how to

Quick Guide to a Maid of Honor Budget

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them I will receive compensation at no additional cost to you.

Ready to really look at your maid of honor budget? I have to warn you, it’s going to be scary. You might not like what you see. Let me go ahead and tell you now, the average amount of money a maid of honor spends on a wedding is a little over $2000. Yep. $2000 and you aren’t even the one walking down the aisle. Kind of a bummer, right? It’s okay though. I’ve got this all figured out for you. A while back I mentioned I’d been a maid of honor three times already and had two more times upcoming. Well, those two upcoming weddings have both been canceled (one for a happy reason, one not, if you’re nosy), but I was already planning the parties so I might as well share what I know.

You may have noticed that in general I’m less concerned with cost than I am with time. That’s not because I’m not good at budgeting. My husband and I met working at a bank. I’ve also worked in financial aid, and I’m currently a bookkeeper, so I know where my money goes. I just get really, really frustrated when people ask for my help getting their budgets together and then  completely ignore me. But, I figure in this case I will never know if you stick to your maid of honor budget or not. So I will pretend you all walk away from this not spending a dime more than you meant to. Hooray! Now let’s get to everyone’s favorite topic: math.

Know Your Responsibilities

Okay, MOHs. Have you already said yes? Did you do so before or after checking on what all your bride expected? This is super important for your maid of honor budget, and if you got really swept up in the moment and said yes right away, you might be in trouble. Let’s get a list going. You’ve got to buy your dress, any accessories the bride wants to force upon you, pay for your hair and makeup if she demands it, throw a bridal shower, travel if it’s out of town, buy gifts for both the shower and the wedding, and, of course, throw the bachelorette party. That’s a lot, right? Less than the men spend. Their average is only about $1300. Still crazy, but not as high as it is for the ladies.

Maid of Honor Budget

I have attached a worksheet  above to help you get started. Go ahead and look at it. The first column is the average spent per item, not anything to do with your actual maid of honor budget. But, the unfortunate thing is your bride isn’t going to know how much she wants you to spend on a lot of this stuff up front. She should know if she’s having a destination wedding (you’ll obviously know if you live in different places), and she’ll probably already have thought about dresses and bachelorette parties, but she’s not going to hand you a guide to all of it, unless she’s Bridezilla, in which case you should run now. So, when you first start planning, I would estimate high on the things you don’t control, like the dress. Then pick the total you want to spend and spread it out from there.

Start with a General Maid of Honor Budget

Did you pick your total? Good. I’m not going to give you a specific number here because I don’t know your budget. You might be able to throw away $5,000 for funsies, but maybe you’ve got $500 max. You have to decide what works best for you and your wallet. Now, if you only have $500, you should make your bride aware of that right now. Seriously, right now, go call her. I forbid you to go into debt for the most important day of someone else’s life. Most likely your bride will either get you some help or agree to some money-saving items somewhere. I can’t help you if she doesn’t. I’ve never met an unreasonable bride. Seriously, I haven’t. I know they exist, but in my experience it’s always been more important to have the people we love around us than to have matching $300 wedding shoes.

Now that you’ve decided on a number, you can break it down. If you have to travel, add that in first. It’s non-negotiable for the wedding, so if you need flights check Google flights or Southwest to get an idea. I monitor flights all the time with Airfare Watchdog, and you could try that for a couple of weeks to see what you’re looking at, even if you aren’t ready to buy. I’ve been getting their alerts for years, and honestly, there’s not a lot of variance. Summer travel is more expensive. So are Fridays and Sundays. If you see a really good deal, you book it, and if not at least you know the cost. Gifts will run you at least $100. Whatever’s left, split between your bridal shower and bachelorette.

The Bridal Shower

Do you really have to throw a bridal shower? I don’t know. I didn’t throw one for my sister. It didn’t make sense to. She lived in California, I lived in Nevada, my parents lived in Tennessee, her in-laws lived in Arkansas, and the rest of our family was in North Carolina. It would have been a very small shower, so we skipped it. For one I did a combination shower/bachelorette. So I’ve actually only thrown one separate bridal shower. My own MOHs (yes, I had two) threw me a surprise one the weekend of my bachelorette party, but I never asked for one or expected it. I think this kind of depends on your age and your distance from family. Typically this is the thing moms want to go to, but young friends don’t care as much.

If you are throwing one,  you need to ask if the bride’s family will be helping you. If you’re the bride’s sister, it’s a good bet, but iffy otherwise. Some mother-of-the brides want their hand in everything, others would get annoyed if they had to participate. I wound up being able to use the MOTB’s house.  She cooked all the food, while I brought all the games and prizes. If it turns out you’re co-hosting or the family is splitting it with you, you can half your budget. If you’re on your own, it is what it is. You can DIY most things and cook on the cheap if you need to. But, if you’re printing out a bunch of games and using your own ink, it might be cheaper to buy them. Etsy has some, but you can get a bundle like this on Amazon.

The Bachelorette Party

You need to know as soon as possible – will you be traveling for the bachelorette party? If so, your maid of honor budget just exploded. The good news is you are not responsible for paying everyone’s travel costs. That would be insane. If none of the other bridesmaids can afford it, you shouldn’t be traveling. You can split the cost for things like gas, hotels, and meals. Unfortunately, you’re still going to be in charge of any decor, snacks for the party, games, and activity costs for both you and the bride. The other girls might offer to help and it’s fine if you take them up on it, but you shouldn’t expect it and you need to budget up front.

If you’re not traveling, you’ll likely have a bigger crew to entertain, but cut out the hotel costs. You’ll still need to come up with a transportation plan if you’re all drinking. If you’re going out on the town, it’s reasonable for the girls to pick up their own bar tabs. If you’re staying in, you’ll be expected to provide the libations and food. One other consideration is the ever so popular bachelorette party shirt. If your bride really wants them, I say get them, but you need to get that money up front from the other girls. Otherwise you might wind up with thirty shirts you don’t need. Also, you know I’m not a fan of decorating anyway, but the dollar store is more about bridal showers than bachelorette parties, so if you’re budget doesn’t allow, just skip it. But, don’t forget a sash for the bride.

Adding it up

Let’s check out that maid of honor budget worksheet again. We’ve got five columns. You don’t need to do anything with the first two. I used what I could find for the averages, but I did have to do a little bit of guesswork. Research showed the average total was $2062 and my guesswork gave me $2053, so we’re at least in the ballpark. One note, I put travel costs on bridal shower, but not bachelorette. If you have to travel for a bridal shower, you should plan for the bachelorette at the same time so you don’t pay for transport twice. If you’re traveling for the bachelorette but not the bridal shower, you can use the activities column to estimate your costs.

