Easy floral arrangements for your Passover table

You’ve been cooking for days. You got the good dishes out of storage. The silver is polished. And in the midst of getting all the preparations ready for the big seder dinner, the last thing you probably want to think about is a floral centerpiece. 

The reality is, centerpieces just aren’t that practical for the Passover table. The table is already crowded with dishes, glasses, the seder plate, Elijah’s cup, Miriam’s cup and bowls of saltwater. You know that as soon as the brisket comes out, that centerpiece is getting moved to the living room.  

But flowers add so much to the Passover table. They signify spring and new life. And the beauty of the blooms brightens the entire evening. 

Here, then, are four ideas for seder dinner floral pieces that are easy to whip up, and take up very little room on the table. We’ve expanded the definition of “florals” to include herbs and succulents; while not florals in the technical sense, these organic elements are a popular alternative to flowers. 

Because the arrangements are small, you can create multiples to scatter across the tabletop, perhaps one in front of each person’s place setting. And their low height means you will have no problem seeing across the table as each of you reads a passage from the haggadah. These also make great favors that guests can take home to remember the evening. 

Endive-wrapped vases

Red endive is sometimes used as a bitter herb on the seder plate, but it also makes a colorful foundation for this quick and easy arrangement. Endive leaves are wrapped around a glass votive holder to form a vase and fill with flowers or, in this case, fragrant mint leaves.

Place a rubber band around a glass votive holder. You can also use a shot glass or a small juice glass.

Egg blossoms

The egg has so much symbolic significance during Passover celebrations, it’s only fitting to incorporate it in the flowers. These hollowed egg shells act as a miniature vase, as if the eggs are hatching spring’s new possibilities.

Break the tip of the egg with a knife, and pour out the egg yolk and whites to save for cooking. Wash the inside of the egg and let it air dry.

Mason jar succulents

For a unique twist on Passover flowers, try these succulents arranged in mason jars. Beautiful, resilient succulents can grow in the harshest environments, and they represent the hope that was ever present, even in captivity in Egypt.

Cut succulent blooms from existing plants. Allow them to sit out for about a week so a scab forms where you cut them.

Magnetic flowers

It’s a Passover miracle! These flowers are standing on their own, without a vase. It may not be the parting of the Red Sea, but you have to admit, it’s pretty nifty. The trick is magnets at the base of the stems, and a hidden piece of metal under the tablecloth.

Hot glue a magnet to the head of a nail. Flat neodymium magnets are perfect for this, but keep the kids away — they are harmful if swallowed.

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Flower choices can make your simcha a blooming success

You may not wear white for your wedding or hold your ceremony in a synagogue, but chances are you’ll incorporate flowers into your day somehow, whether it’s with an extravagant bouquet or a simple hair accessory. Here’s what to consider when choosing your blooms:

First Things First
Don’t even think about visiting a florist until you’ve chosen what both you and your bridesmaids will be wearing for the ceremony. Your gown style and the colors of your bridesmaids’ dresses will help your florist get a sense of your personal style and enable her to create bouquets and arrangements that will enhance, rather than detract, from the main event — you.
Collect magazine photos of images you like and don’t like, and show them to your wedding/floral consultant, said Jennifer McGarigle, owner of FloralArt in Venice. She’ll be able to help translate your personal style into the visual and experiential vision you have for your wedding.

Color Clues
We’ve come a long way from traditional white wedding bouquets. Nowadays, anything goes, from bright orange to deep red to dramatic purple. Monochromatic or tone-on-tone combinations are a big trend right now, McGarigle said. (Think pale pink hydrangeas paired with deeper pink roses and bright pink asters.)
“Purple is a big hit … but be careful how you use it,” she said. “It works best when there are bleeding shades of purple — from lavender, to purple, to violet. Use crisp white, soft gray or celery green as a contrasting accent.”
Remember that color can come from more than just the flowers themselves. Incorporate accent colors with ribbon or beaded wire in your bouquet and with vases and tablecloths for your table arrangements.
“My favorite combination right now is monochromatic white with antique gold and beige or chocolate brown accents,” McGarigle said. “The gold can come from either the fabric of the containers or linens, like a gold matte satin cloth.”

Let’s Get Practical
Choose flowers carefully if you or other members of your party are prone to allergies, said Judith Sherven, co-author of “The Smart Couple’s Guide to the Wedding of Your Dreams” (New World Library, 2005). Gardenias and some lilies, for example, are very pungent and can cause headaches or other symptoms, even for your guests, she said.
You’ll also want to be sure that your blooms will hold up for the duration of your event and be easy to transport if you’ll be reusing ceremony arrangements for the reception (a great way to save money). Sharing your wedding day itinerary with your florist will help her in guiding your floral choices.

