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DIY Father’s Day Gifts from Daughter: Easy Last Minute Homemade Gift Basket Ideas

DIY Father’s Day Gifts from Daughter: Easy Last Minute Homemade Gift Basket Ideas


3 Easy DIY Father's Day Gift Ideas for Dad

easy handmade father's day gifts for dad
Sparkling fun with dad and daughter | Image courtesy Unsplash user Caleb Jones

 

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person — he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano

When I think of my father, there are poignant and particular things that come to mind: There’s the beep of the coffee maker when it’s finished brewing, and his hands pouring the hot coffee into his favorite sunshine yellow mugs from Hawaii; the countless warm San Diego evenings spent on the front patio where he barbecues chicken drumsticks or flips homemade burgers; and his belief in the power of a clean car to make you feel good about life, especially when it’s washed by hand on the driveway.

Father’s Day is a time when we celebrate our dad’s unique quirky life lessons. As the youngest daughter in a large family, I was in a constant state of watching and observing my dad and the things he loved and that inspired him. I’d give gifts for holidays that reflected his ever-growing collection of interests, like a bright ceramic toucan mug, a turquoise buddha to look over his homegrown pineapple plants, or a book on architecture or tropical smoothies.

Regardless of the gifts that came and went, there were three favorite DIY Father’s Day gifts from his daughter that never failed to be appreciated by my dad (and, I would suspect, most dads)—homemade coffee syrup, car wash soap, and barbecue rubs. To me, these are easy DIYs that offer gratitude and seem to scream “dad.” There’s a timelessness about them I love—and a feel-good emotion that comes along with handmade Father’s Day gifts and gift basket ideas he can actually use.

DIY Homemade Vanilla Coffee Syrup Recipe to Gift a Wakeful Morning

My dad is an early morning coffee appreciator. He’ll get it all set up the night before so that when he wakes up, he just has to press a button (a habit I’ve enjoyed myself). While the coffee brews and the scents permeate the air, he takes a moment to saunter around the front yard, talking to his palm trees, plumerias, and banana plants.

DIY Coffee Syrup gift for dad
Coffee syrup for a tasty morning | Image courtesy Etsy seller LesCharlatansCanada

He typically drinks his coffee black, but he does love sweetening things up every so often on special mornings. That’s where this simple DIY homemade vanilla coffee syrup recipe comes into play. He’s a fan of vanilla, though you can also experiment with flavors like caramel, pumpkin spice, or chocolate, if that suits your father’s fancy.

The Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

The Recipe:

  1. Over medium-high heat, whisk sugar, water, and the vanilla bean together in a saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat.
  2. Simmer on low until the sugar dissolves, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and mix in your vanilla extract.
  4. When cooled, take out the vanilla bean and pour the syrup in a glass jar.
  5. Keep in the fridge to give dad’s coffee a bit of morning magic!

 

To turn this gift into a coffee lover’s dream gift basket, you can include the following in a vintage coffee canister:

Homemade Dry Spice Rub Recipes: Gifts for the BBQ Dad

As an avocado grower and botany enthusiast, my father lives outside. On warm evenings (and even some rainy ones) he can be found at the barbecue. He grills up everything from huge salmon steaks in fish baskets to chicken drumsticks slathered with BBQ sauce, racks of ribs to hot link sausages that he slices and hands out on toothpicks before dinner. Many of the dads I’ve met over the course of my life share a somewhat similar, almost ceremonial, appreciation for lighting up the barbecue.

To help up his barbecue game, and to make grilling even more of an event, try a couple homemade dry spice rub recipes as a Father’s Day gift this year. Dry rubs add tons of flavor to meat, fish, and chicken and can be easily customized so you can get really creative.

Here are a few of my favorite dry spice rub recipes:

handmade dry spice rubs for dad
Spice up Dad’s BBQ game | Image courtesy Etsy seller SpiceExpressions

Blackening Spice Rub Recipe

  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1/4 cup thyme
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 tsp oregano
  • 4 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper

*Try this on beef, chicken, seafood, or pork—anything you can grill!

Lemon and Herb Rub Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp parsley
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 4 Tbsp lemon pepper

*Try this on salmon served with tartar sauce

The Everyday Rub Recipe

  • 6 Tbsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp mustard powder
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

*Try this on chicken drumsticks drizzled with a bit of maple syrup

Here are some other gift ideas to craft a gift basket for the BBQ master:

DIY Car Wash Soap Alternative for Dad’s Sparkling Clean Ride

When I got my first car, my dad was a big advocate for keeping it clean from the inside out. I’d drive up our long meandering driveway, park in my spot outside, throw on some old clothes, and get ready to wash.

There’s something therapeutic about filling up a bucket with warm soapy water, rinsing the car, then towel drying it—especially when dad and daughter are doing it together. Making your own DIY car wash soap alternative is an often unexpected gift that will have your dad saying, “I didn’t know you could make homemade car wash soap!”

But, you can. And it’s super easy!

car wash diy soap for dad
Cheers to clean cars on cards | Image courtesy Etsy seller FeltTails

The Supplies:

  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup dishwashing liquid
  • Water
  • 1-gallon bucket or jug

The Directions:

Pour your baking soda into your jug then add the dishwashing liquid. Add enough water to fill the jug almost up to the top. Shake well, then when you’re ready to wash your car, pour 1 cup of the car wash soap into a water bucket and add water. Then, wash away!

 

 

 

If you want to turn this into a dad kit gift basket, here are some more sudsy gift ideas for the car wash enthusiast:

  • A microfiber wash mitt
  • A car wash sponge
  • Microfiber towels
  • Liquid wax
  • Car polish
  • Tire shine
  • A cool bucket to hold all the gifts, and then the sudsy water

 

When I think of my dad, I think of early morning coffee dates on the front patio talking about school and future dreams, nights spent barbecuing with the entire family while a bonfire glows in the fire pit behind us, and the feeling of freedom that a new and clean car gives.

Whether you’re making coffee syrup, BBQ rubs, car wash soap, or all of the above, my hope is that these gifts inspire you to give dad a homemade gift this year that’s from the heart and that speaks to the special relationship you share.

For more creative ideas on Father’s Day gift giving, check out our Father’s Day Gift Guide. Or, connect with Elfster on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

For FREE Father’s Day printable coloring sheets for dad and grandpa, courtesy the elves, click here

Creative Hostess Gift Ideas: Easy DIYs Offering Gratitude at Summer Dinner Parties

Creative Hostess Gift Ideas: Easy DIYs Offering Gratitude at Summer Dinner Parties

“I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer—its dust and lowering skies.” – Toni Morrison

dinner party summer spread
Savory summer bites | Photo courtesy Unsplash user Brooke Lark

As the sensations of summer loom on the horizon—the blooming of roses, strawberries making their way to the stands at the farmers’ market, spring sweaters staying put in the closet and being replaced by sundresses—I begin to daydream of summer dinner parties.

As with each new season, my favorite part of summer tends to revolve around gatherings, time spent sharing meals and stories with friends and family. In the warmer months, the options for dinner party dining are plentiful, from tables inside adorned with fresh flowers, to picnic blankets on the lawn, to twinkle-lit decks and patios.

When I receive a summer dinner party invite, I like to be prepared with some creative hostess gift ideas that feel genuinely thoughtful. From a s’mores kit, to a treat yourself lounging bucket, to a picnic basket filled with goodies, here are three of my favorite gifts I like to bring along with me to summer parties. But, more important than the gifts themselves, are the feelings I hope they leave behind: contentment, gratitude, and a little bit of self-indulgence.

A Make Your Own S’mores Kit for the Sweetest Hostess

The tradition of s’mores is one I’ve loved and looked forward to every summer since I was a kid. Whether I’m roasting marshmallows at the beach or around a backyard bonfire, it’s still the sweetest-smelling dessert I’ve ever made. And, as they’re usually reserved for the summertime, they’ll forever remind me of the season of sand, sea, and sun.

s'more summer treats
S’more summer, please | Photo courtesy Etsy seller FavorBoxParty

I love putting together seasonal cookie kits as gifts (a mason jar filled with layers of flour, sugar, and Halloween sprinkles in the fall, anything green and red for winter, and pastel colored M&M’s in the spring), but in summer, I step out of the box, and the jar, and wrap up the makings for ooey-gooey s’mores.

They’re fun to have on hand for last minute camping or beach trips, and they don’t require any time on the recipient’s end spent measuring ingredients or sweating over an oven when it’s hot outside.

The Ingredients List:

  • 1 chocolate bar
  • 2 big marshmallows
  • 2 graham crackers
  • A piece of clear cellophane
  • A length of cute baker’s twine or raffia

To put the kit together, break the chocolate bar and graham crackers in half. Then, on an open piece of cellophane, place two pieces of graham cracker, followed by a piece of chocolate, then the marshmallows, then another piece of chocolate. Top it all off with the last two halves of graham cracker and there you have it! Now just wrap it all up and gift to a lucky hostess.

Hostess Sand Bucket, er… Gift Basket… Ideas

gift basket for summer
Poolside lounging in style | Photo courtesy Etsy seller InfinityLOVECo

This hostess gift is for your friends and family who could use some rest, relaxation, and a bit of lounging. It was inspired by my sister who chases three kids around daily and always feels like a million bucks when she’s able to paint her toenails, slather on some sunscreen, and lay her head back to lounge in the sun with a good book.

