Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Idea

I couldn't skip away for the holidays without leaving you with one last-minute gift idea. For a quick, visually appealing holiday gift, might I suggest a batch of infused vodka? If you have a well-stocked bar or extra booze from a party, a small selection of fruit, and some sealable containers, you can infuse vodka with your favorite flavors in almost no time at all.

Here's how:
Your vodka can be flavored with anything from fruit to herbs to peppers. For each liter of vodka use the following as an approximate guideline.

Fruit: use 1-3 pieces of fruit, depending on their size (i.e. one grapefruit or two apples)
Berries: 3-4 fistfuls
Peppers:
The more you use, the hotter it will be so fill your container according to your taste
Herbs: 1-2 fistfuls of fresh herbs

Wash all of your ingredients and remove any pits, seeds or stems. For berries and herbs, bruise or crush them gently to help release the flavor. Place ingredients in a clean container, preferably glass, fill with vodka and seal well. Store containers away from direct sunlight.

Most recipes of this size will infuse in less than a week. Citrus and strongly flavored ingredients can infuse in as little as 2 days, which make them great last-minute gifts. For more mellow flavors let sit for at least 5 days. Taste occasionally or simply wait a week then enjoy!

Tips:
* Don't skimp on the vodka. It doesn't need to be top-shelf (you're changing the flavor anyway!) but the cheap stuff will leave a harsh aftertaste. Similarly, use fresh fruits and ingredients, not canned.
* Think outside the fruit basket. Try cinnamon sticks, coffee beans, vanilla beans, ginger, or even candy like Jolly Ranchers and Skittles.
* If your fruit gets brown or begins to disintegrate it can start to affect the flavor. Strain the liquid from the solid by passing it through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. You can always add fresh fruit back in for a prettier presentation.

For my infusions I used vodka and fruit in mason jars. I topped them with circles of kitschy Japanese fabric from Superbuzzy and tied them with twine. I created tags using a typewriter font from Dafont.com and labeled my concoctions with holiday-inspired names like "Jingle Juice" and "Comet's Kamikaze."

Cheers!!


Renegade Round-Up and Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays, everyone! Host-It Notes will be on hiatus for the rest of this week and the following, returning in the new year with renewed vigor. In 2010 we'll focus on projects, tablescapes, and items every hostess should have on hand for successful entertaining.


Before I go, I'll leave you with a final round-up up of all that was merry and bright from the Renegade Holiday Fair. These are a few of my favorite things:

Decorative packing tape in animal and garden shapes by Petite Collage (above). PopMat pop-up paper placemats from PubliqueSHOP. Perfectly patterned cloth napkins from PDX Softgoods. And there were tons of terrific new creations from pottery artist Whitney Smith, who merits a cake-stand-loving post all to herself in the new year.

Finally, one last-minute item to pick up in preparation for New Year's Eve are these charming letterpress coasters from Lucky Bee Press. Besides tabling your drinks they are a great conversation-starter for your guests, making you look good in more ways than one.

Happy holidays, safe travels, and I'll see you in 2010!

xx,
Host-It Notes


Monday, December 21, 2009

Renegade Craft Fair: Rae Dunn Pottery and Sara Paloma

Pottery was the real show-stopper at the the Renegade Craft Fair this past weekend. These clean, simple designs by Rae Dunn were a treat to see. Her salt and pepper bowls are a refreshing change from traditional shakers.

Rae's sweet little plates have a whimsical feel, and these fortune cookies are right for more than just ornamenting your tree.

Create personalized fortunes or simply write guest's names on slips of paper then tuck one end into the clay cookie. Incorporate them into a place setting and they'll make a lovely favor for your guests.

Another notable artist showing at the fair was the talented Sara Paloma who created this stunning array of vases in all shapes and sizes.

Thanks to both artists for their elegant, best-in-show pottery!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Renegade Craft Fair: My Imaginary Boyfriend

Host-It Notes stopped by the Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Sale in San Francisco yesterday. For those who couldn't be there, here's a look at the booth with the most holiday spirit—my imaginary boyfriend!

