Sunday, December 23, 2012

The world didn't end but it feels a little like it

I didn't believe the world was going to end. I figured maybe the Mayans just got tired and weren't ready to start a new calendar; I have felt that way from time to time.

Ten days ago, content in the knowledge that the world was not coming to an end, I was really enjoying my new hobby of blogging. My kids were having fun with our "Mensch on the Mantle." I was feeling the rush of doing something creative, chronicling our adventure, and reveling in the excitement of an actual comment appearing on my little blog. I was also in the middle of preparing for a fabulous party when I heard the devastating news about Sandy Hook. The tenderloin was ordered, the champagne was chilling, the flowers were perfectly arranged, and the candles were just waiting to be lit, but it all felt somehow wrong.

I thought of something I learned long ago. The last night of Chanukah (which was the next day) is always the darkest night of the year. That is the night we light all of the candles and bring the most light we can into the world. Everyday thereafter the sun shines just a little longer--the world will incrementally be brighter. I felt so much better remembering that and thinking, "This is the worst it is going to be." We went forward and had a somewhat more sedate evening than we may have otherwise. According to the musician I "nailed" the party. I was glad he thought so, though I am still not jovial enough to post what few pictures I took. At least I gave a little escape to a few of my friends for a few hours.

I have many friends from all stages of my life and I cherish each one. While I am not sure anymore who my definitive “best friend” is, I am lucky to have many friends who are the best. Some of them are simply woven into the fabric of my life in every way possible way.

It is that way with my friend B and her husband. We had double dates before we were married, and as newlyweds our first houses were right around the corner from each other so that we shared many nightly walks. It was while babysitting for their daughter that David and I decided we wanted to start a family--their second daughter and our first are just six weeks apart. The girls are great friends. After Annabelle had her first seizure, we were told that she may have trouble acquiring new language. I was on pins and needles for her to say a new word--any new word. As fate would have it, it was B's name. No sound was ever so delicious (by the way, that girl has more than enough to say). Over the years there have been lake trips, family camps, and even a grown-up get away to Hawaii together. Together we have celebrated Christenings, Jewish baby Namings, birthday parties, holidays, and annual outings to the pumpkin patch. While we both moved from our first homes, we are in a new neighborhood less than a mile apart. B, our other friend B, and I had lunch nearly everyday while our kids were in preschool. We have shared carpool duties and planned class parties. We have gotten to know and love each other's parents on their many trips here. When I was in the hospital last year my kids had a "weeknight sleepover" at B's house that is still mentioned with awe! I am certain she will be at my girls bat mitzvahs and their weddings--I. am. certain.

That is why I feel like the world stopped for just a moment last Monday when my dear sweet friend B had an unexplained seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Echoing my own thoughts from a few days earlier, I kept thinking hoping, "this is the worst it is going to be." I am not sure that I see the world getting brighter just yet, but I do know that hundreds of people have come to B's aid and shared their love. Like me, B has many friends who are the best--I am just one person with whom she shares her life. Her Care Calendar filled within minutes and the phone rings non-stop--everyone wants to know what they can do. The love that has surrounded B let's me know that, while it may feel like it, the world didn't end just yet.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Moment of Silence

No Mensch OTM, no party talk, no pictures of glamorous my friends on their custom holiday cards--just a moment of silence for the victims of today's school shooting in CT. I am so lucky to hold my babies when I pick them up from school today.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Can" you Handle it?????

Last night, the girls found the Mensch playing dreidel with some teddy bears and a note that said, "A Mensch Visits the Elderly." N promptly asked exactly how old the bears are; I quickly retorted that the bears probably represented the senior citizens they would be visiting that night (perhaps this one was a bit of a stretch). In any event, we were off to serve latkes, color pictures, and play dreidel at a Senior Center. This was our first night of service, and I couldn't be more pleased with the girls’ good attitude celebrating Chanukah with the seniors. Today, they will find the mensch prepping soup boxes for our Temple's walk-in food pantry. Everything needed for an easy tortilla soup along with the recipe will be included. The girls will have to finish where the mensch left off. He left a note with instructions!

