Friday, September 30, 2016

Not Your Ordinary Halloween Treats

No, this blog is NOT about how to make rice krispy treats that look like Frankenstein's monster, or jack-o-lantern popcorn balls, or shortbread cookies shaped like amputated fingers, or edible ghostly graveyards made of chocolate pudding and mint milano cookies (although those are all awesome). Instead, these are ideas for how to make your pre-packaged, give-them-to-strangers-at-the-door, trick-or-treating treats look extra-spooky and special.

This is probably not an idea for those of you who live in busy areas and get several hundred ToTers every year. It's for those of us like me, who live a bit off the beaten path, who get less than a dozen costumed visitors on Halloween. It's for those of us who'd like to give a little extra reward to the goblins who actually make it to our door. These are ideas for how to dress up pre-packaged treats rather than making homemade ones.

Chocolate Bar Holders
This decoration works for any relatively flat, rectangular candy bar (Hershey bars, Nestle Crunch, Kit Kats, etc.). Lay the bar on a piece of construction paper and cut out the shape of bat wings, a vampire cape, or ghost arms, along with a head and eyes peeking over the top. Add details with a sharpie, cut out pieces of paper, or googly eyes, glue the bar in place, and fold over the wings/cape/arms. 

Frankenstein's Monster Jello Cups 
If you want to give out treats other than candy, lime jello cups can be flipped over and doctored with a sharpie and glued-on googly eyes, feathers, and pom-poms (or just a sharpie) to create a creepy green monster. You can do something similar with orange jello or even mandarin orange or peach slices to make a jack o'lantern. 

Lollipop Ghosts
Lollipop ghosts are super-easy to make using either coffee filters or facial tissue. Simply lay the center of the pop in the center of the filter or tissue, gather around, and secure with a small elastic, yarn, or ribbon, and add two eyes with a marker. (It works equally well on cheap Dum-Dums or big Tootsie Pops.)

Lollipop Spiders
Another fun lollipop option is to make pipe cleaner legs (two standard pipe cleaners, cut in half, make eight legs). Glue on a pair of googly eyes and your spider is ready to crawl right into those treat bags.

Want to go healthier than candy? Mandarin oranges make perfect jack o'lanterns with a few strokes of a Sharpie. 

You can make a mummy out of nearly any kind of treat, including squeezable applesauce pouches, juice boxes, candy bars of any size and shape, boxes of raisins, granola or breakfast bars, and any kind of candy that comes in a box (e.g., junior mints, Mike and Ikes). Simply wrap the package with white tape (strips of tissues or tissue paper also work; just use glue or a glue stick to tack it down here and there), and draw on a face with a marker. You can also add googly eyes if you like. 

Googly Eyes on Anything
Speaking of googly eyes, you can up the creep (or funny) factor of any treat you give out - candy or fruit - by just sticking on a pair of googly eyes! 

Happy Trick or Treating!!

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

More Fabulous Fall Recipes

I love fall. I love that we get to shed our shorts and t-shirts and change into sweaters and boots. I love that everything smells like campfire and damp earth. And I love that we start eating hearty comfort food! Here are a few more of my favorite fall recipes.

Turkey Tetrazzini
My father-in-law's turkey tetrazzini was the stuff of legend in my husband's family. This recipe is similar, but easier and extremely creamy. It's quick and easy to throw together, and a big hit in my house.

1 package angel hair pasta (8 oz.)
2 tbsp butter
1 (6-8 oz.) package fresh sliced mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chopped cooked turkey
1 (10 oz.) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup panko (plain or with herbs)

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet. Saute mushrooms until tender. Season with salt and pepper; stir in turkey, soup, and sour cream. Place pasta in 9x13" baking dish and pour sauce mixture over top. Sprinkle with Parmesan and panko. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and panko is golden brown.

Rosemary Sweet Potatoes
Be careful not to burn these wonderfully crispy sweet potatoes, which are a terrific side dish for turkey, but also pork, chicken, and just about anything else, including just by themselves.

3 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp dried rosemary (or 1/2 tsp fresh)
3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (a mandolin works well for this)
1 shallot, peeled and sliced thinly (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine butter, oil, and rosemary in a small bowl. Pour 2 tbsp of the mixture into a 2-quart baking dish (a deep dish pie plate works well, also). Arrange potato slices vertically in the dish. Add a sliver of shallot (if using) between every few slices. Brush with remaining butter mixture and season generously with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast for 1 hour, until potatoes are tender (thicker slices will need more time). Increase heat to 450 degrees, remove foil, and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, until tops of potatoes are browned and crispy.

