Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Homemade Challah

I love challah! Being that we are a Jatholic family (Jewish-Catholic), we eat challah every Friday. We have an excellent bakery here in Northampton (Hungry Ghost Bread) that we usually get our challah from, but I was feeling ambitious over the summer and decided that I wanted to learn how to make my own.

It is surprisingly really easy! My son and I made it together and it was a fun project. The recipe came from a book we got at the library called Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Jane Yolen. She lists the ingredients in the order/amounts in which they are used. Enjoy!



1/2 cup warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
   vegetable oil
1 egg
  cooking spray

1. Put the water, yeast, and 1 tsp sugar in the bowl of a food processor or a large bowl, and set the timer for 10 minutes. (We used a bowl and mixed everything by hand.)
2. While you wait, combine the honey, oil, 1 tbsp sugar, and salt in a small bowl, then add the egg.
3. When the timer dings, add the honey mixture to the yeast mixture.
4. Mix using the food processor (or a spoon) until blended together.
5. Pour flour into the wet mixture a little at a time, mixing in each batch before adding more. When a ball forms, add a little more flour, and mix, remembering that you don’t have to use all the flour and you can always add more.
6. Sprinkle flour on a clean counter top or a board, and remove the dough from the processor, or bowl. Knead the dough by hand on the floured surface for about ten minutes.
7. Pour a teaspoon of vegetable or any light cooking oil into the large bowl, and put the ball of dough into it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a wet (but not dripping) towel, and place the bowl aside to rise. Set the timer for 90 minutes.
8. When the dough has risen for 90 minutes, take a small handful of flour and sprinkle it on the counter or board. Uncover the dough and punch it down with your fist a couple of times. Then put it on the floured surface, and pull or roll it into a fat rope.
9. Cut the dough rope into 3 equal pieces then roll and pull those pieces into thinner ropes. 

10. Braid the dough (we watched a video on braiding techniques). 
11. Grease the baking sheet with cooking spray and set the challah loaf on it. Cover lightly with plastic wrap, set the timer, and let it rise again for 60 minutes.
12. Heat oven to 350.
13. After 60 minutes, in a small bowl, mix a beaten egg with a little water, brush onto the top of the challah, then put the loaf in the oven to bake for 30-35 minutes (we sprinkled sesame seeds on top).
14. When the challah is done, it should be golden brown and make a hollow sound when the bottom is tapped. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Ultimate Halloween Party

Last weekend, I hosted a Halloween party for eleven third graders. It was a blast! I was going to write a really lengthy post with all of the details of the party and the "how-to's" of party planning... but I decided you'd rather just look at the pictures. PLUS, I realized that I didn't snag pictures of ALL of the games, prizes and decorations (sometimes you just have to live in the moment!) so here are some of the highlights of the Ultimate Halloween Party.

When the children first arrived, I had three main areas for them to wander between. The first was a Zombie Warrior Training Zone. 
I set up some bales of hay and tied on balloons with Zombie faces drawn on them. I had a pile of sticks set next to the hay for the kids to pop the Zombies with and sharpen their swordsmanship.
Then I had a Can Knockdown game set up for the kids to test their strength. 
This game was a lot of fun to make! I recycled my cans and painted them as pumpkins, ghosts, black cats, Frankenstein's monster, and a mummy.
I also had a Craft Table set up. 
The Craft Table had three stations. At the first, the kids could decorate their treat bag with Halloween stickers, stamps, and markers. At the second, I had a Halloween Cootie Catcher (which I found here: printed and cut out, ready for the kids to fold. The third was Halloween tattoos. Unfortunately, it was really windy the day of the party so I had to use rocks to hold everything down, but we managed to make it work.

Last, I had the Food Table. I tried to have a variety of snacks, all with a Halloween twist!

The Autumn Mix consisted of pretzel sticks, Chex corn cereal, Count Chocula cereal, M&M's, and a candy corn mix (with the pumpkins).

The spiders were made from peanut butter (I made sure there were no peanut allergies at the party), Ritz crackers, pretzel sticks, and chocolate chips.

For the first half hour of the party, I let the kids roam between the three areas. As I suspected, the boys spent most of their time in the Zombie Warrior Training Area (and running around) and the girls stayed closer to the Craft and Food Tables, but all of the kids did go back and forth between all of the areas. Once everyone had arrived and had a chance to run around, we started the games!

