thank you for coming: the party favor

Weekend before last (busy days, guys), I co-hosted an entertaining class/gathering with my Vida Vegan partners, Janessa and Jess. (If you couldn’t attend, we will be putting together an e-book, possibly a printed zine with loads of tips and recipes.) What was one of the biggest stress points? The take-home gift. It’s what our guests would be leaving with and revisiting, reminding them of us and our evening together.

In talking with folks planning weddings and other parties, the favors kept coming up as a concern. Obviously, you want something that won’t just end up being thrown away. Ideally, you’d like it to be useful and enjoyable and somewhat unique. Yet you need to put these together without blowing the budget…even more than you already are by hosting this party in the first place.

While I love little potted succulents with place cards stuck in them and handmade pins incorporated into napkin rings for sit-down dinners, for a more casual gathering, nothing’s easier to present and grab on the way out than the jar-of-foodstuffs. Mason or jelly jars are already useful, and while they’re more expensive than most bags or boxes, they’re half your favor battle. Plus they’re very easy to doll up, by slipping fabric over the top, wrapping in a pretty ribbon, or making a custom label for them.

Then you get to fill them! Here are some easy ideas for filling (that don’t include pastel candy-coated almonds):

  • Dry cookie ingredients, poured in layers
  • Hot chocolate mix with mini marshmallows (Both Sweet & Sara and Dandies come in minis now!)
  • Custom coffee, tea, or spice blend
  • Stack of pretty cookies
  • Homemade candies, like truffles or caramels
  • Homemade flavored syrups

And here’s what we gave our guests: The hot toddy kit, with a Vanilla-Cinnamon Stash tea bag, cinnamon stick, star anise, dried orange peel, and brown sugar cubes. Just add hot water and booze and it’s the perfect wintery warm-up. We would have loved to include a little airplane bottle of whiskey with them, but these ingredients started to add up for us as it was—ain’t it always the way?

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mod-podgin’ like a mofo…because it’s vegan

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Because I’m crafty like that (also broke as a lame joke), when I need something, I usually try my hand at making it first. (Seriously, who buys scarves?) If I can’t make it from scratch, can I buy a cheap or used base and fix it up, like a table or chair? With a toolbox and an armory of fabric, paper, and other crafty bits I’ve put together over decades (yes, I was diagnosed young), I can manage quite a bit.

One item in my armory is Mod Podge. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an adhesive and sealant in one. Looks like glue but dries totally clear. With some tissue paper and a cool bottle—boom, vase. Glitter and anything—boom, party. I’ve always had a couple different types on hand: glossy, matte, even super tough stuff for furniture and outdoor use. After going vegan, I started to worry about what it was made of. True, when we buy products off the shelf, we don’t know what the adhesives are, but if I’m using a product, I do what I can to keep it animal-free. I saw a couple of mentions online that said Mod Podge was vegan, but I wanted to check it out myself so I dropped ’em a line.

Annnnnd…it is! They all are! None of their varieties contain animal products or byproducts. So slather it on in all its fabulous glory. I just did, to make these luggage tags.

diy luggage tags

Tom is off to London and Nepal for two months for work this fall (I know!), so I wanted him to have something a little nicer than the paper ones you get at the airport. I also wanted him to have something I made with him, so anytime he looks at them, he’ll see my handiwork and perhaps think of me fondly. (That green plaid one is mine, though.)

Using the hard, furniture Mod Podge, these are just cardstock with paper, fabric, some funny, tiny playing cards, and washi tape. I punched the holes before sealing, and I threw maybe five coats on there, to really sturdy it up. You can write on the surface with permanent marker (I used a DuraMark), dry, and seal over it again, for safety.

Ooh, hey, did you catch that “mofo” in the title and think of VeganMoFo? Yeah, I’m doing it again this year. I’m totally in the Five Timer Club now. No real plans for a theme or anything, just random super-fun foodtimes. I know I want to cover s’mores waffles, homemade giardiniera (hot peppers!), and a taco shell made of tots. And I guarantee at least one kitchen fail and one love letter/ode to some food or another. Expect new posts every day (Monday through Friday) throughout September.

crafty wonderland: we made it out alive!

crafty wonderland crowd

The ultimate test of a relationship: Can you make it through a giant-ass craft fair together and still come out friends?

Crafty Wonderland is kind of a big deal. It’s an annual gathering of (now) more than 250 vendors hand-selling their wares. No cross-stitch-on-plastic-canvas tissue boxes to be found, though; instead there are paintings, handmade treats, beauty products, clothes, stationery, jewelry, toys—it’s pretty amazing. And if you missed it but are still in Portland, their pop-up shop, featuring stuff from around 170 artists, will remain open for a bit, in SW.

We agreed it would be a fantastic way to pick up our X-mas gifts from local artists/artisans—not only are you supporting good, honest, hard-working folk instead of a collection of CEOs of multinational corporations who weasel out of paying taxes…but you’re also sending home a little bit of Portland.

crafty wonderland lineSince it was Sunday, I figured we should get there early to beat the post-brunch crowd. So 10:00 it would be!

