Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Vermont

Out son Ben, recently graduated from the University of Vermont, in Burlington, Vermont.  It was a great to drive up north to see Ben and attend his graduation, and visit this beautiful area of the country again. If you've never been to Vermont, THIS is why it's called the Green Mountain State. Doesn't it look like a picture postcard?
Ben is an avid skier, mountain biker and all around outdoorsy guy, so living in Vermont suited him just fine. Commencement was so exciting for all of us!
After the graduation ceremony we spent part of the afternoon walking along the shoreline of Lake Champlain which borders the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York. This is one of Ben's favorites spots since he swims and bikes there.
The next morning we had coffee in Warren, Vermont on a deck in the woods overlooking a rushing stream.
If you read this blog, you know how I love Starbucks coffee, but in Warren, Vermont there's not a Starbucks to be found! Almost all the coffee sold around here is the locally made Green Mountain coffee and it's really good. After breakfast we ducked into The Warren Store.
The Warren Store is one of my favorite shops in Vermont. They sell many locally made items along with great clothing and children's goods. And of course, we couldn't leave Vermont without buying some local maple syrup.

We took route 100, "the scenic route" home and stopped along the way to take in the beauty of Vermont.

Our final stop before leaving Vermont was the Simon Pearce store and glass factory in Windsor.
Not only is the store filled with THE most beautiful handmade glassware and pottery, you can watch the glassblowers create the wonderful glassware.  Check out this video to see...

We watched for a little while but soon retreated since the temperature in the shop can reach up to 100 degrees!

Although Vermont is famous for it's skiing, it also has many craftsman and artists who sell wonderful handmade goods, gourmet food products--there's much to do and see anytime of the year.




Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Twine Wrapped Candle Pillars

I made these twine wrapped candle pillars just in time for summer entertaining!

The tag sale season has begun here in Connecticut and it's always fun to stop the car when I see tag sale signs.  A few weeks ago I scored these ceramic candle pillars for $5.00.
I loved the chunky shapes but not the ceramic finish. I wasn't sure what I would do with them but for $5.00 how can you go wrong?

I decided to buy some twine at the hardware store and wrap them. It was such a simple project that my only supplies were twine, spray mount (to get them sticky) and some glue for spots that weren't sticky enough.

Although it wasn't hard, it was a bit tedious. Working in front of the TV helped!


After a few evenings, they were done!
Perfect for summer dinners on the porch.

Linked to:
Somewhat Simple 
The Shabby Nest

Friday, May 25, 2012

Challah for Shavuot

If you plan on baking your own challah this Shavout, take a tip from my friend Sara at creative jewish mom. She took the custom of decorating your home with flowers on Shavuot, and came up with a unique and beautiful challah!
Isn't that the most beautiful challah you've ever seen? Check out her blog post here for step-by-step directions.
Sara even gives you her recipe for challah.

Once you taste homemade challah, you and your family will never want to buy it from the store again!  Several years ago I bought a bread machine and used this "bread machine" recipe from The Kosher Palette cookbook.  It came out delicious.

Heavenly Bread Machine Challah

2 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon bread flour
1/4 cup plus 2 heaping tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 egg yolks
1 cup luke warm water
1 package (2 1/4) teaspoons yeast
Vegetable cooking spray
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Poppy or Sesame seeds

Place flour, sugar, salt, oil, yolks, water and yeast in the bread machine. Process ingredients in the dough cycle. Remove immediately. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Divide dough into 3 equal pieces and roll each portion into a thick rope.  Place the three pieces side by side on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and pinch the top ends together. Braid dough and pinch ends together.

Cover challah with a towel; let stand 30 minutes.

Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.

Bake 30 minutes or until brown and challah sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 1 challah

For those of you who celebrate Shavuot, have a happy holiday!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cheesecake for Shavuot

Many people have never heard of the holiday of Shavuot. But if you have, the first word you will think of when recalling the holiday is "cheesecake." It is totally unlike any of our childhood memories of family gatherings for Rosh Hashanah or Passover-- no brisket or matzoh ball soup highlight this menu. Instead, we pull out all the stops on blintzes, lasagnas, ice cream, and more.

When it comes to cheesecake, I have the same thoughts as I do in decorating. The simpler the better. There is so much rich creaminess and sweetness already going on that I don't need any chocolate or caramel to take away from what's going on. (OK, maybe it would be nice, but I don't need it.)

On the holiday of Shavuot we eat at least one festive meal that is dairy (you can learn more about that here).
Because I am gluten-free I can't eat a graham-cracker crust, so I bought several of these macaroon pie shells on sale after Passover.

