Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How We Celebrated

Since it's the week before New Year's, I think I can still get away with talking about Christmas, right?!? 

I grew up in an area where not only were the neighborhoods were filled with Christmas lights, but a couple local establishments did Holiday themed exhibits, like the zoo, and a local drive through holiday show.  I have fond memories of driving around with my family and my mom, "ooohing" and "ahhhing" at all the pretty lights. That was tradition by the way, you must ooooh and aaaah at the lights.  So, I figured I'd take my kids out in search of some awesome Christmas lights.  

I packed bags of treats and packed each little a bag of popcorn, and we headed on our way.  I was hoping to find some popular neighborhoods that were mostly decked out, but that didn't happen.  Instead, a quick research on the web told me there were about 5 well known houses in Westchester County that went all out. All in all, our driving tour took about two hours.  There was no complaining, no crying, only excitement!  

Check out some of these awesomely decked out houses! Now if only I had known to bring time...

This is the first house we visited.  This was exhibit was pretty amazing and set the bar really high for the rest of the houses.  

Then we headed out to a house that had several houses coordinated with musical accompaniment that you could listen to from your car.  

Then we headed out to another house where little Christmas themed houses were on display.
This was my favorite house.  

Then, later that week I was watching a local news station that mentioned Christmas lights in Dyker Heights Brooklyn, where people spend upwards of $20,000 per house! This is what I'm talking about! 

There were plenty of places for pictures

And of course, light sabers were a must.  I had heard before they were selling things, and would you believe that it was warm enough for the Mister Softee (ice cream) truck to be out?!?

And we even saw Santa on a horse drawn sleigh

It took us awhile to find parking, but my brother finally found us a spot and held it for us

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Giving to Family & Friends

I've always been a gift giver, a giver at the usual times, a giver at the necessary times, and a giver just because.  It's a blessing and a curse honestly.  I love being able to bring joy to people, but at the same time the cost can add up.  I've mentioned before that my ideas pop into my head at random times, and I'm not one to easily let go of these ideas, no matter how intricate or over the top the plans are! I usually will cause myself unnecessary stress, but at the end, the smiles and joy are so worth it.  
That's why I really like to gift those we love with a special Chanukah gift, one that's handmade with the littles hands.  It doesn't get better than that.  These gifts become keepsakes, and years later they're still hanging.  

You can see what we did last year HERE
You can see what we did in 2013 HERE 
You can see what we did in 2012 HERE

But this year, I took it a step above handmade.  My kids love painting, so earlier in the year we went to a local ceramics place that has incredibly great prices, and the owner is incredibly friendly. Her shop is in her backyard and she took right to the kids from the get go.  You can call ahead and she'll advise you when is a good time to come.  I knew when we went the first time, we would go back to paint our Chanukah gifts.  I didn't want to spoil the surprise, which is why I'm only blogging about it now, but almost everyone has received their gift.  

Even Hannah was interested in getting in on the painting.  

I know a lot of ceramic painting places are boutique like establishments so their items cost an arm and a leg to paint. I painted 9 items, for $108!!! My advice would be to look for an individually owned ceramic place, or buy unpainted ceramics off of Etsy, along with a ceramic paint set.  

Happy Painting!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Gift Giving

I'm sure there are some last minute gift giving scramblers out there, so I wanted to share my quick, affordable and totally adorable holiday gifts I gave to some of my staff members this week.  
The problem with gift giving is that when you're trying to stick to a low budget, you run out of the "obvious" gifts quickly.  I have already given them the $1 Starbucks reusable cup

and the initial Anthropologie cup

So I had to come up with something new. And I quickly came up with the idea or warm and fuzzy socks for my female co-workers. I found some good prices at Nordstrom, for about $8 a pair, but because I was out of time to rely on shipping, I went to Target.  Where I found pink and red snowflake socks, for $3.  They were perfect-winter themed, and super plush.  

So socks were the main gift, but what would I give to hold the socks? I knew I could find a cute trinket holder at Target too, but was worried about the price.  I had to run an errand to Micheals where I came across these remkins that were on sale for $1.19!  I knew it was perfect because it was the right size, holiday themed, and something that could be used anywhere in the house.  

Then when I was shopping at my local grocery store, I found these limited holiday edition white chocolate peppermint Lindt truffles that came with two truffles per mini package. It was the perfect detail to my gift-everyone wants chocolate, but no female wants more than a reasonable serving. 

I had bought some shrink wrap for a cookie order, so I decided I would try to wrap my gifts that way.  I watched some tutorials and gave it my first attempt.

  It didn't come out perfect, but it made all the difference in schelping these gifts to work.  You don't have to worry the contents will spill out, so you can carry it much easier and without worry! 
I actually used my embossing tool to shrink the wrap, since my hair dryer is broken and it did the trick. You can learn more about embossing here, but I'm warning you, it will become an addiction.

