Category: Party

Salt, Moonshine and Cupcakes

That pretty much sums up my New Year’s Eve. Our friends Tasha and Steve were gracious enough to invite us with Joe and Laura to their new home to ring in 2014. Dinner was served, drinks flowed, salt was thrown and we watched the ball drop. Wait, one of these things is not like the other.

Cupcake countdown

We exchanged gifts with Steve and Tasha on New Year’s Eve and they got Joe and Mike each a Bug-A-Salt gun. And, since boys will be boys, they turned the fancy fly swatter on each other and shot salt across the room. Awesome gift, guys! Sorry for the mess, Tash…

It was a very fun, relaxed New Year’s Eve and we all had a great time. If you saw the holiday fête I put together you know I appreciate even the smallest details when it comes to throwing a party, and I loved how much thought Tasha put into the evening, like the countdown cupcakes shown above. She had also just attended a whiskey tasting with Steve in the city and they served special moonshine champagne cocktails that were different than anything I’ve ever tasted.

Moonshine Champagne Cocktail

Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try:

Ingredients

  • 1 shot Moonshine Whiskey
  • 1/2 shot lemon juice
  • 1/2 shot simple syrup
  • Champagne

Process

Pour whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Mix until chilled and well combined. Pour mixture into glass and top with champagne. Serve immediately.

As you can see in the photo above I drank my champagne with a festive gold-striped paper straw. They always add a fun touch to a special drink without breaking the bank.

I didn’t get a ton of pictures throughout the night, but here’s a snapshot of our celebration. Cheers to 2014!

Laura and I before we headed out for the night.
Laura and I before we headed out for the night.
Our last selfie of 2013!
Our last selfie of 2013!
Girlfriends!
Girlfriends!

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Enjoying that Moonshine Champagne Cocktail!
Enjoying that Moonshine Champagne Cocktail!
Bug-A-Salt = Bug Assault, get it?!
Bug-A-Salt = Bug Assault, get it?!
Midnight champagne toast!
Midnight champagne toast!

Holiday Fête

Mike and I had the pleasure of hosting a little holiday fete last weekend with a few close friends and family. I was excited to have another chance to entertain since it’s been a few months since our housewarming party back in September. I wanted to avoid spending the entire party in the kitchen, so I kept the appetizers, entree and dessert super simple yet festive and gave our home an extra special feel with some DIY decorations I made just for the occasion.

Christmas Tree Cheese Platter

I placed a few easy to eat finger foods on the dining room table to greet guests as I finished our main course in the kitchen. This cheese platter in the shape of a Christmas tree was Mike’s idea and I think it turned out to be super cute, and even easier to make. I layered a variety of cubed cheese, rosemary springs, crisp green grapes and cherry tomatoes on an extra large solid-wood carving board that we got at Target on clearance.

Appetizers

An easy homemade spinach dip, pita chips, and gourmet Italian breadsticks rounded out my appetizer offering. I combined some of our vintage green glassware and candle holders with a faux ranunculus arrangement for a centerpiece that felt casually collected.

In an effort to keep my party decor simple and warm I opted to use real cranberries, snippings from our big jade plant and floating candles to make a variety of accents for the powder room, kitchen, dining room and living room.

Cranberry Christmas Centerpiece

 How cute are they? Not to be outdone by the cranberry and candy cane vase I threw together to adorn one of my living room side tables. Swoon.

Side Table Peppermints

Peppermint Candy Cane

 And I was lucky to have an adorable elf helping me set up for the party. Hello free entertainment. Well, we did pay for his dinner. Ha!

Elf Cody

 I used a free Christmas printable and some chevron burlap to create a cheery sign for my display of wine glasses with the hope of inviting guests to help themselves – which they did. I used a standing photo frame from Ikea that is very easy to switch up for any party. I originally got a set of to use for our wedding and they’ve come in handy ever since.

Cheers Christmas Sign

 I didn’t snap any photos of our dinner buffet, but I kept it simple by using crock pots to keep my hot side dishes warm throughout the night. Our menu included holiday baked ham, cheerful mac and cheese, Santa’s seasoned veggies, Rudolph’s arugula salad and ho! ho! ho! rolls. I gave each of the dishes a holiday name for a playful touch since the dishes were so simple. My work week leading up to the weekend of the party was very busy, so I was thanking my lucky stars that I chose to keep the menu very manageable.

