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80th Birthday Party

My Grandmother is turning 80 in November, and we recently threw a birthday celebration for her and 60 of her local friends. My family planned and coordinated the entire event, with everyone pitching in to make food, and my brother and cousin acting as bartenders. I created the event theme, which allowed me to tie everything together – from the handmade invitations and decor, to the event signage, all the way down to the napkins and plates, I tried to make sure it was a cohesive event that represented the fun, slightly quirky, guest-of-honor.

We rented a 15×30 ft tent to make sure we’d have a dry place if it rained, and also used one of the buildings on my family’s property that previously housed a local shellfishing business. Being able to have the party in a place with so much family history and character really added to the event.

To decorate the tent, I made large tissue paper pom-poms in shades of pink, red and orange to tie in with the floral theme of the invitations. They added a punch of color to the ceiling, and looked pretty as they swayed with the breeze.

The centerpieces for the tables were wreathes of paper flowers. Some of the wreaths held a single glass hurricane and candle, and some larger ones had a set of three in various heights and sizes. Each table had a slightly different centerpiece, which added depth to the decorations, and the colors really stood out against white tablecloths. I made the wreaths by creating small crepe paper flowers of different sizes and colors and adhering them to cardboard ring bases. They turned out exactly as I hoped, adding a punch of color to the tables with a simple, elegant design.

Food was very important to me for the party – I wanted everything to be bite size, require no utensils, and be a little different than “normal” finger food. We also had a bar with wine, beer, sodas and juice, as well as the star of the show – the “mimi.” The mimi was our specialty cocktail, per request of my grandmother, (who we all call Mimi) which was a strawberry basil margarita.

We had a nice blend of fresh, sweet and savory treats, from individual dip cups with crudites (I loved these and will be making them for other occasions – so cute and easy!) and fruit kabobs….

…to cranberry, turkey and arugula wraps, cucumber and herb tea sandwiches…

…and wonderful sweets including snickerdoodles, fudge brownies, blonde brownies, and raspberry pecan crumb bars.

The food turned out great, and looked so pretty arranged on white plates of various sizes. We were able to cut nice bite-sized pieces of the baked goods by freezing them in large blocks after baking, and slicing while frozen right before the event.

I wanted to tie the invitation into the party itself, and I was able to incorporate the paper I used for the liners in the envelopes into signage for the guest book and specialty cocktail. We asked all of the guests to write a little note on 4×6 paper in various shades of pink, orange, and coral. We are combining these notes with photos of the event into a special album for my grandmother to remember her party!

Because 80 is such a milestone, I wanted to include some pictures of my grandmother through the years. I set up a little vignette inside the “Shuckin’ House” (as we fondly call the building which previously housed the shellfish business) complete with antique frames, vintage signage I found already on the shelves, buoys, and a little clothesline to display more photos. I loved the mix of vintage and modern, and the mini clothespins looked so cute! Everyone enjoyed looking at the photos and reminiscing, so it made a fun stopping point on the way to the bar.

The bar set up ended up being one of my favorite parts of the event – I used a table that is always in the Shuckin’ House and is usually covered in oyster bags, waders, and fishing lines. It was so fun to clean it up and see it used in a different way. The table itself is gorgeous – it has a metal top with a beautiful patina, and was used by my great-grandfather when he was in the shellfishing business. We set up galvanized buckets in white and silver with ice and drinks, and my brother and cousin helped pour beer, wine, and the specialty cocktail.

We all had a wonderful time celebrating 80 years – my grandmother looked beautiful, we had perfect weather, and everyone enjoyed visiting and chatting. It was a great event, and I think all of the decor and food turned out just how we had all hoped.

Here’s to many more celebrations!

Black & White Easter Eggs

Happy Easter! I’m so pleased warm weather is coming back, and looking forward to celebrating Easter with my family. Every year I try a new egg project, and this year ended up being one of my favorites.

I blew out a dozen white eggs (with a little help) and then decorated each with a different black and white pattern. I used two thicknesses of sharpie, and made an effort to vary techniques and visual weights for each pattern.

