Wow ideas for Simple Items

Floating Gerber Daisies in Series

I am enchanted by simple floral arrangements that highlight the beauty, intricacy and detail of individual blossoms.  From my very first blog post entitled  It’s all about the arrangement (psst….even with last week’s roses)until now, I have advocated for using a few blossoms to create inexpensive and stunning floral arrangements.

When there are many blossoms in an arrangement, very often the individual detail of each flower is lost.  It’s hard to tell the trees from the forest, or rather the flowers from the arrangement.  In an arrangement where a few blossoms rule, it is important to choose full-bodied blossoms like open roses, gerber daisies or large chrysanthemums.

Here I simply floated gerber daisy blossoms cut right below the blossom in square glass bowls.  For a little extra pizzazz, I encircled each blossom with tall leaves that I snipped from my lily bushes.

Voila!

floating gerbers.JPGfloating gerber daisies up close.JPGfloating gerber daisies in series.JPG

Simple Layered Iris Arrangement

For last Shabbos, I decided to pamper myself with some flowers other than the roses that Don brings home ever Friday morning.  I picked up some beautiful irises at Trader Joe’s on Friday afternoon and arranged them using Dusty Miller and Hosta leaves from my garden.

Here it is:

iris arrangement

TIPS

For effective layering, use tall straight flowers for the top layer.  Good choices for the top layer are tall roses, irises, allium, tulips, gladiolas, birds of paradise or lilies.  For the bottom layer, use large leaves that fan out creating a base that covers the top of your floral container or vase  For the middle layer, use leaves or flowers that create a color or textural contrast between the bottom and top layers.  Great choices for the middle layer are hydrangea, dusty miller, herbs and filler flowers.

A Vinegar Pantry Tutorial

Vinegar is one of the most versatile ingredients. It is characterized by its acidic taste and is known best for the pungent flavor it imparts to salads.   For centuries, vinegar has been valued for its health benefits.  Vinegar comes in many different tastes and colors and has a wide variety of uses beyond the salad bowl.

vinegar tutorial 1

Adding a splash of an acidic ingredient like vinegar is an excellent way to brighten all types of salads and other dishes.  There are so many varieties and each one has a distinct personality and flavor.

I reserve the standard white variety for cleaning uses, since it boasts a very pungent and sharp taste that can be overly assertive.  It can be used for weed control and cleaning purposes.

My go-to vinegar is cider vinegar since it imparts a medium acidic taste while still tasting fruity and fresh.

Different vinegars impart a variety of  flavors and can change the way that you prepare and enjoy your food.   Feel free to experiment with different vinegars to find the ones that you enjoy most.

My pantry boasts a large variety of vinegars and here are some of my favorites:

 

Cider vinegar: Cider vinegar is fashioned from apples.  This brownish clear vinegar stands up well to hardy salads and is the go-to ingredient in marinades.  It is perfect for recipes like: Roasted Sweet Potato and Beet Salad,  Cowboy Caviar: A Simple and Hearty Salad with Attitude and Simply the Best Marinade: A Science Lesson

White vinegar: White vinegar is assertive and clear.  It is distilled from grain and can be used with sturdy greens.  It has a very assertive flavor that sticks to the back of my throat, so I tend to reserve it for cleaning (When Crayons Must Learn Boundaries: Simple Ways to Clean Crayon Marks on Walls) and garden tasks like (At War with Weeds: A Homemade Non-Toxic Weed-Killer)

Wine vinegar:  Wine vinegar comes in red and white varieties.  Heinz manufactures an assortment of delicious wine vinegars that carry the o-u-p (kosher for Passover) certification year-round.  This type of vinegar is light and delicious and can be used in dressings for a variety of light and pungent salads.   Typically, wine vinegar comes in a shaker bottle and should be shaken sparingly directly on salad.   Wine vinegar is perfect for recipes like Warm Zucchini-Mushroom Salad with Almonds and Sunflower Seeds and Etty’s Simple Basil-Dijon Vinaigrette

Rice vinegar:  Rice vinegar is an excellent alternative to cider or white vinegar.  I used it in a variety of Asian-inspired dishes.  It combines perfectly with soy sauce and sesame oil.  Try it is dishes like Individual Sushi Salads and Asian Red Cabbage Salad…Simple and Wow

Balsamic vinegar:  Balsamic vinegar is one of my favorites, too.  It is dark brown in color and imparts a sweet, syrupy flavor.  Balsamic vinegar is not a tye of wine vinegar, but is rather made from grape pressings that have not been allowed to ferment.  This vinegar imparts a very distinctive flavor and should be used sparingly, often just dotted onto salads, vegetable and protein dishes and fruit.  This vinegar is delicious in Simple, Creamy and Perfect Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette and Roasted Rainbow Skewers.

 

A Nightstand Workbench for Ju-Ju

I walk most mornings again with my friend, Linda.  The hour walk goes by quickly as we share ideas, inspirations and tidbits of each other’s lives.   Linda offers me lots of recipe and shopping tips and shortcuts and I cherish her sage advice.  I find the walks healthy for my body and inspiring for my mind.

My kids think that the daily walks have nothing to do with exercise or friendship.

They often tell me that the early morning walks are really about scouring the neighborhood for cast-off furniture and other treasures to be recycled and upcycled.

They may just be right.

