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I’m all about versatility, making multiple uses of a beautiful object. Today, let’s explore how you can take a vase and a leafless branch and make displays that will generate conversation and say something about your creativity!

This idea has been in our family for over ten years. When our children were little and I was decorating for the Baha’i Faith’s gift-giving time, called Ayyam-i-Ha, I wanted a similar feature to the Christmas tree with all its beautiful ornaments. What I came up with was a couple of bare branches positioned in a miniature galvanized bucket and held in place with aquarium gravel. My “ornaments” were  mirrored baubles from India and butterflies and birds from feathers. The idea was to acknowledge part of my daughter’s heritage (she is adopted from India) and to expand our childrens’ exposure to the arts and crafts of other parts of the world. Just a week ago, my daughter who is now 21, told me how much she treasures her memories of that little tree. Here is a picture of it.

Suzanna last summer in Chicago

Ayyam-i-Ha tree

I recently dismantled it to give it new life as a way to showcase a Mother’s Day gift of jewelry. Now instead of a bucket, I’ve inserted the branches into a vase (in this case the Petite Arrange -It-Easy Vase from Entertaining At Home–a gratifying feature of owning this vase is knowing that $2 from the purchase price was a donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation)–you can see this vase on page 51 of the Entertaining At Home catalog

So here are some ideas to turn this little tree into a way to showcase your Mother’s Day gift.

1. Of course, jewelry is always a winner. Earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces, pendents, charms–all can grace the branches of the tree.

2. What does she collect? Find small versions of whatever that is and hang them from the tree!

3. Get the kids involved. Have each child write down a chore or a special activity that he or she will promise to do for or with mom on a small piece of paper and tie that paper to one of the branches of the tree. Mom can call in the gift chores as she needs them. It might be something so simple as “I will not fight with my brother for an hour today!”

4. The tree could hold the starting clue to a scavenger hunt, from one clue to the next until the actual gift is found.

Other uses for a tree of this sort? How about if you like to do dream boards for your business or life? Hang little cards from the tree with the words or pictures describing your dreams or goals?

I hope you have enjoyed this idea. Do you have other ideas on how to use a tree in a vase like this? Please share them by posting a comment at the end of this blog.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms!

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If you read my previous post on Sabzeh, you might be interested in the history behind this celebration. A very detailed explanation of the celebration as experienced in Persia (Iran) is found in a great cookbook, entitled New Food Of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, by Najmieh Batmanglij. You can find this on pages 403-408 in the 2008 edition. This is a beautiful book with enticing photos of the prepared food AND ancient Persian art. The book jacket describes the book as “a treasure of 250 classical and regional Iranian recipes. 120 color photographs of food intertwined with Persian miniatures and illustrations together with descriptions of ancient and modern ceremonies make New Food of Life not just a collection of excellent recipes but also an introduction to Persian art and culture.”

The book is lovely and interesting enough to be a coffee table book, especially for foodies, travelers and art historians.

I didn’t buy the book for any of those reasons though. I bought it to explore a cuisine I could cook for my husband who is allergic to wheat. Very few of the recipes use wheat; there is much more use of rice. So if you or a family member have issues with wheat, you might explore Persian cuisine. I’m sure there are other good cookbooks out there. I’m just familiar with this one and it is available in Barnes and Noble  stores. The author does a good job of addressing the issue of specialty ingredients. Compared to Indian cuisine, I think the Persian recipes call for fewer exotic ingredients. Still, you will need access to a middle Eastern grocery store for some of the ingredients. Helpfully, the author includes a list of specialty stores by state and city in the back of the book. The one I explored in Houston, Phoenicia Supermarket on Westheimer, was a true delight to visit. They supply ingredients for many middle eastern cuisines as well as cooking supplies, books, carryout, and a dining area.  It’s a great place to explore.

Naw Ruz being March 21, I wish you Happy Naw Ruz!

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When Entertaining At Home held their Leadership Conference this 2010 in Las Vegas, they treated us to tablescapes designed by Grammy Award winning recording artist,and award winning author and composer Larry Hart and his partner, whose name I’m sorry I don’t recall.

One of the tablescapes was called Pretty in Pink.

Pretty in Pink tablescape using EAH and SLAH products

The criteria for elements on the tables was that they be products sold either in the  Southern Living At Home catalog or the Entertaining At Home catalog. The results were proof positive that the two product lines are going to work well together.