For my male co-worker gifts I had seen this incredible idea on my friend's blog Beckham + Belle  and knew I wanted to copy it. I found slate coasters at Michales for $2.99, but if all else fails, Amazon has them for about $10 for 4. She used a silhouette machine to make her templates and at fist I was thinking of tracing the templace onto contact paper to make my own stencil, but I realized I could use my machine that I use to trace onto cookies.

  I was pretty nervous about being able to trace with enough perfection that it would look legible, but they came out amazing!  

I don't have a picture of the final product, but it was perfection.  

 And of course, some winter cookie sets I did 

Happy Holidays

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Munchies...

A couple weeks ago my friend let me in on a new recipe, "the easiest ziti..." 
How card can ziti be in all truthfulness?  But, the one I use is a little annoying-measuring out sauce and ricotta, half here, half there-it creates a lot of dirty dishes, and for those of you that have been reading for some time now, know that I hate extra dishes!  I'm sure many of you can relate to a busy work week, where dinner seems like an impossible task.  Personally, not only do we struggle with kid-friendly food, we also struggle with managing time to prepare, cook, eat and still have time left over for homework and relaxing.  That's why this ziti is a lifesaver.  And you know why I don't have a picture? Because I made it for our Chanuka party last week, and it was devoured before I could get in there! I didn't even get to taste it-so I guess we both have to take everyone else's word for how amazing this was!  

1-minute Ziti, or The Easiest Ziti Ever
1 box ziti or penne rigate (that's the thin almost like ziti noodles)
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce 
shredded mozzarella  

Pour the box of pasta into a 9x13 pan/tray.  
Pour in the jar of sauce. 
Use the now empty jar and fill it 1/2-3/4 with milk of your choice (I used whole milk) 
Fill the rest of the jar with water, dump it into the pan with the pasta-it will now look like pasta floating with milky liquid.  Use a spoon to fully incorporate the sauce and milk, top with shredded mozzarella.

There are a few ways to bake this.  The standard is 350, covered-for awhile.  I prefer to bake my cheese products uncovered that way they get a nice brown to it.  I also upped the temperature to 375 when I was in a rush.  

All in all, you can't really mess this up, and this will definitely be a crowd or littles pleaser any time you make this! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

It's getting cold out...kinda

In preparation for what should have been winter weather, I pulled out the bin from the garage with all of our winter accessories.  I discovered that we had 14, yes 14 pairs of gloves.  Add to that snow gloves, hats and scarves and you're looking at an organizational nightmare.  Especially considering our closet looks like this

This isn't the prettiest of organizational updates, but that wasn't my point here. We know this space is very temporary and the bottom line is, there isn't much I can do with such a tiny space and such large needs.  So, my one and only goal was to figure out door storage for these winter accessories.  

Last year I purchased this from The Container Store.  Practically speaking, it was what I had in mind.  In reality, it just wasn't big enough.  For some reason their cite isn't working, but it's an over-the-door hanging mesh-like hanging compartment thingamajig.  

I had searched Pinterest high and low and I really wasn't seeing anything that fit our needs.  Somehow, I came up with the idea that hanging large soft baskets  would be my answer (that way they can be smushed when we force the closet door closed and light enough that they can hang from command hooks)  The only thing is, the baskets have to have the right kind of hook/opening for hanging on these hooks.  I wanted to check out my local cheaper establishments like Target, Home Goods and Ikea before I committed to the pricier stores like West Elm, The Container Store, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn...because again, I wasn't going for pretty here.  I eventually found these baskets at Ikea for $10 a piece. 

BOHOLMEN Rinsing tub IKEA Makes washing-up easier if you have one single sink bowl.
So it turns out it's not actually a basket, rather a rinsing tub, but hey, they say use your imagination, and that's exactly what I did.  They are definitely big enough, very light weight, and the "handle" doesn't allow for the basket to really hang much, so it rests securely on the hooks.  

I had to first take down all the hooks that were on the door.  Just a warning, this is what happened when I took down the old command hooks...

Then I had to should have measured the length of the door and bins to plan out appropriate heights and spacing for all of the bins, but I just needed this project done and wasn't interested in spending that much time on it.  I started at what I thought was a good height, so I could see in and reach #shortyproblems, and then I just continued on down until all four were hung and thankfully it all worked out!  

I then used velcro to attach chalkboard signs as my way to label each bin.  They have since all either fallen or been taken down, so I will need to find a way to secure them better soon, as that was my one decorative touch! 