I had been thinking of designing a workbench for two-year old Ju-Ju.   Two weeks ago, I came across the perfect solid wood nightstand on the curb while walking with Linda.  The white nightstand was covered in dust and cobwebs, but was solidly constructed.  The one drawer featured intact hardware and dovetail construction.  It was perfect for my project.

I was delighted!  After the walk, I drove back to where I had seen the nightstand and loaded into my car.  I placed it right next to my front door and I just couldn’t wait to begin my newest project.

JuJu's nightstand workbench-before pic 2

Leah arrived home that evening and wasn’t too happy to see another dusty, worn castoff adorning our front porch.  She reminded me once again that my morning walks are really all about the hunt to find garbage.

I couldn’t have agreed more.

I cleaned the piece with a damp rag and turned it upside down.  I cleaned all the nooks and corners of the nightstand until it was perfectly clean.  I looked around until I found a square-ish piece of plywood that was the same width as the nightstand to use as a backsplash for the nightstand.

Using my inexpensive hand sander, I sanded the nightstand and the plywood down until all the surfaces were smooth, then sprayed the surfaces with blue spray paint.  I removed the drawer and sprayed that with silver metallic spray paint.

juju's nightstand workbench metallic drawer 2

I then ordered a square 16″ plastic pegboard and assorted pegboard accessories.   Don screwed the finished backsplash into the nightstand workbench and installed the pegboard.  I added a few good hooks on the sides to hang additional workbench accessories.

juju's nightstand workbench

I checked the toy boxes and scoured the dollar store for some play tools, safe real tools and tool boxes.  I ordered some kid-friendly power-tools and even personalized a hardhat for Ju-Ju.

Ju-Ju and Avigail loved the workbench and Leah even quizzed me on what I was thinking for the next upcycled project would be.

I just smiled mysteriously.  Let the morning walks continue…

juju's nightstand workbench metallic drawer top view

 

SUPPLIES and TOOLS

one solid-wood nightstand

1 square-ish piece of plywood the same width as the nightstand

hand sander

blue spray paint

silver metallic spray paint.

square 16″ plastic pegboard

assorted pegboard accessories

1 1/4″ round screws with nuts

small adhesive hooks

 

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Using a damp rag, clean the nightstand.  Make sure to clean all the nooks and crannies and insides and backs of the doors and drawers.  Turn the unit over and clean the bottom and all sides.

Find or purchase a square-ish piece of wood that is the same width as the nightstand for a backsplash.

Using a hand sander, sand the nightstand and the wood down until all the surfaces are smooth, paying special attention to the corners and edges of the nightstand and backsplash.

Remove the drawer(s) and sand separately.  Using a damp rag, wipe the entire unit clean and allow to dry.

Spray all surfaces of the nightstand and backsplash with blue spray paint.   Spray the drawer with silver metallic spray paint.

Screw the backspash into the back of the nightstand and then screw the  square 16″ plastic pegboard into the backsplash.  For the pegboard, we used 1 1/4″ round screws with nuts screwed from the back to the front.

Adhere small adhesive hooks to the sides of he nightstand workbench to hang additional hardware accessories like measuring tape, goggles and helmet.

Place assorted pegboard accessories into the pegboard and hang toy tools and safe real tools.  Fill small toolboxes with additional toy hardware and store in the workbench.

Get to work!

 

Roses in a Grid

 

Just about one year ago, this blog started with a simple arrangement of rose heads floating in a grid-like pattern: It’s all about the arrangement (psst….even with last week’s roses)  I have mixed things up by using floating roses in so many different ways.  I have mixed rose blossoms with lanterns in Roses and Lanterns: A Simple and Stunning Centerpiece and with plenty of white space over spray-painted wooden planks in An arrangement of Single Roses: Simple, Upcycled and Breathtaking.

Admittedly, roses have never been one of my favorite flowers.  They just seemed so….ordinary.  I have learned to embrace their beauty by admiring these blossoms for their variety of colors, soft petals and classic style.  I have discovered that by floating rose blossoms in different types of arrangements, it allows the viewer to see the majesty of each unique petal on each individual rose.

This is yet another simple wow arrangement that highlights the special qualities of the lovely rose.

This arrangement was created quite by accident.  I had just finished clearing up the dining room from our Purim seuda (festive meal).  For the seuda, I had set up individual square vases with floating roses alternating with individual vases with submerged orange berries and tulip petal swirls.  I placed all the vases that I had collected on my kitchen table and was contemplating what to do with the flowers.  When I looked down, I realized that I had inadvertently formed a beautiful, albeit haphazard collection of individual roses interspersed with submerged berries and tulip petals.

Here it is!

roses in a grid 1

 

Sheva Brochos To-Go Station

 

Last week, in preparation for Goldie and Tuvia’s Sheva Brochos (one of seven wedding after-parties, each with seven blessings), I purchased a large box of hamentaschen (triangular Purim pastries) to add to the Viennese table. While I was setting up, Don mentioned that we should set up a to-go station similar to those that we had at our daughters weddings. He thought that we should set out the hamentaschen individually wrapped along with tea and coffee.

I thought that was a wonderful idea.

Except, the weather was unseasonably warm.

So, we set up a water bottle and hamentaschen to-go station with personalized labels for the hamentaschen and water bottles.

