Entertaining

You know it’s all about that Game…

‘Bout that game, ’bout that game. No trouble!

Are you still looking for some fun ideas to serve your family and friends tomorrow? Because it’s time for the showdown of one of America’s favorite pastimes, Super Bowl LI! And let me start by giving credit to Hosting & Toasting for the watermelon cut-out of a football helmet. I love it! And they have some other cute ideas too.

We are a house divided this year. Two of my sons and I are rooting for the Patriots; my husband, daughter and baby boy are cheering on the Falcons. (To be honest I really don’t have a lot emotionally invested in the game.) Even though I am rooting for New England, I can appreciate how my husband has got my two-year-old going around doing the “dirty bird.” It’s fan-tastic. (Get it?)

Something we can all agree on are the snacks… not really. But we do all like to eat, so there it is! There are a few foods that seem to coincide with game day. I like to stay classic, but still venture into new flavors. However, I can say with confidence that finger food is the way to go! (Naturally, my very first food suggestion breaks the rule. Back and forth, back and forth…) Because people want to watch the game, not sit at a table!

But this table from Kara’s Party Ideas is pretty cute, am I right?

Almost everyone likes a game day chili and it really doesn’t get much easier. “Chop chop in the pot,” as Nancy Fuller would say. (I watch way too many food shows.) Here is my basic version of the classic, “Kid Friendly Chili“. It’s a family fave.

 

Last year I came up with a Yogurt Chicken Chili for a Chobani challenge. It was an instant hit at home. But if my chili dreams came true, this year I’d make Pat’s Famous Beef and Pork Chili recipe from Food Network. It’s got 5 stars out of 449 reviews… and bacon. Did you catch that? Bacon!

Pizza is a football watching staple. Of course ordering from your local “pie shop” is the easiest. Next, you’ve got some frozen options. I don’t judge. My kids love Annie’s organic pizza bagel bites. We like to make our own Pizza Bagels too.

But if I had my pizza way, I’d have something like this Chipotle Candied Bacon and Smoked Blue Cheese Pizza from How Sweet Eats. Now that’s a game day to remember!

Chicken wings are almost synonymous with Game Day food. You can buy them ready to bake. You could dip chicken tenders in buffalo sauce. Eating tasty food isn’t really complicated. Southern Fried Chicken is about as exotic as my kids will venture with chicken on the bone. But for the mature people out there, there are thousands of Buffalo style chicken wing recipes. Furthermore, this is what I consider “finger licking good,” Sticky Honey-Soy Chicken Wings from Tyler Florence. (I wish these were available with delivery.)

Loaded potato skins are up there with all things you eat while watching football. I like mine crispy and traditional. I think The Pioneer Woman nailed it.

Of course you need to wipe your hands (and face) after handling all of this food. I love this idea from HGTV:

Really you can make things as detailed or keep them as simple as you want. This year I’m keeping it pretty low key, but that’s not to say that next year I won’t be busting out my football field replicated party dip… like this one from everydaygoodthinking.com:

The key is to have fun with your family and friends! Have a great weekend! And Go Patriots! (Unless you’re rooting for the Falcons) 😉

Entertaining the Kids: Pumpkin Fun!

It’s pumpkin time! Woohoo! I am not a pumpkin carver. Boo, hiss, say what you will. It is no secret that I’m not a craft lover. Thankfully I have creative people in my life who enhance the creativity in my children. For example my mother, who found this activity on Pinterest. Hurray for grandmas! As it is, I have young children not ready for carving themselves. So this is a perfect option, even for last minute too.

What you need:

plastic/cloth or newspaper

pumpkins

glue stick

crayons

hair dryer

Oh, and that secret ingredient: enthusiasm!

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Place the plastic or cloth on your workspace. This doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be a garbage bag on your kitchen table. Place the pumpkins in go position (on top of your prepared workspace). Tip: Use room temperature pumpkins

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Unwrap and break the crayons in half. My kids liked this part best.

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Use the glue stick around the top of the pumpkin stem to get a sticky surface for the crayons. Place the crayons around in your own artistic color pattern. And hey, if you want to use a pumpkin with a nicer fuller stem than ours, that’s your prerogative.