Erika of my imaginary boyfriend is my kind of girl. When she got tired of waiting around for a boy to buy her the gifts she really wanted, she decided to start making them for herself. Thankfully, she made extras for us. Hands down, my favorite item under $25 at the fair was this abominable snowman ornament that looks straight out of the stop-motion animation classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And the little red monsters in holiday scarves are equally cute to boot. Erika just whipped these up this week so they aren't posted to her shop yet, but after she makes her holiday rounds this weekend she'll be adding them for sale.

For all of us apartment-dwellers without a cozy fireplace to snuggle by this winter, nothing stacks up like these cuddly felt logs. Each log is a unique pillow made of wool felt designed and screen printed by Erika and hand-sewn together. If you're feeling ambitious you can purchase her Make Your Own Log Kit ($25), or opt for a pre-made pillow ($45).


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Off to the Renegade Holiday Fair

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Host-It Notes is headed to the Renegade Holiday Fair today. Check back tomorrow for details on all my favorite new handmade finds!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Enter the Bizarre (Part 5): Delightful Decals

Here it is, the fifth and final installment of my Bazaar Bizarre re-cap—just in time to do it all over again. Host-It Notes will be heading to the Renegade Holiday Fair in San Francisco this weekend for even more note-taking on handcrafted goodies.

Bored Inc. brought one of my favorite items to the Bazaar: these Yummies Candy and Cookie Wall Decals. Dessert simply couldn't be more cheerful. I'm planning to use a set of these for a future baby shower, dessert party or kids birthday. The decals can be placed on walls, floors, furniture, cars, you name it. While not reusable, they are removable without any damage to underlying surfaces. The Bored Inc. folks also blog about artists and handmade items they are passionate about. Check out TokyoBunnie for some added inspiration.

Now that your walls are taken care of, here's a little something to top your table with. Chanda Beck of Ezme Designs crafted this quaint little bowl. The bird brings to mind the Whitney Smith cake stand we featured last month. Here the scalloped design elevates this simple bowl to showpiece status. And what better way to display it than on a pedestal? I adore this little stand! There aren't many items in this style on the Ezme Designs site, but the artist will be showing at the Renegade Holiday Fair this weekend and I'll let her know Host-It Notes wants to see more!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Enter the Bizarre (Part 4): 15% Off at Paper Pastries!!

More from the Bazaar Bizarre gallery of gifts!

Paper Pastries, a greeting card company out of Los Angeles, carries custom return address stamps that come in typed or hand-written text. Custom stamps are one of my favorite gifts for housewarmings or weddings. They celebrate a couple sharing a new last name and are a huge time saver if you have dozens of thank you cards to send. And how charming is this little blue and white cake stand Paper Pastries displayed their stamps on?

For your custom stamp you can choose from the fonts above and below or submit your own. You can even add a small graphic by special request.

To sweeten the deal, Margaret at Paper Pastries is offering 15% off for Host-It Notes Readers! Just type the code "eggnog" upon checkout and you'll receive 15% off your entire order—including their delicious array of stationery and these inspired little pencil packs:

The Know-It-All Pencil Set comes imprinted with facts like "PI IS 3.14159265358979323846" and "I BEFORE E EXCEPT AFTER C" for the smarty-pants (or teacher) in your life ($10).

Finally, for my DIY readers: Click over to the Paper Pastries blog for their Wrapping It Up post on how to make holiday cards using leftover wrapping paper. Now get crafting!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Enter the Bizarre (Part 3): Small, Sealed Delivered, It's Yours

Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny correspondence is on the scene(y). Lea Redmond, Postmaster of the World's Smallest Postal Service, set up her miniature desk at the Bazaar Bizarre last weekend to tempt young and old with her array of thimble-sized stationery.

Lea transcribes your message in the tiniest of script on a 1 x 1.5-inch piece of paper and seals it with a miniscule wax seal with your initial pressed into it. For delivery, your miniature missive is paired with a magnifying glass, placed in a glassine envelope and finished off with a large wax seal that reads "The World's Smallest Letter." This tidy bundle is then put in a sturdy mailer for shipping.