Last, but certainly not least, was the dessert table. This was my favorite set up of the night! The morning of the party I pulled some of my pre-mixed Christmas cookie dough out of the freezer (post on the pre-mixing and freezing ahead process to come) and baked four different kinds of cookies – peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal scotchies and Christmas spritz. They’re all recipes I got from Laura and they turned out great (surprise, surprise). I arranged them on a simple white platter and got two decanters out to serve milk (and later egg nog).

Christmas Cookie Dessert Table

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Decanters

 I set up egg nog in a punch bowl across from the dessert table on my small island in the kitchen. The punch bowl was an amazing vintage thrift store find that my mom purchased for my bridal shower last summer with 10 adorable matching cups. I filled the bottom of the punch bowl with ice, placed a metal bowl on top and poured the egg nog into it so the ice would keep it nice and frosty throughout the night. It was a hit!

Egg Nog Punch Bowl

 I’m so glad we had a chance to hang with some friends before the craziness of the holidays really ramps up in the coming week. Are you attending or hosting any holiday parties? What are you favorite tips for holiday entertaining?

Last Minute Ways to Make Thanksgiving Special

Holy moley – can you believe it? Thanksgiving is TOMORROW! How did it creep up so quickly? If you’re like me, you thrive on pulling last minute details together to make a holiday celebration extra special. I’ve seen so many cute ideas drifting around the internet that I’ve been ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing over for the past few weeks. We’re traveling all day on Thanksgiving to my home town in Pennsylvania where my Mommom is hosting us for lunch and my Mom and Nana are pulling out all the stops for dinner, so I wasn’t able to put any of these cute ideas to use since we’re not hosting. But, I figured I’d round up my favorite easy-to-execute Thanksgiving ideas just in case they could be of use to you! Meanwhile, I’ll be baking my butt off since I’m in charge of bringing dessert this year. Pumpkin Dream Cake and French Silk Pie, anyone? Yum. But anyway, here are some of the last minute details that I think you could quickly pull together to give your dinner an extra special touch.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Heaping piles of leftovers are the best party of any great Thanksgiving dinner, and your guests will probably be clambering for every last slice of succulent turkey and whipped mashed potatoes to enjoy the next day. This suite of Thanksgiving leftover printables from Courtney over at Pizzazzerie is by far my favorite extra special touch for a memorable Thanksgiving feast. I mean how stinkin’ cute are these? You could easily print them out at home and slap them on plain paper lunchbags using a glue stick for a custom look and your guests will be toting home leftovers in style.

Thanksgiving leftover printables from Pizzazzerie
Thanksgiving leftover printables from Pizzazzerie

Gold-n-Pumpkin Place Cards 

If Laura’s birthday was any clue, you know I love dressing up a table to make an occasion feel extra special. I used a variety of small pumpkins and gourds to decorate our house for fall and they’ve been around for weeks now. When I came across this gilded pumpkin place card idea from The Nest I loved the way it dressed up a simple gourd to feel luxe and personalized. In my case, I’d take a few of the gourds that I already have laying around and  give them a quick coat of paint at some point today before tying a handwritten place card (possibly made from a gift tag?) on the stem. How easy is that? And it’d be super cute!

Gilded Place Cards from The Nest
Gilded Place Cards from The Nest

Notes of Thankfulness

Mike’s family has a tradition of going around the table to say what we’re each thankful as a way to show gratitude for our blessings and reflect on the past year before diving in for dinner. It’s really sweet to hear what each member of the family is thankful for – especially when his little cousins poignantly exclaim, “I’m thankful for Jesus!” or “I’m thankful for school!” When I came across this free Notes of Thankfulness printable from Hello Bee I thought they’d be a cute way to go a step further and write down your thoughts of gratitude. You could even save your family’s notes of thankfulness and revisit them when you’re having a rough day and need a heartfelt pick-me-up. With some printer paper or card stock and a pair of scissors you could quickly prep a note card for each person who will be joining you for dinner in no time. Note, click here for the printable file.