The first game is what I like to call the Pumpkin/Bozo/Grand Prize Game. Did you ever watch “The Bozo Show” when you were little? (Fun Fact: Bob Bell aka “Bozo the Clown” was a fellow Flint native.) Towards the end of the show, Bozo would pick a child to play the “Grand Prize Game” (If you aren’t familiar with it, you can watch a clip of it here: The game consisted of five buckets in a row and each bucket was associated with different prizes, getting bigger and better with each further bucket. The child would stand in front of the row of buckets and had to throw a ping pong ball into each bucket in order to get the prize associated with it.  This game was similar to the Grand Prize Game, but with a Halloween twist. 

I spray painted a long board black and screwed 5 plastic pumpkins into the board in a row.
I drew a chalk line on the cement where the kids were supposed to stand and had them line up behind it. I had 5 different prize buckets and let them choose prizes from each bucket that they were able to throw the ball into.
The game worked well, but I would recommend using a small bean bag instead of the ping pong ball.  The ping pong ball made the game a little too difficult for this age group.

The next game we played was Poke-A-Pumpkin. I've done a pinata for years (see my tutorial on how to make a pinata here) and have gotten tired of doing the same thing over and over again. I started searching Pinterest for an alternative to a pinata and found this gem. To make the game, I took an old canvas (you could easily use a foam board) and spray painted it black. I then hot glued orange cups onto the canvas. I then put different prizes and candy into each cup and covered it with tissue paper and a rubber band. The kids lined up and took turns poking a cup and taking the prize inside.
I wasn't sure how this game would go over with this age group because the game was so simple, but the kids loved it and I had enough cups for them to each go twice. Although the hot glue worked out alright, I would recommend using Epoxy glue. I think it would hold better.

The next game we played was the Wrap-A-Mummy game. I had the kids get into teams of two. We happened to have eleven kids at the party, so we made one of the teams have three kids. I then had them decide who the "Mummy" was going to be. I gave them a roll of toilet paper and told them that the first team to most carefully cover/wrap their mummy the fastest would win.
The kids did a great job with this game! I thought for sure that they would be running around each other throwing the toilet paper all over the other kid, but they were all very careful and took their time wrapping their mummy.

We also played two other really fun games but sadly, I didn't get any pictures of those games. Perhaps I'll save them for next year and tell you all about them then!

All of the kids appeared to have a really great time and I had a great time hosting! 

As always, thanks for reading and let me know if you end up having your own Ultimate Halloween Party!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top 10 Music Videos From My Childhood

   As a child of the 1980’s, MTV was a huge part of my childhood. My parents never really censored or limited what I watched, so even at a very young age I watched A LOT of music videos. I remember being 3 or 4 and watching MTV all morning until my siblings would get home from school. I was hooked and I’m sure my mother was thrilled with having this new free babysitter to keep me occupied. I loved watching the stories that went along with my favorite songs from the radio. Looking back, it’s funny to me what things stuck in my memory about these videos. As a child, I didn’t necessarily follow the storyline, but became fixated on other aspects of the video. I’m going to share with you the Top 10 Videos (with pictures!) from my childhood and why they stood out to me. I apologize for the blurry video stills, it’s the best I could do. Here they are in alphabetical order.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these videos or songs. I make no money from talking about these videos or using images from them.

1. Big Love-Fleetwood Mac, released 1987.

I’m not a Fleetwood Mac fan at all, but this video was very memorable for me. The viewer gets to go backwards through all of these various scenes, through doors, windows, television screens, etc. Each scene sort of fits in to the next scene in a very fluid way. Then, a little after the 3 minute marker, you get to go forwards through each scene you passed through, only much faster. I loved that fast part! I would anxiously sit through the whole video just to get to the ending.

2. Land of Confusion-Genesis, released 1986.

What can I say, this video was super creepy to watch as a child! It was one of the first I had ever seen (and possibly the only?) that involved puppets. In general, I really had no clue what was going on in the video, but strangely I understood that the lyrics. I knew they were telling adults to be careful of what they do because the children were the ones who would inherit the earth. Even as a small child, I recognized the celebrities that most of the puppets were supposed to resemble and I understood that they were making fun of them (although I didn’t know why). One of the most memorable scenes for me was when the big puppet hands held the little real baby hands inside of them. I remember thinking, “Wow. Those are real baby hands and they need to take care of them.” The directors did a good job of getting the message across to all of the generations watching this video.

3. Material Girl-Madonna, released 1984.


What little girl in the 80’s didn’t love this video? The pink dress, the jewelry, the furs, the men carrying you around, it looked like fun! I already wanted to be Madonna (see video number 4 description) but this video just really solidified how cool it must be to be Madonna. My mother always used to remind me when I would watch it, that it was basically a remake of Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I think she wanted to make it known that this was not an original idea and that she felt as though Madonna was simply a cheaper, modern version knockoff of Marilyn Monroe..but she was so wrong because Madonna was WAY COOLER.

