Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween!!

The Mad Scientist Experiment is complete! We had beakers, dry ice, a fog machine, black lights, test tubes and more! In these pre-party pictures you can see the basic setup. I used food coloring and water poured into rubber tubing that I twisted in and around beakers for the main display, along with the skeleton behind it.

I wanted a bit of a laboratory look so I brought in a rolling white board on which I wrote graphs, complex equations, and chemical formulas that I found online. It's tough to see from this angle, but the fake chemical formula at the top of the board below spells out "Happy Halloween." Plus, I found a terrific Skeletal System poster at a local art store for even more science goodness.

I think the glow sticks were my favorite touch. Glow sticks in the beer bucket gave them a chilling glow once it got dark. One within the box holding the beakers (which were used to drink shots) shone through with an eerie glow, and one beneath a plate of cupcakes achieved a similar look—not that the eyeball and lightning cupcakes from Sibby's Cupcakery needed more style! We also had glowing straws to drink through and tiny glow sticks to light up drinks.

Dry ice gave the food a nice ghoulish look. Tables were set with "blood-spattered" white sheets.

A plasma lamp is always fun.

Friends wore festive costumes...

And my Thing in a Jar got even more disgusting once submerged in a water and Coca-Cola mixture. Ick.

It was a great night and a lot of fun to pull off. What about you? Any big party plans this Halloween?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Most Disgusting Thing I've Ever Baked

My Mad Scientist Halloween party is almost here, and what self-respecting madwoman would have a "laboratory" without something strange lurking about in a jar or two? To complete my cabinet of curiosities I learned how to make a "Thing in a Jar" with this tutorial. Once I had all the materials I needed, I got to work searching through online images for some monstrous inspiration. After drafting a sketch of my creepy alien baby I began kneading and shaping hunks of Sculpey clay. I baked my disgusting little creature in the oven at 275 degrees for 3 hours then set it out to cool.

Once cooled, I slathered it with acrylic paint and rubber cement. I can't wait to see this on display tomorrow!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Science Experiment Cocktails

With my mad scientist party coming up, it's time to get serious about drinks. I looked to for inspiration and found this list of useful bar tips by Mark Addison that are perfect for my event. Find these party tips plus a slideshow here at

Expert Mad Scientist Bar Tips

• Lab Table – use a rectangular counter height bar with industrial look and feel or drape a dining table with layered gauze.
• Lab Equipment – replace pitchers and squirt bottles with beakers and glass jars.
• Frozen Specimens – Freeze faux body parts and plastic tubing in blocks of ice to pour drinks through to give them a real chill!
• Hollywood-style special effects – gelatin covers for drinks that look like skin, dry ice and/or smoke machines create a spooky mood, battery operated lights give containers an ominous glow.
• Ghoulish Garnishes – replace standard garnishes with gross-out alternatives (ie. onion eyeballs and finger sticks).
• Secret Potions – mystery mixtures of juices and mixers squirted into drinks by guests from squeeze bottles.
• Creepy Concoctions – Tru Blood Vampire 75, Chemical Cooler & Alien Secretion.
• "Finger" Foods – Chicken Fingers, Worm Salad, Eyeball soup, Brain Cheese.

Now to begin concocting my potions...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Class is in Session at the Pottery Barn

If you've ever made an online purchase at Pottery Barn, you probably receive their emails tempting you with new purchases and luring you to the store with promises of complimentary decorating classes. Decorating classes I can resist, but when I received an email for a fall entertaining and tabletops class I decided to sign up. At the very least I figured I could get a little inspiration.

The rain that day kept most people home, so only one other "classmate" and I had the staff all to ourselves. The classes take place before the store opens, so you get a bit of private browsing time and a 10% discount for coming to class. That 10% is in addition to clearance prices, so get in there and get those cute bat candles I passed up! I picked up two sale books—Jane Packer's Guide to Flower Arranging and Napkins With a Twist, a book about yep, you guessed it, napkin folds.

