Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cheese-Stuffed Dates with Prosciutto

This is a really easy ‘recipe’.  I put ‘recipe’ in quotes, because this requires no cooking, can be made in advance, and it really simple.

I made this when I hosted Christmas Eve for the first time last year.  I was having 20+ people at my house for dinner and I wanted an appetizer that I could make in advance, that didn’t require space in the already full oven.

This recipe from Giada De Laurentiis fit the bill.

I’m linking to it here, because it’s not originally mine, and I didn’t make any changes to it (other than subsisting whatever dates I could find at the food store, since the specified variety weren’t available).

The savory taste of the cheeses, the sweetness of the dates, and the saltiness of the prosciutto was an awesome combination.  I was really happy with how these turned out.

Tip- I skewered mine with a toothpick because some of the prosciutto wasn’t staying around the dates, and because it made it easier for people to pick them up off the platter with their fingers!

Tip #2- When I ran out of prosciutto, I had leftover ingredients.  Since I had some vegetarian guests, I made some cheese-stuffed dates without.  They were still very yummy.

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My DIY (never have to make it again) Advent Calendar

So I did a crafty project and I’m going to share it here.

The Instagram picture I shared with the caption,

The Instagram picture I shared with the caption, “Finished! Finally! Massive undertaking. A DIY Advent calendar of sorts. 25 tiny wrapped gift boxes full of treats.”

I made a little Advent Calendar of sorts for counting down the days until Christmas.  I had wanted one last year, but couldn’t find one I liked that I could afford.  Etsy has many gorgeous items- all kinds of ways to mark the days of Advent from envelopes to buntings, to little wooden shelves with drawers.  However, the ones I liked most were way out of my price range.  It goes without saying that they were also out of skill range!

So, I thought, why not just make something myself?  I’m not really sure how I came up with this idea, but I decided upon wrapping little gift boxes (the type jewelry comes in) with paper and putting goodies and trinkets inside, then putting them in a large vase.  Mabel (and Nemo next year) can open one box per night, leading up to Christmas.

So, here’s how I did it.  I actually had about 16 gift boxes in my house.  This is probably because my husband is really good in the jewelry buying department.  I then hit my mother and sister up for the remaining 9 boxes I needed.  If you’re doing the math, that’s 25 boxes, instead of the traditional 24- I’ll get to why later.

Even before I had all the boxes, I started wrapping.  It took HOURS and HOURS to wrap all those little boxes.  Especially because I wrapped the lids and the bottoms separately and towards the end I was kind of scrounging for boxes and wound up struggling to wrap one heart-shaped box and one round box.  If I’m going to wrap 25 tiny boxes, I’m only doing it ONCE.  This way, I can tie the boxes with string each year and never have to wrap again.  I used scrapbook paper I had on hand from making the bunting for Nemo’s Christening.  I chose mostly greens, blues, and browns.  It works for Christmas, without being ‘too Christmas-y’ I think.  You can see the before and after below.

I also had a tag-punch for making gift tags.  Since some of the contents would be date specific (details below), I needed a way to label them.  I purchased this assortment of stamps from Amazon because 1-25 would vary in width and I wanted to make sure they would fit on the tags.  (Note:  I’m super cheap and wasn’t willing to buy the acrylic block.  I was going to just use them without it, but realized that I had a lame paperweight my company gave out that was acrylic, so I just used that and it worked perfectly.  I have to say, having the block be see-through really helped with placing the numbers in the center, not going off the edge, etc.)  I used a gold stamp pad I already had (from making the Save The Dates way back when Mac and I were engaged).  You can see the 25 tags below.

So, once I had the boxes wrapped and the tags punched and stamped, it was time to fill the boxes.  I had been brainstorming ideas on what to include for a few weeks- keeping my eyes peeled when I was out shopping.  A lot of Advent Calendars just contain candies, so I picked up a bag of soft candy cane mints at the grocery store.  I chose this kind because Mabel is still too young for hard candy and I didn’t want the mess of actual candy canes!  (Also, these are my sister’s favorite, so she’s getting the leftovers!)  I also put in some Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses (these things are AWESOME- like peppermint bark!).