Roast Chicken with Garlic and Rosemary
I love making roast chicken in the fall, partly because I love using the carcass to make chicken broth. But this recipe is delicious in and of itself.

1 4-5 pound whole chicken
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 large garlic cloves, minced (or 4 tsp. minced garlic)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon
3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack at center. Remove the giblets and rinse and pat dry the chicken. Place in a roasting pan or glass baking dish. Melt the butter and garlic in a small saucepan over low medium-heat. Brush all over the chicken then season liberally with salt and pepper. Slice the lemon in half and place inside the cavity, along with the rosemary. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Roast for about an hour, basting often and occasionally rotating the pan. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Cranberry Apple Pork Chops

Nothing says fall in New England quite like cranberries and apples. Add their sweet-tart combo to a hearty pork chop, and I'm in comfort food heaven.

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup craisins
Salt and pepper to taste
2 boneless pork chops
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion and apple until tender, about 5 min. Stir in the vinegar and craisins and continue cooking until apples are soft, about 5 more min. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then remove from heat and refrigerate until cold.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a small baking dish. Cut a deep pocket into the chops with a long, sharp knife. Stuff the cooled apple mixture into the slit, securing with toothpicks if needed. Heat the remaining tbsp of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and brown on both sides, about 3 min. per side. Transfer into prepared baking dish. Top with remaining apple mixture and cover with foil. Bake for 40 minutes, then remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the apple is browned and the pork is no longer pink in the center.

Roasted Red Potatoes
I discovered smoked paprika a year or so ago, and I'm always looking for an excuse to use it. This roasted potato recipe is one of the best excuses I've ever found.

6-8 large red potatoes
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut potatoes into 1-2" pieces, leaving skin on. Place in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine paprika, garlic powder, oil, and chives. Pour over potatoes and gently toss until well coated. Spread on a cookie sheet covered with non-stick foil and toast for 30-35 minutes, tossing halfway through. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper before serving.

Beef Stuffed Acorn Squash
This is the first "company" recipe I ever made. Be sure not to undercook the squash - it should be not just tender, but soft and easy to scoop out of the husk. This recipe serves two but can easily be doubled to serve four.

1 med acorn squash
½ lb ground beef
2 tbsp chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped celery (optional)
2 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
¾ c milk
½ c cooked rice
¼ c shredded American cheese

Cut squash in half, scoop out and discard seeds. Sprinkle with salt. Bake cut side down at 350 for 45-60 minutes. Brown beef with onion and celery; drain fat. Stir in flour, salt, and milk. Cook and stir till thickened and bubbly. Stir in rice. Turn squash right side up and fill. Bake at 350 ~30 minutes. Top with cheese and bake 3 more minutes.

Balsamic Pot Roast

Nothing says autumn quite like a pot roast bubbling away in the oven (or the crock pot). This recipe adds the tang of balsamic vinegar to the standard mushrooms and onions. Yum!

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 (14-1/2 oz.) can beef broth
1 4-5-lb. boneless chuck roast, neatly tied
3 tbsp coarse salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
3 large yellow onions, cut into eighths
1 pound cremini mushrooms, cut in half (quartered if large)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (or 4 tsp minced garlic)
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine the porcini and broth in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the porcini with a slotted spoon, coarsely chop, and set aside. Strain the broth through a fine sieve and set aside.
Rub the meat with the salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a roasting pan or large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the meat until well browned, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium, add the remaining oil, onions, cremini mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms and onions are tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Return the meat to the pot and add the porcini, strained broth, vinegar, and sugar. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Cover (with aluminum foil if using a roasting pan). Transfer to the oven and cook until the meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Transfer the meat to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables and reserve. Place the pan over high heat and boil the cooking liquid until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Add the parsley, stir, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
To serve, cut the pot roast across the grain into thin slices. Place them on the platter with the vegetables and spoon on some of the sauce.

Happy (and cozy!) eating!!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Great Halloween Costumes for Kids

Can you believe that Halloween is only about a month away?!?? Well, considering that Christmas decorations have been in the stores for two months, you probably can. But anyway, if you have kids, you'd better get yourself in gear to start planning their costumes. (Unless, like me, you took the easy way out and bought their costumes at Costco back in July. But I digress.) Now, depending on what kind of parent you are, you may be looking for anything from a unique, clever, creative costume to something that can be tossed together from what you have around the house to your kid's favorite comic book or video game character. Fortunately, I can help you out with any of those options and more.

Costumes For Two

If you have two kids and you want to coordinate their costumes, there are plenty of options.

If you can come up with a large box, a laundry basket, an empty (or not) bottle of detergent and package of dryer sheets, and some dirty laundry, this adorable washing machine and laundry basket is the duo for your kids. Don't forget the socks and underpants on the head. That's what really makes it art.