I covered an old desk with an elegant tablecloth and inserted a printed sign into a vintage frame that read:

“Please take
something cold and something sweet
for the road ahead”

Our guests loved it.  It really was simple to wow them.

And, we plan to do this again at our next home celebration.

Great idea, Don!

to-go-station-complete

White and Wow Wedding Arches

white-and-wow-arches

When Kaitlyn’s friends started to get married, we realized that there were no places in our community to rent or borrow wedding shtick (items of whimsy to adorn the wedding dancing).

That left only one choice.

We quickly needed to figure out how to make our own.

And we did. The most popular item that we designed were our wedding arches.

After the traditional Jewish wedding chupah (Jewish canopy) ceremony, the Jewish bride and groom have a few moments alone called Yichud (seclusion) in order to enjoy each other’s company before entering the reception room.

As the bride and groom prepare to enter the reception room after Yichud, there is palpable excitement in the air.  The band gets ready to perform a musical intro and the guests are on their feet waiting to dance the new couple into their lives together.

In the last few years, so many Jewish couples enter the reception by dancing under beautiful arches held by their friends and family.  There is nothing in halacha (Jewish law) or minhag (Jewish custom) that explains the significance of these arches.

So, we are truly left to our imagination.

Perhaps, the arches mimic the idea of the chupah, a shelter representing their new home and they represent the doorway from the new couple’s status as individuals into a life of togetherness. Perhaps, these arches connect earth and heaven.  Maybe, they incorporate the idea that the new couple is rooted in the friends and family that hold the arches.

Nonetheless, these arches carry the excitement and whimsy of an exciting new chapter just opened by this new Jewish couple.

And, that is what has guided the design of our wedding shtick.

These arches can be designed in so many different ways.  We have feathered and flower arches, but our most popular arches are our fluffy, curly and whimsical mesh arches.

We offer all of our wedding shtick with a donation to Camp HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children) in memory of Stephanie Cohen a’h. Stephanie was a very special friend of our daughter, Leah, and our family.  Her dear parents, Lisa and Stuart, are like part of our own family.  The joyfulness and whimsy of these arches were designed with Stephanie’s delightful character and joyful nature in mind.

stephanie-cohen

Stephanie lived a life of joy and lit up the lives of all those who knew her.  Although she was physically and cognitively challenged, she used every fiber of her body to bring happiness and whimsy to others.  She taught everyone around her about being positive and happy  in one’s life and she brought a smile to all who interacted with her.  The original set of colorful mesh arches were designed using Stephanie’s favorite vibrant colors in order to raise money for the place that she loved most, Camp HASC.  

arches-with-michelle-and-scotty

Stephanie’s colorful arches have been and continued to be borrowed over and over and have raised a great deal of money for Camp HASC.

This week, I  designed a new set of white and wow wedding arches to complement the colorful mesh arches that were designed several years ago. This time I documented the supplies and directions necessary to create their design.

Here we go!

SUPPLIES

hula hoop
heavy-duty scissors
scotch or cloth tape (optional)
duct tape or White Gorilla duct tape
21″ wide deco mesh (For each arch, I needed one 10-yard roll of deco mesh plus extra embellished mesh for accents)
pipe cleaners to match mesh or floral wire
white gloves (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Carefully cut a hula hoop using strong scissors.  Some hula hoops have beads inside to create hula hoop sound effects.  If you would like to add those sound effects to a plain hula hoop, add a few beads to the inside of the cut hula hoop.

Cover the ends of the hula hoop with duct or cloth tape to prevent the beads inside from falling out.  Use duct tape to coat the hula hoop from one end to the other.  I find that the easiest way is to leave a 2-3 inch section of tape exposed on the roll and wrap the duct tape roll around and around the cut hula hoop.

mesh-wedding-arches-hula-hoop-covered-in-duct-tape

Prepare pipe cleaners or cut wire into 12-16 inch sections.

Line up mesh near one end of the hoop.  Begin securing the mesh to the hula hoop by using a pipe cleaner or mesh to secure the mesh to the hula hoop about 6 inches from the end of the hula hoop.

Making sure that the mesh covers both sides of the hula hoop, wrap the mesh around the hula hoop, twisting slightly to form a swelling effect.  Secure mesh again to the hula hoop in about 12-15 inches.

mesh-wedding-arches-mesh-wrapped-around-hula-hoop

deco-mesh-arches-hula-hoops-covered-in-duct-tape

Continue to wrap the mesh around the hoop, securing it with the pipe cleaner or cut wire at equal intervals, making sure that the last interval before the end of the hula hoop is secured about 6 inches from the other end.

deco-mesh-arches-wired-at-even-intervals

Cut the mesh close to the end of the hula hoop, leaving the same amount of space for a handle at both ends.

Using the deco mesh, cut 8-12 inch sections of mesh.  The longer the sections, the more perfect your rolls will look.  The shorter the sections, the more rolls you will have.

mesh-wedding-arches-mesh-tubes

deco-mesh-arch-rolled-mesh

Prepare pipe cleaners or cut wire into 18-30 inch sections.

