Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Even though it's officially Spring, it's still a bit chilly outside. Truthfully, I am not hot weather's biggest fan, so clinging on to cooler temperatures for a bit is welcome! Take me outside into the heat for more than 15 minutes and I become an itsy bitsy bit grumpy. Good thing I live in Canada where hot weather lasts approximately 1 week!

Last year was different. Y was born in January, during quite possibly the coldest winter ever. I mean we had an ice storm right before he was born. C'mon!  I can't even explain how worried I was that I was going to go into labor and be trapped in a storm. Yeah. Then he was born and let me tell you, there is nothing quite like having a colicky baby and being trapped in your apartment for 24 hour day cycles, with the risk of frost bite if you just want to get outside for a breath of fresh air. It sucked. A lot.

Then summer arrived and with it colic left. I'm making it sound significantly lighter than it was, but more on colic another time.

Basically, last Spring and Summer were more than just sticky days. It was freedom, and new adventures with our little boy!

As I reminisce about those warm, sunny days, I'm sharing a recipe that M & I would make for Shabbos pretty much every week when I was pregnant with Y. I was obsessed. I could not get enough of this salad - yeah salad. I skipped all those sweet cravings and opted for salad. For reals.

For years the only vegetables I'd eat were carrots or potatoes. And let me clarify... I'd only eat the carrots if they were baked into a cake or muffin, or if they were boiled the way my grandmother, Avo Ana, would make them. By the way when I say "for years" I mean up until, oh maybe... six years ago! But all of a sudden, pregnant me tolerated and actually liked spinach! The strawberries, vinaigrette & almonds could have something to do with it though...

I will admit, I used a store bought dressing *gasp.* In my defense it is pretty fantastic. I've never been very good at making dressings, they're always either too oily, not oily enough or just off. That and caramel, are two things to date, that this itsy bitsy balebusta has not been able to successfully make. Anyhow, M & I finally settled on a Tonelli raspberry vinaigrette after standing in the aisle at the grocery store for way too long. We had previously tried one other dressing which M accurately described as, "tastes like cardboard." We definitely had better luck with this one, I mean we literally wanted to add it to everything we ate! It's light, sweet and adds the perfect finishing touch! If you feel inclined to make your own, you can find a fantastic homemade variation over at Overtime Cook, where she shares her recipe for Raspberry Zinger Vinaigrette! I've substituted the raspberry tea for pomegranate tea (special Rosh HaShanah treat!) and it was great, so you're able to play around with it to suit your taste. If I can successfully make this vinaigrette, you most definitely can too!

So here's a fresh, healthy and colorful way to bring in Spring! I'll return to dessert recipes shortly, promise!

Strawberry Spinach Salad (Serves 4)

5 cups of flat leaf baby spinach (washed and checked, I usually refer to the Kof-K guide)
1 cup of sliced strawberries (again, checked using the Kof-K guide)
1/2 cucumber, sliced thinly
1/4 cup slivered almonds
vinaigrette of your choice
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Add ingredients to a large bowl and toss. Dress with vinaigrette after plating. Add sesame seeds after vinaigrette!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How To Plan A Stress Free Party Part 3: Decorations & Details!

I hope our previous post in the series, helped you with ideas for layout and general party set up! At the end of the series, I’ll provide a check list with all of the tips in one place as well as my prep schedule for the week leading up to the party!

Now for more fun stuff!

When it came to the decorations for the room, we tried our hand at making them ourselves! I really loved the way the display on the main table turned out and it was super simple and cost effective! Each month, M & I (struggled) to take a “month by month” picture of Y. We’d dress him up in a white onesie and jeans, and add a tie that read how many months old he was and seat him in the same chair. It started off super simple in the early days (about the only thing that was simple then, ha!), when he would just sit there and cooperate unknowingly, but towards month 7 he started attempting to eat the tie, jump off the chair and in general wreak havoc on the mini photo shoot! Regardless we got a picture each month, and the progression from baby to little boy over the 12 photos is unbelievable! I wanted to incorporate these photos into the party and decided that a backdrop on the head table, was the perfect way to do so! It wasn't difficult at all, and replaced the customary “Happy Birthday Banner” I assumed we’d use. It was definitely a more personal touch, and a conversation piece for guests as they approached the table. M loved hearing people debate which month and photo the transition from baby to little boy happened, and it was so interesting to hear everyone’s different opinions!