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When crayons are set, bust out that hairdryer and blow! This could get messy (hence the table cover).

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You’ll naturally find that you need to adjust the hairdryer angle to work the drips, mostly from directly above facing down. We also found that working one section at a time seemed easier than letting the wax harden again as you try to go around.

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Have fun! Then admire your work Picasso!

The Art of the Cheese Platter

I am a lover of good cheese (it’s in my bio). So a beautiful cheese platter is a treasure to behold. Don’t let me fool you, I haven’t perfected the art of assembly. In fact, I beat my self up for like an hour for cutting my Mango-Ginger Stilton in to square crumbles rather than leaving it in a wedge for my guests to cut themselves. (It’s a bad habit I have. I still get embarrassed that my voice cracked during an 8th grade choir solo. I KNOW! I need to get over it. I have issues.) However, I’ve included some tips I’ve picked up and some ideas from the experts (or at least a couple of people I admire).

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Here is a guide to make The Ultimate Cheese Plate from What’s Gaby Cooking. Her pictures are always stunning.

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Courtesy of What’s Gaby Cooking

I love that cheese board. I almost put out some dried fruit… and I would have loved to place an assortment of nuts on my trays, but my youngest son has a nut allergy. What’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you what I did, I avoided the risk. I appreciate how much she loaded the tray with variety too. My platters aren’t quite that full, mostly because I turned the whole table into a large assortment. But I did take note and try to vary ingredients on each plate; a fruit or olive or pickle, a cheese or two, a choice of cracker or dried bread or pita chip, etc.

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I think when making a cheese plate, it is important to show case several different cheeses, not just in flavor but in texture and style too. Naturally the amount of food is based on the number of guests. But even if you are only having a few people over, if you are having a “cheese board” you probably want to have a variety. Maybe a spreadable cheese, a hard sliced or cubed cheese and possibly a semi-soft cheese like a brie or a crumbled cheese. Of course, my favorite Smoky Cheese Ball makes an appearance at most of our gatherings (pecans included, it’s the one exception). Jessica Merchant from How Sweet Eats describes How to Make a Killer Cheese Plate with a few cheese ball recipes too.

Courtesy of How Sweet Eats

Courtesy of How Sweet Eats

I’m a fan of labeling the food for guests, especially when there are many to choose from. I suppose if it were a small gathering and we were all sitting together I might remember the names of all of the sausages, cheeses, crackers and what-have-you. But if there are more than two or three of each, I’d probably be hard pressed to rattle off the titles of all of them. They do manufacture some beautiful note cards, little chalkboards, and the like for such an occasion. A little creativity, i.e, legible penmanship, index cards cut into shapes, toothpicks and tape works too!

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Lastly, I love that Honestly Yum used fresh figs in their post, The Perfect Fall Cheese Platter. Doesn’t it just seem right? And look at that rustic plank cheese board! Swoon.

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Courtesy of Honestly Yum

Above all remember it’s all about good times with good friends! (I keep telling myself that too!)

 

A Surprise Party

Surprise parties are the best. Well, all parties have the potential to be the best. But surprise parties have the element of um, surprise so it’s like another level of excitement. Really, they can be easy to pull off too. In this case we are specifically referring to a birthday party, but the principles for all surprise parties remain the same. First you set the stage, or time and place, with an invitation to the guest of honor; at a restaurant or friend’s house, etc. so the one-to-be-surprised actually plans on being at the event. (*Because that person showing up is essential.) But be careful, you don’t want them to get suspicious.

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Picking the venue can take some thought, it’s got to accommodate the amount of people coming. And you have to take into consideration a plan to hide cars if you’re having it at someone’s house or even a restaurant. In this case, we (aka my sister and brother-in-law) booked a presidential suite at a hotel. Let me tell you why I love this idea, because you can set up ahead of time without being suspect. It’s yours for the evening. And I always love when you don’t have to stress about keeping the house clean. Then friends, family members and loved ones are waiting with ease! (As long as everyone can stick to the schedule and you do not have stragglers. Which reminds me, here’s a tip: If you’re to-be-surprised-one thinks dinner is at 7 pm, make sure all guests have arrived by 6:30 pm. If guests cannot accommodate that time (which is often understandable with work schedules and such) give them a second time option. The invitation might ask that the guests are there by 6:30 pm or after 8:00 pm (in case you are running late). You get the gist, do not sacrifice the surprise. The guest of honor has to be none-the-wiser.