Sometimes, summer calls us all to take a few simple moments to unwind and enjoy being by some form of water—and that is exactly what this gift is offering your favorite hostess.

What to Put in a Beach Bag Gift:

  • A pair of flip flops
  • Nail polish
  • Sunglasses
  • Magazines or a new book
  • Sunscreen or lotion
  • A new beach towel

Stuff all these goodies in a sand bucket or woven tote and gift it to a hostess who may be in need of some summer poolside rest and relaxation. Remember, if you don’t want to go with this detailed of a gift, any one of these single items will make a beautiful hostess gift on their own. You know your hostess best and what will encourage her to get footloose and fancy free this summer!

Picnic Basket Gift Ideas for Summer

a summer picnic gift
A picnic ‘neath the shady trees | Photo courtesy Unsplash user Bonnie Kittle

My love for summer picnic baskets started a few years ago and now it knows no limit. Summer evenings spent in Portland always meant packing a basket with favorite things from the local market down the street before venturing to concerts in the park or outdoor gatherings with picnic party foods. We’d grab a baguette, a few selections of cheeses (like bacon cheddar or dill Havarti), a bottle of San Pellegrino, and top it all off with some kind of sweet or tangy spread, like tomato jam homemade from the spring or summer season’s bounty. Throw in some raw vegetables and salumi and you have all everything you need for an easily transportable meal.

This gift is wonderful to bring your hostess in the summer; perhaps it will spark the idea of getting together as a group to venture to some neighborhood outdoor activities. Even if a live concert isn’t on the calendar, there’s still something so nice about spreading a picnic blanket down on the grass, opening a basket, and spending a few hours of the day chatting and eating bit by bit as the summer sun goes down.

To properly pull this hostess gift off, you’ll need:

  • A vintage-style picnic basket (check your local thrift stores)
  • A fresh loaf of bread from a local market or bakery
  • Some specialty cheeses available at high-end marketplaces or local cheese shops
  • Bubbles, like a bottle of San Pellegrino or a light sparkling lemonade
  • Homemade tomato jam, or a locally crafted option from your farmers’ market

A Homemade Tomato Jam Recipe to Preserve Summer’s Bounty

While I like to include my homemade tomato jam in a picnic gift basket, your hostess would be equally delighted with a couple jars of this as a stand alone present as well. Here’s my go-to recipe for preserving summer’s fresh tomato bounty:

summer tomatoes make jam as a gift
Sweet and savory summer tomatoes | Photo courtesy Unsplash user Vince Lee

The Ingredients List:

  • 2 pounds of ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne


The Recipe:

  1. Add the ingredients to a large saucepan and bring it to a boil, stirring consistently so that the bottom does not burn.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stir until the mixture thickens into a jam. Remove from heat and cool.
  3. Transfer to well-sealed jars and enjoy!

Arrange your jam alongside your other items in your hostess gift basket, or simply add some twine for a rustic bow, then gift as a show of your gratitude for the gathering.

Whether you’re making a sweet treat s’mores kit or pairing a cute pair of flips flops with a brand new towel, I hope these homemade hostess gifts have given you creative tidbits of inspiration for the season of summer dinner parties ahead.

The warm and sunny weather seems to bring along with it the best excuses to gather together and share a meal with those you love. And, it’s always more fun to arrive with full arms and a full heart, offering your own unique token of appreciation to friends and family who generously open their homes and kitchens to you each summer.

For more ideas on hostess gift giving for summertime soirees, explore our summer gift guide. Or, connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

A Friends-Themed Party and Coffee Lovers Gift Swap to Brew up Some 90s Fun

A Friends-Themed Party and Coffee Lovers Gift Swap to Brew up Some 90s Fun

In the small New England town where I grew up, “great” coffee came from the local convenience store or Dunkin’ Donuts. I didn’t taste my first latte until I was in college, although I definitely pretended I knew what the mysterious milky espresso beverage was in front of my new friends. Until then, I had been convinced that the freeze-dried instant coffee granules my Papa drank were the epitome of chic. The only thing that clued me into a world of coffee I might be missing out on? Friends.

friends having coffee
A warm cuppa | Image courtesy Unsplash user Joshua Ness

Like all of the kids in our middle school, my sister and I were Friends obsessives, quoting our favorite funny lines from the show. The biggest revelation of the show, though, was that if you lived in The City, you got your coffee at a coffee house, and a fluorescent-lit temple of beige linoleum and packaged snack cakes where we were used to getting our (decaf) coffee fixes.

When I actually did up and move to The City, I was shocked to see that places like Central Perk really do exist—cozy coffee shops serving up lattes, single-origin brews, and the occasional muffin or scone, cozy couches and chairs for lingering over every last sip of your cappuccino or Americano strewn about the room. I fell in love with the coffee culture, buying a French press for my dorm room and begging my favorite cafe to grind the bags of artisanal beans I bought from them so I could have a great cup of joe while studying late into the night.

Luckily, a lot of my friends are caffeine junkies like me, and we usually sit at our favorite cafe mulling over the news of someone’s romantic exploits at least once a week. We’ve even got our own Gunther, a tattooed and pierced barista who is definitely more bark than bite (and probably has a crush on one of my friends, but don’t let him know that you know). As Friends portrayed, coffee and socializing just seem to naturally go together, so I decided to throw a themed party and coffee swap. Friends, friends, and coffee—it was like the glamorous yet silly adult life shown on the show I idolized as a kid was finally mine!

Which Friend Are You?

I felt a long chunk of my hair fall to the ground, the air filled with the snip, snip sound of a sure pair of shears. My stylist knew exactly what she was doing; she’d given “The Rachel” to hundreds of people in the past year. But as a 13-year-old, getting a haircut inspired by the most fashionable character on Friends was a groundbreaking rite of passage for me. Goodbye, pigtails! Now, I was a woman.

rachel monica mug
Besties for life | Image courtesy Etsy seller FranklyNoted

Well, not quite. I still had a maturity level that combined the cluelessness of Joey with the whiny sarcasm of Chandler, but at least I felt like I looked good. While I wouldn’t suggest anyone actually get their hair cut to look like a 90s sitcom star in order to attend your party (though I’d say that would earn an extra bag of coffee during the gift swap at the end of the night if they did), it’s always fun to dress up in character. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a pricey costume, though. Here are some Friends costume ideas so simple even Joey (or, better yet, Marcel the monkey) could pull one together.

Ross

  • Lots of hair gel, for that signature wet-look coiffure
  • A blazer, to look extra professorial
  • A dinosaur t-shirt to wear under the blazer, because Ross totally would

Phoebe

  • A long, hippie maxi dress, but with a turtleneck underneath (Phoebe loved her layers!)
  • Lots of chunky, mix matched jewelry—extra points for crystals, especially those with “healing” properties
  • A guitar, so you can serenade your friends with your own cover of “Smelly Cat” all night long
coffee art framed
Frame your love of coffee | Image courtesy Etsy seller STANLEYprintHOUSE

Gunther

  • The most colorful button down shirt you can find paired with a clashing tie
  • A platinum bald cap/wig combo to get that fuzzy-headed ‘do that Gunther always sported
  • A French press, because you’re serious about your coffee
  • Don’t forget to tuck a picture of Rachel in your wallet!

Chandler

  • An oversized bowling shirt because it seems like that’s all he owned
  • A pocket protector since you’ll need it for your job in, um, what exactly does Chandler do, anyway?
  • A couple of (candy) cigarettes hidden your wallet, just in case a craving strikes
  • Some gum, because gum is always “perfection”

Joey

  • The easiest costume of all: a roomy plaid button-down, jeans, and a meatball sub from the best Italian joint in town.

Now that you and your friends look like the cast of Friends, it’s time to get your coffee on.

Homemade Coffee Ice Cream Affogatos Add Childlike Fun

The first time I had a great cup of coffee, I…hated it. Back then I was used to drinking iced coffee year-round, loaded with cream and sugar thankyouverymuch. My first taste of a strong brew, an expensive single-origin pour over cup of coffee, shocked my palate.

ice cream coffee
Ice Cream + Espresso = LOVE | Image courtesy Etsy seller narinnatephotography

These days I’ll still drink a cup of joe from the drive through in emergencies, but I can tell the difference. It turns out that the good stuff is an acquired taste, but once you get used to it and can tell the difference between “good” bitterness and the over-roasted stuff, there’s no turning back.

A lot of my friends are the same way, but honestly? We can almost be too serious about our coffee. It’s just a drink, after all! So, for my party, I decided to try to take our passion from the serious realm of Ross to the fun zone with Joey, keeping a little of Monica’s culinary integrity in the mix for good measure.

My solution? Decadent affogatos, crafted from a simple homemade coffee ice cream made with coffee-infused whipped cream. You’ll want to save the ice cream recipe for your next Ice Cream Sandwich Day Party (and, no, that’s not a made up holiday). These affogatos are part after-school snack, part caffeine jolt, and just the thing to keep your party feeling more like the carefree Central Perk and less like Frasier’s Cafe Nervosa.

coffee and chicory
Shake things up with chicory-infused coffee | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheGivingButterfly

The Ingredients:

  • 1 cup very coarsely ground dark roast coffee beans
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • A 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

The Ice Cream Directions:

  1. Pour the heavy cream over the coffee beans in an airtight container. Cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.
  2. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.
  3. Use a stand mixer or electric beaters to whip the cream until peaks form.
  4. Add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla to a large bowl. Fold in half of the coffee whipped cream; once incorporated, fold in the rest of the whipped cream.
  5. Transfer to the freezer. After 45 minutes to an hour, stir the mixture to break up any ice crystals that have formed. Freeze until firm, about 2 hours, stirring vigorously every half hour or so to keep the mixture smooth.