During class the Assistant Store Manager, Jesse, and Design Studio Specialist, Frappa, walked us through the creation of two of their store tablescapes and some of the products they include. That's Jesse above, showing off their awesome cornucopia I covet. Could I have gleaned most of this information by just browsing through the store's displays at any time of the day? Probably. Would I have learned that Pottery Barn designers will consult with you on your party, even coming to your house if necessary? I don't think so. What a great resource—if you're feeling uninspired when it comes to hosting your holiday parties, stop by PB and they'll give you great ideas and know-how that are specific to your plans.

More than anything, it was just a bit of fun. I love looking at pretty things, I enjoy talking with like-minded people who care about making entertaining beautiful, and I got a fun demo on folding napkins (notice a theme here?).

Next up on the Pottery Barn schedule will be Holiday Entertaining. They'll walk you through three tabletops, all for a different kind of holiday party. Call your local store for details. I know I'll be going. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Host-It Notes Has Big Halloween Plans

Wondering what Host-It Notes has planned for Halloween? I'm working on a Mad Scientist themed party. Here's a first look at what to expect—and to inspire you to host a mad scientist party of your own! The party is this Friday, so check back Saturday for pictures. Now, go forth and party!

Host-It Notes Mad Scientist Party


Black chandeliers, black lights, and cobwebs are a must. To keep the science theme going I'll be printing off lab safety signs with warnings like "Caution, Radioactive." You can find those here. Glowsticks under food presentations or as drink stirrers will add a bit of "radioactive" glow. A plasma lamp will tap into the electricity behind most of the mad scientist tales you know. My fake skeleton is ready for hanging and the projector is poised to play movies on the back wall. Queue up Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein for the night.


While the cocktails themselves haven't been finalized, I do know that I'll be serving up drinks in some authentic beakers. Whatever we're drinking, it'll definitely include Crystal Head Vodka, if only for the skull! Cocktail glasses will be rimmed with Pop Rocks to make a mini "chemical reaction" in your mouth. This ain't no kids party, so we'll be serving up shots as well—in test tubes of course! If you're throwing a kids party you can fill those test tubes with candy instead.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg—if I have my way there will be dry ice, a fog machine, eyeball cupcakes and more. Plus, I got some great tips from Greg Jenkins at Bravo Productions who suggested putting together creepy decor like canning jars full of real chicken feet or cow brains! Check back on Saturday for the full report.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spooky Swiss Colony Sweets

Not all of us are master cake decorators (I know I'm certainly not), so why not let the professionals do it for us? I like the look of these Halloween treats from The Swiss Colony. The Mini Cakes Trio above remind me of elaborate, monsterized Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. There's a cat, a vampire, and how cute is that mummy? Also shown above are Halloween Play Cakes and Spiced Pumpkins.

Want a bigger showstopper piece? Try this Frankenstein Log on for size. I cannot vouch for the taste of the treats, as I haven't tried any samples yet, but I do like the look of them! It's a fun way to get a festive look without all the work. You'll find all of these and more online at The Swiss Colony

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween Cocktails

Looking for some adult beverages to keep the party going this Halloween? Try one of the cocktails below. If the Pumpkin Margarita's too risky for your taste, try El Diablo—everything's better with Prosecco.

Pumpkin Margarita
• 2 oz Partida Reposado Tequila
• 1 oz Fresh lime juice
• Splash of pumpkin puree
• Sesame seeds
• Lime wedge

Directions: Rim a cocktail glass with lime juice and sesame seeds. Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Dark Night
• 2 oz Tequila Partida Blanco
• 1 oz Kahlua

Directions: Pour Partida Tequila into an old fashioned glass with ice cubes and add the Kahlua.

El Diablo
• 3 oz Mionetto Brut Prosecco
• 1/2 oz orange liqueur
• 2 oz cranberry juice
• Orange twist for garnish

Directions: Combine orange liqueur and cranberry juice in a flute and top with Prosecco. Check out the photo—an orange twist is placed at the top to look like little devil horns. Love it!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sneak Peek at a New Food Network Show

There's a new show coming to Food Network this weekend that I'm excited to watch. It's called "Dessert First with Anne Thornton" and showcases pastry expert Anne as she makes baking easy. "Dessert First" premieres this Sunday, October 24th at 12pm ET/PT (11am CST).

As you know, I've always got cupcakes on the brain, so naturally I love Anne's twisted take on Halloween cupcakes. Below is her recipe for Red Velvet Brain Cupcakes, a dessert that manages to be gorgeous and gruesome at the same time. Watch this weekend as she walks you through it. Enjoy!