Letters can be ordered online at www.worldssmallestpostalservice.com, hosted by Leafcutters Designs, and are made and shipped within 4 business days ($8, plus shipping). Craft a keepsake note for a dear friend, a thoughtful thank you, or think even bigger! Lea has drafted twee wedding announcements, bitsy baby shower invitations and more. Let the invite inspire your theme—serve up bite-sized portions and miniature cupcakes at the event!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Friday Giveaway Contest Winner

Congratulations to Aislinn M. all the way over in Germany, who won the drawing for the Mara*Mi "Let's Eat Cake" Invitation packs! For those who missed out, I notice Taking Things Personally has a 10% off sale through Christmas. Happy party-planning, Aislinn!

I'll have a new Friday Giveaway in the first week of January featuring copies of my favorite cooking and entertaining book, I LIKE YOU by Amy Sedaris (Grand Central Publishing, 2008). Don't you just love second chances?


Enter the Bizarre (Part 2): Retro Fun with Swizzlestix

For those who like a kitschy kitchen, might I recommend Swizzlestix? Their booth at the Bazaar Bizarre was an explosion of color and fun. Their patterns are a cross between The Jetsons and a swinging retro cocktail lounge. You can find their online store here. Swizzlestix has placemats, pillows, aprons, bags, tea towels and these adorable stockings! The stockings are a seasonal item I found in person only, but email info@swizzlestix.net for more details.

To round out today's post, a quick shout-out to Polly Danger Crafts. I agonized over their booth trying to find something I could relate to hosting a shindig, but ultimately I've decided that party-appropriate or not you need to know about these folks! First of all, they're absolute sweethearts. They patiently waited while I played with pair after pair of candy-colored fold-up scissors until I found the one I wanted. Second, their fabric crafts are terrific—wristlet clutches, fabric covered push-pins, and surprisingly cute coupon organizers you'd have to see to believe. Their online store is almost sold out for the holidays, so let's mark this as one to watch as they re-stock in the new year.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Enter the Bizarre: Notes from the Bazaar Bizarre Art & Craft Fair

Come one, come all! Outrageous art and clever crafts abound at the Bazaar Bizarre. I went under the big top (and inside a few buildings) this weekend to comb through handmade handiwork and inspired goodness galore.

Bazaar Bizarre began in 2001 as a DIY experiment in the Boston-area where a motley crew of folks got together to sell their wares and stage an entertainment event that's a little out of the ordinary. From there it took wing to Los Angeles, Cleveland and San Francisco. Host-It Notes dropped in on the San Francisco edition where we noshed on sushi and enjoyed two live DJs, while I personally spent far too much money on irresistible items... And now for your viewing pleasure, the creme de la creme of the show! I'll continue my coverage throughout the week—there's far too much to digest in one post.

Under the tent outside was a hardy crew of crafters who braved the rain and hail to hawk their goods. I'll give a nod to Rita at Mochi Studios for her cute little felted gnomes. They come in four designs, one for each season, like Mr. Winter here. While the gnomes aren't listed on the Mochi Studios site, you can email rita@mochistudios.com for more details or to purchase a gnome for your home (they were selling for $24 or 2 for $45 at the fair). While you're there check out her Pea Pod Patch plush toys. What a cute idea for a baby shower gift or decor!

Next up, acrylic doilies from Cindy Liu at Archicraft. These bad boys are a novel spin on your granny's old lace ones. Made from remnant pieces of acrylic, the doilies can take up to 180 degrees (F) of heat. I had to fight tooth and nail to get a look at this hot item at the fair, so imagine my dismay when I hopped online at home only to find they had a a mere handful of images on their site. And of the small, white version only! You'll have to take my word for it, readers, these were stunning. I saw small, large, neon, red, translucent cobalt blue, and a a chic black version I'm kicking myself for not buying—this photo just doesn't do her work justice. Never fear, I'll be trying to track the artist down for more pics to share.

What did I spend my money on, you ask? Among other things, I cleaned up at Chronicle Books' 30% off sale, picking up Jenny Hart's Sublime Stitching Baby Bib Embroidery Kit for one lucky bun in the oven (not mine, of course) as well as her Craft Pad. Jenny herself assured me that even as a novice I'd soon be rocking hardcore stitchery, like her dagger-in-the-heart tattoo design.