Take 3-4 deco mesh rolls and twist a pipe cleaner or wire section around the middle, forming a whimsical curly flower, making sure to twist the middle tightly, but to leave plenty of wire at the ends so that the curly flower can be securely fastened to the arch.  Here is where you can be creative and incorporate different colors, textures, ribbons or media.  For these arches, I used three white sparkly mesh rolls and one 4″ section of bubbly mesh for each curly flower.

deco-mesh-arch-flourish-with-wire

Continue to cut deco mesh rolls and create at least as many curly flowers as you have secured intervals on your hula hoop arch.  Each one of these flowers will cover the wire that you used to secure the mesh to the hula hoop.

deco-mesh-arch-flourish

I like to prepare a few extra curly flowers to fill in the middle of the arch, which will add whimsy and height to the final arch.  I also sometimes prepare a few smaller curly flowers, made with only 2-3 curls to fill in areas where the arch needs some more volume.

mesh-wedding-arches-in-parts

Using the ends of the wire or pipe cleaner, secure each flower to the arch covering the exposed pipe cleaner or wire that you created when you secured the mesh to the hula hoop, making sure to twist tightly and secure all wire ends.  Examine your arch carefully and critically, adjusting curly flowers to cover both sides of the hula hoop and making sire that the arc looks full.  Add curly flowers to areas on your arch that look unadorned.  To achieve a full look, each of these arches took 9-12 curly mesh flowers.

deco-mesh-arch

If necessary, cut the end of the deco mesh so that at least 2-3 inches at each end of the hula hoop can be handled.  Use heavy duty duct tape, secure the ends of the deco mesh to the handle.  Wrap the duct tape around and around so that the handle is neat, comfortable and secure.

To give the arches a more finished look, wrap matching pipe cleaners around all exposed wire securing the curly flowers to the mesh hula hoop.

If you would like to make a donation to Camp HASC  or would like information on borrowing these arches for an upcoming wedding, please comment below or email me at simpletowow@gmail.com.

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An arrangement of Single Roses: Simple, Upcycled and Breathtaking

roses-in-sequence

Last week, I hosted Sheva Brochos (one of seven wedding after-parties, each with seven blessings) for the children of my dear friends, Andrea and Michael.  The chosson (groom) and kallah (bride), Davidi and Efrat, are a gorgeous and young couple.

The Sheva Brochos was hosted together with five other couples, all close friends of Andrea and Michael.  Since this Sheva Brochos was toward the end of the week of partying, we created a theme and menu that would be lighthearted, interesting and youthful.

We decided to host the Sheva Brochos as a Spanish fiesta and it was wonderful!

We set up a taco bar with pulled beef, pulled chicken,  chili, an assortment of taco shells and rice choices.  There were lots of toppings and salad choices for the vegetarian and diet-conscious guests, too.  Over the next weeks, I will share recipes, menu and table setting inspirations from this wonderful Sheva Brochos.

As a backdrop to the Sheva Brochos fiesta, I challenged myself to create centerpieces to reflect the youth and glamour of this couple and the fun inspired by the fiesta theme.

Since we had not allocated much of a budget for centerpieces, I created centerpieces that were inexpensive but sensational.  I set up long rectangular tables and round tables.  For each long table, its  centerpiece spanned four feet in length, six inches in width and amazingly, only required six flowers that I had upcycled from last week’s floral bouquet.  For each round table, its centerpiece spanned two feet in length, six inches in width and amazingly, only required three flowers that I had upcycled from last week’s floral bouquet.

For the floral arrangements, I selected the straightest two  inch by six inch by eight foot lumber beams from my local Home Depot.  Since I was using both long and round tables, I purchased two eight foot length beams and had the lumber cutter at Home Depot cut them.  I cut one beam into two four-foot beams and the other into one four-foot beam and two two-foot beams.

I now had three four-foot beams and two two-foot beams.  On an outside table, I sanded the wood with my hand sander, paying particular attention to the area that had been cut at Home Depot. The sanding took only a few moments per beam, but really smoothed the beams, removing all splinters and jagged edges.

I then sprayed the top and the sides of each beam with metallic gold spray paint and let it dry for several hours.

Finally, I lined up 6 clear 4″ square glass vases at equal intervals along the beam.  I placed a floral blossom in each vase with just an inch of clear water pearls

Voila!

roses-in-series-on-sequin-tablecloth

SUPPLIES

6 large open-blossoms
four foot section of 2″x6″ wood beam
metallic gold spray paint
6 clear 4″ square glass vases
clear water pearls (optional) or water

TOOLS

hand sander

INSTRUCTIONS

Sand rough edges of beam.

Spray paint the top and all sides of the beams in your favorite color.  I used metallic gold spray paint

wilted-roses

Cut  blossoms off of stem.

Set up glass vases at equal intervals along beam, aligning first and last vases with the edges of the beam.

Add one inch of water or  clear water pearls to each vase.

Carefully place each blossom in each vase.

roses-in-series-on-sequin-tablecloth
Please Note:  This post contains affiliate links from Amazon,
which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Simple Coffee Spice Rub

simple-coffee-rub

 

I am not a coffee drinker.  I just never developed a taste for coffee.  To me, it tastes bitter and unpleasant.  Thankfully, I wake up with enough energy that I don’t need the boost that coffee provides.

Interestingly, though, I love the aroma of coffee.  While the taste does not please me, the aroma of coffee is something I really enjoy.

There isn’t another member of my extended family that shares my distaste for coffee.  In fact, it is rare that I meet someone else who does not start their day with a cup of coffee.