Anne Thornton's Red Velvet Brain Cupcakes


• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
• 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
• 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
• 2 teaspoons red food coloring (recommended: Select natural food coloring)

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 4 cups powdered sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup whole milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Red and black food coloring
• Special equipment: pastry bag and large round tip


Cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder, and fine sea salt together onto a piece of waxed paper. Mix the eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, vinegar, and food coloring in a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, on medium speed, beat until well combined. Turn down the mixer speed and slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until totally smooth, about 3 minutes.

Line a standard 12 cupcake tin with the liners (preferably silver). Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full with the batter and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove them from the pans. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

Frosting: In a standing mixer, on medium speed, cream the butter until smooth. Turn down the mixer speed and slowly add the powdered sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla and mix until smooth and creamy. Add a drop each of red and black food coloring and mix into the frosting to make it a pinkish gray brain color.

Fill the pastry bag half full with the frosting, and pipe out into a squiggly pile on half of each cupcake top, then pipe the frosting in a squiggly pile on the other half of the cupcake top, making 2 brain hemispheres. This recipe gives a whole new meaning to brain food.

I'm also looking forward to Anne's take on another favorite dessert after seeing her Couture Caramel Apples (above). Caramel apples are the perfect fall dessert!

*Photos Courtesy Food Network

Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween Mini-Makeover

I wanted to share this lovely mini-makeover fromPepper Design Blog. It's a great illustration of how easy and affordable decorating for Halloween can be with a little creativity. I love the chain links painted black! Grab a bit of black spray paint, a few cobwebs, and some black paper and you've got yourself a haunted mantel. Check out the full post here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Bloody Beverage

I know, the image is teeny-tiny, but the idea is so cool! What you're looking at here are a creepy take on juice bags for a Halloween party. Cranberry juice combined with a little pureed fruit cocktail and cherries make for a "bloody" concoction meant to look like blood transfusion bags. I found this recipe in an e-cookbook called 23 Spooky Halloween Recipe Ideas, available for free download on RecipeLion. They have more cookbooks there, and tons of recipes so I'll definitely be checking that out more. (Side note: Don't be put off by all the survey questions they ask you at the start, they're easy to skip and it's worth it in the end.)

Cran-Cherry Plasma Transfusion
Serves: 6

• 1 can (14 1/2-ounce) dark, sweet cherries
• 1 can (15-ounce) fruit cocktail
• 2 cups cranberry juice cocktail

• 6 zipper-lock sandwich bags
• 6 straws, twisted or flexible
• 6 shower curtain rings

1. Puree the cherries and fruit cocktail, with their liquids, in a blender or food processor until smooth.
2. Mix in the cranberry juice cocktail and refrigerate until chilled.
3. To prepare the "transfusion bags," punch a hole with a hole-punch in the corner of one layer of a zipper-lock sandwich bag just below the zipper.
4. Insert a twisty straw or flexible straw in the hole and punch another hole in the same corner of the bag through both layers, just above the zipper.
5. Thread a shower curtain ring through that hole.
6. Repeat with remaining bags, straws and shower curtain rings.
7. To serve, pour 1 cup of the cranberry-cherry mixture into each bag and seal.
8. Hang by the shower curtain rings on hooks.
9. Guests can hold their drink by the ring and sip through the straw.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pumpkin Butter

With pumpkin season in full swing, I wanted to bring back an old post with a delicious Fall recipe for Pumpkin Butter. If you've never had pumpkin butter it's a tasty treat that's great with oatmeal, on toast, with either peanut butter or jam, and more. Enjoy!

Virginia Jane's Flavorful Edibles Pumpkin Butter Recipe 
by Virginia Lawther

(Will yield five 6-ounce jars): • 1 can (29-ounce) canned pumpkin puree • 1 cup white sugar • 3/4 cup apple cider • 2 teaspoons ground ginger • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg • 1 teaspoon ground allspice • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine pumpkin, sugar, apple cider and spices in a large pot, heavy-bottomed if possible. Turn heat to medium and stir until sugar dissolves and spices blend. Increase heat and cook until mixture comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 30 minutes continuing to stir until thickened. Transfer to clean containers and chill in the refrigerator until serving. You can safely double or triple this recipe without damaging the flavor. For a bargain on jars in bulk, Fillmore Container has terrific prices on all different sizes of jars. The Container Store also has an excellent selection of hermetic jars. Finish this simple gift with some cloth around the top and a rubber band, closed in by ribbon. Ribbon and cloth won't be affected by refrigeration! The whole ensemble can be ready to go!