I think the overall effect is clean and modern, with a little bit of whimsy from the less-than-perfect hand drawn patterns. I’ve never been one for fussy patterns or pastels, so these are just my taste for holiday decorations.

I think these will look nice beyond Easter and I look forward to figuring out what to do with them next!

Bridal Shower Menu

When asked to be my cousin’s maid of honor, one of the first things on my mind was throwing the perfect bridal shower. I knew I’d have to find the right blend of classic and modern, comfortable and elegant, and of course – plan the perfect menu to please all of the guests. In a wonderful stroke of luck, the “classic” element took care of itself, after locating the perfect historical venue in the small New England town we both grew up in. With the addition of some clean and modern decorations, and some personal touches, the location and ambiance were taken care of.

Then came the food.

Clearly, I wasn’t about to let control of the event be handed over to someone else, so I took on all of the menu planning, food prep, and presentation myself. I wanted everything to be perfect.

It was an afternoon shower, so I wanted to serve “tea-type” food, with a seasonal twist. It was important to me to make the menu personal and add an element of comfort, rather than sticking with a very traditional high-tea menu.

The savory dishes included the following:

  • Harvest Chicken Salad sandwiches with toasted pecans and dried cranberries, served on mini croissant rolls

    Chicken salad is always featured at our family gatherings, so it was a must-have for the shower. I used my grandmother’s usual recipe, but dressed it up with toasted pecans, dried cranberries and celery for crunch. The mini croissant rolls ended up being the perfect size, and I thought they were a little more elegant than traditional rolls.

  • English Cucumber Sandwiches with herbed cheese spread

    Again, a must-have for afternoon tea. These were a favorite, and I thought they came out really well. The two key steps for success with this simple sandwich: buy the right bread (I got this “very thin” white bread after trying three different ones) and slicing the cucumbers thin enough. I also mixed Boursin cheese with plain cream cheese and my own blend of spices to get the spread just right.

  • Cranberry Apple chutney with golden raisins, served with triple creme brie on water crackers

    I made my own chutney with fresh apples, cranberries and golden raisins, cooked down with a little brown sugar, a splash of orange juice and some cayenne pepper for heat. With the triple creme brie, it was the perfect combination of sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy.

  • Roasted butternut squash and pears with honey goat cheese, served in phyllo dough cups

    These simple treats we so pretty and colorful, and a perfect nod to the season. I roasted off small cubes of butternut squash and pears, and filled toasted phyllo dough cups with the mixture, finally topping them with honey goat cheese.

On to the sweet stuff (clearly the favorite):

  • Spiced pumpkin bread with cream cheese and candied walnuts

    Another nod to the season – I made my family’s favorite pumpkin bread, filled with lots of cinnamon and ginger, and baked it in a jelly roll pan to get the right thickness. After cutting small rounds out of the cooked bread, I piped cream cheese in a lovely swirl, and topped each off with a hand-caramelized walnut half made with brown sugar and cinnamon.

  • Carrot cake with cream cheese icing

  • Raspberry shortbread bars

    This was actually one of my favorites, and was a new recipe which I’m surprised to say I found on the Land o’Lakes website of all places. It was buttery (shocking) and sweet, but not too crumbly. And so easy!

  • Chewy butter toffee cookies

  • Snickerdoodles

I thought that the presentation was almost as important as the food, so I used modern white platters with variable heights. Multiple sizes of cake stands were very helpful for this, and also made it possible to fit all of the food in the allotted space on the rather small table. I used mixed patterns of family china for guest dishes to again add an element of comfort and elegance, with a but of whimsy.

For drinks, I set up a coffee and tea bar, with an assortment of choices, and also provided a signature bellini made with pear and cranberry.

Printed cards with a visual motif pulled in from the stationery and signage for the event helped identify the dishes, and fluffy tissue paper flowers added a modern touch to the space.

Overall, it was a lot of work to pull off the event, particularly the food, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. It turned out beautiful, and everyone seemed right at home the entire time. A very happy celebration for the bride!