Despite my not drinking coffee, we stock quite a varied supply of coffee in our home to satisfy the different but obligatory morning coffees of our family.  Some like dark roast, others light roast; some enjoy favored coffees and we have some visitors that actually prefer instant coffee.

Since we do not brew coffee on Shabbos (our Saturday Sabbath), our coffee drinkers either brew it in advance, buy cold brew coffee or use instant coffee for their Shabbos java.

I find that I have lots of leftover instant coffee, not fresh enough for the morning brew, but with enough aroma and flavor for a spice rub.  I store this instant coffee in the freezer until I am ready to use it.  Once I make the spice rub, I store the coffee rub in a spice container or ziploc bag in the freezer, as well.

The aroma and texture of this rub really adds that special wow to a roast. This spice rub imparts an amazing quality and flavor, even to my coffee-impaired taste buds.

If you are concerned about the caffeine in the coffee rub, feel free to use decaf coffee, instead.

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons ground coffee, regular or decaf
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 heaping teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

DIRECTIONS

Combine by shaking in container or ziploc bag.  Cover tightly and store leftovers in freezer

london-broil-spice-rub

 

A Homemade Warm Compress

I woke up earlier this week with a stiff neck that just seems to get achier.  Today, the pain radiated to my shoulder and down my arm. It seems like I may have pinched a nerve.

The pain and stiffness really needs some warm relief.  My husband, Don, suggested that I design a microwavable compress to ease the pain.

I did some internet research and found that it is quite simple to fashion a compress filled with uncooked rice, beans, oatmeal, barley or flaxseed.   The filler is placed into a cotton (non-synthetic) sack and tied, velcroed or sewn closed.

I looked around the house and found that I had plenty of raw beans, a brand new oven mitt and a variety of cotton socks.

With just a few moments of prep time, I was sitting at my desk writing this blog post with a warm compress soothing my neck and shoulder.

 

 

 

SUPPLIES

Cotton sock or oven mitt

Beans, uncooked rice or barley

Naturally dried herbs, essential oils, contents of an aromatic tea bags or spices for fragrance (optional)

 

DIRECTIONS

Fill a sock or oven mitt at least halfway with beans, rice or barley.  I found that it was easiest to use a stack of coffee filters to move the beans into my compress.

homemade-hot-compress-beans-in-coffee-filters

For a pleasant aroma, you can add a bit of dried herbs, fragrant powder or oils to your compress.

Seal the compress by tying a knot, placing a resealable velcro strip or sewing the ends shut.  For a firm compress, seal it with very little empty space.  For a looser compress, leave empty space before closing your compress.  A looser compress will allow for draping it around your neck and moving the beans to conform to your painful area.

Heat compress in microwave for about one minute, keeping an eye on the microwave during heating just in case the filler or compress starts to smoke.

Before applying compress, check that it is not too hot.  If it feels too hot, shake it and wait until it is just the right temperature for your aches and pains.

 

NOTES

Be careful!  Check that the compress is not too hot before applying it.  It is hard to tell how hot the microwaved compress will get, so please check before applying to your skin.

For extra safety against burns, place a layer of cloth (like a towel or t-shirt) between your skin and the compress.

Do not use heat therapy for acute injuries or if you are pregnant or have diabetes, poor circulation, high blood pressure or heart disease.   If you are not sure, consult with a doctor before using a warm compress to ease muscle or joint pain.

Bobby’s Homemade Bubbles and Wands

Avigail and Juju are attending “Bobby Camp” and one of the favorite morning activities is playing with the water table on my front porch.  After breakfast and our morning walk, when the two of them are still in pajamas, we fill up the water table and have a good and messy time playing with all the water toys.  Best of all, when we are finished, everyone gets bathed and then changed and dressed for the day.

While we were outside playing, the kids asked Davida to blow bubbles or as seventeen month old Juju likes to say, “Bubboos”.  I did not have any bubbles or bubble wands, so we decided to make our own.  Davida fashioned some bubble wands out of pipe cleaners, straws and string.  Avigail was delighted that one of them was purple, her favorite color. We mixed water, dish detergent and pancake syrup, stirred gently…and voila.  The magic of bubbles was added to our messy water activities.

This was one of those simple things that created a wow of a time at the water table.

homemade bubbles for avigail and juju

We sang as we blew and popped bubbles…”Avigail is a bubble blower, bubble blower, bubble blower!”  “JuJu is a bubble popper, bubble popper, bubble popper…”

bubble supplies

SUPPLIES

container with a flat bottom

3 cup water

1/2 cup dish soap

drizzle of pancake or corn syrup (about 2-3 tablespoons)

scissors

straws

string

Pipe cleaners

bubbles with wands

DIRECTIONS

Place water in a bowl or container.  Carefully add soap and syrup, stirring gently, being careful not to foam up the bubble mixture.