**UPDATE**
I got a speedy reply from Cindy at Archicraft. For more pictures of the acrylic doilies, including colors and sizes like the ones I rave about above, check out her link of already sold items: http://www.etsy.com/shop_sold.php?user_id=6314653. Contact Archicraft via their Etsy shop if you see something you like.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Here's the Skinny on Hosting

Did you know you can burn calories and lose weight, all while playing hostess? According to Health Magazine, you can "Go grocery shopping for 1 hour, put away your groceries, spend 2 hours cooking a fabulous holiday feast, set the table, and serve. Then toast yourself for the awesome 640 calorie-burn." (Health, December 2009)

Seems like a good excuse to indulge in a second piece of pie!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bazaar Bizarre: Shop Handmade Gifts for the Holidays and Your Home

I just got back from the Bazaar Bizarre in Golden Gate Park. If you are a Bay Area reader I enthusiastically suggest you get your shop on! They have over 100 vendors with unique, handmade items from apparel, to home decor, to the probably-don't-need-it-but-have-to-have-it cute. DJs spin records while you browse, and you can snack on food like sushi and cold noodles or even cupcakes with little chocolate mustaches.

Bazaar Bizarre Basics:
Sunday December 13th 2009 12:00 PM - 6:00 PM
San Francisco County Fair Building Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
$2.00 Per Adult ~ 12 & Under FREE
50% of Admission Fees Go To Charity

Check back here all week for pictures and details from the event. I'm chock-full of awesome party inspiration now!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Giveaway: Let's Eat Cake!

As a few delicious things float my way that I just have to share, Host-It Notes will be giving away free items like stationery, party favors and books on entertaining to you lucky blog readers.

To kick things off I'm giving away adorable die-cut invitations by Mara*Mi. A happy accident in ordering landed these babies in my local home decor store, Urban Mercantile. Since they won't be stocking more I bought up all they had. It's more than I can use and now a party-planning Host-It Notes reader will benefit!

The winner receives two eight-count sets of Mara*Mi "Let's Eat Cake" invitations with envelopes, perfect for a birthday or inviting a few friends over for dessert. The contest is open until midnight on Monday, Dec. 14. To be eligible to win become a follower at Host-It Notes or email me at hostess@host-itnotes.com (email subject line: Let's Eat Cake). The winner will be picked randomly and posted here. If you become a follower you will be automatically entered for this and future contests!

Don't want to take your chances? You can pick up some invites of your own at Taking Things Personally.


Good luck!

***UPDATE***
12/15—Congrats to winner Aislinn M. in Germany on winning the "Let's Eat Cake" Mara*Mi invites!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Add a Touch of Frost to Your Florals

Skip the pine boughs and ivy leaves in your next centerpiece and opt for a frosted effect instead. Use the leaves of the Dusty Miller plant to complement brighter flowers, or let a small bunch stand alone in a vintage vase. The soft whitish fuzz of the leaves create a frozen effect and a touch of softness in any design.

I created a ring of leaves around red roses for the simple holiday arrangement above, but for the real deal feast your eyes on these masterful bouquets from housemartin featuring large Dusty Miller leaves.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Even Frosty Will Be Jealous: Zoku Quick Pop Maker

Dear Santa,

I've been good all year, but patience isn't one of my virtues. Won't you bring me the ability to create fabulous popsicles with near-lightning speed? xx, Host-It Notes

The new Zoku Quick Pop Maker from Williams Sonoma has me dreaming of an iced Christmas. Create your own customized frozen pops, including cream-filled varieties, in as few as seven minutes.

How it works reads like something out of a superhero comic. Simply store the base in your freezer. After being pre-chilled the Zoku can make up to nine pops before you need to refreeze it. No electricity required. The popsicle molds have a proprietary solution sealed inside that enable rapid freezing. Tasty popsicles in 7 minutes? Yes, please!

We haven't seen anything this icy cool in ages. Sorry, Frosty, thumpety-thump-thump all you want. This Christmas we're going to look at Zoku go.

Zoku Quick Pop Maker, $49.95, exclusively at Williams Sonoma.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Baby, It's Gold Outside

If you're looking to branch out from your usual pine-and-poinsettia style this year, metallics add a touch of sparkle to your holiday decor. I am often attracted to silver to compliment my winter whites, but this year I'm loving the glitz and glam of gold. Incorporate gold and brassy tones into your table, your mantel, or even your presents and revel in a rich, warm holiday season. Below is a small sampling of the bling I love.

