Happy holidays, it’s going to be weird

Let’s start with the obvious. Things are weird. The coziness of a crowded house party, with steamed up windows and people laughing over hot toddies…it’s a thing of the past. And the future. Coziness is in short supply. Right now people are huddled under heat lamps on the sidewalk just to enjoy their favorite sandwich. They’re still attempting happy hours on Zoom, which are sterile at best. This year Christmas cheer is more of a private affair, with smaller groups staying as local as possible, or as local as their families will deem acceptble before making trouble.

I can’t get caught up in feeling sorry for myself. Being annoyed that your favorite sushi bar changed their hours is a First World Problem. To quote the deadpan Kourtney Kardashian “Kim, there’s people that are dying.” I also can’t get caught up in the excitement for 2021. When the clock srikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, COVID will still be here.

festive holiday eggnog

Are there things to look forwward to? Sure. We’ll once again be restored with a competent administration and vaccines will extend to every corner of the population. Knowing this helps me accept the current weirdness of it all. We can acknowledge how hard this year has been, but still make the most of what we do have, no matter how small.

Like carbs! It’s a common joy, only reviled by people on the outside. Deep down, no one really wants the side salad. It’s sweater weather and perfect for hiding our little food babies we nurse thoughout the holidays. Because if you can’t indulge now, then when can you? Everyone loves potatoes and everyone loves pancakes. Put the two together and you have latkes! We tried this comfort food, and we like. The possibilities for toppings are endless too. Mazel!

Just because you’re not squeezing yourself into a seqined cocktail dress, doesn’t mean your drinks have to suffer. Drink your red wine out of decadent stemware – it will give your sweatsuit more polish. Even better, shake up a new festive cocktail. We are faced with a lot of sameness these days, and a fizzy drink with a sprig of rosemary on top will give you a hint at the holiday glamour that lies ahead. Ahead as in next year. Don’t pout, I doubt your feet miss those stilettos.

marshmallow hot cocoa with lucky charms mashmallows

While we’re making cocktails more meaningful, why not take hot cocoa next level? Hot cocoa bombs are making the rounds and I’m here for it. In fact, I’m going to learn how to make them. In the meantime, there are so many ways to enjoy hot cocoa, beyond tearing open the packet and pouring it into hot water. Lucky Charms marshmallows, candy cane stirrers and a myriad of different spices and essential oils can complement the chocolate in exciting ways.

Count your blessings. If you’re reading this, you weren’t one of the 1.71 million people who have succumbed to COVID-19. You’ll be around to see Kamala next month. Working from home may not be ideal, but you get to spend more time with your pets, your kids and the home you’re spending so much on. You experience less gas stations, packed freeways, cubicles, flouorescent lighting and soul-extinguishing coffee.

Christmas will be different, but differen’t doesn’t mean bad. Happy holidays and may your new year be 2021!

Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a determined optimism in trying times, or the joy that comes from a new political era on the hoizon. But Christmas has come a lot earlier this year. It’s as if they’re skipping over Thanksgiving entirely. Houses are lit up, and a station has begun playing holiday tunes 24/7, three weeks before the turkeys are even trotted out. I get that Thanksgiving is an overrated holiday, but this eagerness for Santa blows over the last of this beautiful, fleeting autumn.

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The leaves are still gold and the weather hasn’t gone cruel, so let’s not get all tangled up in tinsel just yet. Here are some ways to enjoy the glorious last days of autumn, and be in the moment. And yes, these suggestions are all food-based.

Do you, like me, feel that a turkey dinner is… basic? This doesn’t apply to mashed potatoes. Nothing can touch mashed potatoes. But turkey? It works well in deli but there’s a reason we don’t cook that bird all year. It’s not that good. Switch things up. You can support local businesses by ordering through them, because they will most certainly be struggling though an economicaly nuclear winter. Or just switch up a boring staple with a delightfully warming dish, like coconut curry butternut squash soup.

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A simple recipe, with few ingredients

You’re going to see lot of pumpkin pie from November to January. What if I told you there was a chewy, gooey, sweet and salty alternative to the same ol’ same ol’, and you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now? What if you end up hating me for telling you about it because it’s so deliciously addictive?

Speaking of sweets, you may have a wealth of leftover Halloween candy sitting in your home. There are so many ways to repurpose it, whether for a homemade advent calendar or a way to sweeten up your gingerbread house. Find great ideas right here.