Create bubble wands using pipe cleaners that are looped.  You can create different size loops to form differ size bubbles.

bubbles and bubble wands

Create large bubble wands by cutting straws in half and tying string around each of the straws, top and bottom.  To secure the string, cut a small slit near the end of each straw for the knotted string to rest.  This will keep the string from coming off the end of the straw.

bubble wand from straws and string.jpg

 

 

 

 

DIY Nightstand Play Kitchen for JuJu

Seventeen month old Judah (or JuJu as he is sometimes called) loves to play in our play cupcake kitchen when he comes to visit us.  He doesn’t have a play kitchen at home, so I decided to surprise him with his own one.

diy kitchen 2

My mother-in-law a’H was fond of repurposing cast-off items, so she would have just loved this new, but old kitchen.  When we cleaned out my in-laws’ home several years ago, my sister-in-law begged me to take home Mom’s lightweight aluminum pots.  I had them in storage in a box in my basement since then.  They were perfect for use in this play kitchen.  Mom would kvell (Yiddish for feel proud)!

diy kids kitchen-bubby's pots

I found an old nightstand on the curb near Kaitlyn’s apartment two months ago and brought it home.  Kaitlyn showed me some adorable furniture to play kitchen adaptations on Pinterest that I used as inspiration for this upcycled nightstand castoff to vintage play kitchen redo.

Here is what the original nightstand looked like:

 

diy kids kitchen-original with painters tape.jpg

I taped the outer part of the cabinet door and first painted the interior black to resemble an oven:

diy kids kitchen-oven and restoration blue

I chose a restoration blue color spray paint and painted the shell.

diy kids kitchen-tape and restoration blue

I had Aaron attach a piece of wood to the back of the nightstand to resemble a backsplash and painted all the vertical surfaces blue.  I painted the top surface chalkboard black for a sink and cooktop area.

I repainted the oven silver to resemble an art-deco stainless steel look.

diy kids kitchen-painted

I visited my hardware cabinet and local dollar store for accessories to stock the kitchen.

I found some old plastic foosball table feet that I sprayed silver and had Aaron attached with long screws.  They even turn!

diy kids kitchen--oven knobs

Aaron screwed a large screw into place to hold the kitchen timer.  The timer hooks on and off in case JuJu wants to use his timer for something else.

I used an old hose spray nozzle for the faucet that I sprayed silver and attached with  heavy duty contractors’ adhesive.  I bought a silver toilet paper holder that I separated into two pieces.  Aaron attached those with screws for the faucet handles.

Aaron drilled holes into a small dog water dish and secured them with screws.

I bought a plastic shower organizer, sprayed it silver and secured it with heavy duty contractors’ adhesive to the backsplash.

I glued an old chalkboard to the backsplash and glued an alarm clock to the chalkboard.

diy kids kitchen-cooktop

 

I glued a touch LED light from the dollar store to the inside of the oven for light inside the oven.

 

diy kids kitchen-inside of oven

I glued an oven thermometer to the inside of the kitchen door.

diy kids kitchen-oven thermometer

I fashioned cooktop grates out of craft sticks secured to CD’s covered with upside down plant saucers.  Aaron secured the grates with long screws so that they spin.

diy kids kitchen-cooktop grates

For a little extra fun, I glued an old unbreakable mirror to the outside of the oven door.

diy kids kitchen -outside oven door

I bought and repurposed lots of accessories and kitchen gadgets including: a hand broom and dustpan, tongs, strainer, oven mitt, ladle, plastic food, squeegee, plastic cups and martini glasses and even a plastic vase with a flower fashioned from a bottle stopper.

diy kitchen-hooks on side

 

 

diy kids kitchen-plastic vase

Juju just adores this new kitchen.  He has been perfecting his chicken soup and I am loving it!

 

diy kids kitchen--juju's chicken soup.jpg

 

jujus-play-kitchen

Oil in Squirt Bottles with Free Printable Labels

For most recipes, I use one of two types of oil: extra virgin olive oil and/or canola oil.  I like to buy these oils in large quantities and the containers tends to be large and unwieldy with a way-too-large pouring spout.  I find it easiest to decant the oil into a small squirt bottle for easy drizzling and squirting. I just refill the squirt bottle when necessary.

oil squirt bottles with label

I use oil for so many things and for most of them, I just need a bit of oil squirted in just the right amount in just the right place.  This counts for frying my morning omelet, dressing salads, sprinkling on roasted vegetables, starting a saute and most everything else.

For decades, my parents have been repurposing a dishwashing detergent bottle with a squirt top for this use.  You can easily use this type of bottle or a sport-top water bottle, washed and dried well, of course.

I prefer the thin, longer nozzle of a purchased squirt bottle.  I have so many of these type of bottles, so I am always happy to use two of them for decanting my olive oil and my canola oil.  So that I don’t get them mixed up, I just label the oil bottles with my SimpletoWow customized squirt bottle label.

I leave the heavy oil bottles on the shelf for use only for recipes that called for measured oil or for refilling my oil squirt bottles.  I keep the smaller squirt bottles of oil with my spices.  The thin nozzle on these squirt bottles is perfect for drizzling and squirting and the bottle fits perfectly in my spice drawer.

To prepare each oil squirt bottle, all I do is decant the oil carefully and apply the squirt bottle label with packing tape or glue stick.

This has been a great tool for me and I hope that it is for you, too.

 

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Magic Tip: Keeping the Lid on a Pot of Chicken Soup

Leah decided to spend Shabbos at Kaitlyn’s.  Avigail was barely able to contain her excitement, telling everyone that “Tante Reah” was coming to visit her and would be sleeping in the bed right next to hers.  Don and I were empty-nesters for Shabbos.