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Ok, this is my favorite part, and is only available if time permits. Plan part of the day. If you know your to-be-surprised-one is going to have a fabulous shindig later in the day get them ready to be fabulous; that way they are comfortable at their own party!

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Now, this might not always work, which is understandable. So, it might just mean letting guest of honor believe they are going to a nice dinner, so they can dress appropriately. Whatever the occasion think ahead. If your surprise includes jet skis, make sure to pack their swimsuit, and so on.

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Next of course, food and drinks… think it through. In this scenario our important guests were mostly under the age of ten, hamburgers, french fries, cheese and crackers, mac n’ cheese bites and chicken fingers worked nicely. If you’re doing the cooking, you’re a champ. Just remember this; catering can be an affordable option- especially with a large crowd.

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We love kid parties. The kids really give us so much joy… so when they’re happy- we are, like, beaming. Mostly the idea is to wow your guest of honor, right? If you are going through the fuss of the surprise, make it count! Surround them with the ones they love, and the ones that love them!

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So more ideas:

  • Signage

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  • Balloons

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  • Cake

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  • Confetti

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  • Photo Ops (I <3 photo ops!!!)

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  • Nail the surprise! Hide, hush, and “Happy Birthday!”

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  • Wardrobe change (totally optional, but a lot of fun 😉 )

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  • Just have fun! But not too much fun…

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Hannah’s Birthday Tea Party

Firstly I need to apologize for not bringing a nice camera to Hannah’s first birthday party; to her family- because my photos do not do it justice, and to my readers- because my photos do not do it justice. Phew! Now that is out of the way.


We were invited to the most lovely tea party the other afternoon to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of the birth of our dear friends’ daughter Hannah. The event was stunning! It included a beautiful backyard tent and a vast assortment of delicacies…


It was hard to contain our excitement.

tea sandwiches, dainty scones and sugar cookies,

darling pots of tea and tea cups,

a gorgeous cake,

a wonderful hosting family,

and great memories to share.

I wish everyday had a tea party…


So we could have our cake,


and eat it too!

Simple Summer Entertaining

It occurs to me that I haven’t contributed to my entertaining section of my blog in a while. And although I haven’t hosted any major gatherings lately, there have been several little ones. So here are some tips for those awesome summer days that turn into impromptu gatherings. I just love this time of year. 

1. Invite (or cordially accept) your friends over. Maybe the people you hung out with on the 4th of July? You probably like them.

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2. Whether you are sending out informal invites (phone calls or texts) or the neighborhood has migrated to your back yard, serve snacks. Everyone wants to eat- usually right away, and in my experience often all day. Keep corn chips and salsa on hand at all times. (If you happen to have avocados, tomatoes, onions and seasonings, a little guacamole is a fun seasonal treat.) Of course most kids (and adults) I know are happy with Doritos too.

3. The same goes with drinks. Sure it’s nice to have a cooler full of chilled pop (or whatever you like). If you have the time to stock up on beverages great! Maybe you have a limited budget? Hey, no worries, it’s just nice to be together… but at least serve water… iced is even better… and if you have time for lemon or limeade, they’re just classic.

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4. Just add water. In the northern midwest we have a short season where it is desirable to be wet while we are outside. I like to take full advantage of it. You don’t have to have a pool or pond or lake… The kids I know are happy with a sprinkler or slip ‘n slide or good old fashioned balloon fight!

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5. Now you are not obligated by any means to feed everyone a meal unless you have said you would, but I can’t imagine another way. If you’re not prepared, it’s always fun to order pizza. I think it’s a good idea to keep hot dogs and buns on hand all summer long. We’ve had parties where everyone brings their own meat (and/or veggie patties) to grill which can be fun too. Of course it’s always a winner when you put burgers and brats over the flame. Can you smell the summer in the air?