4. Open Your Heart-Madonna, released 1986. 

This is the first Madonna video that really made me say, “Wow, I want to be just like Madonna when I grow up.”. When I was 4 years old, I insisted that my mom chop off all of my hair (which she did) so that it was short, just like Madonna’s and buy me a black bustier with silver nipples (which she did NOT buy). I remember her describing in horror to my grandmother on the phone the silver nipple outfit that I insisted she purchase.

Unfortunately and luckily, I was never able to complete my full Madonna look. Another reason this video also stood out to me was because I thought it was so cool that Madonna blew off all of the sleazy guys at the peep show to befriend an adorable little boy and dance down the street with him into the night.

Awe, see? She WAS a good role model after all! It all looked like an absolutely perfect night to me.

5. Sara-Starship, released 1985.

I remembered this video and knew I had to add it to the list when I was writing this, but needed to see the video again. Looking back on this video as an adult was...interesting. It was SO CHEESY! As a child, only two things stood out to me: 1) It involved tornadoes. Growing up in Michigan, tornadoes were very much a part of my life. Once we knew a storm was coming, my sister, brother and I would sit at the window and watch the skies get darker and the clouds circle. Once the sirens would go off, we’d pack up all of our “important” belongings in our pillow cases and trot down to the basement. My dad had a “Ham Radio” in the basement that he would use to track the storm’s location. My dad would then give us a play-by-play from the reports on his radio of where the twisters touched down until the storm passed over us and it was safe to go upstairs. Then we would all pile into the car, pick up ice cream cones, and drive around surveying the damage from the storm. Weird Michigan activities, right? That’s just life as a Michigander. I was shocked when I moved to Massachusetts and realized that they didn’t have a siren system here. Anyhow, anything involving twisters fascinated me so that’s mainly what stood out to me about this video.

2) The only other thing that really stood out to me was that they released the horses to outrun the storm. As an adult, I now understand why they would have done that. But as a child, I was horrified. I didn’t understand when they didn’t bring the horses into the cellar to protect them. It made me sad. On a side note, the song was catchy and easy to sing so it was a favorite in my household.

6. Got My Mind Set On You-George Harrison, released 1987.

My dad was a HUGE Beatles fan. I probably knew all of the words to all of the songs on Abbey Road by the time I was 5. When George Harrison decided to go solo and release this video, my dad just ate it up (although he didn’t necessarily love George’s solo career). I never understood the song or lyrics as a child, but I thought the video was funny. As George Harrison sat in the chair and sang, all of the objects in the room started to come to life and do all sorts of crazy things, which I found hilarious. My favorite part was the squirrel playing the saxophone! That part cracked me up!

Every time we’d watch the video, my dad would point out that it wasn’t really George Harrison who did the dance and the flip into the chair, it was a body double. I think it made him feel smart to point that out, that the video directors didn’t fool him! He knew the truth! Ah, dad...

7. Legs-ZZ Top, released 1984.

When I was little, the guys from ZZ Top fascinated me. I had never seen men with such long beards! They just seemed so mysterious and cool, especially when they spun their fuzzy guitars around while playing them! Nothing was cooler than that.

But that’s not the part of this video that really stuck in my little brain. Of all the things is this video that could have been memorable, for me it was the pink high heels and ruffle socks. I wanted those high heels and socks SO BADLY. I remember going in to my kindergarten interview and telling the woman interviewing me about how I wanted pink high heels when I grew up. It’s all I could talk about! I never did get those pink heels...

8. Sledgehammer-Peter Gabriel, released 1986.

This video had all kinds of crazy things going on! Claymation, stop motion animation, this video was definitely an original for the mid 1980’s! The two most memorable scenes were the raw chickens dancing and the light suit that Mr. Gabriel wore at the end. Those two scenes stuck with me over the years.

What’s most funny to me about the song is that the lyrics completely went over my head. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s when I pulled out the CD and gave it a good listen that I realized that the lyrics were jam packed with sexual innuendos. Mr. Gabriel was a dirty man, but I love it! This is still one of my most favorite songs of all time.

9. Take On Me-A-ha, released 1985.

Another animated video. MTV was amazing because it was the first time I got to see the songs that I heard on the radio come to life and some of the videos produced stories I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about when listening to the song. Those early videos were like short movies. They really gave the listener/watcher a vivid image of what the song could be about. In this video, I loved the love story between the man in the comics and the girl at the diner. I got worried and upset when there was that moment at the end when we weren’t sure if the comic man was going to be able to escape into the real world. Luckily, all ended well, but the video really took me on a journey with those two. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one taken with this video for it won 6 awards at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.