Okay, so now the important columns. For the third, you’re going to work backwards. You already picked your budget right? Go through and estimate your costs so that they add up to your budget.  It’s a good idea to estimate high on all the major purchases, like the dress and shoes. Then once you actually start buying things, you can use the fourth column. Once that’s somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 filled out, redo your estimates on the remaining items. If you managed to estimate high on all the first purchases, you can always up the budget for the parties or gifts. If you’d rather save your money and those parties seem to be staying within your maid of honor budget, you save money. Hooray!

 

 

style sneakers

How to Make Easy 4th of July Table Decorations

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them I will receive compensation at no additional cost to you.

First, let me say if you want really easy 4th of July table decorations, go buy out the Dollar Store’s patriotic section. It’s there, trust me.  I do acknowledge that pre-made things already exist. But, like I talked about last week with simple red, white and blue foods, sometimes you want to participate in all the crafting fun the world has to offer. In this case, we’re going to go red, white and blue again, but instead of using twenty-five million tiny American flags, we’re going to look at the fastest ways to get junk on your table and make people think you’re creative.

The first rule of easy 4th of July table decorations is to keep it really simple. Why are you decorating your table at all? Probably because it’s going to have food on it, right? That, or you’ll be eating on it. Either way, if you cover the entire thing with decorations, you’re going to run out of room. I love looking at those beautiful tables from professional party planners, but they’re always so crowded. We don’t need a whole garden or miniature Revolutionary Battle field to feel festive. The second rule? Don’t stress too much. My Easter brunch table took me literally five minutes, without thinking, and it got lots of compliments. Sometimes I think busy people get graded on a curve, and I am totally okay with that.

Ideas for Easy 4th of July Table Decorations

The Tablecloth

Real frenzied hostesses don’t care about smoothing it out. 🙂

I’m not really a fan of the flag tablecloths, if I’m being honest. Too busy. You can probably find really nice reusable ones with less busy patterns, and maybe I’ll add that to my future goals, but right now my toddler likes to sit on the table and make a mess after everyone leaves. I’d rather throw said mess away. So, to start your easy 4th of July table decorations, you might as well start with some plastic tablecloths. That’s right, plural. Instead of picking one color and running with it, grab yourself one red, one white, and one blue. This will add a little patriotic splash without going overboard, and then you can use only one color of plates and silverware (or all patriotic ones) without feeling like you’re missing something.

The only issue here might be positioning. In theory, you should be fine to spread the three colors out evenly. That’s the easiest way, of course, and it’ll give you a nice balanced look. But, it is going to look a little like France’s flag if you go with blue, white, red. Okay, not a little. It’s going to look exactly like France’s flag. If your friends no nothing about foreign countries, that won’t matter. If they’re the type to call you out on it, you can point out France was our ally during the Revolutionary War. Or, you could simply put the colors in a different order. You can see from the picture that I did the red and white horizontally and the blue vertically. It took zero extra work. If you’re worried about overhang, just don’t unfold them all the way. Even easier.

Flowers

Fanciest flower arrangement ever, probably.

If I had time and energy, I would scour supermarket flowers until I found red, white and blue bouquets. That might be easy when it’s actually the 4th of July, I don’t know. I’ve never tried it before. I can tell you it’s definitely not easy in the beginning of June. You don’t necessarily need to get only red, white and blue. I mean, you can get a few different bouquets and pull out the ones you want, or just use colors that are close. Red is going to be easy. It’s the other two that are the problem.  There are probably plenty of blue and white flowers at a florist, but I can’t be bothered to go to a florist.

Luckily, there is always another option for flowers. That is, of course, fake flowers. Fake, fake, fake. I don’t even try looking for ones that seem realistic. They’re easy 4th of July tablecloth decorations, not your wedding centerpieces. You can buy a set of white, a set of blue, and a set of red, or you can find those specially made patriotic bunches. Then stuff them in a vase. You don’t need anything in the vase, even if it’s clear glass. But, if you’re scared of people seeing the fake stems, I’ve got one more idea for you.

Red, White and Blue Anything

No need to buy frosted glass vases when you have a paper bag to the rescue!

Great idea, am I right?  You can go to the dollar store and buy some of those balloon weights. They’re fancy. You can get yourself a cupcake stand and put the patriotic cupcakes you made in there, then stand it up like the beautiful centerpiece it deserves to be. Got some red, white and blue socks lying around? Get really crazy (and a little unsanitary) and throw those on there too. Who cares? What’s really important is what food you’re putting on the table, not what you’re decorating it with.

For the record, I don’t actually recommend socks as your easy 4th of July table decorations. I’m going with paper bags, no joke. They’re the kind I’m sure less busy people turn into luminaries or something, but they’ll just be hanging out on my table… with vases of fake flowers in them. Simple, right? It hides the fakeness of the stems while adding a little festiveness. You could also put the bags by themselves, or line them up. I tried all those ideas, but you are going to have to excuse my photography this week. I’m getting ready for maternity leave, so I’m extra swamped right now. I had about five minutes to get good shots, and it turns out I couldn’t do it. But hey, I could get the stuff on the table, so now you know they really are easy 4th of July table decorations.

Final Thoughts

You can wave your flag inside if you want – but please don’t serve food on it.

I know I’m a very busy person, but even if you’re not, don’t feel like you have to design a party people will talk about for years. Let’s face it, the only way you’re going to pull that off is if someone accidentally sets himself on fire. While that is pretty common, it shouldn’t be our goal. Out of my 31 4th of July holidays, I can only remember the decor from one of them, and that is because it was the first time I hosted the barbecue myself.  That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to make a party look good. It just means you don’t have to stress about it. And finally, if you only have time for one decoration, skip the whole table and wave your American flag. Yes, of course they’re available on Amazon.  Plus, it comes with a bonus: You can use it all year!

how to

4 Easy Red, White and Blue Party Foods

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them I will receive compensation at no additional cost to you.

Easy red, white and blue party foods seem like they’d be a dime a dozen, don’t they? The 4th of July is a major American holiday, and we also have things like Memorial Day and Veterans Day where we abandon all meaning and focus on burgers and other foods that have nothing to do with combat.  Okay, so we don’t all abandon the meaning – I personally live with a Marine who did three tours in Iraq, so our family does some actual memorializing on those other days. But no one knows anyone from the Revolutionary War, so if you want to focus on easy red, white and blue party foods instead of that guy who killed the other guy with a musket, no one’s going to judge you. Yet, it feels like our guests really will judge us for not having food shaped like an American flag, doesn’t it?