Here's a really simple recipe I've used many times with great results.

Yummy Cheesecake
Serves 10 to 12
Crust
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter


Filling
4  8-ounce packages very soft cream cheese
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Cur in melted butter with a fork. Press into a 9-inch springform pan, along sides and bottom. Chill in refrigerator.

In mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth and light. Beat in eggs, vanilla and cornstarch until blended. Stir in sour cream.

Pour mixture into crust and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees and bake for 45 minutes. Turn off oven and open oven door. Cool with door open slightly for 3 hours. Refrigerate.

You may add canned or fresh fruit topping.

  

Although I prefer my cheesecake plain n' simple, here are a few ideas to kick it up a notch, if you're so inclined:
Strawberries stuffed with cheesecake filling, topped with graham cracker crumbs. (Strawberries are in season early this year! Go find some at a farmers market or farm stand near you!)
Or, drizzle melted chocolate, caramel or both, over the cheesecake. If you go with melted chocolate, you could mix in some peanut butter or a teaspoon of cinnamon.
                                                         PHOTOS: PINTEREST

Happy Shavuot!





Monday, May 21, 2012

Flower Centerpieces for Shavuot

On the holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah, it is customary to decorate our homes and synagogues with fruit, flowers and greens. Mount Sinai was in the desert, but when the Torah was given the mountain bloomed and became covered in grass, flowers, and trees. Shavuot is also a harvest festival which coincides with harvesting the annual crop of wheat.

Sure, you can grab a bouquet of flowers and stick them in a vase with water, but here is some inspiration I found on Pinterest to take it one step further in honor of the holiday.
Find antique tea cups at thrift shops or tag sales, fill with flowers and place one at each place setting. Your guests can take it home after the meal.

Hydrangeas are all over the garden centers right now. Cover the pots with pretty fabric and after the holiday, you have new plants for your garden.
Don't forget greens--these baby tears look every bit as pretty as flowers.

A three-tiered stand is usually used for cookies or pastries but looks great with flowers instead.

How cute is this? It combines both Shavuot traditions--flowers and ice cream!

Who says you can only do a centerpiece with flowers? Why not combine beautiful vegetables like this artichoke, or mix in some fruit?

I love pairing pink with orange flowers for a eye popping statement like these two beauties.

If you're pressed for time and find yourself in the florist section of the supermarket after picking up those last couple packages of cream cheese for the cheesecake, at least buy a LOT--like these tulips--and make a statement!



Friday, May 18, 2012

Children's Ice Cream Party

What's not to love about a holiday that's celebrated with cheesecake, ice cream, and flowers? The Jewish holiday of Shavuot falls on May 27-28 this year (for more information about the holiday, please visit Chabad.org), and a children's ice cream party is the perfect ticket for getting the children (and adults) excited!
I had so much fun putting this together since there are so many great sources for purchasing the cutest party goods. The ice cream cups and wooden spoons I used were from Sweet Lulu.
Sprinkles and chopped nuts are displayed in small Japanese tea cups from Sur La Table.
A variety of syrups are transferred into squeeze bottles from Walmart for no mess pouring. The labels were made from the new line of Martha Stewart office supplies from Staples.
Of course, I had to taste all the sundaes after the photo shoot. They were delicious!
 Yosef and Moussia agree!
Somewhat Simple

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Decorating a Fasionista's Apartment

Our niece, Peri, is a Fashionista with a capital 'F'. 

When her mother had a bat mitzvah to attend and nothing to wear, Peri pulled out a 13-year-old hot pink blazer that had been hiding in the back of the closet. She rummaged around until she found a cute white tank, white skirt and white sandals. Then she added lots of turquoise jewelery and bam! Her mom looked like she just stepped out of a Bloomingdale's catalog!

This fall Peri will be a junior year at the University of Georgia and living in a house with several roommates. She asked her mother if there was any way I could fly to Athens to decorate her apartment (no, not really!), so I thought of the next-best thing. We gathered fun designer shopping bags and I framed them in simple white frames.
This is perfect "artwork" for the fashion-obsessed and they also look great because of the fabulous colors and beautiful graphic design.
Here is an easy trick for hanging pictures in a group--I hung these salon style. A classic salon grouping is based on the frames coming together to form one or two straight lines and then "branching out" from there.
Cut out pieces of paper the same size as your frames. Lay them out on the floor and move the pieces around until you find the shape you like.  Next, tape them on the wall, making sure to leave the spaces between each picture the same.
While they are still taped to the wall, hammer a nail for each frame noting where the hook is placed for hanging.
Happy Birthday Peri! I hope your apartment looks fabulous!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Small Changes, Big Difference!