To make the affogatos, just add a scoop of ice cream to each cup. Top with a shot of espresso or strong coffee, then sprinkle with crushed amaretti cookies to serve. Now that you’re ready to settle in for a long day of relaxing (seriously, didn’t anyone on Friends have a job they had to be at in the morning…), it’s time for a gift swap.

A Yankee Swap That Makes Serious Coffee Lovers Smile

I may have become accustomed to getting a $5 coffee when I’m at a cute indie coffeehouse, but my small town, convenience store coffee roots still show when I try to bring myself to buy a whole bag of expensive beans. Coffee is an investment, and branching out can be kind of scary. I know a lot of my friends stick to getting the same roasts from the same coffee shops week after week, but I thought hosting a coffee swap could help get us all out of our ruts.

We’d done a coffee mug gift exchange before, but this one would be all about the drink itself. All we had to do was buy a bag of our favorite beans, wrap them, and get ready to enjoy something new in return. You can even use an online gift exchange site to organize everything, so you can keep your focus on the fun, not on setting up the swap. To throw a coffee gift swap:

  1. Buy your coffee: Every person should buy a bag of whole bean coffee in the $12-$20 range. Extra points for those who choose beans from a local coffee roaster!
  2. Wrap the beans: In a Yankee swap, part of the fun is in the mystery.
  3. Set them out: Place all of the wrapped gifts in a pile on your coffee table.
  4. Draw a number: Have everyone draw numbers from a hat. The lowest number gets to go first.
  5. Choose a gift: The first person should choose a wrapped gift from the pile and open it.
  6. Make a choice: The second person then gets to decide if they want to keep the coffee beans the first person opened, or choose an unwrapped gift. If they choose a new gift, they then unwrap it. If they decide to take the gift of the first person, the first person then picks another unwrapped gift from the pile.
  7. Keep going: As the game continues, each player chooses to either select an unwrapped gift or to take one of the already opened gifts from another player.
  8. The final turn: Once everyone has taken their turn, the person who drew #1 gets to make their final decision to keep the coffee beans they have or to swap for someone else’s.
coffee bean club
You can even subscribe to coffee | Image courtesy Etsy seller DriftawayCoffee

A Yankee Swap works really well for coffee because unlike a traditional game of Secret Santa, where everyone opens their gifts at the same time, each item is opened individually, giving the person unwrapping the gift time to tell the whole group about that bag of beans, from country of origin to the dominant flavor notes. And once everyone hears about the beans, the game gets more exciting as people try to swap for the coffee that suits their preferences. I know I can be pretty cutthroat if it puts me closer to a bag of Ethiopian single origin beans!

Even though my friends and I are serious about coffee, we can still have fun with it. While a typical tasting party brings out everyone’s egos (because everyone wants to prove they can discern the origin of a certain brew even while blindfolded), a Yankee Swap keeps things lighthearted; the whole point is that we all get to try something new, to feel like beginners again.

Friends always had that balance. Sure, Monica was living in a palace that would cost millions in real life and Rachel had a job as a fashion buyer for one of the ritziest department stores in the country, but even though they led glamorous city lives on the surface, at the end of the day they were still getting their heads stuck in turkeys on Thanksgiving and disagreeing over the definition of “a break.”

Friends reminds my buddies and me not to take ourselves too seriously, whether that means having some fun with our passion for coffee so we don’t become grumpy like Gunther or hosting parties that are more about Friends than foie gras. After all, at the end of the day it’s not about the coffee—it’s about the people sharing the cozy cafe couch with you day in and day out.

Make every cup o’ joe more special by checking out Elfster’s Coffee Mugs Gift Guide. You can stay up-to-date with all things elvish on Facebook, and don’t forget to check in with us on Twitter @Elfster and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Spring Fresh Picnic Party Food Ideas and Inspirations for Your First Outdoor Gathering

Spring Fresh Picnic Party Food Ideas and Inspirations for Your First Outdoor Gathering

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

floral table display
A picnic party extravaganza | Image courtesy Unsplash user Sasha Zvereva

When spring comes, promising sunshine in the skies and the budding of fresh flowers in the garden, I am exuberant. There’s a magical aura surrounding the first season that comes after the chill of winter. Warm soups are replaced with salads. Fresh fruit and vibrant vegetables flourish at the farmers’ market. And folks gather together to eat outdoors and celebrate the invigoratingly magical spell of the equinox with spring parties of all sorts.

When the blossoms bloom and the garden becomes green and lush, I love to round up my friends and family to throw a picnic foodie party outdoors. I keep the menu simple, fresh and colorful—the perfect items for dining alfresco with a glass of something bubbly.

In my southern California surroundings, the scents of fresh lavender and plumeria flowers waft through the air, carrying the hums of laughter, and I’m reminded of the power of simply sharing a meal with the ones you love, a gift from the bounty of spring. Between Caprese boats, cucumber salad, grilled prosciutto e melone, avocado deviled eggs, and a refreshing dessert of lemon bars, your guests will be sure to picnic-dine underneath the sun with happy souls and happy taste buds. Read on, to get your springtime picnic party on.

Sail into Spring with Caprese Boats

I love making Caprese boats on idle weekday spring evenings—or for a weekend crowd! Between the colors of the tomato, the balls of fresh mozzarella cheese, and the basil that holds it all together, it’s a twist on a traditional Caprese salad, simple to create and sure to stir up a reaction—a picnic favorite in boat form.

My real secret to making this dish sublime is fresh black pepper, sea salt, quality olive oil, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. This classic combination is what gives it that ever-so-fresh feel of springtime. The recipe below serves 4.

Caprese boats
Sail into spring with Caprese boats | Image courtesy Bay

The Ingredients:

  • 8 large fresh basil leaves
  • 16 cherry tomatoes in red, orange, and yellow
  • 8 small mozzarella balls
  • 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper

The Directions:

  1. Using 8 mini wooden skewers, pierce one end of each of the basil leaves, then a tomato, followed by a mozzarella ball, and another tomato to create your boat.
  2. Then, pierce the other end of the basil leaf through the skewer so that the tomatoes and mozzarella are being cradled by the leaf.
  3. Drizzle evenly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, seasoning with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Light but Hearty Cucumber Salad with Crumbled Feta and Pine Nuts

This cucumber salad is light but hearty, the perfect base for a spring meal eaten outdoors. It could quite literally be the only thing you serve at your picnic to fill your guests up! The first time I threw this salad together, I made a big batch and ate the leftovers for dinner the next three days alongside grilled chicken, toasted bread, and fresh salmon. It’s quickly become a staple in our household; we just keep making it over and over again. And don’t forget the fresh parsley! It’s the best part. This recipe serves 4.

cucumber salad
Refreshing your guests with cucumbers | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jonathan Pielmayer

The Ingredients:

  • 2 medium hothouse cucumbers, cubed
  • 3 whole green onions, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, or 1 1⁄2 cups home cooked
  • 1⁄2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1⁄2 cup pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley
  • 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper

The Directions:

  1. Gently mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, seasoning with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
  2. Divide the salad among four small bowls or mason jars.
  3. Garnish with extra olive oil and add more sea salt and black pepper to taste, if desired.

The Sweet (yet Smoky) Grilled Prosciutto e Melone

Prosciutto e melone is a common appetizer staple in most Italian households, especially popular in spring when melons become juicy and full of flavor. We like to put our own spin on the classic and throw the pieces on the grill once they’re assembled. There’s a smoky taste that comes across when the prosciutto meets the charcoal grill and combines with the sweetness of the melon. It’s divine.

Alternatively, you can leave out the prosciutto for a vegetarian option as the melon, basil, and other ingredients will still taste wonderful. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, slice a thick baguette and throw it on the grill alongside this appetizer. Your guests may never leave their spot underneath the tree out back. This recipe serves 4

grilled prosciutto and melon
Grilled prosciutto e melone | Image courtesy Bay

The Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 medium cantaloupe, sliced into 8 wedges
  • 1⁄2 medium honeydew melon, sliced into 8 wedges
  • 16 large basil leaves
  • 16 slices prosciutto
  • 2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • Balsamic reduction

The Directions:

  1. Heat a grill to medium-high.
  2. Cut each melon wedge in half, then place one basil leaf on each piece of melon, wrapping with one piece of prosciutto. Skewers are not necessary, although you can stick them through the melon if you’d like.
  3. Drizzle each slice with olive oil (making sure to coat both sides), and top them with a sprinkle of black pepper.
  4. Throw them on the barbecue and sear until you see grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  5. Add more black pepper as well as a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

If you’ve never made balsamic reduction before, it’s super simple. Pour the balsamic into a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it thickens like a glaze and reduces by about half. Try not to bring it to a complete boil. Remove the glaze from the heat and allow it to cool. Set aside.