I’m positive this whole nonsense with color coordinated food became a thing because of Pinterest. As much as I think it’s nonsense, though, I kind of love it. It’s festive, right? But here’s my problem. I think my definition of easy is different than other people’s. I need a dish that’s going to be ready to go in five minutes. Earlier today I read an article that was supposed to be “last-minute” 4th of July ideas. Then it had Rice Krispie Treats prepared with Popsicle sticks dunked in frosting and sprinkled. What?! That’s not last minute.  And what’s the deal with dipping ice cream sandwiches in sprinkles? Seriously, who leaves ice cream sandwiches sitting out? Ug. This is why I have to post these obvious easy red, white and blue party foods ideas – so we busy hostesses can participate without getting carried away.

Ice Cream Cups with Red and Blue Fruit

Pro-tip: Ignore what I’m writing and use patriotic sprinkles on everything instead.

This is my take on all the colorful 4th of July desserts I could find on Pinterest. I don’t disagree the other ones aren’t easy; it’s more that they’re time consuming. Do you know what I’m going to be doing the week before the 4th of July this year? Giving birth. So I feel like there’s a good chance I’m not going to want to hang out in the kitchen. But my family will probably wind up over here since it’s easier than me packing up the kids and dogs and going there, so I’ll attempt to have some sort of sustenance. The gist of this idea is to skip skewering and lining up anything. I admire people who have the patience to put strawberries and marshmallows on fifteen different sticks, or alternate rows of pretzels and cherries to make an American flag. But I’m not that person.

Do you actually need directions for this, friends? I feel like you don’t, but here’s what you’re going to do:

1. Go to the store.
2. Buy vanilla ice cream cups and frozen red and blue fruits (like cherries, blueberries, etc.)
3. Take everything home.
4. Don’t let the ice cream melt.
5. When it’s time, take the tops off the cups and sprinkle with berries. Or, put the berries in a bowl and let everyone else do that, those lazy bums.

See?  I knew you didn’t need instructions. If you want, you could completely skip berries and do red and blue M&Ms. Or get any flavor ice cream with said M&Ms, as they make this lovely patriotic bag that you won’t have to sort through and comes with white ones. To each their own, I say.

Red, White and Blue Cupcakes

Could you put this in the shape of a flag? Sure. But I swear you don’t have to.

Do you want to make a glorious multi-colored, multi-layered cake? Well, then, go nuts my friend. You won’t find the directions here, but you can send me pictures in the comments and try to make your case as to why it’s faster than making regular cupcakes with different colored frosting. I will admit, this is not a last-minute idea. You need about an hour to make and frost cupcakes, right? I’m honestly asking,  I haven’t made them in one day in a long time. Even if they’re out of the box, which mine are, they have to cook and cool. I’m going to skip the sarcastic instructions this time, but as always, you have a couple of ways to do this.

The first method is to use some food coloring in a white frosting (bought or homemade frosting- no one cares), or separately buy red, white, and blue frosting.  The second method is to frost them all one color and use red, white, and/or blue paper wrappers. I either go with white frosting and red and blue wrappers, or white frosting with patriotic wrappers like this (I also use these for the Patriots at football parties – not a fan, I just love theme food for football). If you want to skip the wrappers all together, use a white cake mix. Now, if you want to tell me these aren’t ridiculously easy red, white and blue party foods, may I also suggest, once again, ignoring what I say and using patriotic sprinkles?

Cheesecake Dip with Strawberries & Blueberries

easy red, white and blue party foods
I always enjoy a halfway healthy plate.

There really aren’t a lot of naturally blue foods, are there? There’s more red, but nothing as vibrant as the strawberry. That’s probably why every red, white and blue food on Pinterest includes the two of them. Some are really lovely, like these white chocolate frosted strawberries with blue sprinkles.  But, come on. If I don’t have time to line up things in a flag formation, I don’t have time to dip all those strawberries. I don’t feel like stuffing them with cheesecake dip either, but… Cheesecake dip is actually really quick to make. Too quick, honestly, it’s probably responsible for a lot of unnecessary weight gain. So why not use it?

Here’s a really easy recipe. Then get out your serving platter, put a bowl of cheesecake dip in the middle, and set up your strawberries and blueberries as you see fit. Feeling crazy? Give it some sprinkles, why not. I think by this point you can see what the real point of this article is, right? If you want to make easy red, white and blue party foods, all you really have to do is make sure people can see all three colors at the same time. Sure, you can make them fancier if you want to. And one day, when your children are grown, maybe you will.

Red, White and Blue Pitchers

Easy Red, White and Blue Party Foods
I honestly don’t know where to put the sprinkles here. My world view is ruined.

Okay, so drinks may or may not count as easy red, white and blue party foods, but they’e still festive. Have you seen the patriotic drinks floating around online? They look cool, right? Well, they are. But there’s also a little problem with them that make serving them kind of pointless. The first couple of people to see it will get the full effect. Everyone else is going to see two colors, a purple blob, or somewhere in between. Of course, that’s if you put it in a pitcher. If you put it in individual servings, well, you’ve just signed yourself up for individual servings. Did you have any plans to enjoy your party, or were you cool with being a bartender all day?

My solution to this is 110% cheating. Just put the three different drinks in three different pitchers. Or, only serve one red drink and one blue drink, but use pitchers with white lids. You can even include a sign telling people how to make their own patriotic drink if you want to use ingredients in a recipe like this. Personally, I can live without Hawaiian punch, so I always use cranberry juice. There’s a bonus if you try it this way: your red drink can become vodka cranberries, if you don’t have sneaky kids running around. If you have no kids at all, you could go straight up alcoholic and mix a red cocktail, a blue cocktail, and a clear one. Fun!

Now go out and make some easy red, white and blue party foods!

how to Throw A Disney Themed Dinner for ADults

How to Host a Fancy Disney Themed Dinner Party

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them I will receive compensation at no additional cost to you.

 

Well, friends, I finally had my Disney themed dinner party. It may have been a month late, but it happened, and that is the important thing. We did have a few little issues getting it all together, but for the most part it was a lot of fun and we got to hang out with some new people. They even appreciated the silliness of a Disney theme at an elegant adult party, with one of my guests bringing crowns for all the ladies. You can’t get much fancier than that! I did learn one thing about my fancy dinner parties – hosting them while 7 1/2 months pregnant with a toddler is just a teensy bit exhausting. Try it. You’ll see.

Anyway, let’s get on with it. Hosting a fancy dinner party is a ton of work, and I usually only do it once a year because that’s how long it takes me to figure out everything I want to do. Hosting a fancy Disney themed dinner party took me a little over a year, and I’ll be honest, I still want to try fifteen more recipes to see if it is possible to come up with the most perfect Disney dinner anyone has ever seen. Of course, I did eventually have to give up and go with what I had, or I’d never have another dinner party again, and I simply can’t have that.