Even easier to make from stuff you have around the house, put one child in a striped shirt and an old beret (or a scally or golf cap turned sideways), paint on an outrrrrrageous mustache and goatee with black eyeliner, then cut out a cardboard artist's palette and paint multicolored circles on it and there's your artist. And what would an artist be without a work of art? So have child #2 paint an old pillowcase with a face hole cut out (you can brace it with an old picture frame or leave the pillow at the back for support) - or use a large piece of cardboard - and there's your masterpiece. Add a few colorful drips of paint on their candy-collecting buckets and you're good to go!

If you want to go all-out on your paired costume, check out this fabulous magician and his assistant. With a few yards of velvet cloth to make a matching cape and tablecloth, a simple top hat, a rolling cart of some kind, an old pair of pantyhose, a pair of sparkly shoes, a saw (real or fake), and a couple of large cardboard boxes, you can astonish everyone with this clever costume.

Favorite Characters

Whether your kids are into superheroes, video game characters, TV show or movie characters, I bet you can find something they'd like below.

If you're willing to shell out for a Superman T-shirt (or if your mini-fan already has one), toss an open shirt and tie over it and throw on some horn-rimmed glasses, and Clark Kent is turning into Superman right in front of your eyes!

If your little monster prefers video games to comic books, the Mario Brothers are easy. Add two big yellow felt circles with a sharpie X on them to a pair of overalls, pair with a green T-shirt and baseball cap for Luigi and red shirt and cap for Mario (don't forget to add the proper initial!), plus a quick eyebrow pencil mustache, and they'll be off to rescue the princess in no time.

If you have a couple of empty gallon milk jugs, a little bit of artistic skill, and a Star Wars fan in the family, you can follow these directions to make a fabulous stormtrooper helmet. Paired with white sweatshirt and sweatpants (you can gussy those up with black electrical tape, if you're up for it, or just leave them plain) and a Nerf gun, you can happily miss every target in the neighborhood. 

If you're willing to invest in a crazy wig, any of the characters in "Inside Out" are doable. For Sadness, a blue pageboy pairs with a long turtleneck sweater, tights, oversized glasses, blue lipstick, and a hangdog expression. For Disgust, a green flip wig, pink neck scarf, sleeveless green dress, and a sneer will do the trick. For Joy, a light blue pixie wig, flowered dress, and a big grin is all you need. For Anger, make a cardboard crown of fire and big red eyebrows and wear it with a shirt and tie and a scowl. And for Fear, a bowtie and a sweater vest with white clown makeup around the eyes, black felt eyebrows, and a deelybopper headband - along with a terrified expression, of course - and you're all set. 


Most kids love to dress up as their favorite animals, whether it's a sweet kitty, a scary lion, or something a bit more...unusual. Check out these cute creatures!

Start with a clear umbrella and add long strips of ribbons, rickrack, crepe paper, mylar streamers, or whatever you have on hand. Wear over any solid color outfit, and you'll have yourself a sweet jellyfish who won't sting anybody. 

Start by stitching (or stapling or safety-pinning; I won't judge) an old, mushy pillow into a loop as shown and add a couple of ties to the "corners". Tie the bottom pair to beltloops (or to each other around the wearer's waist) and make long loops of the second that go in front of the shoulders (you can even use elastic). Rig up a couple of eyestalks on the hood of a sweatshirt (hot glue on ping pong balls if you don't sew), and you've got a fast-moving snail. 

For an easy but spooky spider costume, stuff two pairs of long black socks with fabric or newspaper. Stitch them onto the sides of a black sweatshirt and then attach them to the elbow of the sweatshirt with lengths of clear nylon thread or fishing line. Add black gloves and dark jeans or black pants, and you have an eight-legged creepazoid. (Adding multiple eyes to the hood is optional.)

Last Minute

When your child informs you that they've been invited to a Halloween party that starts in half an hour, what do you do? You grab whatever's handy, of course. Here are a few last-minute costumes you can throw together with what you already have around the house. 

A plaid shirt, jeans, boots (or sneakers), an old hat, and a few silk flowers - you can add freckles and stitches with eyebrow pencil if you want to get fancy - and you have an adorable scarecrow. 

If you have a white (or other light-colored) sweatshirt and sweatpants, create an outline with black electrical tape. Make a simple mask using a paper plate, Sharpie, and string, and you're a stick figure. 

Got a solid color T-shirt? Got some duct tape? Depending on the color of each, you can transform that T-shirt into a pumpkin, Charlie Brown, a skeleton, a bumblebee...or anything else your imagination can come up with. 