Money Matters
Be up-front with your florist about your budget, McGarigle said, and always get a proposal that itemizes and describes each area of décor. If you’re on a budget, prioritize, she said. “Choose the areas you do and do them well.”
If you have your heart set on pricier flowers, like orchids or calla lilies but can’t afford to use them in large quantities, think in terms of simple, elegant arrangements, Sherven said. Use your most expensive flowers in your hair and bouquet (where they’ll be front and center in photos and during the ceremony) and less costly blooms for site decoration. You can also use potted plants and flowers from friends’ gardens to expand on your use of florist arrangements, she said.

Style and Shape
“The biggest trends in flowers right now are modern but not minimalist arrangements,” McGarigle said, “meaning the lines of floral decor are clean and streamlined but lush in color, texture and abundance.
“Mix vases and other containers in varying shapes and sizes for a more eclectic, interesting look,” she said, “but create unity with common shapes, whether round or square. A centerpiece grouping, for example, could combine vases of varying heights in round and cylindrical shapes. For flower combinations, three- to five-bloom variations that complement one another make for cleaner looking arrangements with impact.”

Be Size Wise With the Bouquet
Don’t get stuck carting a bouquet that’s heavy or awkward. It may not seem unwieldy at first, but keep in mind that you’ll be holding it for the duration of your ceremony and through all your pictures. Keep both your body shape and dress style in mind when choosing your blossoms. The three main types of bridal bouquets are:

  • Round posy — either hand-tied (stems are bound and tied with ribbon) or wired (stems are removed to eliminate bulk). Hand-tied bouquets are versatile and work well with all types of dresses. Wired posies make for lighter bouquets and are a good choice for petite-size brides.
  • Trailing/shower. Elongated bouquets like cascades/showers (which resemble waterfalls) and trailing bouquets (which are full at the top, then taper to form a tail at the bottom) are good choices for fuller skirts and/or taller brides.
  • Overarm. Long-stemmed flowers (roses, orchids or calla lilies are popular choices) are tied with a ribbon and held along the inner crook of your elbow. This style suits a modern, slim dress and draws attention to an ornamented bodice.

Peak timing
Choosing in-season blooms will keep prices down, as will steering clear of red roses if you’ll be tying the knot close to Valentine’s Day.

Location, Location
Try to avoid competing with your environment, whether it’s indoors or out. Small bouquets can seem insignificant in large spaces, and extravagant blooms ostentatious for intimate backyard gatherings. Also take note of the floor and wall colors, and the type of decorations already on site. You may be able to save money by making use of in-house plants and archways.

Make It Meaningful
Many flowers have meanings associated with them, for example:

Rose: love, beauty.
Sunflowe: adoration.
Gardenia: joy.
Orchid: delicate beauty.
Lily of the valley: happiness.
Sweet pea: lasting pleasure.
Peony: bashfulness.
Stephanotis: marital happiness.

But what really matters is choosing flowers you love. You can also pick blossoms based on those that have meant something to you and your fiancé as a couple — pink roses for the first bouquet he gave you or lilacs for the bush in your friend’s backyard where he proposed.

The bottom line? “Surround yourself with flowers that bring you pleasure and joy,” Sherven said. They’ll set the tone for your wedding and be a constant reminder of your blossoming love.

Jenny Stamos writes about health, nutrition, psychology, work, money and love for magazines such as Self, Shape, Glamour, Women’s Health, Prevention and Woman’s Day.

Versatile lavender makes for a delightful ‘big day’

Since our weather is getting warmer and luscious lavender flowers seem to be taking over the city, as well as accessorizing culinary offerings in our favorite restaurants, this classic floral fragrance is a delight at a bridal shower.

Lavender’s fragrant scent has transported many back to more romantic times and places — one whiff and your June bride will be sharing a crumpet or tea cake with Jane Austen in a 19th-century English drawing room.

Because lavender is so versatile, I love making gifts with it for wedding showers, anniversaries or any romantic occasion. For a gracious shower offering, consider a wicker basket filled with gifts of lavender and on top, a bunch of fresh, newly picked lavender branches.