The Invitations

Surprisingly, the invitations were my first problem. I used Punchbowl to create some free online ones (I wasn’t a very green hostess for the most part, but I tried to have at least one thing not ruin the earth). They had Disney character invitations you could use for free, so that was about perfect. I picked a Beauty and the Beast one because it said “Be Our Guest,” and not “Birthday Party for a Small Child.” The invitations actually worked fine for a Disney themed dinner party, although I was a little worried about sending something pretty childish to strangers. That’s where the real problem was – strangers.

I’ve lived in Knoxville less than a year and I work from home, so I have a pretty small circle of friends right now. We usually have about seven to ten people at our dinner parties, and we were set for six this time around. I had to special order the meat (venison) for this particular dinner, so I waited as long as I could to get RSVPs, then ordered for eight. I really didn’t think we’d wind up with anyone else. The two people I already considered friends couldn’t come, and our guest list had two people we legitimately didn’t know even at that point. But, my husband operated in the shadows and somehow we got us to ten after I’d already ordered. Luckily only nine showed, but still, we were a little short on meat. Lesson: Don’t let your husband know where the invitations are.

The Decor

Hey, did you guys notice I put “fancy” in my post title? That’s right. This was not a Disney themed dinner party with little Disney figurines all over the place. Plus I’m super lazy when it comes to decorating, because, well, more decorating more cleaning, which means more time out of my day. So I stuck with very simple table decor. I had already planned on using Beauty and the Beast for this because I’d left poor Belle and Co. off the menu, and when I found those Punchbowl invitations I knew it was meant to be. Now, if you have a bunch of old candlesticks or some fabulous rose holders lying around, you can probably do a better job than I did, but I’m okay with that.

My main goal here was to get a yellow table runner and some roses. Everyone knows Belle wears that fabulous yellow dress and the whole movie revolves around a single rose, so I thought it would be pretty easy to get the theme across. I found some bright yellow fabric at Walmart, when I wasn’t even looking for it, which is not surprising at  Walmart. I could have made it into an actual table runner, but my sewing machine is broken and I want a two-sided one anyway, so I just left the thing folded up long ways and put it on the table. Then I put a single rose in three different vases and sprinkled some rose petals around. Wah-lah. Super easy, but still both Disney and grown-up.

The Disney Themed Dinner Party Menu

Here we are. The most important part! If you’re going to throw a Disney themed dinner party meant for adults, it’s all about the food. I mentioned that we had strangers at our party, but I’ve previously mentioned you should not invite picky people.  How would I know if they were picky if I didn’t know them? Well, in this case, the strangers were my mom’s coworker and her sister-in-law, who came knowing what kind of food was going to be served. We got really lucky with the rest, and now I have new foodie friends. Hooray! Anyway, it was really important they not be picky, because my menu included beets, venison, and sushi.

I add recipe ideas to my to-do list all year long. Eventually I’ll give them a try or delete them.

How did my menu come out with such a strange assortment of dishes?  Blame it on Disney. First, I went through all the films I could think of and wrote down specific dishes that were already in the movies. Next, I wrote down different foods that appear in the movies. You know, bananas in The Jungle Book, corn in Pocahontas, porridge in every single Disney movie ever, and don’t forget the variety of talking animal meat (muhuhahaha). Then came practicing, combining, and ultimately deciding on the dishes I felt would best fit the theme that I could also cook. They were not all literal. I’m sharing my menu, but there are so many more options. I barely scratched the surface. If you decide to try this, if you can come up with a dish that fits a Disney name, that’s really all you need to do.

The Menu

Disney Themed Dinner Party Menu

Appetizers

Alice’s Trippy Stuffed Mushrooms (Alice in Wonderland)

Was Alice on mushrooms when she went down the rabbit hole? I don’t think that’s what Lewis Carroll meant, but either way she eats them. These have some spice to it to give them a little kick. It also worked to kick off the Disney themed dinner party with a classic character since most of my guests weren’t up to date on all the new movies (and neither am I).

This Could Have Been You Sebastian Crab Cakes (The Little Mermaid)

Remember the scene where Sebastian escaped the cook’s pot? Well, I used imitation crab, so I know it’s not Sebastian, but still, it could’ve been. These were also spicy and served with an aioli sauce.

Drink pairing: The Enchanted Rose Cocktail (sweet to counter all the spicy)

Amuse-Bouche & Bread

Bruce’s Fish are Friends not Food Nori Rolls (Finding Nemo)

Amuse-bouches typically aren’t put on a menu, so you won’t see them on mine, but they did get served. I have no recipe to link because I just made them. It’s a nori sheet, sushi rice (here’s a recipe for that), cucumbers, pickled radishes, and avocado. There’s no fish so I didn’t worry too much about serving sushi, but it is really important to practice this one if you’re going to try it. Oh, and I drizzled this sauce on top to look pretty.

The Tramp’s Scavenged Breadsticks (Lady & the Tramp)

Also not on the menu, this is the one thing that was already on the table when I started serving. I used a copycat Olive Garden recipe and made the dough in a breadmaker. Also, if you don’t have a good non-stick surface, I recommend these non-stick silicon mats. My grandma got them for me and I love them. I used them for the nori rolls too.

Salad

The Evil Queen’s Definitely not Poisoned Apple Salad (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

I made this recipe myself when I got obsessed with using beets and my husband wouldn’t eat them. My plan must have worked because only one person left the beets on the plate, and it wasn’t even Hubby. I do tell everyone it’s okay not to eat everything, by the way. I certainly don’t.

Drink Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc (earthy to go with beets – also served it for the nori roll)

Soup

Pocahontas Grows a Lot of Corn Soup (Pocahontas)

Serving soup when it’s hot is always a concern of mine, so I choose something with fresh veggies. This one’s spicy. And you guys, Pocahontas totally does grow a lot of corn.

Drink Pairing: Riesling – a little sweet to go with the spice

Main Dish & Side

Bambi’s Mom (Bambi)

What? Too soon? Not soon enough, I say. She died in 1923, you guys, unless the book was supposed to take place in the future. No meat needs to age that much! I don’t have a recipe for this either. It wasn’t venison season so I ordered it through Highbourne Deer Farms, and it was delicious. I only used olive oil, salt, and pepper to season, then grilled it. Just don’t make my mistake and overcook half of it, I was getting tired of getting up and down by then.

Remy’s Ratatouille (Ratatouille)

This is the only dish specific to a movie that made it onto my menu. Weird, huh? You could use any version of this, but I’ll be honest, I did not practice enough to make it look beautiful. It tasted fine though. Roasted vegetables, not really that hard.