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Apple cider spiked with bourbon, ginger beer and cinnamon is peak fall

Working from home with kids in virtual school can breed chaos; more dishes, too much noise, lots of juggling. The last thing you want to do is spend more time in the kitchen. Healthy doesn’t have to mean time-consuming. Apples are still in season. Grab them in bulk and make them three ways; a meal, a dessert and a snack. And parents, I’m thinking of you too. This fresh apple cocktail will help you recover from those endless Zoom meetings.

Speaking of easy meals, how about one chicken, three ways? Chicken is only boring if you A) boil it or B) Don’t treat it like the blank slate that it is. Seasoning can bring out the best in a bird. Variety is the spice of life, and one full-sized chicken will provide three distinct dishes. That being said, healthy proteins aren’t always animal-based. This tasty, freeze-ahead staple will be a miracle in a pinch. Throw in the slow-cooker, ignore, then pack it up for later, when you are in need of guilt-free prepared food.

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Bumper crop of produce this harvest? Make a goal for zero waste.

When it gets cold outside, you can treat yourself to crock pot cocktails. This recipe for pumpkin-spiced hot cocoa is a creamy, soul-affirming dose of self care. Pour into a big mug and curl up with a book.

The extended warm weather this season has produced bumper crops of produce, sometimes too much for us to know what do do with. Have no fear. The thought of wasting food is equally repugnant to me, so here’s some smart, sustainable options for what to do with all that produce.

Pumpkins are the symbol of fall, used more as decor than food, because its contents tend to be a little plain. Without pumpkin spice, pumpkins would be over. But there are other gourds in the patch. Read on for some gourd greatness.

Savor the deliciousness of harvest time, and the last of the rainbow of falling leaves. It’s going to be a long winter, so enjoy autumn while it lasts.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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This year, mama needs a gesture. Whether she’s home-schooling while working remotely, or struggling to find work due to the mass unemployment, her plate spilleth over.

Moms are practical, but deserve luxury. Give them something they’ll actually use, but may not buy for themselves. Most importantly, give them time and space to relax. I’m writing this in bed while my family sleeps. Nothing is more delicious to a writer than having a home all to themselves. But this joy is not limited to writers. Back massages, bubble baths, sleeping in – these things make us beautiful from the inside out. They deserve it.

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While I’m here, I’d love to share some tips on how to carpe the hell out of this diem during the COVID-19 quarantine. Or as I call it, the YPE (Yoga Pants Era, TM).

Mother’s Day gift ideas, right here!

If you’re guilty of panic shopping, and realized you bought too many groceries, I have zero-waste tips,  so you can make the most of your bounty. Toilet paper recipes not included.

Did you know that all those lackluster grocery store salad dressings also pack a lot of hidden sugar? Homemade salad dressings aren’t only better for you, but pack a lot more punch in the flavor department.

Homeschooling the kiddos? Put them to work in the kitchen! It’s where science meets art, and can help you build a lifelong narrative around food and health.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Party, Interrupted

This Saturday my son turns six. Like many people achieving milestones during this time, things are unusual. While some adults are too cool for themed parties, one of the perks of having children are shameless, over-the-top themes. And I am here for it.

Hamilton had his heart set on a Batman-themed party, so that’s what he’s going to get. Only during the summer. To make up for the wait, we are going all out behind the scenes. During our home-schooling, our art lessons are focused on party planning and decor.

We made Gotham City out of large cardboard boxes. We created a Joker pinata that he gets to swing at first, on the big day. We stamped Bat Bags for the goodies and are creating a cavernous bat cave with old blankets. We’ll be using the (pictured) projector to shine the bat signal onto the inner walls, along with some playful disco lights. We’re building fort tents in the living room just to practice for the big cave.

Keeping him involved helps him appreciate the work that goes into entertaining. Getting him excited stops him from feeling sorry for himself. Because at the end of the day, this is not a tragedy. Our hearts are with those most affected by Covid-19; there are a lot of people grieving right now. I also feel pretty bad for high school seniors, who won’t get to experience how disappointing prom is. Many may have experienced shake-ups in the college admissions process too. And while I’m sure they won’t be broken up over having to skip a graduation ceremony, their parents sure will.

Stay healthy, be positive and remember that one of the key components of happiness is the ability to adapt. Regardless of the shake-ups affecting our own lives, we can either use this time as a gift, or as a curse. So make the best of it. Better days are ahead of us, so no harm in planning the party now.

 

 

Merry Princemas!

Prince is an example of how far you can get with confidence. Homeboy was a 5′ 3″ Jehovah’s Witness who insisted on staying in Minnesota. He wore guyliner, ruffled shirts and heels, and STILL pulled off being a sex symbol to women everywhere. He just owned it.