All in all, I have to say I am very pleased that for about $50 I was able to create a somewhat custom winter closet storage system that doesn't kind of work, it absolutely works!  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Munchies

We send Chanukah out with a bang last night! Complete with latkes and a doughnut bar.  You can find my tried and true latke recipe here.  Someone told me they were the best she'd had all Chanukah #winning 

I knew that I wanted to have a small gathering of close friends and family to help my kids feel the spirit of Chanukah.  Our weeks are so busy, and I knew this year I wouldn't be able to have them truly immersed in the Chanukah spirit because we're constantly on the go.  Swimming lessons, homework, working, gym, cooking, you name it we do it! So, I figured this would guarantee I made latkes and doughnuts. Of course, in true Aaryn fashion, I went a little overboard, but it was totally worth it.  

Let's start from the beginning.  The kids activity was supposed to be paint your own cookies. But due to space and time, that ended up being the goodie bag all the kids took home, which was perfectly acceptable!  I make the cookies and frost as usual, and then you outline a specific design-in this case it was a dreidle and a menorah.  I had seen people do gifts too, but I felt that the gift wasn't necessarily a specific Chanukah symbol, so I opted for those two.  Then an additional cookie was made to be the paint pallet.  

The paint is actually food coloring mixed with a drop of vodka so I could paint it on.  I followed this tutorial which was super helpful since I don't have an airbrush.  I must say that on one hand, a more liquidy gel color gave a lighter, more true appearance, but it dried more streaky.  A thicker gel didn't look as true to color, and it took longer to dry, but it looked a bit neater.  

The paint your own cookies were a big big hit, and I definitely plan on doing them again next year!   
I packaged them up to include their own paint brush, and you could even have add a dreidle and some gelt and it would be the perfect Chanukah gift package!  

The reason this post is still called Monday Munchies is because I'm going to tell you all about my doughnuts.  I must say, now this might surprise some of you, I was really sweating this.  I mean, I kept texting my friend whose recipe it is, how nervous I was.  In hindsight, I can tell you, there's absolutely no reason to be nervous, as long as you have active yeast!  

Doughnuts from scratch
11/2 cup milk
1/3 cup shortening 
2 packages yeast 
1/3 cup warm water 
2 eggs beaten 
1/4 cup sugar 
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 
3 cups (maybe more if necessary) flour 
11/2 teaspoon salt 

Place the yeast and water into a small bowl to make sure it's active. 

Place the shortening in another small bowl, then heat the milk. Once the milk is heated, and I just stuck my finger in to see if it was warm, add it to the shortening to melt it.  

Once the shortening is melted, add the milk/shortening, eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg and half the flour into the yeast mixture and beat until all the ingredients are incorporated.  

Continue to add enough flour to make a sticky dough.  I gauged "sticky" by once the dough was all wrapped up in my beater, and it was definitely still sticky.  

You can transfer the dough to a well oiled bowl, or you can spray the dough with PAM on all sides. Cover and let it sit in  warm place to rise for an hour.  If things work out, as they should, the dough should need punched down at least once in the course of the hour. 

Once the dough has risen for an hour, roll it out to 3/8 inch thick. You will definitely need flour at this step. Cut the dough with a cutter, or a glass.  Because we were filling our doughnuts, I did not cut out the middle.  Let the cut outs rise for another 30 minutes.  Heat your oil to 350 degrees.  I did not end up using a thermometer-I used the old fashioned trick of putting some water into the oil and once it sizzled I knew it was ready.  Then just plop the doughnuts in leaving them on one side until browned.  This happens pretty quickly! 

Remove your doughnuts with a slotted spoon and top with powdered sugar immediately so it sticks.  If you're filling or frosting, you can wait until the doughnut cools.  

We made a doughnut bar, but I must say, I need to work on my fillings for next year.  I made caramel, which turned out even better than before since this time I actually made it dairy.  Everyone should try this recipe at least once in their life. It's so easy, and to die for!  I made custard, I've never done that before so I don't know if the end result was a mistake, but let's just say I'm not a custard person.  I used store bought whipped cream, but only after I discovered heavy whipping cream isn't actually whipped cream, so if anyone knows what is actually whipped cream like taste in liquid form, please let me know!  The chocolate filling is the best chocolate frosting recipe ever, the Hershey's frosting recipe.  

I forgot to get the proper tools to fill the doughnuts, so when you live in a medical community, this is what you get! 

 I think for next year, I need to make sure I am properly equipped to fill the doughnuts, but I also noticed that by the end of the night all the toppings got hard and weren't so "fillable."  I found this on Amazon and I'm on the fence about keeping it.  I would't have much use for it otherwise, but it was relatively cheap and seems to do the trick, so it might be worth it!  I can imagine lots of taco, fondue and quesadilla nights with the kids...  

All in all, people were raving about all the food, and we did create some awesome doughnuts!  

My kids already asked where the doughnuts are from last night, so I have a feeling these doughnuts won't just be Chanukah doughnuts...

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