Up top: Found via likecool.com, Blue Leaves' branch cutlery (contact for retailers).

I covet this tray by Geneviève Lethu which comes in silver and copper, as well. Each one is so color-perfect I'd be hard pressed to name a favorite. (Geneviève Lethu, 312-423-9948)

Jamali Garden's retro mirror ball ornaments ($8.99 for a set of 4, jamaligarden.com). Light up their gold glitter pillar candles (below). Or how about gold glitter tea lights?

Shine on!


Holiday Decor - Kiss and Tell

How have I missed out on this charming holiday tradition? When scrolling through holiday decor for inspiration, I came across this Maine Kissing Ball from Whitney Wreath. A kissing ball, also known as a kissing bough, is a traditional Christmas decoration in England. Each kissing ball has the shape of a sphere or globe with a frame made of wire, which is then covered with greenery. Red apples or oranges may be hung from ribbons in the centre and mistletoe is tied below. Other variations include using flowers, ornaments or moss.

Martha Stewart has this pretty little number:

To make your own:

Cut a 16-inch piece of 24-gauge wire with wire cutters, and bend it in half. Cut a 36-inch length of ribbon with scissors and fold it into three loops. Make the top loop approximately 9 inches; it will be used to hang the ball. Make the next two loops 7 1/2 inches. There should be a 12-inch tail of ribbon left. Cut 6 inches off the tail, and lay it on the other side of the loops. Pinch all the loops together at the center, and secure with wire. Twist the wire tightly to form a single stem. Trim the bow's tails into a V with scissors.

Soak a 4 1/2-inch-diameter floral-foam ball in water while cutting mistletoe into about 100 three-inch sections, called tips. Insert the bow's wire stem through the ball until it comes out the opposite side. Fold over the end of the wire stem. Poke tips into ball until it is covered. String small silver, white, or pale-blue beads on 6-inch 24-gauge wires, and twist the wire ends together. Stick the beads into the ball wherever desired.

These instructions and additional project photos can be found online here at Martha Stewart.

I can't wait to get started on one of my own. Here's to a new holiday tradition!


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cake Stand Love: Lily Pad

Let spring come early this year!! I adore, adore, adore this vibrant lily cake stand from iloveuma.com. Right now it's on sale for just $20, people, so get thee to the internet and order yourself one! 'Nuff said.



Chocolate to Sip By

I popped over to The San Francisco Chocolate Factory's holiday marketplace yesterday and found a few cocoa confections worthy of sharing:

Add a twist to your next wine-tasting party with this party pack from the Wine Lover's Chocolate Collection. The pack includes 5 ounces each of six different chocolates, each to be paired with a specific type of wine such as Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. The chocolates come in bite-sized nibbles you can divvy up as you pour each new glass.

For an even more indulgent wine-infused taste try Bissinger's Chocolate Covered Wine Grapes. Premium wine grapes infused with Shiraz are coated with dark chocolate for a burst of wine flavor with each bite.

Guilty Pleasure: At first glance I thought to myself "Chocolate-opoly? That's just too gimmicky!" And party of me still thinks that. But, I'll admit, the game pieces—in shapes like a Hershey's Kiss or a slice of cake, not to mention the "houses" that look like little bits of fudge—won me over big time! I may not buy it for my house, but if you do...please invite me over for a game night! I'll bring the chocolate-covered wine grapes.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Centerpiece - Sweet As Candy

When searching for centerpiece inspiration for the holidays, by far my favorite displays are these candied creations from Better Homes and Gardens. These lollipop topiaries, made from rolled fondant, are a refreshing alternative to the usual greenery of Christmas. Directions for how to create this look at home can be found at BHG online.

While you're there you'll also find the below peppermint display, which couldn't be easier to create.

Red-and-white sticks of peppermint candy are tied with a red-and-white ribbon. Use a sturdy rubber band to hold the candy canes in place or hot-glue them directly to an inexpensive vase. It's a minty-fresh new look for formal red roses.


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