By the way, the soup is really easy and so yummy. I always have the ingredients in the pantry for nights when we are out of fresh stuff or just feeling really lazy. Relying on pre-made stock and salsa gives it a long-simmered taste in just minutes. The reciepe follows:

1 Can Low Sodium Chicken Stock
2 Cans Black Beans--Drained and Rinsed
1 Can Mexi-corn--Drained and Rinsed
1 jar of your favorite salsa

Dump in a pan and heat. Top with cheese, tortilla chips, cilantro, or enjoy plain!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Mensch on the Mantle Recap (For Those of You Just Tuning In)

I am linking up with Kelly's Korner to talk about what I hope will be my family's new Chanukah tradition: The Mensch on the Mantle! Yes, I do know that is all that I have been talking about for a week straight both on the blog and in real-life, but for anyone still willing to listen, here's the short version:

My friend Stephanie and I pondered how to make a Jewish equivalent of all the magical elves who are so popular these days. While my children were missing out on some of the fun by not celebrating Christmas, we are very fulfilled with our traditions and the beliefs to which we adhere. If I was going to add something else in, I knew it would have to be real and lasting. Anything too magical or that I was going to have to back-track about later was simply out of the question. I want my kids to know that G-d is real and miracles are real--those are the messages of Chanukah.

That is also why we chose to use a mensch as opposed to a gnome or an elf. A mensch is not mythical or made-up. Mensches are simply good people. The "magic" of a mensch is that we all have the inherent capability to do good. Rather than spying on kids to see if they are good just to get presents, our mensch is actually going to be doing mitzvot (good deeds). My kids will find their mensch each day engaged in an activity with a note describing why a mensch would be doing that particular act. For instance, the night that we volunteer to play dreidel at a nursing home, the mensch will be found playing dreidel with barbies and a note that reads, "a mensch visits the elderly."
Read and download his tale here:

There are oodles of pictures of several mensches in action--just click the "Mensch on the Mantle" label to see them all!!!

Mensch Madness Continues!

As I am starting to get nervous about my big grown-up party this Saturday (at which time all the menschy-goodness must be stowed away), the mensch party continues over here (and elsewhere)! Our mensch left a little note reminding the kids to be a mensch when they leave the house each morning. This advances my theme that began with being a mensch at home (helping me, setting the table, enjoying little things together). Now, we plan to progress to discussions of being a mensch in the world. Two service projects are up next....

The C's came up with a plan that celebrates family. Their mensch, along with many pals, is looking at photos and studying genealogy. I LOVE this idea!!!

I am off to plan my champagne bar and bloody mary shots. Wonder what the mensch would think of that?!

Monday, December 10, 2012

What have you done for me lately?

Today, the C's mensch was giving tzedakah (to charity) while ours was reminding the kids that it is important to be sweet and appreciate life's little pleasures with a candy buffet.

We are joined by Abby--a cute mensch belonging to the S Family!

Happy Third Night of Chanukah!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


This little Mensch from Minneapolis visits the sick. Sooooo sweet!

Chanukah is Here--and so are more mensches!!!!

I am happy to post another Mensch who joined the party for the first night of Chanukah. The V's mensch, with expressive eyebrows (!), is pictured here:

The fun continued at the F's, C's, and our place. Check out mensches making latkes, donating to a food pantry, and helping set the table. I love that the kids are learning about helping out at home and in their community.

I think pictures of an out-of-state mensch will be here later today!!!! Stay tuned and Happy Chanukah!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Did I "mensch-on" they'd be doing good deeds???

Several little people found their mensches having a little fun and doing mitzvot (good deeds). The C's mensch set a super-cute table with a sign that reads, "A Mensch Sets the Table." I am not sure that it is really a mitzvah, but you are supposed to honor your mother and father. I think it is under the penumbra of that (oh yeah, I got all lawyerly). My girls will get the same treatment tomorrow!

Today, my mom and I had to make a gross of latkes to freeze for next weekend as well as the ones for tonight. Wouldn't you know it, we found the mensch in an apron with all the supplies needed to start the first batch!! He even bookmarked the latkes recipe n my favorite Jewish cookbook with a little note that said, "Mensches Help Mommy." Photos are below, and you can also see that a most interesting little mensch joined the party today!!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

It's a girl (More Menschy Fun)

And now for something different.... We welcome our first girl mensch! Thanks for sharing F family. She is from Pottery Barn with a little added Jewish Star.

My Main Mensch!

I am pleased to (finally) introduce you to MY Mensch on the Mantle. My girls are going to get a BIG Surprise today!!! Notice how he was so excited that he accidentally broke a candle? Never fear, he is a good little mensch and swept it up! My parents arrive today for a Chanukah visit--what more could you ask for???

He's Here......