Lavender’s culinary versatility is on the cutting edge of many new and exciting cuisines. Lavender flowers and leaves are a welcome addition to fruit desserts, crepes and conserves, and the sprigs are delicious when added to lamb and beef stews and chicken and fish dishes. And lavender-filled Herbes de Provence enlivens everything from salads to stews.

Fresh lavender can be candied or pickled. It can also be used to flavor vinegars, jellies, cr?me brulee and ices. The ultimate treat is lavender honey from Provence and Chamonix, a valley in eastern France. Delicate and delectable, it is made by bees that sip nothing but the sweet nectar of the blossoms.

A warning when using any herb: It must be untreated and free of pesticides.

Gifts of Lavender

Lavender Tea
Collect dried flowers; package them in plastic bags tied with a ribbon. Be sure to include directions for brewing. Pour 1 pint of boiling water over 3 tablespoons of fresh or 1 teaspoon dried flowers in a teapot. Steep for three to five minutes. Queen Elizabeth I loved her tisane, weak tea flavored with a spoonful of honey.

Herbes de Provence
Make your own unique spice with dried lavender flowers, fennel seeds, basil and savory. Place in colorful bottles or plastic bags.

Lavender Sugar
Place 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers in a food processor outfitted with a metal blade. Process until the flowers are finely chopped. Place in colorful jars, airtight containers or plastic bags. Include a list of uses – flavoring ice cream, muffins, pound cakes and cookies.

Lavender Vinegar
Place 1 tablespoon of fresh or 1 teaspoon of dried lavender sprigs to 1 pint white vinegar and 1/4 cup of white wine. Place in a pretty cruet and let stand for several weeks.

Lavender Flower Bunches
To dry, pick the stems or spikes well below the blossoms at midday, when blooms are free of dew and its fragrant oil is at its height. Tie them in bunches and hang them upside down in a warm, well-ventilated room out of direct sunlight.
Sachets and Potpourris, Sleep Pillows and Shoe Trees
Bring back the spirit of your ancestors by combining dried lavender, roses and other aromatic flowers. Sew them into fabric cut into the shape you desire. Place sachets in chests of linens and lingerie, pile potpourris in crystal or Depression glass bowls in bathrooms, bedrooms — any room you want permeated with their fragrance.

Room Refreshers
Place oil of lavender on a wad of cotton, enclose it in a lovely piece of fabric cut into a square or round shape and then edge it with lace or ribbons. Make a hanger to be hung in strategic areas to freshen a room or keep moths and other insects away. Closets filled with lavender sachets or even bunches of dried lavender will not only smell wonderful but keep the area moth-free. The perfume lasts for years.

Homemade Jelly
When making mild fruit jellies, place a petal or two of lavender in the bottom of a glass.

Lavender Creme Brulee
The beauty of this dessert is that it can be prepared a day ahead, then “burnt” just before serving. Lavender is a surprising accent.

3 cups heavy cream
1-inch piece of vanilla bean, pierced
1/4 cup lavender sugar
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 basket fresh raspberries
Lavender flowers

Preheat oven to 300 F. In the top of a double boiler, over hot water, heat cream, vanilla and lavender sugar to almost boiling. Lower heat and simmer one minute. Remove from heat.
Beat whole eggs and egg yolks together. Pour cream mixture, in a thin stream, into eggs, stirring constantly. Return to double boiler; cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until custard coats the back of the spoon, about three to four minutes. Remove vanilla bean.
Pour cr?me into six individual custard dishes or a four- or five-cup oblong flameproof serving dish. Set dish or dishes in large pan (bain-marie) of hot water in middle rack of oven. The hot water should be level with the custard.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until center of custard is set. Remove custard from water bath and cool. Cover and chill in refrigerator.
To serve, sift brown sugar over top of cr?me. Place dish into bowl of crushed ice, then put custard under broiler at least 6 inches from flame, leaving door open, until crust of caramelized sugar is formed. Serve immediately.
The perfect topping is a bowl of fresh raspberries, passed along with the dessert. Garnish with lavender flowers.
Makes six servings.

Lavender-Honey Ice Cream
1 1/3 cups milk
2 2/3 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons lavender flowers, stemmed
8 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups lavender honey

Pour milk and cream into saucepan over medium heat; bring almost to a boil. Turn off heat and stir in lavender flowers. Let steep 20 minutes. Whisk egg yolks with honey until smooth. Remove milk mixture from heat and whisk into egg mixture. Stir well.
Return saucepan to stove; cook over low heat, whisking constantly, just until custard thickens. Do not let it boil. Pour mixture through fine mesh strainer into a bowl; discard lavender flowers.

