Monday, November 2, 2015

Celebrate Sixty

So as previously mentioned in my last post, I threw mom a party for her 60th birthday.
It was small, but it was mighty! haha In my opinion, small parties are better than large ones because you can really get into the details and pull together a lot of things that aren't manageable with a large gathering.

DECOR
I found a gorgeous tablescape photo utilizing eucalyptus as the table runner and I fell in love with it. I wanted to re-create it for this party, but with a few additional enhancements. Considering it's October, eucalyptus was a good choice because it is in season and really, does not depend on the freshness of any full blossoms.

Place setting with napkin, menu, and place card.
I had originally planned to have some ruscus with fresh white flower blossoms cascading off the top of the cake, but the flowers I got from the florist were very disappointing. It's SO hard to get those gorgeous ranunculus/peony/garden rose/ etc type flowers for a fall event. I ended up just lining the base with eucalyptus leaves since I needed to cover up the ugly cake round anyway.
FOOD

Now I tend to go overboard with these type things and this party was no exception. Even though it was a luncheon, I wanted to create a full fall menu, really capitalizing on all the scrumptious fall flavors. By far the most challenging aspect of this was timing. Timing grocery shopping so the items I needed fresh remained that way, timing what dishes to make ahead of time, timing my oven space, all so everything was hot and ready promptly at 12:15.

In case you wanna pull off something similar and feel ill-equipped, here are my most useful OCD tips. Warning: If you are not organized and hate operating in a scheduled manner, avoid taking on this task and cater your event. :)

1. The grocery shopping. I made a spreadsheet outlining each dish, listing all the ingredients needed for each one. I then color-coded it based on items I already had, items I could buy in advance, and items I needed to buy fresh the day before. (I told you this was OCD, so you were warned.) Doing the bulk of it ahead of time relieves a lot of stress when you are trying to find various specialty items such as sparkling apple cider and pomegranate arils. Since I was working late Friday and we were going out to dinner for mom's actual birthday night, I did not have time to mess around hunting for ingredients. Also, at the bottom of each recipe I listed out the oven temp and cook time so I could create my baking plan of attack. This was super critical in pulling everything off in the time frame I needed to. I literally listed out the time in 15 min increments and wrote exactly what I needed to be doing, what needed to be in the oven, and the expected time it would be done.

2. The menu. I did two appetizers, four dishes for the main lunch, one bread, and three desserts. I made everything except for two of the desserts - the cowboy bark (mom's favorite from Trader Joe's) and the official birthday cake. I really debated making the cake myself, but I am SO glad I had Highland Bakery do it instead because it was one less thing I had to worry about the night before.

The menu turned out quite lovely, so if you are interested in making any of the dishes, here's where you can find the recipes.

Smoked Gouda Pumpkin Dip 
(This item I made the night before and refrigerated. Just dress with the cheese, pepper, and bacon right before serving.)

Spiced Pear and Pomegranate Crostinis
These are SO good and a lovely fall/holiday twist on bruschetta.

Spinach Salad 
(I just threw in some dried fruit, apple chips, feta cheese, and candied walnuts. Making candied walnuts is very easy and all you need is sugar and butter. Dressings were a light champagne and a raspberry walnut.)

Pecan-crusted Chicken
This Emerill recipe has been a family favorite for years. I use tenders instead of a whole chicken and they turn out perfect.

Butternut Cheese Pie 
One of my favs! I originally found this recipe in a Cooking Light magazine and it has been with me ever since! Don't be scared by working with phyllo dough, it's actually really easy. Also, I do not include the bulgur and it's still delish.

Sweet Potato Stacks 
These serve up great, but it is easy to burn the bottom trying to get the stack crispy. Use parchment paper on the cookie sheet or in addition to paper muffin cups.

Cheesy Garlic Bread 
Turned out really good, but in the future I MIGHT skip the dijon.

Mini Caramel Apple Trifles

These were awesome! I bought small, 4 oz jars to serve up these little sweet treats. I was surprised how easy it was to make the whipped topping which tasted sooooo much better than buying gross artificial topping. However, if you are going to buy pre-made caramel, I highly suggest using a piping bag to avoid big, ugly clumps of caramel on your granola. Piping the whipped topping also helps create a more finished dish.

Cowboy bark and cake were bought.

Sometimes creating a really diverse menu is uber challenging to me, but this one turned out great and I was really happy with everything.

FUN

1. The mocktail.
Even though mom does not drink alcohol, I wanted to have a special beverage to toast her big day. This "autumn chiller" was a great fall cocktail, accented with fresh cranberries. To make, simply mix 1 part orange juice, 2 parts ginger beer, and 3 parts sparkling apple cider.

2. Flower crown.
You're never too old for a flower crown! Flower crowns are really popular right now and given the leafy tablescape I wanted mom to have somethin' special as the bday girl. My MIL was my lifesaver (yet again) and crafted her crown with fresh eucalyptus and hydrangea. It turned out great!
3. Sparklers
Nothing says "it's party time" quite like sparklers. This was the first time I had used them on a cake and they were so cute! If you decide to go this route in the future, my suggestion would be to have two lighters lighting both numbers simultaneously so they burn at the same time.

All in all, a great time was had by all and mom felt truly celebrated. The best part for me was coming downstairs after a hot bath and finding my house completely clean and back to pre-party status! Thanks mom, Al, and Cindy for serving me in this way so I could re-coop after my hostessing duties. I really appreciated it cause it's way more fun to make the mess than it is to clean it up! haha

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