Hey, we got here 10 minutes early and that line is insane—did people camp here overnight? Is this all so they could be the first 150 people and score a sweet swag bag?

crafty wonderland tix

Like we did? OK, standing in this line wouldn’t be too bad. Except that by around 10:15, after 10 minutes of “Why aren’t we moving? Why isn’t everyone as outraged as I am that we’re still just sitting here? Friggin’ West Coast!” I realized that we’d gotten there an hour and 10 minutes early. It didn’t open until 11:00. A Kindle-less Tom just sort of glared at me. This could be rough.

But right out the gate, we found APAK, the Portland husband-wife team of Aaron and Ayumi Piland. I’ve always loved their paintings and sculptures, and they had some pretty sweet pieces there. (Some went home with us!)

crafty wonderland apak 1

crafty wonderland apak 2

More APAK—lots of prints and adorable little note cards.

crafty wonderland rebeam

These re-Beam planters from AD Busch are made from wood found at construction sites and recycling centers. We’re so bad at keeping succulents alive. Oh, Tom’s a wiz at other plants—at work, they call him the Orchid Whisperer—but he just can’t give these guys the tough love they need. Anyway, the planters are neat, if not ridiculously simple.

crafty wonderland molly muriel

I picked up a few Molly Muriel soaps. We just busted into the first one, so I don’t have much of a review for you, but they smelled good. Not overpowering.

crafty wonderland sparrow sundry

I wanted to take all of these home with me, but instead walked away with nothing. These are little boxes of cute from Sparrow and Sundry. You can only buy yourself but so many gifts when you’re trying to buy for others.

crafty wonderland olson 2

I really wish my photos of the Amy Olson Jewelry would have come out better. I was in a hurry, and the light wasn’t great, but you can see it’s just a little out of the ordinary, with extra little notes here and there. Take a look at the pieces on her site. Most jewelry bores me (maybe because I’m allergic to most metals I’ve built up a psychological barrier), but this stuff was super interesting.

crafty wonderland haute sauce

And Tom had to stop at the Haute Sauce table. He’s got the Serrano Ginger Lemongrass (thumbs up, by the way), and I believe the Habenero Carrot Curry is also vegan. The other two had honey in them, if I’m not mistaken.

crafty wonderland gift bag

Exhausted, we got home and dumped out our swag bags. Even the kittens wanted in. Lots of note cards, buttons, barrettes, an ornament, and discount codes for a bunch of the vendors. Some pretty cute stuff in there—and such a good idea, since some of these vendors I didn’t even notice at the show, and now I can look ’em up online and keep them in mind for the future.

nicholas falafel

And finally, at around 2:00 pm, we got to eat breakfast, falafel, zataar, and tabouli from Portland favorite, Nicholas. Everything was gonna be all right.

astro vegan anytime tree!

Our story begins with Conan and a cone.

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV shows. I don’t have my television set hooked up to anything other than a computer, so unless something is streaming or on a disk or flash drive, I don’t see it. Luckily, I get to watch Conan (the ginger lad with a late-night talk show, not the barbarian) the day after it airs. On a recent show, he had wackadoo pop culturist Charles Phoenix on, and they participated in a little hands-on segment making this: The Astro Weenie Christmas Tree. Phoenix found inspiration in an old, mysterious slide of an old-timey family gathering. Watch!

So not vegan, but easily veganized. Well, I’ve got my cones and party picks, aluminum foil, a couple of strands of battery-powered LEDs (for that special Michele brand of pizazz), and a bunch of ideas for a sweet and savory tree.

Savory ideas:

pickles
Tofurky sausage
jalepeno-stuffed olives
Sheese cubes
carrots & radishes
mini crescent rolls (Pilsbury original crescents are vegan!)

Sweet ideas:

truffles
rice krispie treats
assorted Sweet n Sara marshmallows
peanut butter fudge
vegan doughnut holes/minis
licorice nibs/other squishy candy

With a New Year’s Eve Eve party to go to, I’m pretty excited to have an excuse to make these. Although, any excuse is a good excuse for a kitschy treat. (And yes, I’ll be back to tell ya how it went.)

UPDATE: Well, I tried two new truffle recipes and they both were just a little wrong, one too sweet and the other too soft, but I think I covered pretty well. Luckily, I live a half mile from Food Fight and was able to grab a Sin Dawg, some Sweet N Sara pecan marshmallows, and a bunch of pretty candies. The savory one was much easier. Tom and I built these at the party—I can’t imagine attempting to move these any farther than the distance between the kitchen and the living room!

And here’s a very blurry, low-light photo for you, complete with an impatient grabbyhand.

bleating hearts

I just received my order from Bleating Hearts Soap & Candle Co., a friend’s Etsy store.

Everything is so pretty and yummy-smelling. Pictured above are French clay-tea tree oil soap, candy cane peppermint soap, cranberry bliss soap, and fresh spruce and black amber soy candles in coffee mugs. They all came lovingly wrapped and ready to give as gifts. We’re burning the black amber one right now, and the smell is subtle and comforting, not perfumy or overpowering.

But Bleating Hearts? Yes, her soaps are mostly goatmilk, but she does make vegan versions of them all, and the candles are always vegan. She uses different tools and containers to make the vegan versions, and all my soaps were marked with little Vs. Just note in the comments section that you’d like all vegan items when you’re placing an order.

Let’s hear it for the indie handmade market.