comments »

Next »