Drink Pairing: Pinot Noir – I wanted rioja but my sister couldn’t find it, so we went with the next best choice for red meat and roasted veggies.

Dessert

 How ‘Bout a Little More Baklava Cheesecake (Aladdin)

Yes, that’s right, I remembered one tiny little line in one song in Aladdin, and it turned into my whole dessert. I can make baklava, but it’s not as pretty, so I turned it into a cheesecake. This recipe works fine, but I cut the honey, cooked it about twenty minutes longer than suggested, and skipped the whole topping. Instead I sprinkled plain walnuts then drizzled honey for looks. Also, if you’re not  phyllo dough expert, it is not going to stand up as beautifully as the recipe creator makes it seem. Mine only had one piece left standing and I considered that highly successful.

Drink Pairing: We had both Port and Sparkling Wine – cheesecake is impossible to pair with, and baklava’s not much better

Organization Tips

I am a huge advocate for properly planning your Disney themed dinner party in advance, but I totally messed up this time. My son would not sleep Friday night so I didn’t get anything done in advance. That meant I had to get up at 6:00 A.M. to make up for it on Saturday. I also would not have survived if my mom hadn’t come to baby-sit. My sister came to help cook, but she wound up taking over baby duties after my mom left. I did manage to get everything done in time, but the dinner took longer than it normally does and we did not get a chance to clean at all. For the record, my husband was in class all day, so he actually couldn’t help. He did clean everything the next day though!

To alleviate some of the dish pain, we had to reuse our forks and knives, and we used the fancy Costco disposable plates for each course, in different sizes of course. Each person got a real wine glass, but a plastic cup for water. I usually plate dishes in advance, but I didn’t have room in my fridge, so I did feel rushed. Overall, though, it was a great party. We got to make new friends and even played a little Cards Against Humanity afterwards (come on – we served Bambi’s Mom, you knew we were awful people). I hope this menu helps you out and you enjoy your own Disney themed dinner party one day!

A GUide To Mother's Day

A Mother’s Day Guide for Dads

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive compensation. 

Welcome gentlemen! I’ll be up front. This Mother’s Day Guide for dads is not a “buy this,” “go to this particular restaurant” kind of guide. I don’t know your wife, probably. How would I know what she wants? What I do know is this: moms have a lot on their plate. We get crap from everyone – you guys included. Working moms get judged, stay-at-home moms get looked down on, and that’s just the start. I’m personally a work-at-home mom who will either say “I do a little bookkeeping from the house,” or “I’m a small business owner” depending on who I’m talking to.  Seriously, I do that.  I’m ashamed both of working and of being at home. Thanks, society!

So, why does that matter to you? Here’s the deal. Once a year, one measly day a year, you should acknowledge how much work the mother of your child does, and how much pressure the world puts on her to be the perfect mom. I’d like to think this is not an issue and every dad knows Mother’s Day is a big deal. Unfortunately, after speaking with some friends, I discovered their husbands don’t even acknowledge it’s a holiday. Yet, the women would rather celebrate Mother’s Day than Valentine’s Day. Makes you think, huh? My own husband, thankfully, would not dare to forget such a holiday…. for me. His own mom, on the other hand, gets a card. That’s about it. I have to FaceTime her so she can see her grandson. Her own son may or may not participate on the call. That brings me to my first point.

Mother’s Day Guide

Part 1. Don’t forget your mom.

Fellas, seriously, don’t forget your moms! They birthed you. They deserve some acknowledgment too. If my son grows up and decides not to call me, I will be hunting him down and forcing a family dinner upon him, or even worse if he’s moved far away. Like, a week-long visit  where I just nag him the whole time. That’s right. Don’t forget Mom or you will feel her wrath! You can start with a card. A call is better.

Now, I don’t know your relationship with your mother. Maybe a gift isn’t warranted. Maybe you will be having a fabulous brunch with her and your siblings. That part is all up to you. Just don’t forget completely.  I will say, if you’re going to go with a generic gift, do it for your mom, and not for your children’s mom. I would pick something like a picture frame. Here’s one I like for newer grandmas. Or here’s a mug that could work for any grandma. I don’t own either of these, obviously, since I’m not a grandma, but they are both things I’ve picked up for my mom. They’re really simple gifts, and they’re probably fine for your mom too. The difficulty comes in deciding what to do for your woman…

Part 2. Spoil your wife.

I was going to write  wives/girlfriends/etc., but it looked silly. Don’t get offended. Family dynamics are all different, and I don’t particularly care if you’re married to your child’s mom or not. But, if you’re together, this mother’s day guide says you should be doing something for her. If you’re not together and your child asks for help, you should probably also be doing something for her. Unfortunately, that’s not something that I can help you with, as my child is too small to attempt any sort of gift giving. So, first question. Do you have to give a gift? Well, again, I don’t pretend to speak for other women on this subject. But…

If she says no flowers, don’t buy flowers.

No means no, guys.

Women occasionally play games (sorry ladies – but you know they know this). Telling you she doesn’t want flowers isn’t one of them. Some women really like flowers, and others really hate getting them. I’m pro-flower, but I get the anti-flower sentimentality. They can cost an awful lot of money and they don’t last very long. That’s why some women would rather have you hand them $40 or whatever you were going to spend than get that bouquet delivered. Now, me, I’d wind up spending the money on groceries or something, so I’d rather get a nice $8 bouquet from Kroger or whatever and not feel like I blew my gift on household necessities I would have gotten anyway. You don’t have to guess about this one. If your wife hasn’t ever told you whether she likes flowers or not, just ask.

Take over the chores.

See a block, pick up a block.

Yeah, I know this one sucks. But as a mom, one who does 95% of the household chores and has to listen to her husband whine about the other 5%, I can tell you it’s a biggie. I know some dads are already awesome at doing the chores. Kudos to them. But, I’m guessing those dads either aren’t the ones who need to read this, or they’re reading this Mother’s Day guide for dads for some other reason. So listen up messy dads. You don’t have to do anything crazy. The house doesn’t have to be spick and span. What would your wife be doing? Maybe a quick vacuum? Dishes? Go ahead and take over her responsibilities, and take it over without asking (unless it’s laundry and you’ve been told specifically not to do it – then ask first). Then, if you can handle it, wait to complain until she’s not in your presence. Perfect!

Alone time is important, but not for everyone.

mother's day guide
Ah, the before noon pile.