Notes of Thankfulness by Hello Bee
Notes of Thankfulness by Hello Bee

I certainly have so much to be thankful for this year, and I’ll be counting my many blessings when we sit down to dinner tomorrow. I’m wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! Make it extra special and soak every moment in!

Pickle Martinis

Last Saturday night was an increasingly rare chance for us to let loose and have fun in the city. We love heading to Philly to have dinner at some of the great restaurants, but we’ve left the bar scene behind us for the most part – except for when Luke Elliot and His Band are playing. Yup, that’s the name of my good friend Dan’s band. He’s the drummer, and he also happens to be one of Mike’s good friends. Oh, and did I mention Mike and I introduced him to one of my best friends Brittany and they’ve been together for a few years now? Yup, we can add matchmaker to our long list of talents. 😉 But anyway, about that pickle martini I tried Saturday night for the first time…

Pickle Martini

While the band was rocking the house, Britt suggested we order pickle martinis to try something new in the spirit of a fun night out. Of course I was game! It was like no other drink I’ve tried. I swear it tasted just like a Wawa Italian hoagie, and immediately knew I wanted to recreate it at home. After researching a variety of recipes, I landed on one that I thought would have a little less ‘hoagie’ taste. The straight-from-the-deli version I tried on Saturday was fun as a novelty drink, but it wasn’t really something I’d make a staple in my repertoire.

Below is the recipe I came up with. Note, this recipe is for two martinis, and these are the ingredients/glassware I used to make my martinis.

Pickle Martini Ingredients

Pickle Martini

Ingredients

  • 5 oz gin
  • 2 oz pickle juice
  • 1 oz vermouth
  • 2 small pickles (for garnish)

Process

Pour gin, pickle juice and vermouth into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for about a minute. Skewer a small dill pickle on a swizzle stick and place one in each martini glass. Pour half of cocktail mixture into each glass. Voila, it’s that simple!

Pickle Martini with Vermouth

I thought this could be an unusual, savory drink to serve at a holiday get together. What neat drink recipes have you stumbled upon lately? Would you give pickle martinis a try?

How to Plan a Birthday Dinner Party

I have a passion for planning events. From small get togethers to big parties and even our wedding, I live for planning every little DIY detail. If a party is coming up on the calendar, you better believe I’m spending my free time on Pinterest looking for decor inspiration, printables, menu ideas, and more.

Birthday Dinner Party

 

When we decided to turn our weekly get together with the Vitales into a small birthday dinner party for Laura last week I was excited to give our dining room and kitchen a festive, celebratory feel – and I only had a few days to come up with a plan. My favorite way to decorate for a party is through personalized printables and crafts that make an event feel special and custom, so I decided to share my process for picking and choosing the perfect details for a dinner party that will pack a visual punch without breaking the bank.

Here are my tips for planning a simple-yet-chic birthday dinner party:

  1. Choose a color as a theme. I chose to pull everything together with pink, so I brought that color through several aspects of the party – from the paper straws to the printable birthday signs. Choosing a simple theme (like a color) helps the party feel a little more grown up and it helps ensure your decor is visually cohesive. If decor is too busy, the eye will be bouncing around from feature to feature and your space will start to feel cluttered.
  2. Keep the menu simple. You know your limits, and a birthday dinner party isn’t the best time to test them. Choose recipes that you’ve already tested at least once before to avoid disaster that is sure to occur when you ruin a dish 20 minutes before your guests are due to arrive. Delicious food will win out over a fancy dish that doesn’t turn out any day – so keep it simple!
  3. Bake a birthday cake from scratch. Keeping the menu simple allows the birthday cake to steal the show. Baking one from scratch just. tastes. better. Unless you’re shelling out some serious dough for a high-end bakery confection, skip the boxed and canned stuff. From lemon to chocolate to strawberry and beyond, find a cake recipe that your guest of honor will truly love. Your thoughtfulness won’t go unnoticed.
  4. Use real plates, cups and cutlery. Dinner parties traditionally have less guests than a full birthday party, so skip the paper and plastic in favor of finer glassware and cutlery to make your dinner feel extra special. I chose clear glass plates, cups and bowls and white china serving dishes when registering for wedding gifts because they go with any occasion so I can always use them no matter the holiday or theme. It really makes a difference!
  5. Add personal touches. Printables are a great way to make a party feel more personalized. One of the first things I do before choosing a theme is search for free printables on Pinterest. You’d be surprised how many awesome graphic designers and bloggers create free printables that are available for download, like the one in the picture above. Some printables like this one can even be customized with your own text and colors. This was originally part of a suite of printables for a baby shower, but after changing the text you’d never know. Keep an open mind when searching.