*If you don’t have a grill, serve the wrapped melons raw or cook them in a skillet on high heat and sear until golden.

A Protein-Packed Snack: Avocado Deviled Eggs

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up on a whimsical, 6-acre avocado farm in rural San Diego. Everything we ate had some sort of avocado accompaniment and these green-hued beauties constantly make their way into my picnic soirees. I like to keep spring picnic foods light, vegetable or fruit based, but the avocado combined with boiled eggs provide an often-needed bite of afternoon protein. I’m known amongst friends for always throwing a bit of handmade hot sauce on my deviled eggs, so to jazz these babies up, I give them a sprinkle of red chili flakes. This recipe makes 12.

avocado deviled eggs
Creamy avocado deviled eggs pack protein | Image courtesy Bay

The Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 large avocado
  • 2 Tbsps minced parsley, plus leaves to garnish
  • 1⁄2 cup minced red onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1⁄2 tsp red pepper flakes

The Directions:

  1. Place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cool water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Once the boil is reached, turn off the burner and let the eggs sit for about 7 minutes, with the lid on, before running them under cool water.
  3. Peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise.
  4. Discard 3 of the yolks and spoon the remaining yolks into a mixing bowl.
  5. Add the avocado, parsley, onion, garlic, then salt and pepper to taste. Mash with a fork until well combined and smooth the mixture with a spoon.
  6. Spoon the mixture back into the egg white halves and sprinkle the red pepper flakes evenly among them. Garnish each egg with a leaf or two of parsley before serving.

Forever Yellow Lemon Bars

There is nothing in this world as reminiscent of springtime as simple yellow lemon bars. Over the years, creating this dessert has turned into a sort of therapeutic kitchen dance for me: the blending of the butter, flour, and sugar; the whisking of the eggs and lemon juice; the smells as they permeate the kitchen in harmony with the blossoming trees outside.

I tend to make this treat in the warmer months to eat outdoors while catching up on conversation with a group of friends, the sun staying high in the sky later than we’re used to after the long winter season. Sweet, tart, and fruit-forward, these bars are the absolute perfect ending to a picnic. Take time to relish in their beautiful simplicity, spring after spring.

lemon trees
Lovely lemon trees welcome the sun | Image courtesy Unsplash user Ernest Porzi

The Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 2 lemons, juiced (about 4 Tbsps lemon juice)
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

The Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the butter, 2 cups of flour, and 1/2 cup of sugar.
  3. Using your hands, form into a dough ball and press into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper. Bake the bars for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mix the rest of your sugar and flour.
  5. Then, whisk in your eggs and lemon juice.
  6. Pour this mixture over your baked crust and pop the bars in the oven for another 20 minutes.
  7. Let cool for an hour before sprinkling with powdered sugar and cutting into squares.

Whether you’re making these spring fresh dishes, a family favorite, or stretching your creativity with something altogether new, the essence of a simple springtime picnic will always remain the same: to be together, to laugh, to enjoy and appreciate the changing of the seasons.

My hope is that some of these party foods, near and dear to my heart, have given you inspiration for your own gathering. So pour those bubbles, sit back, unwind, and let the sun shine. May your heart and your soul laugh among the flowers—and tasty tidbits, too.

Elfster wishes you a bright, sunshine-filled springtime ahead. Explore our food and drink gift guide, or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more inspirations for this sensational season.

Eco-Friendly DIY Earth Day Gifts for a Clean and Green Kitchen This Spring

Eco-Friendly DIY Earth Day Gifts for a Clean and Green Kitchen This Spring

eco friendly jute mat
Jute makes for eco-friendly kitchen accessories | Image courtesy Etsy seller Yanetinne

For the last few years, my fiancé Nick and I have taken a creative approach to celebrating Earth Day. One year, while living in San Francisco, we crafted a kitchen composter out of a coffee canister. The next year we were hunkered down in Orange County so took a trip to Roger’s Gardens, followed by an afternoon spent planting sunflower seeds in our front yard. Then came our spring in Portland, and a rainy day walk through Forest Park. We even brought that woodsy vibe home with us by crafting rustic reclaimed wood tea holders.

Showing our support for the environment on April 22nd is important to us, but it’s also a way of living we like to carry with us every day of the year. We spend more time in our kitchen than in any other part of our home and, as a result, we end up cleaning it a lot! So, we like to make sure that when we put on our Motown records and get to cleaning, we’re doing so in an eco-friendly way. Not only are we protecting the environment, but we love knowing that we could eat straight off our countertops—not that we ever have.

We always share our bounty of DIY cleaners with friends and family as Earth Day gifts. Here are the three undeniable favorites: dishwasher tabs, “un”paper towels, and a simple citrus vinegar cleaner. They smell good and feel good, so when you make them for others, make sure to stock up your own cupboards as well. Here’s to your pristine (and newly green) kitchen!

Get a Sparkly Green Clean with DIY Dishwasher Tabs

The absolute cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen was in Austin, Texas at a bed and breakfast; the innkeeper swore by baking soda and vinegar. Since then, those two items have become my wondrous miracle workers in the realm of cleaning. When you want it bright and sparkly, they do the job best.

I love the simplicity of throwing a tab into the dishwasher when it’s ready to run, and the gratification of pulling out those sparkling, clean dishes (a trait I seemed to have inherited from my queen-of-the-clean mother). So when I started experimenting with my own dishwasher tabs, I went straight to my go-to clean everything basics: baking soda and vinegar.

You cook, I'll clean
You won’t have to get out of cleaning with these green products | Image courtesy Etsy seller MadebymamaUS

For dish tabs, I like to combine them with Epsom salt (to reduce the effects of hard water), and the natural cleaner Borax. If you’d like, you can also add 10-15 drops of an essential oil, like lemon or grapefruit, to make your dishes smell beautiful too.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 2 cups Borax
  • 1/2 cup Epsom salt
  • 1/2 cup vinegar

How to Do It:

  1. In a large metal bowl, mix all of your ingredients together.
  2. After a bit of fizzing, once the ingredients are combined, pack the mixture down into two ice cube trays and let them dry for 24-36 hours.
  3. When you’re ready to use the tabs, I suggest adding about half a cup or so of vinegar to the bottom of your dishwasher to ensure a clean, bright sparkle.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, Make “Un”Paper Towels Instead

Inspiration for the “un”paper towel came to me one evening after I used an entire roll of paper towels to sop up a carton of spilled milk. I’d recently read a statistic from the Paperless Project that if every household in the United States used just one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels a year, that would save a whopping 544,000 trees annually! I’ve always had a fondness for dishtowels and their sentimental value—a paisley print one given from my grandma, a heart-embroidered one from my mom—so why not create my own roll of reusable ones? And that is how “un”paper towels found their place in our kitchen.

"un"paper towels
Handmade “un”paper towels | Image courtesy Etsy seller AnneRiggsDesigns

These towels now fill my cooking space with seasonal prints and quirky patterns while decreasing our waste and environmental impact. I’m not a master seamstress, but you don’t need to be to sew these up. And, instead of buying new fabrics and towels, you can work to upcycle the old ones you already love, giving them new life in a loved one’s kitchen.

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 12-inch squares of terrycloth
  • 4 12-inch squares of woven fabric
  • A package of sew-on snaps

How to Do It:

  1. First, line one piece of terrycloth up with one piece of woven fabric and sew up all the sides (about 1/2 inch from the edge).
  2. Once that’s finished, if you’d like for your “un”paper towels to roll up just like the paper ones do, the next step is to add your sew-on snaps. This part is up to you, but I find it easiest to first start with placement markers, 2 each, on both the left and right sides of the cloth. Attach the caps underneath and the sockets on top on the left side of the towel, but the sockets underneath and the caps on top on the right side of the towel.
  3. The towels are now ready to be rolled and live their new life in the kitchen!

Naturally Sweet Citrus Vinegar Cleaner

This sweet citrus vinegar smells so good that it actually relaxes me while I clean. I got this idea from the same Texas innkeeper who introduced me to vinegar and baking soda. Not only was his kitchen spotless, but it also smelled heavenly of citrus. I was convinced the scent wafting through the air in his home was a candle, or the blossoms of a tree outside the kitchen window, so was surprised to discover it was actually the citrus vinegar cleaner he made himself and sprayed the counters down with to get rid of the breakfast remnants of jam and butter. It’s now become my favorite cleaner to gift and to use—and it’s so simple!

DIY citrus cleaner
Sweet citrus cleans and brightens | Image courtesy Etsy seller CleaningThyme

What You’ll Need:

  • A mason jar
  • Orange peels (to fill half the jar)
  • White vinegar (to cover the peels)

How to Do It:

  1. First, I’d suggest making a nice batch of fresh squeezed orange juice (and maybe throw in a big breakfast of scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes as an added bonus).
  2. Save your peels and place them in your mason jar until it is half full.
  3. Next, fill the mason jar with white vinegar, enough to cover the peels.
  4. Let the jar sit in a dimly lit spot for two weeks before straining the citrus over a mesh sieve into a large bowl.
  5. Pour the liquid into a spray bottle, add a simple label if you’d like, and gift (or spray) away!