Basically, I took a large white project board and wrapped it in green wrapping paper. I had the month by month photos printed out as 4 x 6’s with a white boarder, and lined them up in two rows, months 1-6 and 7-12. Above these, using the same file we created for his invitations, I printed out three 8.5 x 11 sheets, reading, “Happy Birthday Mr. 1-derful” respectively. I cut them out into a wavy pattern and placed them above the images! Finally I came across this quote on Project Nursery's post and absolutely loved it, so I added a matching frame with the quote, right above the photos. It was the perfect personal touch to decorate the head table and replaced the need for decorations on the wall or a banner!

As I mentioned in part 2 of the series, the gift table also held a bib, that served as a guest book for Y's first birthday party! I originally saw this idea on the BLovely Events page (through Pinterest) who used a onesie at a baby shower in the same way. I was planning on first writing Y’s name on a onesie. I decided a My First Birthday onesie would be ideal, but searched with no luck. It wasn't until I came across this bib, in the clearance section, that I finally found a suitable piece! Other than packing it into the bag to take to the party, together with a box of markers, it left me with no work! It was a really easy addition, a great conversation piece and memento, and it was very cute to see how enthusiastic everyone was about signing it! We purchased a second one for Y to actually wear when we had cake, over his Birthday Boy t-shirt. That tee, a long-sleeve white onesie and a pair of jeans, completed his simple, comfortable, birthday outfit! 

On the table, alongside the bib, we placed two posters, outlining Y’s milestones over his first year. There is plenty of inspiration on Pinterest that can help you tailor this to your unique little one! I especially loved this one. On our poster, I added info about all of Y’s favorite things, from his favorite books, songs and foods, to all the things he can do (Wave! Give kisses! etc) as well as, all of the things he loves (walks, my parents dog etc). I created it on a chalkboard background from How to Nest for Less and downloaded chalkboard fonts from Where the Smiles Have Been, to complete the look! We then had it printed at our local Staples and laminated so that we could keep it and add it to his baby book (that I’ll finish one day!). 

Next to this, again using the same file we created for his invitation and the Happy Birthday banner on the board, I created a poster with all of Y’s firsts! I wrote the milestone in one font and the date/ month it happened underneath it in a different one. Everything from first smile, to first road trip, airplane ride, food, tooth, crawl and so on. I had kept track of these on my phone in a calendar and note over the course of the year and realized this would be a great way to get them all in one place! A quick scan of my private Instagram account also reminded me of a bunch of milestones (and luckily on the webpage – not on the app, the dates are listed underneath each picture!).

Both of these posters accompanied the bib “guest book” and like the board, were great conversation pieces. They also ensured the décor really reflected our little boy and all the many reasons we have to celebrate his first year!

A final small but effective addition to the décor, was the use of these place cards from Catch My Party. I used them to clarify what was dairy/dairy-free on the main table, one on the coloring table asking the kids to color in a sheet for Y and one on the gift table next to the bib reading, “We’re so happy that you’re here! Please sign Y’s bib to celebrate his first year!”. They were incredibly useful, and I brought along a bunch extra in case I thought of anywhere else I would need one. The pattern is also absolutely adorable and simple enough that it complemented the rest of the décor easily!

That’s all for the décor aspect of the series! If you have any questions feel free to email me (victoria@itsybitsybalebusta.com) or leave a comment below!

Next up… our menu and all the baked goods, sweets and snacks! Join us for the next part of the series coming up soon!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Handmade Gifts From The Kitchen!

Versatility in life while cooking and in the kitchen is essential. The ability to swap ingredients or alter recipes, especially for the kosher cook (or anyone with dietary guidelines to follow, be it for allergies, intolerance etc) comes hand in hand with prepping meals! When that versatility expands to cookbooks, you know this Itsy Bitsy Balebusta is thrilled!

I rarely accept an invite to a meal without offering to contribute (unless Y is having a particularly fun – read 'challenging' – week, oh teething!). Also, living on a budget, we usually opt to bring a baked good, plated and wrapped, as a hostess gift, when we make it out. Special occasions from Chanukah to birthdays also always include a little baked treat from our kitchen! I love the personal touch it adds to a gift, and I always make an effort to include favorite flavors, themes and recipes! Who doesn't love a fresh homemade dessert?