When all else fails, grab an old sheet and a pair of scissors. Hey, it's a classic for a reason, people. 

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Red Carpet on a Budget

I was at a high-end mall today, shopping for a gift, and I noticed that one of the stores was showing some dresses that reminded me quite a bit of several gowns featured in one of my recent red carpet reviews. And it occurred to me, "I wonder what it would cost me to recreate some of the looks I've seen on the red carpet? How close could I come, by shopping in regular retail stores?" So that's exactly what I did. I looked up some of the gowns that I've reviewed on the red carpet and tried to find a similar gown and similar accessories. Read on to find out just how much YOU would pay to get these red carpet looks!

Let's begin with Julianne Moore's look at the 2016 Oscars:
Moore's flared black gown features criss-cross straps and a plunging neckline, and is paired with large circular diamond earrings and an unusual wrap bracelet. To find a similar gown, I started at the store that inspired me, BCBGMAXARIA, and found this:
This gown features a less full skirt and no beading, but it does have a plunging neckline and criss-cross straps, and costs a cool $338. A slightly smaller version of her diamond circle earrings is available at Saks Fifth Avenue for $250.
I took a closer look at her bracelet and her coordinated ring. The ring was fairly basic and easy to find; Lord and Taylor carries this channel set diamond ring for a mere $800. 
The bracelet was a bit more unusual, and therefore a bit more difficult to approximate. I couldn't find anything with a similar flared field of gemstones, but I did find this lovely rhinestone stretch bracelet at USA Bride for a mere $35. 
This total look would cost you $1,423. What a bargain!

Let's try another look: Tina Fey, also at the 2016 Oscars.
Fey's striking but simple purple column was strapless, gathered in at the waist, and had a small train. She accented her look with a gorgeous diamond and sapphire necklace. Could you recreate that look? Try starting with this gown from JJ's House, for $219.
But you'd better be prepared to shell out some serious cash for that necklace; I found a reasonable facsimile at Macy's for a whopping $14,200.

That brings your total for the Fey look to $14,419.

If you think you might be brave enough to emulate Helen Mirren, try replicating her look from the 2016 SAG awards:
Her clinging silver gown featured a v-neck and 3/4 length sleeves, and was accessorized with a diamond cuff bracelet, diamond hoop earrings, and a silver clutch. How much would it cost YOU for this look? Well, you could start with this lovely silver gown from Primavera Couture, for $469.

No doubt the stunning diamond bracelet would be prohibitively expensive, but a similar vintage rhinestone cuff can be had for $345 on Etsy.
Etsy also brings us these lovely multiple-hoop rhinestone earrings for only $205.
And finally, the rectangular, metallic silver clutch: a similar Yves St. Laurent bag from Poshmark will set you back a mere $1600.
So your grand total for pretending to be Helen Mirren for the night would be $2,619 (and a bargain at any price). 

Is Sofia Vergara a cheaper date? Let's recreate her look from the 2016 SAG Awards:
Her stunning fuchsia column featured a sweetheart neckline and very straight, simple lines, and her accessories were a coordinated rectangular magenta clutch and a gold and diamond necklace and earrings. If you happen to share her va-va-voom figure, try this gorgeous column from Dressale, for $265.
The matching clutch is an absolute bargain at only $22 from

We can head back to Etsy for this vintage gold choker, priced at $58:
Similar square diamond, citrine, and gold earrings can be had from for $190:
Which brings Vergara's look to a grand total of only $535!! Beauty on a budget!

Vanessa Hudgens brought some youthful fun to the 2015 Tony Awards with this delightful poppy print gown:
She accessorized with simple drop earrings and a metallic gold clutch. The dress is surprisingly easy to copy with this poppy print maxi dress from Lulu's, for only $89. 
A sparkly gold clutch was easy to find, from Kate Spade, for $328.
The earrings were difficult to see, but appeared to be small hoops with a gold bauble hanging from  each. The most similar style I could find was these gold hoops with dangling hearts, FOR $50 at

And finally, let's try to recreate Winnie Harlow's gorgeous look from the 2016 VMAs:
Harlow's gorgeous ruched and wrapped deep taupe gown was paired with gladiator stilettos and a kind of necklace that hung over her head almost like a necklace-headband hybrid. A similar gown is available from Dolce & Gabbana for only $5,395:
The gladiator stilettos are much less pricey, at only $47 for this pair from Cici Hot:
And for the bib necklace/headband, we return once again to Etsy to find this black bead and crystal bib necklace, for $75:

This brings the Harlow look to a grand total of $5,517. 

So I guess the bottom line is, decide who you can afford to be, and be her!! Happy shopping!

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