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6. The fun is not over until you serve something sweet. It can be cheap and store bought. It can be thoughtfully homemade. My suggestion? Make it something that’s going to melt. Popsicles or ice cream cones… Sticky chins and drips down shirts are what memories are made of this time of year.

 

A Birthday in Jurassic Park

The only problem with having a birthday in Jurassic Park is… the dinosaurs! Aaaah! Run for your lives!

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Okay, don’t be frightened. It’s actually just a cardboard cutout, and you (or the birthday boy) can totally pretend that you are about to punch it in the face.

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It was a group effort to turn my nephew’s home into a Jurassic World. My sister does an amazing job making her ideas become a reality. She, along with her husband, work really hard to make their kids birthday dreams come true. I wish I could say I contributed. (But if you remember, I just got home from vacation and didn’t even have milk in my house…) Needless to say, I was completely useless. But I do know how to appreciate (and photograph) the details!

  

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My dad made the awesome “Jurassic Park” sign over the door. My mother, inspired by Pinterest, made dinosaur bones from marshmallows, pretzels, and white chocolate; she baked sugar cookie “fossils” imprinted with dinosaur tracks; and she painted an umbrella to replicate that crazy dinosaur (the Dilophosaurus) that everyone (or just I) thought was harmless and then it let out that terrible screech and the head fans out and it spits acid at Newman from Seinfeld. Scary.

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It was just protecting the Dino Juice… and it’s eggs. Muwahhahaha. (That’s my maniacal laugh.)

 

There really wasn’t a detail left undone. From the vines hanging from the chandelier to the dinosaur salivating over the food table, for the moment we were all transported to another time.

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A time with danger lurking around every corner… or hanging on every wall.

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On a side note, I think it’s adorable that my nephew requests cheesecake for his birthday. I mean, you might as well have something you’re going to enjoy… If you can get it out of the cage.

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Whew! That was dangerous, but I got a piece.

And I’d like to thank every dinosaur big and small who made an appearance. The birthday bash was a roaring success. (Get it? I’m so funny.)

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Happy Birthday Jude!

Flavor Your Water

Once upon a time, I worked at an upscale day spa. It was a gorgeous relaxation facility with all sorts of estheticians, massage therapists, nail techs, hair stylists and lavish beauty products. As I possess none of those professional skills, I was a part of guest services. And the best thing I took with me when I left (since I couldn’t take any people) was the tips on flavor-infused waters. We would select a different water filled with freshly prepared fruits, and occasionally vegetables, daily to serve in the lounging area. Of course they could be as well known as lemon-lime, containing vibrant round slices of green and yellow, but my favorites were the simple and oh-so refreshing cucumber water and the watermelon water with pure pink cubes of sweetness.

Lately I’ve been seeing so many more creative blends. What a great presentation they make when entertaining guests, and how fun to come up with flavors that complement your meal! As an added bonus, you can feel good about serving your loved ones a flavorful option that doesn’t include any added refined sugar, artificial flavors or colors. That is so nice of you!

Pictured above is just an easy addition of frozen blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to iced water. Here are a few more I’ve found for us to try…

An inspiring youtube video from Honeysuckle Catering I originally saw on Facebook: 8 Ways to drink more Water

From SkinnyMe Tea courtesy of Pinterest:

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Bakin’ Bacon

Have you tried baking your bacon yet? I’m sure by now you’ve seen a chef on Food Network do it, if you haven’t tried yourself. I remember watching the Barefoot Contessa layer it across a rack fitted into a baking sheet years ago. In one of my favorite cookbooks, Seriously Delish by Jessica Merchant, she has a whole paragraph in her introduction titled “Bake Yo’ Bacon”. Let me be the first to say, I am quick to stand by the old school method of frying it up in a pan. And now that I’ve said that let me also say, you are going to love baking it in the oven.

The first time I tasted “baked” bacon was at a brunch party. The hostess had cut the bacon pieces in half lengthwise and baked them into a chewy crispy combination of perfection. The first time I tried doing it myself, I was responsible for bring 5 pounds of cooked bacon to a breakfast bar themed menu for my son’s school party. I didn’t have time to stand in front of the stove and get dressed before having to make and serve my bacon obligation. And that was it, I gave it a try. And then it was: “why haven’t I done this sooner?”