The loss of his talent hurt more than when Michael Jackson died. It was without the infamy of sex abuse allegations, and as an artist, he wrote his own music and played his own instruments. So I expressed my grief in a creative way. In the winter of 2017 we placed a Princemas tree in our front yard! It was…everything.

I spray-painted a white tree purple, with purple lights, purple ornaments, and nestled his head on top – ringed by an angelic halo of silver tinsel.

This cheeky homage cheered up my neighbors, then strangers. I’d pass by my living room window and see revelers taking photos outside. So I added a chair with a purple pillow, and a chalkboard sign urging visitors to take photos. Then  #MerryPrincemas popped up online, with our tree. Unlike most dreaded comment sections, it was pure cheer.

Then letters started arriving in the mail – holiday cards from strangers thanking us. Soon after, we came home to see people had added purple icicle lights, with a cool dripping effect. Someone had even fixed the stand so the tree would not blow over in high winds.

The tree made a return for the 2018 holiday season. And with an upgrade – white doves.

Merry Princemas, everyone!

Pumpkin Spice and All Things Nice

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Its been a couple of weeks since my last post, but not for a lack of writing! As the lifestyle blogger for Ladles and Linens, I’m knee-deep in test recipes and kitchen gadgets, and thought I’d share some tidbits here. I’ll serve up the posts menu-style, so you can click on what you’d like. Happy reading, and as always, thanks for being here.

Pizza personality chart! What do your toppings say about you? Read here and find out.

Can turmeric cure the blues? Here are five everyday spices, and their surprising health benefits!

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The Great Pumpkin Spice Debate: Pumpkin spice has gone beyond the latte; they’re even making pumpkin-spiced Spam!  Is this a well-deserved craze, or is the whole PSL thing overrated?

Oh. My. Gourd. Many decorate with gourds this time of year, but few savor the flavor. Turns out butternut and spaghetti squash are the most commonly eaten gourds, while most others remain unenjoyed. Here are some recipes and tips for making the most of this season’s harvest!

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Smokey Mountain High

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Nothing can disrupt the serenity of a misty mountaintop like a big, loud Arab family. We likely scared the deer and complicated hunting season in the Smokey Mountains.

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If a mansion and a cabin had a baby, it would be our grand lodge, which housed multiple generations of our family, and comfortably. There was an indoor pool, hot tubs overlooking the Smokey Mountains, a game room and movie theatre.

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If those walls could talk, our names would come up often. We had gambling marathons that went into the wee hours of the morning. There were pancake and mimosa-laden brunches. There was a rather intense Newlywed Game (none of the couples were newly-wed) that ended with an uncle who literally took a pie to the face.

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Best of all, we had long talks and belly-aching laughter on those wrap-around porches. We had three stories of porches to choose from. Sometimes on the top level, the boomers shared childhood memories of Ramallah, while on the ground floor, tween cousins told ghost stories.  Whether sipping morning coffee and reminiscing, or sloshing bourbon at midnight while running away from an errant raccoon, the mountaintop views kept us on those rocking chairs outside.

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I walked away thinking about how every generation improves from the last one. When my father’s side of the family emigrated from Palestine to Chicago, they had nothing. Like most of the immigrant stories you’ve heard, they worked hard so that their kids could get a formal education and a better life. We delivered on that; it’s the least we could do. To think they went from washing dishes in Cicero dives because they couldn’t speak English, to comfortable grandparents, watching multiple generations luxuriate in such accommodations.  They felt proud, we felt lucky, and the youngest generation? We’ll see about them.

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extravagant mother’s day brunch takes the crepe

Mother’s Day is a holiday that touches everyone. Whether you have a mother or lost one, you are a mother or admire one, it’s thoughtful to set aside time to nurture a nurturer.

That’s what stylist Kristy Kostyniuk did when she and her friends Jennifer Miller and Rose Steed hosted a Mother’s Day Brunch that included not just their mothers, but a curated catch-all. Friends who were far from their mothers, lost a mother, and friends who happen to be moms happily accepted invitations.

crepes, waiting to fulfill their destiny

The ladies spent hours pouring batches of buttery, paper thin crepes. The elaborate spread featured sweet and savory options. There were small-batch jams from local farms, sliced fruit, Nutella, dark chocolate and homemade whipped cream.

Before brunch began, there was a very European spread of croissants, rugalas and scones, all displayed on vintage trays and eye-catching textiles.  Baby pink peonies and fuchsia daisies were everywhere.

On the savory side there were eggs, cheeses, bacon, cured meats, potatoes and more. We lounged and sipped mimosas, swapped stories and repeatedly excused ourselves with a, “Just one more crepe.”