One of the benefits of attending these company sponsored events is that you always get great ideas to take home and share with hosts and guests. Here is a very easy rose floral arrangement using only 4 roses, some decorative “jewels” or clear marbles, and a small square vase.

Take the 4-6 roses and cut their stems  so that their length is clearly longer than the vase is tall, but cutting off most of the long stem. Then, shockingly, put the roses blossom down into the vase. Fill the vase completely with roses, but it is not necessary to wedge them in.

Once the roses are in place, resting against the bottom of the vase, take scissors and cut the stems flush with the top of the vase.

Remove the roses temporarily. Place the “jewels” into the bottom of the vase. Fill to the top of the jewels with water. Reinsert the roses, this time stem end into the water. The “jewels” will keep the roses stable.

The finished result will be roses filling the opening of the vase, but not extending past the top of the vase. This is a striking look, made more so by lining 3 vases down the center of the dinner table or to be an even bigger treat, place one for every guest as a place setting and a gift to take away from the dinner. To accentuate that each vase is a gift, you can tie the vase up with a ribbon.

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I do home parties for my company, Entertaining At Home. Some parties are better than others. Some can be less than desirable from a financial standpoint. The party where I experienced this recipe was one of the latter but I swear the recipe I took away from that party made up for the low sales.

My hostess was from Poland. I tried a  minute ago to Google Polish gorgonzola bread to see if this recipe is unique to Poland. It doesn’t seem to be.

It is however, a very unique and unexpected combination of flavors, which if I hadn’t tried myself, I’m not sure I would believe how good it is.

Gorgonzola-cheese

Here is the ingredient list:

Ciabatta bread

Whole garlic cloves

Gorgonzola cheese

Honey

Olive oil

Technique:

1) Slice the ciabatta bread in half, lay the two halves on a baking sheet and brush them with olive oil lightly.

2) Toast the bread lightly in a 450 degree oven.

3) While the bread is warm, rub a peeled garlic clove or two all over the hot bread. This imparts the lightest touch of garlic flavor to the bread.

4) Crumble the gorgonzola cheese over the bread. I had never had gorgonzola cheese before (and I don’t like bleu cheese). I was pleased to find that gorgonzola is much milder than bleu cheese.

5) Put the bread back into the oven to melt the cheese into the bread.

6) When melted, remove the bread from the oven and slice it into small pieces, a little larger than bite-size.

7) Here’s the magic to the recipe and the stunning finale to the recipe: drizzle honey over the bread. Who would have expected that!

The combination of the pungent cheese, the subtle garlic flavor, and the sweet honey is a taste that must be experienced.

So please try this recipe sometime.  And if you happen to know whether or not this is a Polish recipe, I would love to know. Thanks.

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pokerAnother idea presented by Melissa Evans at Entertaining At Home’s 2009 National Conference to save money on entertaining was all of the various ways to divide the cost of the party among more than one family.  Variations include (1) potlucks; (2) block parties; and (3) progressive dinners.

Potlucks are so old school and still so enjoyable, especially it you have some friends from different ethnic heritages. Ask them to bring some food from their backgrounds.

Block parties take more planning, including making sure you don’t run into conflicts with city ordinances or laws or community restrictions.

A progressive dinner is where each course of the dinner is held at a different person’s home: appetizers at one, soup and salad at another; main course at still another; and dessert and coffee or drinks at the last. You can expand the number of hosts to 5 by making the very last home be for entertainment, such as a movie or card or board games.  Another variation (which increases the costs) is to go to a different restaurant for each course.

A progressive dinner is most suited to an assortment of friends who live in the same or close-by neighborhoods. It can also work for an extended family whose members  live within reasonable driving distance of each other.

The progressive dinner can be organized around a theme, such as an Hawaiaan Luau, a location, such as Dinner on the Deck, or an ethnic choice, such as Italian food.

My son Nathan gave me an idea for a twist on the progressive dinner that most likely would increase the men’s enjoyment of the event: Make it a Poker Progressive Dinner. The inspiration for this idea was the Poker Bike Ride Nathan told me about. In this event, the participants ride their bicycles from one restaurant to another, enjoying part of a dinner at each restaurant and retrieving a playing card at each restaurant. At the last restaurant, the person with the best poker hand wins a prize. There was also a prize for the first person to arrive, but that would not be a feature of the Poker Progressive Dinner.