So here is my first entertaining tip: If you need to make a surplus of bacon for a crowd, or your stove top is loaded with pots and pans and you still need to make that bacon, or your just not in the mood to stand in front of a burner because you’d rather be sitting down and drinking your coffee… Bake it!

Barefoot Contessa suggests placing it on a rack first, Jessica Merchant suggests lining your baking sheet with aluminum foil. I just jam it on there… a method for everyone. The rest of the instructions are about the same. Preheat the oven to 375° and bake for 20-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the bacon. And save your fat! Pour it into a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. (Great for biscuits, cornbread…)

How to Have a Last Minute Potty Party

Well if you time it right, you can potty train your child right in time for Super Bowl weekend; which could make things absolutely pun-tastic! If you’re anything like me, by the time your third kid comes along, you’re planning has mostly resorted to a last minute now-or-never wave of effort. I literally think we finished the nursery the week of his arrival. (And don’t get me started on number four, who is already one with an unfinished nursery.) By now, we already know things will turn out fine… the biggest concern during my pregnancy was about what we were going to drive- that could accommodate all of the carseats.

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But finally my Elijah, baby number three is potty-trained and it was time to celebrate. Admittedly we’re a little over-the-top with our celebrations… but life is too short not to celebrate everything from the mundane to the mile stones! And because I am not above bribery to my children (or “incentives” if you will), I promised a party, with a cake, and presents when the diapers were off… A Potty Party! So you send out a few invitations to your closest friends and family, to let them know the moment has arrived. It’s a last minute thing really, because you have to strike while the iron is hot- you have to go with the momentum.  The texted invites have been sent! (No time for snail mail in a moment like this).

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Then, since you’ve had a couple days to prepare but haven’t called about the promised cake, you swing by the supermarket to try and pick up an undecorated cake… because he wants lightsabers on his cake, and you’re like “Cool, I’ll pick up a couple edible gel pens and make some lines and call them lightsabers, because I’m just glad everyone’s teeth are brushed and hair is combed, and we’re out the door.” But your awesome supermarket has a Star Wars cake for sale in the showcase because your timely son has chosen something that all kids want right now and happens to be readily available. Score!

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Now, you’re winging it remember, so don’t worry about making a reservation at your local Chuck E. Cheese. You never have a problem walking in anyway! That is until you realize that everyone in town has a party planned this weekend, and your particular Chuck E. Cheese has a record setting 25 parties on the same day. Ok, keep it cool, this isn’t your first rodeo. Find the first available open table, that’s where you are putting your awesome cake and setting a meeting point. The kids aren’t going to be sitting for long anyway. You split up the team, and have someone go order pizzas, drinks and tokens right away; because it’s going to take a while to get that food. You pass out those tokens and let the kids play, because that’s why we’re here!

Greet your loving and accommodating friends and family as they arrive. And if you were five minutes late to your own party, thank the ones who are already there and apologize for your lack of organization. Make sure to give them plenty of tokens and please ask them to go enjoy themselves! As adjacent tables open up to the one you’ve managed to snag, grab ’em. You’ll be ready for all to eat by the time the pizza is done.

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When the pizza arrives send out any messengers available, including yourself, to get the word out. Rendez-vouz back at the table to feed the hungry crowd. It’s also a good time to open presents, since everyone is gathered. (But that’s not how I did it, I let them off as soon as they were finished eating; because the kids were still excited and wanted to play more. Then I had a second rounding up, as some of my guest needed to leave but wanted to see Elijah open his gifts. So that is merely a suggestion from experience, but if you’re still flying by the seat of your “big kid” pants, you just keep going with your own flow.)

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Lastly, reward your child with presents. Sure some people use sticker charts and M & M’s, but not us. You got to do what works for you. And look at that face. That’s a proud big kid! He did it! Hurray! Let your guests play and eat until the food is gone and the tokens are out. Congratulations, you pulled it off! Three down and one to go! (But who’s planning?)

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