Given all of this, I was thrilled to receive this stunning cookbook. Alison Walker’sHandmade Gifts From The Kitchen, is a beautiful, instructive, creative collection of recipes, ideas and tips. Not only is this book filled to the brim with fantastic recipes, notes on packaging, presentation and assembly, it inspires and encourages you to get into your kitchen!

While handmade gifts are a treasure all year round, what better time to refer to such a wonderful collection, than with Purim around the corner? All it takes is a quick glance through these gorgeous pages to have enough ideas to spark a multitude of themes and additions to your Mishloach Manos! (On Purim, we gift food and treats to our friends, in the spirit of love, friendship and brotherhood, and to ensure that everyone has ample food for the Purim seudah or feast, that is held later in the day! These Mishloach Manos, can be theme-oriented, sweet or savory, and must be ready to eat items.)

One of my personal favorite recipes, is simple and classic, and sure to become a go-to. The Poppy & Sesame Seed Crackers, are super easy to make and with a bit of parchment paper and a lovely gift box, you have a great gift ready to go! Add a few packets of tea, maybe some fruit or a Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake, also in the cookbook, and a wonderful Mishaloch Manos for a teacher, neighbor or friend and relative is set! This would also make for a great end-of-year gift for teachers, with a special personal touch!

The creativity continues with Chocolate Button Shortbread Cookies. These would be a fantastic addition to a teddy bear themed Mishaloch Manos, or alternatively as a treat for a new Mom, with a little "Cute As A Button" gift tag attached!

That’s the wonderful feature about this cookbook. You aren't just flipping through pages, finding ideas for dinner or dessert! Each page brings you inspiration for gifts and treats to share with your family and friends, beyond your dining table! And with some of the later recipes, that require time to sit after they're made, Alison is helping you to stock your pantry for, as she put it in her introduction, those moments when you need an impromptu gift. How many times are you running out the door to an event that was supposed to be in the calendar but somehow got mixed up and have to plan extra time to stop and pick up a little hostess gift? With these incredible recipes, you'll have an arsenal of gifts ready at a moments notice (or as a special treat for yourself too, on those especially long days!).

The recipes are not only sweet based. There are plenty of simple, savory options as well! These range from marinated olives to BBQ sauce, pumpkin relish, and a variety of chutney and mustard! There is even a From the Garden section as well as the Raise a Glass chapter, which includes recipes for liquors and vodka. Yes. This book literally has everything! An exceptional lineup of gifts you can make from your kitchen is tucked between these pages! And not only are the treats gorgeous in their own right, they're also versatile and can be used as decor! The Stollen Wreath for instance, doubles as a fantastic centerpiece! By the last page, you're so inspired that you see multiple uses for common gifts and have plenty of your own packaging & gifting ideas as well!

There are recipes that are simple enough to include the whole family, and what better way to get everyone involved in Purim preparation, and help kids add their own personal touch, than in the kitchen! Sure, there will be some mess, and it may take a bit longer, but the memories and pride of presenting their friends and family with something they've made is totally worth it! As Alison shares in her introduction, and I agree, "true pleasure comes from sharing food!"

And yes, anyone who's made a hostess gift or Mishloach Manos can tell you, that while prepping all of these items is time consuming, it's also oftentimes less expensive than purchasing gifts. Add the bonus of the joy of sharing something made with a personal touch and love and what could be more special? This cookbook also goes above and beyond to help make the whole process as easy as possible, with resource guides to where to buy packaging and materials, as well as ideas for how to plate and present the items! There's info on when to bake before gifting, how long in advance items need to be prepared, or how long they should marinate/ sit before being given and so much more.

Overall, this is a gorgeous book, brimming with inspiration and absolutely stunning images, any of which I'd love to have framed in our kitchen! It's versatile, both inherently with the multitude of recipes and ideas included, and in the sense that you'll be pulling it off of your shelf every Purim to add that special, unqiue treat to your Mishloach Manos, as well as for any Shabbos you find yourself going out, any time you're a guest or any time the opportunity to brighten someone's day with a little baked treat presents itself! And the great thing about this book is that you'll find yourself looking to do so more often, just to flip through the beautiful pages and experience the joy of sharing Handmade Gifts From The Kitchen!

Disclaimer: This cookbook was provided to me by Appetite by Random House. All opinions contained within my review are solely mine.