Although it is not the first time this summer that Don and I are home alone for Shabbos,  I still haven’t figured out how to cook for two people.

My batch of Simply the Best Challah Recipe…ever!is enough for 6 challahs, my Simply the best chicken soup…ever!still feeds 8-10, Perfect Salmon with Roasted Vegetables is enough for 10 and Cowboy Caviar: A Simple and Hearty Salad with Attitude is enough for a large family.

That left me with a great idea.  I could cook an entire batch of our Shabbos favorites and send most of it for Kaitlyn, Aaron, Leah and the kids to enjoy.  That way, I need not alter any of my recipes and two households will enjoy the Shabbos delicacies with only one cooking spree.

There left only one question: How do we transport the chicken soup in its pot?

That was easy.

I found some long and strong rubber bands that fit over the pot. I secured each band under one pot handle.  I stretched each rubber band over the lid and secured the other end under the second pot handle.  I did that three times so that in case one or two rubber bands snapped, the lid was still secure.

chicken soup with rubber bands

Perfect.  Now all that’s left to do is to teach Avigail to call Leah, “Tante Leah”.

 

Growing Lettuce in TopSoil Bags

When Aaron was a little boy, he loved to join me in shopping for our summer annuals and vegetable plants. We would peruse the aisles of the local garden center, looking for unusual plants and interesting planting combinations and techniques.

We discovered that our local nursery started some of their lettuce and leafy vegetables right inside topsoil bags. We couldn’t wait to try this technique ourselves. We tried it and it worked beautifully, producing vibrant plants with minimal care. Best of all, once we harvested the leafy plants, we would reuse the topsoil for our vegetable garden. It seemed like a win-win.

We have been using this technique for spring gardening for the past many years.

topsoil planters for lettuce  supplies upside down

 

SUPPLIES
bag of top soil, potting soil or mixed soil
a knife or box cutter
seeds

DIRECTIONS

Place bag of topsoil in a sunny area.  Using the box cutter or knife, cut x’s in 12-15 inch intervals.  Pour one or two seeds into each hole created by the x.

topsoil planters for lettuce with xs cut

Make sure that the soil bag is damp, but not wet.  Seeds should sprout within a week or 10 days.

lettuce in soil bags
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A Gallery Wall of Playgroup Art

Kaitlyn created a gallery wall for Avigail’s art.  Two-year old Avigail is a budding artist with so many art projects and pictures to display.   The gallery wall allows Kaitlyn a way to rotate all the different playgroup art that Avigail brings home from playgroup.

Kaitlyn used empty old frames and sprayed them all the same color blue to create a cohesive collection.  To each frame, she attached a thick string with a clothespin or two so that she can easily add and remove art as needed.

This gallery wall transformed the study area in their apartment and is the perfect spot for Avigail to display her art.

Here it is:

blue gallery wall for avigail's art

SUPPLIES

old frames

spray paint

Thick string or twine

small wooden clothespins

Assorted Command Strips for Picture Hanging

DIRECTIONS

Spray paint frames in well-ventilated area.  Allow to dry. Attach a length of twine using staple gun to backs of wood frames.

Use Command strips to attach frames to gallery wall, following directions on package. Attach clothespins to string.  Hang pictures using clothespins.

Voila!

 

 

At War with Weeds: A Homemade Non-Toxic Weed-Killer

weed killer spray

Our nineteen year old son, Aaron, is our resident landscaper.  Aaron has always been a budding entrepreneur and handy around the house and yard.  When he was thirteen years old, he took some of the monetary gifts that he had  received for his Bar Mitzvah celebration and purchased a bright red lawn tractor.  He convinced us to hire him as our resident gardener to earn back the cost of the tractor and he has acquired other garden tools since then, too.   For the past six years, Aaron has used his tractor to manicure our lawn and yard, his tiller to turn our flower and vegetable garden areas and his edger to edge our lawn.

Problem is…Aaron is studying in yeshiva this year in Israel.  We have had to manage without him and we have had to find easy solutions to our gardens’ overgrown messes. Don has been driving the tractor around the lawn and yard to cut the grass.  I have been planting the vegetable garden and mulching the flower beds.    Aaron will be home for a few weeks in the summer and we have lots of landscaping and maintenance waiting for his expert care.

One of the biggest problems is battling the weeds.   In the past, Aaron has tilled the garden beds with his gas-powered tiller which has cut down on the weeds.   This year, Don and I have had to figure all of it out on our own.  I have discovered this amazing homemade weed killer that does the job without the toxins found in most commercially available products.  This solution works best when used on a hot, sunny day and sprayed in the morning.  The sun will wither the sprayed weeds as long as there is no rain expected within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Here it is:

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Wow Uses for a Simple Dish Detergent Bottle

My mother has always been the ultimate recycler, decades before recycling and upcycling became fashionable.