Celebrating our bountiful, beautiful Earth by creating hands-on traditions is both invigorating and uplifting. Over the years, I’ve found simple DIY projects that enable the joy of giving (and encourage others to do the same) to be incredibly fulfilling. The kitchen is the center of many households, so sharing eco-friendly kitchen cleaning tools is a wonderful way to spread the love of all things clean, and all things green.

Happy Earth Day from Elfster!

For more ideas on how to celebrate holidays creatively, visit Elfster on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and on Instagram @Elfstergram. Or, search our Gift Guide for other Earth Day inspirations.

Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: National Nutrition Month Activities for Adults

Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: National Nutrition Month Activities for Adults

goldfish cracker tie
Image courtesy Etsy seller takeabowooo

I know that goldfish crackers aren’t an appropriate breakfast food, but try telling that to my preschooler. They’re also not meant to replace all three meals in a given day, but battling a 3-year-old’s logic at 7 a.m., noon, and again at dinnertime sometimes feels like a battle not worth fighting.

That’s why make ahead meals for busy moms— dishes that can be prepped on the weekend, then reheated throughout the week—have been such a lifesaver for my family. It’s a lot easier to say no to junk food when you have delicious, healthy choices at hand. It’s a constant juggling act to balance a nutritious diet with the realities of my family’s on-the-go lifestyle, but these national nutrition month ideas will help you kick each and every one of your weeks off to a delicious start.

Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings

Squeezing in a healthy meal every morning is a priority in my house. I know that a breakfast loaded with sugar is going to leave me and my little ones feeling bleary-eyed and hungry within an hour or two. It’s an endless cycle that’s too easy to get stuck in, especially for anyone who isn’t a morning person, myself included.

Thankfully, there are a lot of simple make ahead breakfasts you can prep on the weekends, then grab-and-go on weekday mornings. You’ll get the nutrients you need to make your days not only manageable, but enjoyable. These are the fast breakfasts my family loves—no culinary degree required:

hangry hand towel
This towel will remind you to eat breakfast | Image courtesy Etsy seller FrenchSilver
  • Whole wheat pancakes: Baking with whole grains can seem intimidating, and more nutritious than delicious, but these whole wheat pancakes are surprisingly easy and tasty. They use more baking powder than most pancake recipes, making them a little extra fluffy. We like to make them on the smaller side so they fit in the toaster oven for reheating. Make an extra batch or two if you serve them up for Sunday brunch, freezing them in a single layer before transferring them to a zip-top bag. They reheat in just a couple minutes and a smear of almond butter and some all-natural jam makes them nearly irresistible to kids.
  • Omelettes in a mug: Beat a dozen eggs together on Sunday, then store in an airtight container in the fridge. On weekday mornings, add a couple tablespoons of frozen mixed veggies to a mug. Microwave for 30 seconds, then add ¼ cup of the beaten egg mixture, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cheese. Microwave for another 30 to 60 seconds, or until the egg is fully cooked.
  • Overnight oats: We make overnight oats in mason jars with lids on the weekend, then grab one on our way out the door on busy mornings. The basic recipe is simple: add ½ a cup of oats, 2 tsps of chia seeds, and ¾ cups of milk to a mason jar, along with any spices, sweeteners, fruit, etc. that you fancy. For creamier oats, you can add a tablespoon or two of yogurt; for thinner oats, add more milk. Stir well, then cover. Overnight oats can be eaten cold, or you can microwave them for about a minute until they’re warm. Play with the flavors. Cocoa powder and some mini chocolate chips make for a sweet breakfast that’s still healthy; coconut flakes and sliced bananas are a tropical treat; and apple butter and cinnamon replicates a classic instant oatmeal flavor in a more nutritious way. It’s a surprisingly healthy choice that kids and adults will both devour.
  • Breakfast burritos: Find an easy breakfast burrito recipe you love, then make a batch to freeze. These can easily be microwaved in the mornings for a quick meal. I like making vegan breakfast burritos by “scrambling” some extra-firm tofu with onions, bell peppers, garlic, cumin, and turmeric, then adding the mixture to a tortilla with vegetarian refried beans and salsa. I’ve even added leftovers, everything from pot roast to barbecue pulled chicken, along with some scrambled eggs and cheese. You can use egg whites, extra veggies, and whole wheat tortillas for an even lighter option.
  • Healthier toaster pastries: I’m obsessed with toaster pastries, but they’re more of a treat than a proper breakfast. That’s why I love the idea of making them myself. Using a whole wheat pastry crust adds some complex carbs and fiber into the mix, and I can choose a filling that’s free from high-fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes, and added sugars. Kids are creatures of habit, so sometimes you have to compromise and these vegan toaster pastries are healthier than what you get at the store, but are still familiar enough that kids (and you) will chow down without a fight.

Grown-Up Lunches for On-the-Go

Before our kids came along, my husband and I were both putting in 70 hour work weeks, but we knew we couldn’t subsist on soggy deli sandwiches alone. A homemade meal wasn’t just healthier—it was also a pleasant mid-day reminder of life outside of work.

a grown up lunch box
You won’t forget your lunch at home ever again | Image courtesy Etsy seller BuboBoutique

Making meals in batches was the easiest way to keep well fed on our craziest of days. Just prepare enough veggies, grains, and protein for five weekday meals on the weekend, add them to air-tight plastic containers, then grab one on your way out the door for healthy lunches all week. These are our favorite meal prep lunches (served hot or cold):

  • Chicken fajita bowls: Fill containers with cooked brown rice, then top with fajita-seasoned grilled chicken and veggies. Add some salsa, hot sauce, or a sprinkle of cheese if you’re feeling fancy.
  • Teriyaki tofu bowls: Marinate cubed tofu in teriyaki sauce, then pan-fry until browned on all sides. Add to containers with soba noodles, microwave-in-bag stir fry veggies, a drizzle of sesame oil, and some sriracha.
  • Chicken pesto pasta bowls: Saute chicken, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with salt and pepper. Cook whole wheat pasta and toss with storebought pesto. Add pasta to containers, then top with the chicken-veggie mixture.
  • Tandoori chicken bowls: Marinate chicken in yogurt, garlic, ginger, and curry powder. Grill, then add to containers with brown rice and roasted broccoli.
  • Greek chicken bowls: Marinate chicken in balsamic dressing. Grill chicken, then add to containers with cooked bulgur wheat, chopped cucumbers, grape tomatoes, feta cheese, and a lemon wedge.

Assembly Line Lunches for Kids

kid friendly lunch box
Forget brown-bagging it with this creative lunchbox | Image courtesy Etsy seller ChampuChinito

I remember school lunches being full of highs and lows. 7-layer bars for dessert? I still dream about them. Mystery meat casserole? It made me jealous of the kids who remembered to pack a lunch! My kids are picky eaters, so they always bring a lunch from home. To save time in the mornings, we started assembly line lunches:

  1. Add a variety of fruits to one of the drawers in your fridge. Think easy-to-eat clementines and apples, or grapes you’ve portioned out ahead of time.
  2. Clear a spot in your fridge, and place two containers about the size of shoeboxes next to each other. Label one “sides” and the other “mains.”
  3. In the “sides” bin, add things like string cheese, yogurt, or individual packs of baby carrots.
  4. In the “mains” bin, add the “entrees.” These can be sandwiches, wraps, or tupperware containers filled with leftovers.
  5. Label an organizing bin “snacks,” and put it in an easy-to-reach spot on the counter. Add nonperishable snacks like packs of nuts, whole grain crackers, and fruit leathers.

In the morning, each kid just grabs one item from each container, along with a juice or milk box, and adds it to a lunch bag. It’s so much easier than having to sort through everything in the fridge or cupboard each morning!

Throwing a Meal Prep Party

I don’t want to miss out on weekend socializing just so I can prepare meals for the coming week each Sunday, and my best friend is in the same boat. We both love entertaining (Beauty and the Beast-themed dinner party, here we come!), so we decided to throw a slowcooker soup mix party. The idea was that everyone coming to the party would make enough of one slow-cooker soup mix recipe for themselves and each of the other guests. Then, we swap, each person going home with five different jars to keep in the pantry, each ready to throw in the slow-cooker on a busy morning for dinner that evening.

recipe cards
Custom recipe cards add creative flair | Image courtesy Etsy seller papersushi

We decided on soup mixes because they’re easy to make, full of healthy beans and veggies, and loved by kids and adults alike. And, dried beans cook up beautifully in the slow-cooker, meaning none of us would have to spend time fussing over the stove at the end of a long day. To throw your own soup mix party, set up a gift exchange online and have each guest mix up one of these recipes:

  1. Vegetarian Five Bean Soup Mix
  2. Southwestern Three Bean and Barley Soup Mix
  3. Rice and Lentil Soup Mix
  4. Split Pea Soup Mix
  5. Spicy Black Bean Soup Mix

All of the recipes are customizable—add cans of fire-roasted tomatoes to enrich the broth, stir in a splash of half and half at the end of cooking to make your soup creamy, throw in smoked ham hocks or smoked pork chops with the rest of the ingredients to add more umami, or spice to suit your personal preference.

We all left the party with five nights of meals, after only having to prepare one of the recipes at home—a pretty good trade-off, if you ask me! But, whether you make soup mixes or freezer meals, the real gift you’re giving one another is more time to enjoy the good things in life with your families.