You may want to make a simple tag with ingredients and suggestions for how your recipient can enjoy it, be sure to include an expiration date. It's very important that the finished butter be refrigerated; it cannot be kept on a pantry shelf. Even if you are familiar with home canning, still follow this guideline; the acidity level of pumpkin is too low for safe home preservation. The pumpkin butter will stay safe to eat for 6 months in refrigeration from the day it was made.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Friday Giveaway Winner: Bone Appetit

Congrats to Michael Bradac, Host-It Notes fan via Facebook. You've won our Bone Appetit napkin giveaway. Have a great Halloween!!

Happy Lunchoween

This is great! A friend passed this ghoulishly good bento box by Another Lunch my way, knowing I'd love it. A garlic breadstick becomes a monster finger, cheese slices are shaped into spider webs, spider picks hold together deli slices, and more! Check out the original post here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Halloween House

I spent last week at the house of a friend who wanted to decorate for Halloween without spending a lot of money or doing anything too wild. We headed to Michaels to look for Martha Stewart's mice silhouettes. Much to our disappointment there were none to be found, which got us to thinking—why not make our own mice for a similar look? After picking up some thick black paper in poster board size we got to work back at home.

First, we pulled up Martha's product on the iPad to use her shapes to inspire us. Then we freehand stenciled some great little mice on plain computer paper. Some were more successful than others, but practice made perfect and each mouse turned out better than the last. Using our stencils, we traced the shapes in pencil onto the black paper and cut out the mice. Once we'd created a good stock of mice we let our minds wander to other shapes, making a cat, bats, and a tombstone and "poison" bottles we drew on with white chalk.

I love the look of our cutouts on the white exterior walls of her house, especially paired with the cobweb. Plus, our whole look cost us just a few dollars!

Interested in a look like this for your walls or windows? To save you time I traced some of our stencils once more and scanned them for you. Simply print, cut, and trace the shapes on black paper. Hang with glue dots or clear tape.

Download our stencils at the links below:

Mice 1 Mice 2 Mice 3 Bottle and Bat

What do you think? Would you like to see more downloads like this (or better!) at Host-It Notes? Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Giveaway: Bone Appetit

Yowsa! It's been ages since we've had a Friday Giveaway! This one's just a little something for Halloween—napkins with a bit of spooky wordplay. Wipe up the competition by following Host-It Notes on Facebook, or becoming a follower of the blog via Google Friend Connect. Contest ends at midnight (PST) on Monday, Oct. 18th.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hungry, Hungry Centerpieces

I haven't sat down to turn this idea into a reality yet, but for years I've wanted to create a Halloween centerpiece using beautiful but "deadly" plants. My preference is for carnivorous plants, not poisonous ones. There's an underlying threat to these elegant, insect-eating plants that I think could really capture a spooky, elegant Halloween feel. If this idea sounds good to you, get friendly with a few plant nurseries in your city and see what help they can offer. Also, think about picking up this book: The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants.

Photo: The leaf of a Drosera capensis "bending" in response to the trapping of an insect. Photo by Noah Elhardt

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Batty Cakes

Awww, yeah. These are the cutest ever!!! I require batty cakes! Williams-Sonoma has Halloween Pancake Molds that come in a set of three—a bat, a haunted house, and a pumpkin shape. Pair it with their Spiced Pecan Pumpkin Pancake Mix, and I think we have a winner.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sorry Indiana Jones, It's Not a Real Crystal Skull...