My daughter and son-in-law's family room was finished. Or so I thought. She's always dreaming up ideas to improve what's already done and I'm usually the one to execute those ideas!

The whale in the room is this huge black leather sectional. With two toddlers (and one on the way) and many college students sitting (or sleeping) on it, it's the perfect sofa for their high-traffic space.
The first thing she wanted to change were the black floor lamps. Next to the black sectional, it was just too much black and the pretty shape of the lamps were lost against the sofa. Also, the lamp shades were not really the right proportion for the lamps.
I picked up a can of silver metallic spray paint from Lowe's and set up a spot to paint them on the deck.
After a few coats of paint and new shades from Walmart, the lamps were done. The silver color really does accentuates the shape of the lamp much better against the black sofa.

Next on her list was the "artwork" I created over the sofa. I used one of my favorite tricks when we don't have any art to frame--I put scrap book paper in simple black frames. While it looked perfectly fine, she wanted more of a contrast to the sleek black sectional and something a bit more edgy.

I just happened to find this mirror at a tag sale in my neighborhood for $15 and knew it was what she had in mind.
The size and shape were perfect but the gold was a little too Liberace for her taste. A bit of brown stain was brushed over the frame to tone down the gold.
The mirror turned out to be the perfect addition, adding more depth and warmth to this otherwise modern living room.
Linked up to:
Southern Hospitality
French Country Cottage

Friday, May 11, 2012

Shot Glass Collection

My first book, Jewish Holiday Style, was published in 1999 and set me off on a solid year of traveling around the United States. (To see my book, click here.) I visited many local synagogue's and JCC Jewish Book Fairs doing book signings and speaking engagements, slide show presentations and crafts. (Don't ask how my family survived without me during this time--that's a whole other blog post unto itself!)
I started buying shot glasses each time I found myself in a different city's airport--you have to think of SOMETHING to keep yourself entertained when you're doing that much traveling! Eventually even my family joined in the game with me, helping add to my collection over the years. (The glasses in these photos are only some of my collection--there's more on the shelves)!
The best part about these is that they don't just sit in a china cabinet buried away. I use them as my kiddish cups on Shabbat and holidays. The kiddush ceremony is begun saying the blessing over the wine with a kiddush cup (a cup designated for this use specifically). Then the wine is poured into smaller cups for everyone else at the table to have a sip. It's fun for guests to peek at the front of their cup and see where it's from--a great conversation starter!
Some of my favorites are my Florida glass (just the right amount of kitsch!),  glasses my son picked up during his year abroad studying in Prague, and our daughter's Hampshire College glass.
I'm not normally for dust-gathering collections, so I love that these are put to use in a very practical and fun way. Do you have any collections?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dining Room Makeover

How do you update a dining room without taking out a second mortgage in order to do major renovation?
You re-vamp what you already have until it is absolutely fabulous.
My sister, Lisa, had this very country Pottery Barn dining room set for years (see pictures below). She was more than ready for a new look.  The table is solid pine and was expensive so she decided to work with it.


Although I live in Connecticut and she lives in the Missouri, I was able to help her update the room through the magic of the Internet and online shopping. The first thing I found were these awesome upholstered chairs from Overstock.com.  They dramatically changed the look of the room and were only $300 for two!  (It looks like these chairs are no longer available but here are others for a similar price and look). The old wood chairs were sold on Craig's List.
I love the contrast between the rustic table and the sleek chairs. She said they are super comfortable, too.

The buffet had a bad faux finish so I had her paint it green, since the rest of her house is a mix of greens, browns, and khaki.
She went with Benjamin Moore's Salisbury Green paint and added new ring pulls from here to replace the old knobs. A piece of glass cut to fit the surface protects the paint job and makes it just a touch more formal.
We don't have a "before" shot of the dining room chandelier--it has a beautiful shape and it used to have flame shaped light bulbs with small chandelier shades. To modernize the fixture, I suggested replacing them with round clear bulbs.  The metallic gold painted ceiling adds a lot of shimmer and drama to the dining room and accentuates the crown molding.
Oversize moss balls from Crate and Barrel make a nice earthy centerpiece.

I haven't seen the room "in person" yet but it looks great in the photos!
Linked to: The Shabby Nest
A Bowl full of Lemons
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