The first Mensch arrived last night at my friend Jill's house! He was an instant hit with Jill's sweet boys. While mine will be making an appearance later today, here are Jill's precious pictures.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are signs

Here is a little preview of the Mensch on the Mantle Signage!

The document is downloadable here

Before he arrives...

So my mensch idea is catching on with people making mensches in a few cities. Before they arrive.....

As I mentioned the mensch was born as my friend Stephanie and I pondered how to make a Jewish equivalent of Santa and all the magical elves who are so popular these days. While my children were missing out on some of the fun by not celebrating Christmas, we are very fulfilled with our traditions and the beliefs to which we adhere. If I was going to add something else in, I knew it would have to be real and lasting. Anything too magical or that I was going to have to back-track about later was simply out of the question. I want my kids to know that G-d is real and miracles are real--those are the messages of Chanukah.

That is also why we chose to use a mensch as opposed to a gnome or an elf. A mensch is not mythical or made-up. Mensches are simply good people. The "magic" of a mensch is that we all have the inherent capability to do good. Rather than spying on kids to see if they are good just to get presents, our mensch is actually going to be doing mitzvot (good deeds). My kids will find their mensch each day engaged in an activity with a note describing why a mensch would be doing that particular act. For instance, the night that we volunteer to play dreidel at a nursing home, the mensch will be found playing dreidel with barbies and a note that reads, "a mensch visits the elderly."

I hope that anyone playing along at home will also take this opportunity to give your children lessons about being a real mensch rather than making it just a flight of fantasy! An important logistics note: Stephanie and I would ask that you credit us if you use our poetry or post anything on-line about your mensch. You can include this website: or better yet, send me your pictures and I will add them into a mensch page
Thanks and Happy Chanukah!

Friday the 7th: Children arrive home from school to find the mantle decorated! poetry about mensch

Saturday the 8th: Mensch in apron gathering latke supplies at stove--accompanied by "A mensch helps mommy""

Sunday the 9th: Snowflake Breakfast (see Dixie Delights)"A mensch sets the table""

Monday the 10th: Mensch sets up blue and white candy buffet "A mensch delights in life's little pleasures""

Tuesday the 11th: Mensch—preparing soup “recipe” for food pantry "A mensch feeds the hungry""

Wednesday the 12thMensch playing driedel with Barbies: (kids leasrn about community service and then do service at retirement home)......"A mensch visits the ederly""

Thurdsday the 13th: Mensch is putting candles in Menorah...."A mensch keeps traditions"

Friday the 14th: Mensch leaves vinyl sign on garage door reminding kids to be a mensch......"A mensch is kind ecah time he leaves home "

Saturday the 15th—Kids find Mensch at Grandma’s house with a note that he will see them next year!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Awesome Apps!

Last year I posted some of my most elegant appetizzers here...
In case you aren't up for tuna tar tar on wonton squares, these are equally impressive and delicious but a little homey!

Memphis Onion Soufflé
3 Blocks of Cream Cheese (reduced fat is okay, but not fat free)
2 Cups of Grated or Shredded Parmesan Cheese
1 Finely Chopped Yellow or White Onion—Vidalia if you can!
½ Cup Mayo (light is fine)

Mix together and put in a soufflé, bake at 350-75 for about 40 minutes. Serve with crackers or cut veggies—I think it is best on triskets or red pepper slices

Parmesan Cups with Chopped Salad
Shredded (not grated) Parmesan Cheese
Green Onion
Balsamic Vinaigrette of your choice

Heat a non-stick skillet to medium-high heat, drop parmesan cheese onto the skillet by rounded tablespoonfuls. Let the cheese melt and then slightly brown on the first side (better a little brown so let it cook –don’t be scared). Flip—when the second side is finished, drape over a small inverted muffin tin or shot glasses. Cups will keep two days in airtight container. Make a chopped salad with remaining ingredients and toss in small amount of dressing and fill just before guests arrive.