Working moms have it tough. They have to do their jobs away from their kids and help out the household. Stay-at-home moms also have it tough. They have to watch the crazies all day, clean up, cook, and do it all without adult interaction so they start to lose their minds. I could absolutely see working moms wanting to see their kids, but stay-at-home moms wanting to get out of the house. I have no evidence to back that up, but you can probably tell if your wife needs a break. If you can’t, ask questions like, “Hey, want me to take the kids while I run some errands?” or “Do you think it’d be a good time for a family outing?” Maybe she’d like time to rest, or maybe she’d prefer a trip to the zoo where you push the strollers and deal with the gift shop.

Regardless of whether your wife wants to get away from her delightful family or not, at the very least, if you have a little one, take over diaper duty for the day. Some women might not mind doing chores, but NO ONE wants to do diapers.  I admit, this mother’s day guide is skewed more towards younger parents since my friends and I aren’t parents of teenagers yet, but if you are, there’s probably a fill-in for diaper duty. Perhaps you could sit and listen to your teenagers tell awful stories about the high school mean girls or be the one who has to nag them for two hours just to come out of their bedrooms? Those sound like things a mom would like to get out of for a day.

Most importantly…..Just Listen to her.

None for me, thanks.

What? The most important thing is not to buy her fancy jewelry or send her to the spa? Nope. Because not all women want those things. Let me tell you a little story about my birthday. I know this is a Mother’s Day guide, but it’s the same principle. First, let me point out I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining why my husband thought he was going to get  a, “Wow!” and what he really got was an, “It’s the thought that counts.” On the morning of my birthday he woke up early to cook me breakfast – bacon and pancakes. Sounds nice right? Here’s three reasons why it wasn’t:

  1. I don’t like pancakes.
  2. I can’t stand the smell of bacon while pregnant, which I am.
  3. For two months before my birthday, all I talked about was wanting to sleep in. He had to wake me up at 5:00 A.M. to give me this breakfast.

So, nice thought? Absolutely, and I ate my burnt pancakes and terrible smelling bacon with a smile. But the thing is, he wasn’t thinking about what would be nice for me. He was thinking about what would be nice for women in general. If you take anything out of this mother’s day guide, it should be to think about your wife, not any old woman. If she won’t tell you what she wants, don’t go pool the office ladies who don’t know her. Think about what she likes to do, whether she’s been tired a lot lately, whether she’s been hinting at something she likes, and if she’s had any complaints. Too much trouble? Then good luck with those generic gift guides!

 

fancy dinner party

Five Steps to Perfect Fancy Dinner Party Timing

Fancy dinner party timing can be a real hassle. Last week I talked about the basics of hosting your party, but if you want it to be successful and not pull your hair out, you will need to be a timing pro. You’ll want to write things down. I mean with a pen and paper. Do you remember those? You probably have some in a drawer somewhere. You may glance at them every once in awhile and think of throwing them out, but you never do. And now, vindication! You can use them! I know you’re wondering why someone who frequently talks about her automated to-do list suggests paper, but think about this. You’re going to be cooking all day. Your hands are going to be gross. Do you really want to constantly check your iPad or Galaxy or whatever gizmo you have?

time to write our your fancy dinner party timing
This is what paper and writing utensils look like.

That’s not to say you won’t need your gizmo – you probably will, unless you are a recipe printer. I’m not. But it’s just easier to have a piece of paper stuck on the fridge or taped somewhere when you only need to do a quick glance. Memorize it if you prefer, but you risk a really long gap between meals, or something burning, if you don’t. So, there’s that little tidbit of advice. Now let’s talk about the good stuff. I do have a Disney-themed fancy dinner party coming up, but I’m going to use last year’s French menu as an example for now. Feel free to steal it.

How to Plan your Fancy Dinner Party Timing

1. Pick when the guests will arrive.

Oh hey! Guests! When should they show up? You might think this should be the least of your concerns, but unless your friends love last minute invitations, you’re going to want to give them a heads up at least two weeks in advance. If you have an event with a dress code, make sure you give them time to prepare. They might also want to get a baby-sitter. I have no problem hosting kids at my dinner parties (they eat pizza), but I can’t watch them, not even my own. I also serve a lot of wine. My friends know this, so they don’t always want to drag the kids along. Maybe you don’t want kids there at all so you ban them. Whatever, it’s your party.

The reason this makes a difference in your timing is that once you send out those invitations, your start time is set. Now you know exactly how much time you have to get things done. Personally, I like to invite my guests to show up at 6:30 P.M. Most of them will be there by 6:45, and all of them will be there by 7:00, even the perpetually late ones. I will have the appetizers ready by 6:30, 6:35 tops. I will also be dressed, the table will be set, and the kitchen will be as cleaned up as it can be (the rest of the house will be clean, but I won’t do that – the hubby will). Anything else may or may not be prepared, but at least I have a goal time.

2. Write out your menu with active time & cooking time separated.

This is probably the most important step if you want to get your courses out at different intervals. Actually, if it’s your first time, you might need this step just to get everything completed before the guests show up. You may think you’re a great prepper, but you will find out otherwise if you’re trying to put together an entire salad while your guests are waiting on you. They may not notice – serve enough wine, they probably won’t notice – but you don’t want to be serving the last course at 11:00 at night. So, as soon as your menu is set, go ahead and write out this part.

My handwriting is strangely similar to the Excel font.

You may remember last week I said to practice practice practice. I hope you did! Sometimes when you use a recipe the timing will be completely off. Whoever wrote it may be able to make their cheesecake in ten minutes, but I sure can’t! The ones I find are the worst are vegetable-heavy recipes. These cookbook writers are obviously much faster choppers and dicers than the rest of us, so they can’t be trusted with times. When you practice, try to remember how long it takes you. You can copy times over from the recipe, but you can also tweak them once you’ve seen you in action.

3. Decide what to do in advance.

Now that you have a nice schedule of how long everything is going to take you, you can decide if you want to try it all at once or prepare in advance. My fancy dinner party timing is designed to take place over two days. Am I cooking the entire two days? No. But it gives me a break in between things, and who doesn’t want that? If possible, I like doing desserts entirely the day before. Once I picked churros, which have to be fried, and that was the worst decision I ever made at a dinner party. I was so tired of cooking by then, I gave up trying to make them look beautiful and just served blobs of fried dough. I did creme brulee last year, and it did have to be broiled at the last minute, but that was totally doable.

churros
These are my actual churro blobs. Don’t be like me. Serve nice churros.

One other thing I really like to do to keep my fancy dinner party timing in check is early morning vegetable chopping. That goes for all recipes. I’ll put them in baggies or bowls or something to keep them separated. For the most part veggies stay fresh looking after you cut them, so it’s one less headache later in the day. Soups are usually good in the slow cooker, so that’s another thing to think about doing early in the day. I rarely do the main dish or the side dish ahead, besides seasoning. Obviously this will all depend on what you’re cooking; a roast will go in the oven a lot earlier than something would go on the grill.