So I had candy, but I wanted to mix it up.  I also didn’t want to forget what we are actually celebrating during Advent and Christmas.  So, I included some of the figurines from Mabel’s kids Nativity.  Last year, my mom got her this Little People Nativity I had put on her Christmas list.  It’s great because she loves to play with it and makes no attempts to touch my porcelain nativity!  So, I put the 3 wise men in one of the larger boxes.  I then put Mary and Joseph in separate boxes.  Those boxes will be opened early on so that Mabel (and Nemo) can play with them.  Then, in keeping with the reason for Christmas, I put the baby Jesus in his own box- box 25.  Mabel can open that box Christmas morning and put Jesus in the nativity scene (assuming we bring it with us to North Carolina, where we will be spending Christmas with my in laws).

In addition to the figures, I picked up a few other goodies.  A ring pop, a push pop, a hair bow, a My Little Pony toothbrush with toothpaste (makes up for some of the candy!), and ‘Reindeer Food’ (see the picture above, it’s in box 24 so we can sprinkle it out on Christmas Eve).  I also picked up a few new Christmas books- Llama Llama Holiday Drama and This is the Stable through Mabel’s preschool Scholastic book club.  Since the books themselves wouldn’t fit, I cut out pictures of them from the book flier, clued them to tags, and put them in boxes.

I have lots of other ideas for future years.  My friend Stefanie posted about this great idea of a book only Advent Calendar of sorts.  As we accumulate more books (we already have a dozen or so) this could be a nice way to do it one year.  The reason I didn’t dole out our books that way this year was because I didn’t want to have to wait to read some of them!  Also, it’s A LOT of wrapping paper to use every year.  If I did, I’d write the names of the books and put them inside the boxes.

Other possibilities include hot chocolate packets, Christmas ornaments, small crafts, holiday movies, holiday CDs, holiday jewelry (earring, pins, etc.), cookies.  Really, if you were to print out pictures (or write out something for older kids) you could have any gift or activity in a little box (i.e. tree lighting, caroling, craft, baking, etc).

One thing that I think will be nice with this idea for Advent is that it will grow with the kids.  As they get older, I can change what I include in the boxes.

So, back to the DIY-ing.  I had all the wrapped boxes, the tags, the goodies.  I fit everything into boxes as best I could and tied them all with Baker’s twine.  I ordered this Baker’s twine from Amazon.  There is A LOT- I’m set for life in the Baker’s twine department, but it was much more reasonable than ribbon or Baker’s twine from the local craft store.  Also, I can have it on had for other uses.  I tied the string around the boxes, made a bow, then put the tag on and made another bow- that kept the tag in place.

Once everything was tied up, I filled the vase- starting with the 25, so it would be at the bottom.  The vase wasn’t big enough (if I had purchased boxes, or been more picky, I would have chosen small ones and they all would have fit in, but I’m cheap and not that picky!) so I arranged the earliest boxes around the vase.  I think it looks nice!

I finished this project on Sunday (I had time to work on it over the Thanksgiving holiday) and so far, Mabel hasn’t seemed to notice it, inquire about it, or try to open anything.  I think she got used to seeing the boxes on our dining room table as I was working on wrapping them- and every time she opened one, it was empty.  I told her that they would be filled and have treats for her, but at almost-3, I’m not sure how much she grasped about what was happening.  This is really the first Christmas where she’s more of a little kid than a baby, but not entirely.

So, that’s my DIY, reusable, Advent calendar.  I like how it came out, and I’m glad I never have to make it again!  Next year I can just fill it!  It will be especially easy if I manage to put the twine and tag in the box after Mabel opens it. Then next year I won’t even have to worry about new twine or tags.  However, with a preschooler, that may not be possible!

Any other cool ideas for marking the days of Advent?

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I wish I was less of a scientist…

I wish I was less of a scientist when a friend posts or tweets something and comments on “Mother Nature,” because all I can think of is, “It’s not Mother Nature, it’s science.  That flower/fruit/animal was genetically engineered, by breeding, to be like that.”