It seems like everything in my life goes more a little more smoothly when I’m eating nutritious meals. It’s just a matter of making them a priority, and setting aside time on the weekends to prepare for a busy week ahead. My little one still has a thing for her Goldfish crackers, and I’ll snack on a bowl of sugar-coated cereal on special occasions, but in our everyday life, we’re eating more healthy foods, all because we’re taking the time to plan ahead.

What are your favorite meals to cook with your family? Let us know on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. For ideas on what to get the chef in your family, check out our kitchen gift guide.

 

A Sorbet Soirée: National Nutrition Month Party Ideas for Creative Ways to Serve Fruit

A Sorbet Soirée: National Nutrition Month Party Ideas for Creative Ways to Serve Fruit

red, ripe strawberries
Red, ripe strawberries | Image courtesy Unsplash user Artur Rutkowski

Growing up on an avocado farm in rural San Diego, fresh fruit was almost always in season. Our property was filled with pomegranates, blood oranges, apples, bananas, lemons, limes, cherimoyas, and, of course, our beloved, creamy avocados.

Early on, my parents instilled in my siblings and me a passion for fresh fruit that still runs deep. When we get together as a family, all of us “kids” often end up in the orchard, eating oranges straight from the trees, letting their sticky juices run down our hands, or experimenting with the slightly tangy taste of mini latundan bananas (“apple” bananas) in our birthday cakes. The sweet smell of vibrant tropical plants envelops us every time we return to our childhood home.

In March, we celebrate the start of springtime and National Nutrition Month. It’s the perfect opportunity to draw in friends and family to your own backyard and start a nutritious tradition. Giving kids a love, a zest, for fruit early on paves the way for healthy eating well into adulthood. A backyard sorbet soirée is a deliciously sweet way to welcome in the fruit-filled season—and show little ones that nutrition can be both silly and good for you.

DIY Fresh Fruit Costumes

I welcomed some unusual guests to my last backyard get together—a six-foot tall strawberry, a slice of walking watermelon, and a banana who could talk. For the party, encourage your guests to come dressed as one of their favorite fruits! You can even have a contest for the most clever or outrageous costume, allowing the winning piece of fruit to take home a basket of fresh finds from the local farmer’s market.

Fruit-inspired costumes are actually quite easy to get creative with. Here are a few of my favorite DIY ideas:

Giddy Grapes

baby grape costume
For a bundle, or bunch, of love | Image courtesy Etsy seller gentleness

I first stumbled upon this costume idea one Halloween a few years back when I thought I had absolutely nothing to wear for a last minute invitation. My quick-thinking best friend ran to a party store and, in less than half an hour, I was transformed into a bunch of grapes.

Materials List:

  • Purple leggings
  • A purple top
  • A green headband
  • Several bags of purple balloons
  • Safety pins

Instructions:

  1. Blow up your balloons, leaving about an inch after the tie so they can be easily attached to your clothes.
  2. Put on your purple apparel, making sure they aren’t pieces that can easily snag.
  3. Carefully pin the balloons onto the top half of your body, adding a few near your hips to achieve the grape shape.
  4. To complete your ensemble, you’ll need a green stem. I used a thick green headband, but you can also wear a scarf or piece of fabric.

Pineapple People

pineapple baby costume
Sweet Baby Pineapples | Image Etsy seller TheWishingElephant

The vibrant colors and unique shape of a pineapple make it one of the most eccentric in the tropical world—and, with its sweet, juicy flavor, it tends to be a favorite amongst even the pickiest of kids. What I love most about the pineapple, especially for parties, is that it symbolizes the feelings of home: warmth, welcome, and hospitality.

A pineapple costume is a simple DIY project for all ages to help craft. You’ll want to dress head to toe in yellow clothing, then create this easy pineapple topper using a toilet paper tube, green card stock, and a headband.

Cut your cardstock into leaf shapes of various lengths. I made 6, 8, 10, and 12-inch pieces, four to five leaves of each length. Then, starting with the longest pieces, hot glue them to the top of the toilet paper tube. Continue gluing the leaves down the tube, from longest to shortest. When you’re finished, flip the tube upside down. Attach it to a headband with glue to secure it in place. And, just like that, you’ve become the pine-apple of your guests’ eye.

Fruit Stamped Invitation Inspiration

lemon stamping
Lemons stamping for DIY invites | Image courtesy Unsplash user Brooke Lark

When I first discovered “fruit stamping,” my homemade cards I love to send to friends near and far blossomed into new levels of craftiness. I started stamping with apples, oranges, limes, and, my personal favorite, lemons. To create these simple but ingenious invitations, you’ll need just three things: half of a lemon, a bit of yellow paint, and a plain white card.

First, cut your lemon in half and dry it with a paper towel to get rid of excess moisture. Next, dip the lemon into your paint and press it onto the blank card as if it’s a sponge. Make sure not to use too much paint when you dip, or the fine details of the lemon won’t show up as well. Just think of it like a stamp. Less ink is often better for detailed results. Be sure to get your kiddos involved in this; it’s a bit sticky, so they’ll love this project!

Strawberry-Guava-Grapefruit Fields Forever Playlist

tutti frutti
Tutti Frutti by Little Richard | Image courtesy Amazon

My childhood memories of food are so closely intertwined with music. Strawberry Fields Forever would play as we made strawberry jam. I Heard It Through the Grapevine would echo as we’d indulge in an afternoon snack of grapes and sliced cheese. Blueberry Hill would sound through the open kitchen on Saturday mornings when we’d measure out fresh blueberries to add to our homemade pancakes or waffles.

To this day, I have specific playlists for stirring a pot of pasta sauce, making pizza dough, or mixing guacamole. But the playlist below is the one that comes through my speakers when I’m in the mood for all things sweet and fruity. Hit play to create the ultimate fruity vibe and get all your guests grooving to their love of fruit in your backyard:

A Tutti Frutti Party Playlist

  • Tutti Frutti by Little Richard
  • Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles
  • I Heard it Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye
  • Banana Boat by Harry Belafonte
  • Coconut by Harry Nilsson
  • Apples and Bananas by Raffi
  • Grapefruit – Juicy Fruit by Jimmy Buffet
  • Guava Jelly by Bob Marley
  • Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock
  • Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino
  • Tangerine by Frank Sinatra
  • Little Green Apples by O.C. Smith

Homemade Honied Sorbet

Easy-to-make, fruit-based sorbets will get your kids’ creative juices flowing in the healthiest of dessert ways. Fruit sorbets can be simply made with sugar, water, and your fruit of choice, but I like to make mine with honey to let the natural sweetness of the fruit shine through.

raw honey
Honey is simply sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller thegreekpantry

For parties, I find fruity sorbets to be especially fun when given a little extra visual a-”peel” by scooping the sorbets into fruit shells before serving. Watermelon, orange, lime, and lemon sorbets all look beautiful and refreshing when served in hollowed out shells.

Lemon sorbet is my favorite party treat to whip up because the ingredients are inexpensive so you can create a big batch. The first time I made lemon sorbet with honey, I was hooked. A little bit tangy, a little bit sweet, and a lovely pale yellow in color, it’s a sorbet sure to make your springtime guests swoon.

The Ingredients:

(makes about 6-8 small servings)

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1⁄2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 12 small lemons, with 4 lemon halves reserved to use as cups)

The Directions:

  1. Combine the honey, water, and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the honey is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. Pour the lemon mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Or, just pour it into a freezer-safe container like a shallow metal cake pan. If you use a pan, you’ll need to stir and smash the sorbet with a fork every 30 minutes until it’s firm.
  3. To get your lemon cups, cut a small circular slice off the bottoms of the reserved lemon halves so they’ll stand up, then use a small spoon to hollow out the insides.
  4. When you’re ready to serve the sorbet, fill up the lemon cups with the sweet treat.

Once you start experimenting with homemade sorbets, you’ll find you can use any fruit you’d like, and even jazz them up with fresh herbs like mint or thyme.

A DIY Paper Fruit Garland (and Party Favor)

strawberry strand
A DIY string of strawberries | Image courtesy Etsy seller The Shabby Scrapper

With sweetness still lingering on your guest’s tongues after digging into their sorbet, it’s time to sit and unwind with a fruit-inspired craft. At a long table covered with parchment paper, set out card stock in every color you can find, scissors, pencils, glue sticks, mini clothespins, and baker’s twine. Also set out an assortment of sliced fruit for your guests to draw inspiration from—strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, oranges, limes, and lemons.

Have your guests trace what they see, cut out the shapes, glue on a bit of greenery or seeds for detail, then attach the fruit cut-outs to the baker’s twine with the mini clothespins to create a paper fruit garland that can be taken home as a party favor. String them up in your kitchen or in your kids’ rooms to add pops of color—and remind them that fruit is fun! An appreciation for nutritious fruit is something that can be cultivated in childhood and last into adulthood.

Happy National Nutrition Month from Elfster! May it be full of goodness that fills the belly and the soul.

For more pieces of springtime inspiration and feel-good food-related festivities, join Elfster on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, and on Instagram @Elfstergram.

A Kids’ Valentine’s Day Craft Party to DIY Handmade Treats, Cards—and Fun

A Kids’ Valentine’s Day Craft Party to DIY Handmade Treats, Cards—and Fun

handmade valentine card
Handcrafted valentines say so much more | Image courtesy Etsy seller LemonDropsandLilacs

Around this time of year, my friend Sophie and I find ourselves reminiscing about the good ol’ days of elementary school, when we would make construction paper valentines for each of our friends. Though we were clumsy with a bottle of Elmer’s glue and overzealous with the glitter, we worked so hard to create perfect notes and cards that all had unique, personalized touches.