When we couldn’t fit in another bite, the overlapping conversations made their way to the backyard. We sunned ourselves and watched the children dart around  chasing butterflies. Their faces were stained and hands sticky from popsicles. It was an afternoon of leisure and guilty pleasures. As if being a mom weren’t a gift enough.

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The gracious host, Kristy Kostyniuk and her mother

#becausebacon

sweet as pie

I’m Dreaming of a Vintage Christmas

One of the best things about Christmas is how old-fashioned it is. We indulge in pastimes that we’d never do outside the holiday season. We listen to Bing Crosby, make gingerbread houses, trim a tree and drink eggnog.

The Vintage Home Market celebrates all the things you can do to warm up your home when it’s cold outside. From glittering garland to vintage sleighs, this place will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

BBQ tacos – heaven

Owners Heidi and Jason McNamara threw an amazing VIP opening night, where shoppers could get first dibs. There was live music, kickin’ BBQ, cold beer and a photo booth so decked out, it makes the step and repeat obsolete.

Owners Jason and Heidi McNamara – pros at making magic

Some standout vendors include:

The Naked Goat Soap Company – soaps, lotions, candles and more. The best part? It’s made locally by Heather, who lives on a Hanover farm with her goats and happy family. The Gather-scented candle smells of balsam pine, and is everything.

Burlap, Booths and Southern Roots

The name alone, am I right? It’s a one year-old store run by a feisty blonde and filled with the kind of boots that become heirlooms. They also sell jewelry, farm tables and boho-chic threads.

Then there’s Chocolate Moonshine Company.  Their assortment of chocolates stirs the imagination, with cherry bourbon, dark chocolate pistachio and rum. Free samples and some of the best chocolates I’ve ever had.

There’s still one day left.  Catch the event this Saturday, November 11th from 9a-5p at Richmond Raceway.  Happy Holidays!

Seven Ways to Beat the Post-Holiday Blues

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Some spend New Year’s Day packing up ornaments. I’d rather sleep in and go to brunch. I’m in the league of defiant revelers that leave their holiday lights up through the first week of January. Why? Because we’re trying to stave off the impending doom of a long, cold winter. In fact, many believe that all the hoopla surrounding Christmas is just a way to distract us from the misery gaining steam outdoors.

Here’s how to keep your spirits up after the holidays:

A Little Twinkle

We’re all a little taken aback at how stark a room looks when stripped of holiday accoutrements. Hold on to a strand of white lights, and wrap them around an indoor tree, or gather them into an oversized glass vase, to keep a bit of sparkle in your home.

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Getting Fresh

Don’t toss those candy canes! Swirl them as swizzle sticks in your hot cocoa or mocha. Smash them to pieces and lay them in an empty Altoids tin to use as mints on the go. And if it really feels like you’re going cold turkey after the holidays, here’s a little-known fact: You can get peppermint mochas at Starbucks year-round, though they don’t advertise it.

Get Moving

It’s no secret that working out is good for your heart, but the endorphins improve your mood and the exertion results in a great night’s sleep. Besides, when you peel off your sweater this Spring, how nice would it be to find a strong, lean body beneath it?

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Busted court aside, my favorite ways to blow off steam are tennis, yoga and dancing

Get the Party Started

Plan a small party! It’s so much easier to corral your loved ones in January than it is at the height of the holiday season. Plus, everyone needs something to look forward to. My go-to this year will be an Oscar party! Since it’s a weeknight and the show runs late, it will be a pajama party. People will be cozy, well-fed and filled with Prosecco. Go LaLa Land!

Green is Golden

If you can’t spend ample time outdoors, bring the outdoors in. Buy a palm and place it by a sunny window.

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Add whimsy to plants you bring indoors, with funny planters and conversation pieces

Doors to Enlightenment

So your holiday wreath is down. It doesn’t mean your home should go unadorned. Have something beautiful waiting for you every day when you return. There are plenty of gorgeous wreaths you can use year-round. You can even create one.

Think Spring

Spring may be a few months away, but now is a perfect time to imagine how you’d like to use the green space outdoors. Whether planning a vegetable patch or a fire pit, enjoy researching the best place to plant, the best deals on materials and read reviews if thinking of buying plants or seed online. My son is obsessed with blueberries, and I’m a fan of raspberries. When Spring arrives, I won’t be making a mad dash to plant these bushes before the heat of summer sets in.

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We added this pergola to our home to accommodate our Concord grapes – Max not included

…and then before you know it, the holidays will be back.

Happy 2017!