In my experience, following these five tips will help your dinner party flow smoothly and feel cohesive while making your guest of honor feel like a VIP. I used a ‘secret board’ on Pinterest to gather my thoughts and ideas throughout my two-day planning process so Laura wouldn’t see pins popping up in her feed and get a hint that I was up to something. Here’s an idea of what my Pinterest board looked like when I was finished planning:

Without further adieu, here’s how I translated my Pinspiration into a weeknight birthday dinner party for Laura!

Table Setting

Centerpiece Close Up

Centerpiece

 

Champagne Bar

Birthday Cake Happy Birthday, Laur! Here’s to many, many more!

 

Nigella’s Nutella Birthday Cake

I’m sending a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY shout out to my BFF Laura Vitale today! We have a standing hump day date with the Vitales where we nosh on whatever Laura has filmed for Laura in the Kitchen that day and catch up on our favorite shows (thank god for DVR). With Laura’s birthday falling on a Thursday this year, I decided to turn our Wednesday with the Vitales into a fancy schmancy birthday dinner – and I kept all the details a surprise from Laura until she walked through my front door last night. As far as she knew we were having a normal weeknight dinner. Nothing special. Boy, was she wrong!

Nigella Nutella Cake

I’m working on a full recap of my planning and execution of Laura’s birthday dinner in a post slated for next week, but I wanted to share one very special detail with you while it’s still fresh (both literally and figuratively). Per Laura’s request – while she’s simultaneously testing and shooting very rich Thanksgiving recipes – I kept dinner simple and light, so I wanted to WOW her by baking the perfect birthday cake. This girl doesn’t do baked goods unless they’re from scratch, so I had quite a task ahead of me, and Nutella was my inspiration.

After a quick search I stumbled upon this recipe from Nigella Lawson for Nutella cake. If you follow Laura in the Kitchen you know Nigella is one of Laura’s favorite chefs and Nutella is one of her very favorite sweet treats, so I knew this recipe was a match made in heaven.

Overall, this cake was fairly simple despite one difficult step – making my own hazelnut meal when I couldn’t find it anywhere in my local grocery store. I have to thank my husband Mike for being a trooper and shelling an enormous bag of hazelnuts for me that I ground up in my food processor to make the one cup of hazelnut meal needed for this recipe. Best hubby award? I think so. Pinched fingers and all.

Hazelnut MealThis is a very damp cake. The hazelnut is the only dry ingredient so it was definitely one of the most moist cakes I’ve ever had. Here’s a quick look at the ingredients you’ll need to make it.

Nutella Cake IngredientsLook at that heaping bowl of beautiful hazelnuts. You’d never know it took Mike two separate hour-long sessions to get through all that nut cracking. But it sure was worth it! I texted him the above photo of the hazelnut meal the next day as a, “Hey, look what you helped accomplish!” momentum of gratitude. He certainly keeps me going, that’s for sure.

When all was said and done I arranged the Nutella cake on the vintage ice cream parlor table in my kitchen, complete with a festive pink pumpkin and a Happy Birthday sign. I loved the pumpkin’s homage to fall (since Laura is a November baby, after all) and the fact that its pink color was perfect for the theme of the evening. And my purchase of the pink pumpkin supported breast cancer, so it truly was a win-win.

Nutella Cake Presentation

All of Mike’s hard nut-cracking work wasn’t in vain. This cake was truly the perfect sweet ending to an even sweeter birthday celebration.

Happy Birthday, Laura!

B & L