My asparagus rolls
White Bread (just give in —I mean plain old wonder bread)
1 jar Kraft Olde English Cheese
1 egg
1 package cream cheese
1 bunch thin-ish aparagus, trimmed and blanched
a stick of butter melted in shallow bowl

Remove the crusts of the white bread—don’t try and cheat and buy the pre-crustless, it is too dry. Flatten the bread completely with rolling pin or glass—really mush it.
Meanwhile mix together at room temperature the egg, cream cheese, and Olde English. Set up an assembly line—bread, spread, asparagus, butter. Spread about one tablespoon of spread on bread—put the aspaargus at the end and roll up—roll it in the butter and place seam-side down on a cookie sheet. Repeat until all remaining slices are on sheet. At this point either cover with a damp paper towel and cover with saran and refridgerate until ready to cook or cook at 375 until golden and puffed. Never tell your guests how you made this uber-gourmet looking dish 

Here are some throw together ideas that don't really require cooking:
Tortellini Skewers: Arrange Cooked, Frozen Tortellini on adorable party skewers--drizzle with EVOO.
Caprese Salad on a Pick: arrange tomato, fresh mozzerella, and basil on a cute pick with a balsamic dressing for dipping.

Smoked Salmon Quesadillas:
Basic Quesadillas, but made with white cheese like provolone and with bits of smoked salmon—serve with relish of red onion, capers, tomatoes

Finally, my guests always really love salads and vegetables, so I try to make them exciting:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Mensch who Saved Channukah!

I LOVE reading about my friends' Elf on the Shelf adventures. I felt my kids were missing out on some of the fun as did my (totally Christian) friend Stephanie. Together, we came up with "The Mensch on The Mantle." Mensch translates as "good person," and at the end of the day that is what I really want my girls to be. Yesterday a few friends and I tested out our doll-making skills. Pictures of our little mensches are coming soon, but in the meantime, here is our tale..

The Mensch on the Mantle comes every Chanukah Night
To remind you to do what is right

A real mensch is kind, responsible, and good
A mensch behaves like everyone should.

When someone is a mensch at heart—
He shares, is sweet, and does his part!

Even with so many gifts, toys, and games
This mensch reminds you to be grateful and sane.

While you are away during the day,
You may find the mensch in a crazy way.

Don’t worry--he’s just having fun —
The real magic of the mensch is that you can be one!

Good people (like you) are real all year
So be a mensch and spread Chanukah cheer!

Friday, November 16, 2012

World's Best Roast Chicken

This is more of a technique than a recipe--but you'll be glad you know it! Pre-heat the oven to 450. Rinse and completely dry a small chicken. I always use a kosher chicken--it just works much better because it has more or less been brined. Coat the chicken liberally in dry spices on both sides. It doesn't matter what you use. I always pepper and salt and parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Sing Scarborough Fair--it helps! My spices also usually include a bit of garlic and cayenne pepper. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Take off your rings and rub it in, slipping your fingers under the skin to get the spices wherever you can. Go on and stuff with an onion for good measure! Then Roast, breast up, uncovered for 15 minutes a pound. If it starts to get too brown, tent with aluminum. With the little birds, you are finished in under an hour. It makes your house smell so good, looks great on a platter, and is way better than if it were in the oven all day! Remember, cook on a really high temp:
Coat liberally in whatever spices you have got:
And finally, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty:
I forgot to take an “after” shot because dinner is a bit hectic in these parts, but trust me, it is Norman Rockwell-esque !

Keep Calm at Thanksgiving

I know the whole keep calm thing is over-done. But I created an activity book to keep my kids calm at the table, so you can see why I literally had to do it, right??! I cannot take even one bit of credit for the content of the booklet, which came from various free internet sights (credit given on my scribd page). But I wanted to share in case you needed a little something for your table too. I cannot get the link to work, but here it is on scribd: I also made a little craft paper pocket for crayons for each child using my cutting machine and our existing crayons (I am FINALLY over needing them to be perfectly sharpened). The pockets would be really simple to cut by hand if you were so inclined. You can probably guess by the twine and craft that I am keeping it homey and rustic for Thanksgiving. We will be getting glam for my annual Peacocktail Party next month. By the way, I am noticing peacocks all over town, has my theme flown the coup???