For example, wild strawberries are teeny tiny compared to the Godzilla-sized ones you can buy at the store.  Why?  Because they’ve been bred.

“Clockwise from top: local garden strawberry from u-pick operation, variety unknown; true wild strawberry, from up the road; Mignonette, from the garden; Pineapple, a “white” alpine (supposedly less attractive to birds) that has gone wild in the side yard; and one of the u-pick strawberries standing in for the size of a Tristar” (Source: www.leslieland.com)

Think about it- varieties of seedless fruits wouldn’t survive in the wild!  Seedless grapes, watermelons, oranges- they are all the result of genetic engineering.

Also, a lot of hybrid crazy plants- lilies and roses, are just extreme phenotypes selected and bred.

Now, I know this makes me sound like a party popper, but I’m not.  I am still in awe of Godzilla strawberries, insanely fragrant and colorful flowers, and I love seedless grapes (I mean, who wants seeds in there?), I just know that in addition to Mother Nature, I have human ingenuity to thank for them.

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Nemo’s Christening

Back in October, we celebrated Nemo’s baptism.  It was really special for me.  It was much later than I would have liked, but we managed to have lots of friends and family make it to celebrate with us.

Nemo was baptized at our church and as usual with my big, Irish-Catholic family, ours was the biggest crowd.  My sister (aka Aunt Meg) was Nemo’s godmother, and our dear friend (who is also Mabel’s godfather) agreed to serve double-duty as Nemo’s godfather.  Mac and I both feel very grateful they accepted.  When it comes down to it, it can be hard to find people who are truly good Christians, who walk the walk, instead of just talking the talk.  Add to that, the somewhat inane requirements of the Archdiocese of New York, and it is nearly impossible.  Thankfully, we didn’t have to look far for two excellent examples of how he should live his spiritual life.

The ceremony was wonderful.  Nemo was cooperative and happy (he was also the oldest of the babies being baptized that day).  He wore the same christening gown worn by me, his godmother, and his older sister.  I was teary-eyed as we blessed him, and welcomed him into the church.  It was also very moving knowing that the ceremony was creating formal, and sacred bonds between Nemo and his godparents.  The sacred chrism the deacon used to bless him left him smelling divine all day.

After the ceremony and lots of pictures, we then went back to our house for a big party!

It was the first time since we moved into the house in March of 2011 that we had a party and really used the outside space.  We lucked out with gorgeous weather.  It took a lot of effort, but we got out all our second-hand lawn furniture, deck furniture, etc. and had people out enjoying the yard, deck, and porch.  (Ironically, we had to scramble to put it all away again the next weekend because of Hurricane Sandy).  Just like I remember doing as a kid, all the cousins were outside running around, playing ball, blowing bubbles, and generally having fun.

I tried not to go overboard and stress about the party.  I wanted to remember the reason we were gathering to celebrate and not get caught up in the preparations.  Thankfully I had a lot of help.  My mom made most of the food (penne a la vodka and a swiss cheese chicken casserole-type dish), I made some roasted veggies.  We put out some chips and dip.  There was apple cider, wine and beer, sodas, and some juice.  From our local Stop and Shop, I got a veggie crudite platter, cold cut platter with rolls and salads, and called it a day.  My mother in law made several desserts, and we had the cake (see below) and a veggie platter (also from Stop and Shop).  I did splurge and have a coworker of my mom’s come and help during the party.  While we were at the church, she was at our house heating up all the food, doing all the prep, and welcoming any guests who arrived early.  She stayed for the duration and even did most of the cleanup.  It was the best money I spent on the party.  Having her there was crucial for me to enjoy the party- I didn’t have to be in the kitchen the whole time, I could visit with my guests.

There were a few things I did put more time and effort into.

For decorations, I made a bunting (you can see it behind us in the first photo- perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post about how I did it) that said “God + Bless Nemo” (except with his real name, the + was a cross).  The bunting was time consuming, and thankfully Aunt Meg helped.  I made something similar for Mabel’s first birthday and displayed it on her second birthday as well. You can see it here.  When it isn’t her birthday, the portion with her name hangs in her room.  I intend to do the same thing for Nemo.