Science of floral scents and colors blooming in Israel

Professor Alexander Vainstein is proud of his greenhouses.

Located at the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture in Rehovot, these greenhouses offer visitors both a delight to the senses and a trip to a futuristic world, where flowers emerge in different colors, with different scents and a whole new genetic makeup designed to enhance and improve the flower stock.

“You’ll see types of flowers in our greenhouses that do not exist anywhere else in the world,” said Vainstein, head of the institute. “People are stunned at what we are doing here. We have petunias, which traditionally don’t have a smell, giving off such a strong perfume that it overpowers you as you walk through the greenhouse doors.”

The greenhouses are only a small part of Vainstein’s work, however. Back in the lab, he and other researchers on the agricultural, food and environmental quality sciences faculty have discovered how to insert the scent of flowers into different foods, how to intensify the smell of perfumes and creams and how to create a natural scent with nothing more than a petri dish.

The developments, which use the same genetic engineering techniques developed in the human genome project to enhance the shape, color and smell of flowers, have generated a great deal of interest from the chemical, food and flower industries, which are not only following developments but often actively funding the work.

Vainstein, a molecular biologist, began studying the molecular mechanism of scent compounds in flowers out of curiosity.

“Smell is a very volatile thing. he said. “Flowers smell differently at different times of the day, it depends if it’s hot or cold, or whether the flower is young and old. Some plants give off strong scents, while others you have to crush before you can smell them.”

Once the team isolated and deciphered the composition of genes and proteins operating in the petals of roses and carnations, they began to genetically engineer the plants to alter scent production. Roses, for example, give off a strong and lovely scent and have major volatile scent compounds, such as germacrene D. Vainstein took the gene responsible for this compound in roses and inserted it into different plant species, such as petunias and carnations.

“It’s not that the petunias now smell of roses, but they do give off a much stronger scent than before,” Vainstein said.

In another successful project, the researchers took a gene from a small aromatic plant that grows in California and introduced it to the carnation plant, which now produces the same aromatic compound as the California plant.

They’ve also discovered how to mute scent in flowers, such as gypsophlia (baby’s breath) — a flower often favored by florists in bouquets — that have an unpleasant odor.

The possibilities for the plant breeding industry are exciting. The flower industry was worth $20.8 billion in 2006 in the United States alone, and more than $100 billion worldwide. Many flowers sold by florists today have lost their smell.

Vainstein’s research promises to be able to not only regenerate the smell in flowers like roses but also to create entirely new scents in other flowers.

What interests the chemical and food industries, however, is that the researchers have also discovered a way to introduce these volatile scent compounds into other organisms, such as yeast — which has many similarities to plants — to create a bioreactor to product these natural compounds.

“In Bulgaria, the economy is built heavily on rose oil, which they produce from roses grown over large areas, but it’s a very long and complicated process to create this oil,” Vainstein said. “We can produce the same scent compounds using a yeast bioreactor, and we do it in a petri dish.”

“We use a tiny amount of space,” he continued. “A few shelves can hold row after row of petri dishes, and there is no disease, no worries about weather or pests and a drastic reduction in manpower costs. The value for the perfume industry is immense.”

Using yeast bioreactors, flower scent compounds can also be introduced to foods, such as bread, or added to wine as it is prepared. Rose-flavored bread, perhaps, or a white wine with a hint of carnation could be possible.

Today food manufacturers often resort to using synthetic scent compounds in foods, but Vainstein’s work, which has been patented, will enable them to create and use natural compounds.

“The food industry is very interested in the potential of this,” Vainstein said. “Smell is not only what you smell with your nose but also what you taste. Through eating foods you also smell them. The aroma comes from inside your mouth to your nose passage.”

Vainstein is working with a number of international companies based in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel and has carried out commercial trials. He declines to give details, however, because of the competitive nature of the industries he works with.

“There are a number of experiments and pilot trials going on, and we are talking to many companies about many different possibilities, but much of this work is unpublished, and we are not allowed to talk about it,” he stressed, adding that contracts are likely in the future.

Aside from scent, Vainstein’s team of 14 professors and students is also making progress in color enhancement, introducing new colors to flowers that were traditionally white. The university has already developed a number of strains of carnations in colors such as cream and pale green, and work is progressing on color enhancement of roses and gypsophila.

These transgenic flowers are being developed in only three or four locations around the world, and the Hebrew University is the only research lab in the world that focuses on both scent and color. “Most labs work with only color or scent; we work with both,” Vainstein said.