4. Set the table and get ready at the last minute.

Get ready at the last minute, you say? Are you crazy? I’m asking everyone else to dress up and I will barely have any time to look my best? Yep, sorry. Pro tip: You’re the one cooking. That means spills, flours, oil, sauces all over the place. Prolong the mess as long as you can. You can invest in an apron if you want, but taking it on and off every five minutes while you switch courses is going to get annoying. Also, this must be said – keep your hair back. No one wants a hair in their food. If you’re wearing an up-do, you can do that once you’re up for the day and it will stay. Probably. I don’t know your hairstyling skills. Mine are generally terrible, but I can still keep my hair in a bun.

Having perfect fancy dinner party timing isn’t really going to be affected by setting your table, but I would suggest doing it last, doing it first, or having someone else do it. I can’t do it first at my house because we’re a madhouse and something will mess it up, so I stick to last minute. If you’ve never read anything by me before, you might not know this, but I hate decorating. So my centerpieces will usually be something simple and a couple of bread baskets. Super easy. Waiting til the last minute doesn’t hurt me at all, although it might change how fancy my napkin folding gets. Yes, I use real napkins. I bought them for my wedding, so I might as well use them.

5. Keep your clock out while you eat.

You spent all this time scheduling it, now you have to keep your fancy dinner party timing perfect by watching the clock. Does that suck a little bit while you’re hosting all your friends? Yes, kind of. But someone always volunteers to help, so it could actually mean one-on-one time with people. Fun! You can have Siri or Alexa or whoever time things for you, but I feel like that would ruin the ambiance. Now, how long should you have between courses? I guess that’s up to you and how fast you eat, but I like about fifteen minutes between the end of one course and the start of another. I swear, it doesn’t make the meal last forever.

What? You think I own paper AND an actual clock? Don’t be crazy.

Let’s see how this works. I have people showing up at 6:30. My appetizers have to be ready to go. They have half an hour to eat them. Then at 7:00 I serve an amuse-bouche. No need for a fifteen minute break here; I tell them my rules (you have to try,  no offense taken if you don’t like it), then move on. So, we’re serving salad around 7:05. We have a lot to eat so courses are small. Assume everyone’s done in five minutes. That means soup needs to be ready at 7:25, a main course at 7:45, and dessert at 8:05. Everything’s done by 8:10 if I’ve planning my fancy dinner party timing correctly. That’s a great time to play a game or something, plus you only had to sit at the table for a little over an hour. Wah-lah! Dinner has been served.

Note:

I planned on keeping this fancy dinner party series on a week-by-week basis, but unfortunately I had to reschedule my Disney-themed dinner. How’s that for some crappy fancy dinner party timing, huh? This is probably not a huge deal to anyone, but I wanted to let you know in case you were eagerly waiting to steal my Little Mermaid soup or whatever I’m serving (hint: it’s not that). Don’t worry, it will be here sometime in May. Until then, I’ll have more frenzied ideas on the way!

 

 

 

Secrets to a Fancy Dinner Party

Secrets to Hosting a Fancy Dinner Party

I have a confession. I love hosting a fancy dinner party. It makes no sense for a busy gal like myself. I cook for days, I barely sit down even during dinner, and cleanup is awful. Yet I love it anyway. My cooking skills are on display for everyone to see and praise, plus I get to personally judge my organization and time management. Why is that fun? I don’t know. When you’re a self-employed person, I guess you start coming up with weird ways to assess yourself. I also serve a LOT of booze, so it’s like my guests are all reliving college, but in a fancier way.

My annual fancy dinner party is coming up soon, so I thought I’d write a little series about it as I get prepared. I’ve been doing this since 2010, and shockingly they’ve all gone quite well. My cuisine has gotten better, and my timing last year was about perfect, so I think it’s a great time to share my secrets. Do you need to know how to cook to host a fancy dinner party? Yes. Don’t kid yourself on this one. Your only other option is to have someone else cook it, whether family, friend, or caterer, but then they might as well host it themselves, right? Luckily, if you follow my schedule, you’ll have plenty of time to learn.

Secret #1 – A fancy dinner party is not a weekly event.

I said my fancy dinner party is annual, and I’m not kidding. You guys, it is so much work. I’m a bookkeeper and I work with CPA’s who try to smother me in paperwork every March and April. That’s why I celebrate the end of tax season with something nice. My husband and I invite over 6-8 of our friends, tell them to dress up, and then serve them dinner. But, I don’t have time to do all the cooking and prep work every week, and he would probably balk at the cleaning if I tried. I’m not saying you can’t do it more than once a year, but if you’re serious about providing good food that you yourself cooked, you’re going to want a break in between.

May I have 4 bites of lobster tail, please?

Also, this may not be a secret, but fancy dinner parties are expensive to throw. I coupon from time to time, but we do alright for ourselves and I prefer not to spend my precious time driving from store to store looking for the best deal. What kind of ingredients do fancy foods have? The pricey kind. By only throwing one or two a year, you save yourself the hassle of trying to cut costs for every course. There’s also cleanup to think about. I try to be a green hostess when I can, but my husband and I agree we will not be using dishes we have to put through the dishwasher. Think about it. Five courses for ten people is fifty plates. Kill me now! But we’re being fancy, so we have to get the high quality disposable plates to make sure it looks nice.

Secret #2 – Practice, practice, practice.

The other important part of hosting your fancy dinner parties sparingly is the time you have to practice your courses. I legitimately give myself a year to find the recipes I want and perfect them. Actually, I keep a list of potential menus in my to-do list, so I could potentially be practicing courses for years before I wind up using some of those recipes. Sure, you could cook the four dishes you always cook and call it “fancy,” but people aren’t going to dress up for that. You should be serving elegant dishes you wouldn’t serve all the time, and that requires more than day-of practicing.

With a little practice, I’ll make this soup beautiful!
With even more practice, you’ll be able to tell these are crab cakes! 🙂

You might also want to start practicing your plating skills. Have you ever been to a fine dining establishment? The food doesn’t look the same way it does when you go to Chili’s or Outback. Plating food is not a natural skill, and I’m still not all that great at it. But, I get better every year. That’s because  of practice! You don’t have to make anything fancy to practice plating. If you’re making a full meal one day, why not dress up the plate a little? By the time you get to hosting your party, you’ll have an idea of what you’re doing.

Secret #3 – Do not invite picky eaters.