Last year, Sophie didn’t want her two school-aged daughters to have to rely on pre-made valentines featuring cartoon characters. She wanted them to learn the value of making something by hand—and to know just what it’s like to get so passionate about cutting out the perfect (non-lopsided!) paper heart. So we jumped into party-planning mode, and organized a Valentine’s Day gift and snack extravaganza!

The weekend before Valentine’s Day, Sophie invited her daughters’’ best friends and their parents over for a crafting and DIY party. In all, we had about 11 kiddos and 9 parents, each family volunteering to bring one item from a party supply wishlist. And then we all gathered to make delicious Valentine’s Day treats and handmade valentine cards—just like when we were kids.

Heart-Shaped Marshmallow Crispies

Kids (and kids-at-heart) can’t get enough of ooey-gooey marshmallow cereal treats—it’s a staple at most classroom parties. But we thought this classic treat deserved a decorative spin for the holiday of love—so we pulled out the heart-shaped tins and got to work.

handmade marshmallow treats
Marshmallow crispies are always a hit | Image courtesy Etsy seller LilMissCupcakeLady

The Ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp butter, unsalted
  • 80 large marshmallows
  • 12 c. crispy rice cereal
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 c. white chocolate chips
  • Heart-shaped sprinkles

The How-To:

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add in the marshmallows and stir continuously until melted and well-mixed. Slowly add in the cereal, stirring continuously for an even mixture.
  2. Spoon the mixture into a heart-shaped cupcake pan coated with non-stick cooking spray. You can also spoon the mixture into a 9 x 13 rectangular glass baking dish and use a cookie cutter to get heart-shaped treats.
  3. Let the treats cool for 5 minutes. Remove the treats from the pan.
  4. Heat the chocolate chips over a double-boiler.
  5. Once the chocolate is thoroughly melted, dip the face of each of the rice crispy treats into the chocolate. Immediately dust with sprinkles and let the chocolate harden.

This recipe makes about 12 treats—and is so easy for the kids to help with!

Hot Chocolate Spoons

chocolate spoons
Image courtesy Etsy seller NicolesTreats

Sophie’s girls love to enjoy cozy treats in the winter months. To warm their little hearts, we made customized hot chocolate dipping spoons.

We started with about three cups of milk chocolate chips, which we melted over the double boiler. Next, we dipped pink plastic spoons into the melted chocolate one at a time. Laying the coated spoons on a sheet of wax paper, we had each partygoer sprinkle a few spoons with mini marshmallows, heart-shaped sprinkles, and crushed peppermint candies. We let the spoons sit for about 15 minutes before wrapping each in a plastic sleeve tied with string.

For the class party, we picked up a jumbo-sized box of hot chocolate mix, and one of the parents volunteered to bring in her electric kettle. The students had a blast watching the chocolate melt in their cocoa, releasing marshmallows and sprinkles into their mugs.

Loving Fruit Kabobs

It’s not surprising to find yourself surrounded by delicious sweet treats for kids to enjoy at any Valentine’s Day get-together. And while we couldn’t wait to dig into all the sugary goodness at our DIY party, we also thought the parents would appreciate it if we snuck in some healthy snacks, too. Sophie had the wonderful idea of making heart-shaped fruit kabobs.

watermelon hearts
Perfect heart-shaped bites | Image courtesy flick’r user denise carrasco

The Ingredients:

  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 honeydew
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 1 pineapple
  • 1 large basket of strawberries
  • 1 bunch of purple grapes
  • A heart-shaped cookie cutter
  • Kabob skewers

The How-To:

  1. Start by cutting the melons into triangular slices. From the triangles, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many pieces as you can.
  2. Peel and core the pineapple. Cut the pineapple into 1-inch slices. Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to remove heart-shaped pineapple pieces.
  3. Wash the strawberries and pull off the stems and leaves. Using a paring knife, cut a V into the top of each strawberry. Cut the strawberry in half from top to bottom so you’re left with two strawberry halves, each shaped like a heart.
  4. Push a kabob skewer through one of each of the different fruit pieces.
  5. Wash the grapes. Cover the pointed end of each skewer with one grape.

We kept the skewers chilled in the refrigerator until the Valentine’s Day party. The heart-shaped pieces were so cute, the students didn’t even seem to notice they were eating something healthy!

Valentines Crafted from the Heart

With the snacks made and looking enticingly delicious, we turned our attention to the actual valentines themselves. Sure, it’s easier to grab a box of pre-made Valentine’s Day cards from a shelf, but that misses the point of Valentine’s Day. We wanted to bring the good ol’ days of construction paper hearts and gluing on glitter to our modern kids.

Each party attendee brought one treat ingredient and one item for the valentines craft table, so we ended up with a great mixture of fun items including:

kids' valentine's day diy craft party
Get creative with your valentines this year | Image courtesy flick’r user GlitterandFrills
  • Multi-colored construction paper
  • Ribbon
  • Lace
  • Glitter
  • Buttons
  • Dried pasta
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Yarn
  • Google eyes
  • Markers
  • Crayons
  • Pattern scissors
  • Glue

It was exciting to watch each student come up with his or her own valentine idea and make a unique card for each of their friends. The kids got to show off their creativity and the parents got to enjoy an afternoon getting to know one another and their children’s friends.

Not only was the Valentine’s DIY party a chance to spend quality time hanging out and chatting, but it was a time to get creative and enjoy the spirit of the holiday. Sophie later told me how each of the students eagerly presented their handmade card to their friends while devouring our treats, and I hear her kids (and their friends) are already clamoring for a similar party this year.

Want more ideas on how to make Valentine’s Day extra special this year? Let the Elves help you get creative and gift straight from the heart with their downloadable coupon printables. Get even more ideas on our Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster

An Apple Bake Off Party with DIY Decor Inspirations for a Late Fall Harvest

An Apple Bake Off Party with DIY Decor Inspirations for a Late Fall Harvest

apple harvest decorations
An abundant apple harvest | Image courtesy flick’r user Onnola

The frosts of winter will soon blanket the trees around my hometown with a frozen sparkle, but, first, there’s a final harvest of my favorite handheld snack—the apple. Late fall always means a visit to the local cider mill and farm where my favorite Braeburns are ripe and plentiful, just in time to make a medley of baked treats for the upcoming holiday celebrations.

With a basket full of juicy Jonagolds or Galas at hand to inspire my holiday dessert making, I’ll soon have an overabundance of farm fresh goodies to share with my friends and family. So this year, I’m throwing an apple harvest bake off to exchange favorite recipes and enjoy the spoils of the autumn orchard, together.

Hosting an Apple-Inspired Recipe and Gift Exchange

Sweet apple recipe cards. | Image courtesy Etsy seller ThePaperBasket
Sweet apple recipe cards | Image courtesy Etsy seller ThePaperBasket

I’m not the only one of my friends who likes to play Betty Crocker this time of year, so I asked them each to bring a delectable apple-themed baked good or dessert to our get together, like cider-spiced cupcakes, apple fritter bread, or cranberry apple cheesecake to name a few. Along with their treats, they each brought enough copies of the recipe to share—and wrapped baking tools for our gift exchange.

Before the party, I asked my friends to join an online gift exchange with me so they could make personal wish lists of baking supplies currently missing from their kitchen’s repertoire. Names of confirmed guests were then swapped with each other, and we shopped for our assigned giftee based on their kitchen gadget wish list. I requested a French macaroon baking sheet and a cute new apron, while my friend Alex added a vintage flour sifter, a couple recipe books, and a set of silicone loaf baking pans. 

An Apple Harvest Tablescaping How-To

The Apple Cookbook | Image courtesy Amazon seller/author Olwen Woodier
The Apple Cookbook | Image courtesy Amazon seller/author Olwen Woodier

As a fun group activity, I prepared a demonstration on how to display seasonal dishes at family celebrations—every time I host a party, I get a bunch of questions about my festive tablescapes that perfectly tie the food offerings into the decor.