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tin for the Tenth--Part II

Tin is the traditional tenth wedding anniversary gift. We embraced the theme for our supper club (which fell on our tenth anniversary). All of our friends brought dishes that they loved as newlyweds, our wedding songs provided background music, we played a hilarious not-newlywed game, and tin cans graced the tables! My youngest and I decorated the tin cans using washi tape. Since the look was sort of rustic, we incorporated burlap and craft paper into the design. A bar with drinks for “Mr. and Mrs.” completed the look! Here are some photos of the evening:

No Minimalist Here

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tin for the Tenth! Part I

We hosted our supper club on the night of our tenth wedding anniversary. It turned out to be a lovely evening and I am excited to share the pictures over a few posts. First, here is the email I sent announcing our theme: My first thought was to make our theme "wedding feast," and I also pondered tin-can chicken (tin being the traditional 10th anniversary gift). D suggested Italy in honor of our recent trip, but then I got to thinking. We don't need a gimmick because cooking and eating is already of huge significance to our marriage. Cooking was one of the ways we learned how to run our home. Together, we figured out who would do the cooking, shopping, and dishes. We each brought our own ideas to the table (literally) and forged OUR family's culinary palate. His grandma's matzah balls won the first battle! Our first year of marriage did not include the proverbial burnt dinners, though there was an unfortunate fire while toasting coconut. When we married we were already confirmed foodies, though I am not sure the word had been coined. So, our first meals mostly involved me trying to show off for D. I was flooded with many sweet memories thinking about it that I wanted to share them with you: In 2002, I still cared about presentation, and thus, everything was vertical. Trader Joe's was not yet in my vernacular. We still ate potatoes, often wasabi mashed. Salads were bejeweled with berries and nuts, speckled with goat cheese, and dressed in balsamic vinegar (as was everything else in that period). The People at Bob's Seafood knew me by name and gave me the best cuts of sushi grade tuna to be seared and drizzled with soy reductions. Rachel Ray was new to the airwaves, and I did not know what quinoa was. My cakes were the yummiest molten lava. Sunday morning was our breakfast day. The meal was big and eaten in our robes while watching Trading Spaces with no cares at all --there were no birthday parties or t-ball games to fill our day. I skipped red meat and kept kosher. David was sure to order crème brule whenever it was on a menu. We had time to read not one, but three, cooking magazines each month. Times and tastes have obviously changed! The roast chicken I perfected that year on Amherst for my new husband has not. Our life together has been delicious and we are thrilled to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary with you on November 2nd. We hope you will all take a trip down memory lane and bring the dishes that were significant to you as newlyweds. I will make roast chicken, serve wedding cake, and (of course) have champagne for toasting. We want you to have freedom to make what you wish but are hoping for at least two starters, a salad, a starch, a vegetable.. Please let me know what you plan to bring as well as the title and artist of your first dance song!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fairy Magic!

Yesterday, we enjoyed a little fairy magic. It wasn’t really a party—just a pixie-sized play date that my first grader and her BFF dreamed up last summer. Since it took six whole months for their “fairy godmothers” to get it together and actually hold the play date, we sprinkled on a little pixie dust and made it extra magical.

We were firmly committed to not spending too much money. Much like fairies, we used a lot of found objects and left-over items from the girls’ real parties. My Passover décor is very natural and Springy; it made a perfect fairy garden. We picked pine cones, sticks, and other natural elements and used lots of stuff we found around our houses. We added a few dollar store wings and Sam's cupcakes. Of course, it is easy to do that when you a) have a huge arsenal of supplies from past parties and, b) have Pinterest giving you so many precious ideas!

We sent a digital invitation so it wouldn’t seem as formal as a real party.

When the girls arrived, they selected fairy names from envelopes that contained first, middle and last names to create fun combinations. This, in turn, determined what kind of talent each fairy would have, her wing color, seat assignment, and her team for the scavenger hunt. My little cuties ended up being Tulip Fern Bud (a garden talent), and Ladybug Feather Den (an animal talent):

Each girl wore her fairy nametag as we proceeded to feast on Magic wands (pretzel rods dipped in chocolate and sprinkles), Toadstool cupcakes, Strawberries, and Fairy Punch:

The adorable home-tree was crafted from cardboard boxes by the little hostesses (with help from the fairy godmothers). Plans for a similar cardboard tree-house are available on Disney’s Family Fun website.

As the girls ate, we talked about fairy lore and why each girl believed in fairies. The girls then went on a scavenger hunt that matched their talent (Light fairies’ clues were in the fireplace, lamp, and under light fixtures, while garden talents were directed to various potted plants). Along the way, they spotted some real fairy dust! With each clue, the girls got elements that would attract fairies to their own fairy gardens:

When the girls got back from the scavenger hunt, they got very busy making mason-jar fairy gardens, complete with adorable cardboard houses (cut on my Silhouette):

The day concluded with face-painting and, of course, some good old play. After all, it was just an ordinary play date! The total cost was around $40 (and I’ll need new mason jars when I put up the garden next year), but the afternoon was priceless.