Another thing I focused on was the cake.  I searched the internet for inspiration photos of cakes and Aunt Meg and I liked this one the best.  I took the picture to our local bakery, Homestyle Desserts Bakery, and they created the beautiful and delicious cake you see in the pictures, for a price that was surprisingly low given how it looked and tasted.  The cake was probably Mabel’s favorite part of this whole shebang given that she came with me when we placed the order and the ladies at the bakery gave us a huge plate with 5 or 6 slices of cake to taste test.  In the end we went with chocolate cake, cannoli filling, and buttercream frosting.  I was really amazed at how yummy it was and got many compliments from party guests.

The other thing I splurged on was Nemo’s outfit (whopping grand total of $26).  I had picked up a little Janie and Jack seersucker suit from Once Upon a Child before he was even born, for only $10.  It was sized 3/6 months and I figured it would work for his christening.  I had seen on Etsy, onsies with ties sewn on, and I had a color scheme in my head.  I found a few inspiration photos and contacted Connie of threeKdesigns to see if she could make the one I was imagining.

She did an awesome job!  She gave me a choice of fabrics based on my inspiration pictures and got it just right.  Here and here are the inspiration photos I sent her.  I liked the salmon color with the beige stripes of the suit.  You can see the finished product in the picture above (for a close up of the fabrics, click here), for only $16.  I’m looking forward to getting more of these for Nemo in the future.

So, that’s Nemo’s christening celebration in a nutshell.  I know I spent more time talking about the planning than the actual ceremony, but I can assure you, the day was all a celebration of him and his spiritual life.  It was a chance for lots of extended family and friends to meet him for the first time.  He was awake for most of the party and happily passed along so everyone could get a snuggle.  It was so special to me to gather our friends and our family together for such a joyous occasion.

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Good Housekeeping gets the science right

I was flipping through Good Housekeeping today (yes I read it!) and was really happy to see the article, “Could a petri dish save your life?

It was a well-written, well-researchered article about the emerging science behind the use of stem cells to treat disease.  Much of the article focused on how to tell real treatments from scams, and they did a great job.

They included insets on warning signs that you’re dealing with a fraud, as well as stories from patient’s and their families- some of whom enrolled in bona fide medical trials, and others who were scammed out of thousands by charlatans selling them false home of stem cell based cures.

I’ve written in the past about how to ensure you’re getting your info from a reliable source, here.

Once source used in the Good Housekeeping article is the International Society for Stem Cell Research (of which I am a member).  They have an entire site dedicated to public awareness and education on  stem cells.

They also have a special section just for patients considering stem cell-based therapies.   You can find that site, “A closer look at stem cell treatments:  Considering stem cell treatment?”  It includes what to look for, what to look out for, questions to ask, even a downloadable/printable handbook patients can take with them to appointments.

The ISSCR used to allow the public to submit the names of clinics advertising stem cell therapies for review to see if their claims stand up to scrutiny from the scientific community.  Not surprisingly, the inquiries unleashed an avalanche of legal threats from clinics.  Despite their efforts being entirely legal, the ISSCR was forced to stop the program or face a paralyzing onslaught of litigation.

As always, know your sources.  Do your background research.  Don’t let fear or hope blind you to realities.

Bravo to Good Housekeeping for a tackling such an important topic and doing a great job presenting a complex issue in such clear way.

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Curiosity for its own sake and consumption of science

A few weeks ago Emily J. Willingham posed a few questions that inspired me to write a post about science, consumption of science, science portrayed by the media, and curiosity for its own sake.  You can see that post here.

Emily enjoyed it enough to cross-post it on one my favorite sites- Double X Science.

If you’ll remember, Emily posed those initial questions for a post she was working on- and that post is up on her new blog at Forbes.

I was both relieved (that I’m not alone in my thinking) and sad (that there is a problem with how science is presented to the public) that other people agree with me.

If you want to read it, and see how your opinions and mine compare to other people who responded to Emily’s query, you can find it here and participate in the discussion:  5 Changes Consumers Want To See In Science News.

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Show {Off} Your Shot! Flashback

Took these over Columbus Day Weekend:

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