10. Thriller-Michael Jackson, released 1983. (I had to really lighten the images because the video is SO dark.)

Everyone knows this song and video so I won’t spend too much time on this one, but I can’t discuss memorable videos from the 1980’s without mentioning it. First of all, the video aside, the song scared the crap out of me. My parents had the album on a vinyl record and used to play it frequently. Every time it got to the end where Vincent Price started laughing, I would cover my ears and go hide in the bedroom. When the video came out, I was in awe. My siblings and I had a thing for scary movies and my parents let us watch them from a very early age (which I don’t recommend) so it didn’t scare me as much as you would think it would. I found some parts to be quite humorous while others were very eerie.

I was mostly impressed with the dancing and sheer length of the video. Talk about mini-movies, this video takes the cake! This is one of those videos that will live on for decades. My son is just as fascinated with it today as I was back then. I know it gets a lot of credit for being memorable, but it really deserves it. Since it came out, I really don’t think there has been a story in a music video that has quite caught my attention like this one (well, “November Rain” was pretty captivating but there’s still no comparison).

So there you have it. If you want to take a trip down memory lane or familiarize yourself with pop culture, I highly recommend you take the time to watch each of these videos. Their stories, characters and images will live on in my memories forever.  



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Puffer's Pond

   I first heard about Puffer’s Pond in Amherst back in 2008. Some friends of mine had taken their children swimming there and told me that it was a very popular swimming hole in the Amherst area. I never had a chance to visit it (mostly because I’m never really out in that area on the weekends) but was still curious about it all of these years later.

   I finally got around to visiting it last week with a friend of mine who had been there before. There is no fee to enter the pond and the entrance we used only had a little tiny sign and looked like this:

   (I say “the entrance we used” because I am assuming that there are multiple entrances, but we couldn’t find where the other entrances were.) 

   We parked the car and walked up to a large grassy area where (mostly) college students were laying in the sun. There were trails going along both the left and right of the pond, however, I didn’t wear appropriate shoes for the trip so we didn’t walk very far.

   The part of the pond that we happened to be at had no beach, just a little ledge. The water below looked to be about 3 feet deep and had some people walking around in it. We could see a small beach across the pond but we could NOT figure out how to get to it!! 

   After doing some research online, I found an article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette that state that the pond is slated to have $36K in renovations this year. It also read,

“Other people who use the pond’s two beaches and nearby walking trails may notice that the wooden cribbing, used to hold sand in place and stabilize the pathways, are sagging.”

   Clearly, there were two beaches somewhere but we had no idea how to find them. I don’t feel as though I can give a fair review of this well-known swimming hole because I feel like there are many parts of it I didn’t get a chance to see. Perhaps I’ll take another adventure out there soon. Until then, enjoy a couple of images from my trip. 

To learn more about Puffer’s Pond, visit:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Chocolate Mint Cookie Bark

   I stumbled across this yummy recipe for chocolate mint cookie bark and thought it would be fun to make with my son. We always bake something festive together for St. Patrick's Day and this recipe combined all of my favorite things! It's a great recipe to involve your child in because of all of the little jobs you can give them while you're melting the chocolate (like sorting the M & M's, crushing the Oreos, etc.). I hope you'll enjoy it!

St. Patrick's Day Chocolate Mint Cookie Bark

    •    12 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
    •    12 ounces white chocolate chips
    •    2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (like Crisco), divided
    •    20 chocolate sandwich cookies (I used regular Oreos)
    •    1 cup Andes mints broken into bits
    •    1 cup green M&Ms (I used regular)
    •    Green sprinkles

    1.    Line a large jellyroll pan or cookie sheet with wax paper. Roughly chop sandwich cookies into quarters.
    2.    Pour semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon shortening into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute; stir chocolate well. Microwave for another 30 seconds; stir until chocolate is smooth. (If necessary, microwave in additional 15-second increments, stirring between each one, until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.)
    3.    Spread melted chocolate in a thin layer onto wax paper. Sprinkle with chopped cookies and Andes pieces, pressing them down into melted chocolate in a single layer.
    4.    Melt white chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon shortening in a clean bowl by repeating the above process, but microwave for only 15 seconds after the initial 1 minute since white chocolate melts more quickly than regular chocolate.
    5.    Carefully drizzle white chocolate over cookie layer and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with M&Ms, pressing them down into the white chocolate, and then fill in any bare areas with green sprinkles.
    6.    Refrigerate until chocolate is hard. Carefully break into large chunks and enjoy!

Everything ready to go in the refrigerator!

Once the bark has cooled, break it apart into pieces.

We put some in a little bag and attached the recipe as a gift for my son's teacher.