So why not try the same thing with the progressive dinner: at each home, each guest gets another playing card and at the last home, a prize will be awarded to the best poker hand. Since a poker hand needs at least 5 cards, you’ll need 5 homes with different courses for the meal so either add a beverages course to the start of the progressive dinner or plan to go to the last home for continuing entertainment.

I’m curious as to whether anyone has ever experienced a poker progressive dinner? If so, any special tips to make it successful that you can share?

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Let’s start with a poll.

1) Have you ever had popcorn with nutritional yeast on it? Yes or no.

2) Have you ever HEARD of having popcorn with nutritional yeast on it? Yes or no.

3) If you are familiar with this treat, where did you live when you had it. I’m suspecting this is a regional taste. I did some research on Google and it appears to be known in Wisconsin and California. Register your answers at the end of the post in a comment.  And if you would, ask your friends to also give their answers to this poll. Thanks.

When I was a poor law school student and a member of the Baha’i community in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I was introduced to popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast. It was a very inexpensive yet yummy treat and we were pretty much all poor students,  so that we frequently had popcorn with nutritional yeast as our refreshments for any sort of meeting. It got to be so common, that one guest questioned whether this was a ritual in the Baha’i Faith! Not so, but this has remained one of my favorite treats. Next time you are having a movie night with family or friends, give this a try. I think you will be surprised at how much they enjoy it.

Here’s how I make this treat. I pop the popcorn in a microwave popper. This allows me to not feel so guilty about drowning the popped corn in melted butter! I generally use 1/2 stick of salted butter. Pour the popped corn into your large bowl, pour the butter over the corn, salt to taste, and as the last step sprinkle nutritional yeast all over the popcorn.

A variation I read about, but have not tried myself, is to melt the butter and stir 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast into the melted butter, which you then pour over the popcorn.

So beyond the great, nutty taste of the yeast, are there any good reasons to use nutritional yeast on your popcorn? There actually may be.  It is low in fat and sodium. It has supposed health benefits of being a sleep aid, and has been touted as an aid with diabetes, hypoglycemia, high cholesterol, eczema, and other conditions. I’m not sure I buy into any of those. I just know it is a delicious treat.

So where do you get nutritional yeast? I find it in larger grocery stores that have bulk food aisles. It looks like a yellow flake. You can also buy it online, I’m sure. However, be cautious and know the difference between “brewer’s yeast” and “nutritional yeast.” These labels are sometimes used interchangeably, but the products are slightly different. Nutritional yeast has the better taste; brewer’s yeast has a slightly bitter taste.

If you try this treat, I’d love to hear how you liked it. I’ll be watching for your poll answers too. Enjoy!

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corn_on_the_cobWhile you are grilling those hot dogs and hamburgers this 4th of July,  why not throw the corn on the cob on the grill too?

This method of cooking the corn has to be the easiest of all options. No removing the husks and silks, no wrapping in foil, no boiling water. Preparation is very simple.

PREPARATION:

First pull back the husks a little bit from the top, just to look for any buggies.

Seeing none, immerse the corn (still in the husks) in a large bowl or pan of slightly salted water.  Let them sit there for a few minutes. This is going to accomplish two things. One, if there are any buggies lurking, this is going to flush them out. Second, it is going to saturate the corn husks, allowing them to be on the grill longer before they totally char.

Do not remove the husks and silks. You are going to grill the corn as is.

PROCEDURE:

Over a well lit charcoal fire, place the corn around the outside edge of your grill. If you put it directly over the coals, you are more likely to burn the corn kernels.  The corn will cook while you grill your meats on the central portion of the grill.

Turn the corn a couple of times. The husks are going to start to turn brown.  This is not a problem. Evenly browning the husks lets you know you’ve rotated the corn sufficiently.

As with all grilling, timing is not exact. To estimate when the corn is done, I look for well browned husks. If my meat is not done but I think the corn is, I just push the corn further away from the hot coals. If the meat is close to done and the corn is not, I’ll move the meat away from the hot coals and put the corn directly over the hot coals for a few minutes.

SERVING:

Removed the grilled corn to a large platter. To serve, using a hot pad hold the corn and carefully pull back the husks. You will be amazed at how easy this is and how the silks pull away with the husks.  Break off the husks and serve.

Should the corn be slightly undercooked, you can pop it in the microwave for a small amount of time to finish the cooking.

What vegetables do you grill and how? I’d love to hear.  Happy Fourth of July!

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