Before my guests arrived, I set up an extra table for all the mouth-watering goodies everyone would be bringing. Meanwhile, my dining room table was clean and table-clothed, but otherwise empty, ready to show my friends each step of the tablescaping process. With supplies laid out and organized, I was ready to show my guests how to dress the table in the gorgeous hues of the apple harvest, creating an autumn banquet tablescape in eight simple steps:

  1. Drape your table with a richly autumn-hued cloth in a subtle pattern that won’t distract from the rest of the decor.
  2. Find a couple boxes of varying sizes and heights—shoe boxes, shipping boxes, cereal boxes, or wooden crates. Whatever is on hand will work once covered. If a box is on the thin side and can’t bear too much weight, I fill it with books for support.
  3. Next, round up some fabric remnants in a complementary color. I love the look of a lighter shade layered on a darker tablecloth. Again, whatever is on hand can work—pillowcases, curtain panels, or another tablecloth are some of the fabrics I’ve used in the past.
  4. Cover the boxes with fabric, and stack and arrange them at varying angles in the center of the table. The fabric cover should be tucked under and around the boxes so that it’s no longer visible. It doesn’t need to look perfect—in fact, all the folds and billows around the base of the boxes will add to the overall look.
  5. Bend and shape a four to six-foot autumn swag around the base of the boxes.
  6. Fill in any sparse areas around the swag with loose decorative leaves, apples, acorns, and pinecones. Add small groupings of these loose decorations around the corners of the box platforms as well.
  7. Arrange platters and dishes on the table and platforms as desired, shifting the loose decor items—and adding in some fresh apples—to best fill in gaps.
  8. Once everything is on the table and ready to serve, I like to add a little extra warmth with a few candles.

tablescape-with-candles-close-up-center-2

 

Crafting Whimsical DIY Apple Votive Holders

As part of our DIY decor demonstration, I passed out apples to my friends for making some fresh and fun candle holders that will perfectly accent our autumn tablescape. Here is my method for crafting these fall apple tea light holders:

apple candle

  1. Making sure they’ll remain flat and balanced when set on a tabletop, we lightly trace around a tea light candle at the top of our apples with a pen.
  2. Using a carving knife, we carefully cut into the apple, following the circle we traced.
  3. Next, we dig a hole with a spoon just big enough to house the tea light candle.
  4. Once we have carved out the right amount of apple, we spray them with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning as they add a flickering light to the ambience of our tablescape.

These adorable autumn votive cups are a wonderful way to bring the colors and warmth of the apple orchard to our holiday tables, along with a touch of creative whimsy. For a more kid-friendly event, I would omit the real flame candles for their flameless counterparts, and add a string of warm lights around the swag.

Now that our tablescape is festively dressed, we add our decadent desserts, including my offering of a warm caramel apple crisp. We pause briefly to bask in the beauty of our combined creative efforts before digging in to enjoy all the sweet, apple goodness.

 

Enjoying the Apple Harvest—Together

apple harvest decorations
An apple harvest basket | Image courtesy flick’r user Onnola

Sitting down with plates of apple pastries at hand, we kick off our baking gift exchange. Megan raves on and on about the ceramic pie dish she’d been hoping for, and Amber knows precisely how she’ll break in her new mini muffin trays using the spiced apple cider muffin recipe Angela handed out. And there are smiles all around as we share our newly inspired schemes for harvest tablescapes while polishing off our plates of sweets.

Eventually, my guests make their way to the door, bellies and heads full, recipes and baking supplies in hand. I can’t think of a better way we could celebrate the fall apple harvest than with warm pastries and gifts shared amongst friends—and I know I’m not alone in my delight. Best of all, the great autumn tips and treats we complied today will be adding to the joy of each and every one of our family holiday feasts this year.

Let the elves help you find the perfect autumn table trimmings with our Thanksgiving Must-Haves. Learn how to host a gift exchange of your own, and find loads of ideas to combat the autumn chill with festive warmth on our Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster.

Urbanite Inspirations for a Rustic Farmhouse Dinner Party

Urbanite Inspirations for a Rustic Farmhouse Dinner Party

embroidered leaf table runner
Falling leaves, even on a towel, means it is time to get inside. Image courtesy Etsy seller EmbroideryByJudy.

Rolling up the sleeves on my flannel, and feeling the creeping cold rustling through my beard, I picked up the bale of hay, and threw it over my shoulder. “You look,” my wife said, “absolutely ridiculous.”

I admit she had a point. After all, I was pulling the hay out of our compact sedan, which I had just parallel parked on our busy city street, and was preparing to carry it up to our third-floor urban apartment. It’s safe to say this was one of the first times hay had been introduced into the building.

But there was a reason. We were having a dinner party. And not just any dinner party. We wanted to craft a feast that transported our guests, to imbue our city walk-up with an atmosphere that ignored the horns and sirens, tall buildings and streetlights. A dinner that made us all forget that our jobs depended on the ticking of a clock, and not the rising of the sun. In short, we wanted a farmhouse dinner party.

Preparing Your House for the Harvest

We hoped to imitate how it must have felt at the end of the harvest season—all the smells and flavors of a chill air descending on now-barren fields, with warmth provided by a roaring fire (or candles), great food, and the convivial love felt for each other as we passed around dinner plates and bottles of wine. When we first started thinking about how we would go about this, we decided to focus on the colors, specifically the orange of late harvest combined with the thatchy, dried-husk look of early November.

fall flower mason jar centerpieces
Centerpieces command attention, but shouldn’t distract. Image courtesy Etsy.

See, I’m obsessed with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, especially the weirdly melancholic scenes of Snoopy imagining the South of France, and walking across its harvested fields. It appealed to me as a child, a rural and changing world I never knew. I wanted that look.

So to the country we went! At a rural pumpkin patch, we bought tall cornstalks, bereft of corn, of course, but that added to the mood—it was postharvest, after all. We didn’t even try to resist bringing home the bundles of hay big enough to sit on.

Allison and I both thought bringing the country back into the city with us was pretty cool, though admittedly I was a bit more into it. Arranging our stalks and bales around our apartment, especially in the dining room, made fall seem more real—it’s a season of transformation, and our apartment, too, became a changed place.

Actually, it was pretty close to idyllic. The leaves were in full glory at that point, and had really started to fall, blowing around the sky and rattling at our windows. We brought those harvest colors in by displaying fall flowers in rustic-looking mason jars on the dining table.

We’re lucky enough to have a beautiful reclaimed farm table that one of our more handy friends made us for a wedding gift. With wood from the Wisconsin Northwoods that actually did once belong to a barn (granted, an old horse barn in the city, but still), it gave the dinner an authentic feel.

There was something about the whole atmosphere, augmented by apple-scented candles and plenty of gourds, that truly did transport us—our four guests all commented on how the room felt strangely out of time, that we didn’t just decorate, but actually created something new and strange.

Granted, all the old wood and fall-themed runners in the world won’t do anything if you’re serving frozen pizza. So we dug into our cookbooks and found something with the feel of a feast after a long season of hard work.

The Fall Farm Menu

Our hearty meal was greatly inspired by one of my wife’s favorite food writers, Mimi Thorisson, and her book A Kitchen in France: My Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. Mimi pretty much has the life we both want: huge French farmhouse, beautiful kitchen, amazing ingredients everywhere, and a knack for experimenting while remaining true to her roots. Our dinner was pretty French-inspired (another nod to Snoopy) but really, yours doesn’t have to be specific.

A Kitchen in France: My Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse
A Kitchen in France: My Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. Image courtesy Amazon seller Mimi Thorisson.

The Soup

Our first course was a soup she called “L’Ami Jean Parmesan Soup.” This is a rich and hearty soup, made with butter, cheese, and heavy cream. It’s not super healthy, but after working in the fields for months, you’ve earned it!

There’s a ritual to serving this soup. You make the soup (which also has chicken stock, salt, and pepper), put it in a tureen, but then bring out bowls with croutons, chives, crumbled bacon, and shallots in the middle, in four quarters. It sort of looks like, as one of our guests put it, “a deconstructed soup.” Then you ladle the actual soup in, and there’s a sudden warmth in the air as the flavors come together and delicious smells pour forth.

The Main Course

After the soup settled, we had a nice salad—a very light arugula, apple, and parsnip mix with a not-too-light buttermilk dressing. It had a very fall taste, and also served as a nice palate cleanser. Then, after some more wine, it was time for the main course.

 

 

I had spent most of the last two days preparing a large cider-brined pork roast. The brine, which sits overnight, consisted of:

pumpkin soup bowl
Yes, we used a pumpkin, just like on a real farm. Image courtesy Amazon seller Boston International.
  • Brown sugar
  • Slat
  • Bay leaves
  • Coriander seeds
  • Peppercorn
  • Cider

The day of the meal, I made a coriander rub, decorated the roast with bay leaves, put it in a roasting pan, threw in quartered potatoes and onions, and let it cook for a couple of hours (after browning, of course). It sat for a half hour after coming out of the oven, which turned out to be the perfect time to serve the salad! It struck me as a lucky break, but I guess chefs know what they’re doing. Our roast turned out beautifully! And one of our friends was wonderful enough to bring a spiced bundt cake with apple caramel sauce. That was the decadent finale.

The Highlight of the Feast

I know what you might be thinking—what’s the highlight after all those yummies? Well, it turned out that the food was secondary to the evening. It was the center point, it was what was on the table, it was the ostensible reason for being there, but it wasn’t what brought us to the table.

giant roasting pan
This wouldn’t have been possible without a big roasting pan. Image courtesy Amazon.

No, what brought us to the table was our friendship, the time we had spent together in the past, and the time that, as we grow older, we spend apart. Maybe fall is perfect for that. Maybe fall is meant for that. The leaves turn colors and drop, and the seasons pass. You don’t really notice it sometimes, until suddenly it’s winter.

That’s something we want to avoid with our friends and loved ones. We want to hold them close, and sit around a warm table, protected from the wind outside—but still able to notice it, and appreciate the table and its warmth all the more for it.

Maybe we don’t harvest anymore, most of us anyway. But the farm feast reminds us of a different time, a time when what mattered most was gathering close to those you love and sharing a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a pork roast if you were lucky, and just being happy to be near one another. Unlike the leaves and the seasons, that never changes.

Whether you’re a city dweller or a country maven, Elfster can help you party plan, from our gift guides and wish lists, to tips and tricks on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.