My mother still decants oil from a large container into a clean dish detergent squirt bottle. The squirt nozzle is perfect for squirting oil onto salads, roasted vegetables and a saute pan.  It keeps the oil contained and helps place the oil exactly where you want it. You can also use a sport-top water bottle for most of these uses, but the water bottles tend to be constructed of a thinner and less robust plastic, not intended for extended use.

squirt bottle uses

 

Here  are some other wonderful uses for a simple dish detergent bottle. Just make sure to mark the bottle with the contents and the date that it was prepared.  You can print a squirt bottle label and adhere it to the bottle using glue stick.  This can avoid any dangerous mixups:

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A Salad Bar for the Entire Week

Our family loves salads and we try to spread the love to the rest of the world. From the time that the kids were eating solids, salads became a mainstay in the Respler home. It is rare that we make the same salad twice because there are SO many options.

salad bar in jars-CROPPED,jpg

Most recently, when I entertain, I have been creating a salad bar. A salad bar encourages guests to create their own custom salads and it is a great solution for guests with different diets and allergies. The best perk is that when the dust settles and it is time to put everything away, the salad ingredients have not been dressed, so they are still fresh enough for leftovers. My family clamors to create their own lunches for the next few days from what is left over from the salad bar.

In the past, I have been less than successful in creating the perfect salad bar. I had found that the salad ingredients were messy and unruly, with everyone breathing on and touching everything. I have finally found a good solution to creating a neat and orderly salad bar.

I purchased gallon and half-gallon glass candy jars online that can be seated vertically or on an angle. Each jar has a metal lid and plastic tongs that hang right on the lid.

SALAD BAR JARS WITH TONGS

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Edible Ginger Candy Spoons

I love ginger in all shapes and forms. I use ginger as a spice in many dishes. I love ginger ale, candied ginger and pickled sushi ginger.  Whenever we eat sushi, I become the lucky recipient of everyone’s pickled sushi ginger and I love it.

I especially love ginger with my tea.  For a recent dinner party, I prepared ginger spoons to serve with dessert and  tea. They were simple to prepare, delicious  and just gorgeous.

ginger-spoons-supplies

SUPPLIES

Ginger drops (or any type of hard candy)
Silicone Baking Spoon Mold (Small Silicone Spoons with thick handle)
Hammer or heavy mallet)

INSTRUCTIONS

Purchase a molded silicone spoon design baking mold  suitable for 300 degrees F heat.  I prefer one that has a thick stem for each molded spoon, since the weakest point of the molded spoon will be the piece right underneath the cup of the spoon, The thicker the spoon base and stem is, the less likely it will be to crack when unmolding.

Preheat oven to 300°F.
Unwrap candies and place in a thick zipper bag. Use a small hammer or mallet to crush the candies into small pieces.

ginger-spoons-ingredients-with-mallet

Thickly heap the small pieces of ginger into the molds, placing the thickest amount of crushed candy right where the stem meets the base of the cup of the spoon. Make sure that the candy is layered in thick and brush the area between the spoons back into the spoon molds.

Bake at 300 for 10 minutes. Shut the oven and leave in the oven for 10-20 minutes more. Allow to cool completely before unmolding.

Voila!

ginger-spoons

ginger-spoons-with-tea-setup

VARIATIONS

Use any type of hard candy in place of the ginger drops.  Use lemon drops, butterscotch candies, peppermints or your favorite hard candy.

Use your favorite baking silicone mold to fashion candy into different shapes.  This simple technique yield extraordinary candy garnishes for desserts.

NOTES

These spoons are gorgeous when placed on a dessert buffet with assorted teas and coffee. They are spectacular served with hot apple cider, too.

If you have loose shards of crushed candy left over before or after baking these spoons, sprinkle them on top of  frosted cupcakes for a delicious surprise.

Mason Jar Salad with Purim Croutons: A Simple Purim Mishloach Manos Wow

mason jar arugula salad0finished with tag

 

Purim is coming!  One of the mitzvos (commandments) unique to the Jewish holiday of Purim is to deliver gifts of food, called Mishloach Manos, to friends and family. The parameters of this mitzvah require each Jewish adult to send a minimum of two ready-to-eat-foods to at least one person.

I like to send Mishloach Manos that are nutritious and can be served at the Purim seudah, the festive meal served on Purim day.   One of my favorite ideas for  Mishloach Manos are mason jar salads served with croutons.  They  are simple to prepare in advance,  easy to package and are well-received by our recipients.

Mason Jars allow for preparing salad up to two days in advance and are really just an upside down salad. The dressing lays on the bottom of the jar and the salad is layered with the heaviest and wettest ingredients on bottom, working up to lighter ingredients with the salad greens at the top of the mason jar.  It is important to keep the mason jar upright until ready to serve so that the delicate greens are protected from the dressing on the bottom.

Once ready to serve, simply shake the salad vigorously and decant into a bowl.

 mason jar arugula salad

The croutons can me made from leftover bread or challah.  It is a great way to use up leftover bread and challah that you have stored in the freezer.  The mason jars themselves are useful to those receiving them and can be reused in a myriad of different ways.

 

The source for Mishloach Manos is read on Purim from the Purim Megillah, the scroll chronicling the story of Purim in Hebrew.   After the Purim victory , Mordechai, the hero of the Purim narrative,  ordered his fellow Jews ” to make the fourteenth day of the month of Adar… feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”

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Curly Scallion Garnish: Simple and Wow

scallionsVegetable garnishes can take a plated appetizer or serving platter from simple to wow.  I like to create garnishes with ordinary ingredients and tools.  There are so many garnishes that can be created using simple tools that you already own.

This garnish elevates a simple scallion (green onion) to a wow garnish with the use of a regular paring knife and ice water. Try it!

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