Halloween isn't just for kids. Adults who want to get their spooky on can pick up a bottle of Crystal Head Vodka. The bottle is a replica of a human skull—perfect for your creepy (pub) crawling. While you're checking out where to buy it, watch their bizarre video starring Dan Akroyd, who channels his inner Ghostbuster for a video that's part educational, part superstition. Why so serious, Dan? Apparently, this bottle of vodka gives consumers a "touchstone and replica which allows, us if we wish, to connect to the message of the Crystal Head's purpose on Earth." This is deep vodka, people. It might put us in touch with "the idea of higher power sources" and lead us to a "less violent and more harmonious world." Seriously...Dan Akroyd told me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Black and Orange Dinner

Every year around Halloween I enjoy throwing a Black and Orange dinner. It's nothing over the top, just a simple dinner for a few friends. The only requirement is that food must be mainly orange or black. My traditional dish is a black bean and sweet potato chili (want the recipe? just drop me a line at This year I branched out thanks to some inspiration from Gimme Some Oven. Oven roasted butternut squash and onions mixed with radiatori pasta, bacon, fresh sage and pine nuts made for a delicious orange meal. We sorted out the orange and white from a few four-color pasta packs to get the Fall-friendly look we desired.

For a bit of black I settled on an olive tapenade. Here's my recipe, adapted from a recipe on Kate's Global Kitchen:

3 cloves of garlic, peeled 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts 
1 and a 1/2 cups pitted nicoise olives 7 anchovy fillets The 
juice from 1 lemon
 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
 chopped parsley for garnish

Process garlic cloves and pine nuts in your food processor until coarsely chopped. Add in olives, anchovies, lemon juice, and olive oil and process until a coarse paste is formed. Serve at room temperature on tasty crackers (I used ak-mak crackers) and garnish with chopped parsley. Feel free to garnish even further by adding bits of shredded carrots, pickled vegetables, or anything that strikes your fancy.

I mixed up a fresh side dish of peeled orange segments, nectarine slices, and shredded carrots (mandarins and peaches would also work well). As a bit of "dressing" I made a mixture of honey and orange juice and sprinkled poppyseeds on top of the dish for a bit of black. One guest lovingly labeled them "Black Widow Eggs." You've got to admire that Halloween spirit!

A quick note about serving up a Halloween dinner—cheesecloth is your friend. I try to always keep cheesecloth on hand in my house. Not only can you use it when you're cooking (I use mine to strain ingredients when I'm making homemade chicken stock), but cheesecloth makes a great shabby tablecloth for an impromptu Halloween dinner. If you want to make it more spooky you can rip it up a bit with your fingers to simulate cobwebs.

Finally, I finished off the meal with chocolate sorbet served with a reduced berry topping—take frozen mixed berries and simmer them over low heat on the stove until the berries break down a bit and the juice thickens. Sprinkled on top are dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds. Such rich flavors!

What are your favorite black and orange foods?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Top Gun Party!!!

Looking for a fun theme for your next party? Channel your inner Tom Cruise (or my personal favorite, Anthony Edwards) and fly into the danger zone with a kickin' Top Gun party. What are the keys to a great party based on this classic film? Naturally you'll play the Top Gun soundtrack in the background, and you'll ask guests to come dressed for the theme—but what else? Here are a few suggestions I came up with for a friend who was planning a Top Gun party to celebrate Fleet Week and to mark the departure of a colleague.

* Make signature cocktails with names like "The Maverick," "Goose," "Viper" or "Iceman." * Call the bar the "Hard Deck." * Provide sailor or pilot hats for guests to wear. * Set up a photo booth. Offer up a motorcycle jacket, a uniform shirt and hats for guests to wear in their photos. In a dream world you could use a motorcycle as a prop for photos, but that's probably over the top! * Stock up on mirrored aviator shades as favors. * Offer a selection of cigars with a sign that says, "Kick the Tires and Light the Fires." * Incorporate a few paper airplanes into the decor. You could label food with them or hang a few from the ceiling. * If the party is for a guest of honor—for a gift you can buy some sexy hard-sided luggage, preferably red, which make a cute centerpiece or focal point. * Serve up some American micro brews, plus easy-to-eat beef sliders and fries.

Our hostess took these ideas and ran with them. Party highlights included an ice sculpture of a girl with a pilot's cap, cocktails with names like "Iceman Lemonade" and "Goose Cobbler," and some delicious and adorable Top Gun-themed cupcakes. The all-American eats included corn dogs, potato salad, cornbread, and ribs.


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