Don’t invite the whole world, don’t invite people who couldn’t hold a conversation over their meal, and definitely, one hundred percent, don’t invite picky eaters. You are going to be so irritated if you spend a year working towards this beautifully plated meal and then your guests won’t even try it. I actually have rules when I host. I serve an amuse-bouche while I tell the guests the rules so it comes out nicer, but they’re pretty simple. Unless you’re allergic to it, you need to try it. I don’t care if people like it. I really don’t. What are the chances that ten people would all like every dish you serve? Not good, probably. But, oh man, if you won’t even try it, why did you come?

Good luck with the picky eaters when you serve them Moroccan cod with harissa!

When you’re making up your guest list, this will pop into your mind. Maybe you will feel guilty if you have one friend you really want to invite, but you know she’ll tell your other friend you don’t want there. Oh well. Be an adult, just tell the other friend you don’t want to do all that work for people who aren’t going to eat it. In the past, I’ve invited two out of three of my very close coworkers. I’ve invited one of my next door neighbors but not the other. If they get all bitter about it, you can make something up. Say you got to choose one friend and your spouse got to choose one friend and that’s all you can fit at your table. Whatever. Just don’t do all that work for people who won’t appreciate it.

Secret #4 – Put thought into your menu.

You can go willy-nilly if you want to. Serve a cucumber salad, borscht, fried chicken, and a flan. See how that goes. Hint: It won’t be the best. I had no theme at all for my very first dinner party, other than that I found all my recipes on Food and Wine, but I’ve gotten better since then. Last year it was French, the year before was spring. Spring was actually one of my most successful menus. Every course featured a beautiful fruit or vegetable. This year I’m doing… Wait for it… Disney! Yes, a Disney-themed fancy dinner party. Believe me, there was more thought put into this menu than any other one I’ve ever done. I’m going to write more on that specific meal in a later post, but I do think it will be great.

A spring asparagus soup.

It’s not just a theme that matters though. You should decide ahead of time what kind of courses you want to put out. I do appetizers and a cocktail while people arrive and I finish up my prep. I serve an amuse-bouche to tell people the rules. Then I have a salad course, a soup course, a main course with a side, and dessert. Everything from salad on gets it’s own wine. That’s the one thing I have guests bring, by the way. I don’t want them cooking and ruining whatever theme I’ve got going, but they can bring the type of wine I tell them to. Anyway, you don’t have to follow my plan, but you should have your own. Don’t serve three soups and a cheese plate. Just don’t.

Coming up: Planning and Organizing

I said at the beginning this was going to be a series, and I meant it. You don’t want to sit here reading all day, do you? Maybe you’ve already started thinking about holding a fancy dinner party, and now you know what will make it successful. Next time we’re going to talk in detail about planning and organizing the party, because if it’s going to be successful, that needs to be a category all its own. Unless you have two ovens, it can get really tricky to get everything out on time, and that’s just one concern. Enjoy your week and I’ll be back soon!

Food Trivia to Share atEaster Dinner

Trivia You Can Share When Hosting Easter Dinner

Hosting Easter dinner this year? Kudos to you! I’m sticking to a fun Easter brunch, but you dinner-hosters have my admiration. Do you have the whole family coming over? A bunch of friends? No one? Those are all fine choices, although I personally like the idea of someone hosting a fabulous Easter dinner and then refusing to invite anyone to it. If I wasn’t married…

Anyway, I’m not here to give you a whole bunch of tips on what to wear and how to decorate, although if you needed to know that I’d say clothes and minimally. Instead, I thought I’d provide you with a little information about food. Were you aware that Easter is a religious holiday? I bet you were! According to Gallup’s last Easter poll, about 60% of people in the US go to church on Easter. I will vouch for this. I used to live two streets away from a church, yet somehow on Easter my whole street would be filled with the cars of lost souls who forgot how to park at a church since they only attended once a year. Religious holidays come with all kinds of traditions and meanings, so if you’re going to be hosting Easter dinner, you might as well know what tradition you’re following.

Hosting Easter Dinner with Lamb

traditional Easter lamb

If you are serving lamb this meal, you’re serving the most Christian of all the traditional Easter foods. If there was meat at the Last Supper, this was it. It’s weirdly also the most Jewish of all the traditional foods, because it’s usually part of Passover. What I’m saying is, lamb at Easter dinner is a religious thing. Not religious? That’s okay. It’s still delicious. Personally, if I was cooking Easter dinner this year, I’d be going with lamb. My son is too young to care what he eats, so I might as well enjoy this tasty meat while I have the opportunity. Never cooked it? I suggest something like this basic rosemary recipe. It’s pretty common to season your lamb with rosemary, so you might as well start with the basics.

Why You’re Serving Ham

Americans ham Easter dinner

Eating ham this Easter? Oh hey! You must be American! If I’m not mistaken, Easter has something to do with Jesus, and that guy was a Jew. I bet he wasn’t eating ham.  So how did it get involved in all this mess? Basically, it’s just what was around. Easter takes place in the spring, and back before globalization and climate change, you couldn’t get everything fresh every time of year. Germans started serving ham because they could slaughter pigs in the winter and then keep it until spring. This spread throughout northern Europe, and they brought pigs over to the Americas, and we’ve been obsessed with pork ever since. If you’re going to cook one yourself, I say something simple like this would be fine. More time to work on your sides!

What’s the Deal with the Eggs

My sister is always curious about this one. I guess she forgets every year, because I have told her repeatedly. A long time ago, Christianity was not the dominant religion, so Easter wouldn’t have been a huge deal to everyone. But, that doesn’t mean non-Christians didn’t have their own religions. They did – and a lot of them celebrated spring. Once Christianity started growing, traditions started getting combined. There was one goddess of rebirth who had a symbol of a rabbit laying eggs. Her name? Eostre. So, Eostre became Easter, and now we’re stuck with this random goddess in the middle of a Christian holiday. Fascinating, right?

Alright! Now you’re pumped full of information about Easter. It doesn’t matter what kind of tradition you follow. Have a barbecue, skip Easter altogether, eat your lamb and ham and eggs, or cook up some dish that your family has passed down forever. What does matter is that you have fun and know more about the meal than everyone else.  🙂 Get out there, play smarty-pants and answer any food-related questions that come up while you’re hosting Easter dinner.

5 Tips for an Awesome Easter Brunch

5 Tips for an Awesome Easter Brunch

Making an awesome Easter brunch honestly isn’t that difficult, because even a regular brunch is awesome. I’ve talked about the basics before, and we’re going to stick with that outline, but add a theme. Easter’s kind of a strange holiday to figure out, isn’t it? Not the religious part – that part’s pretty easy. But the rest of it is just weird. We’ve got a giant bunny who for some reason delivers eggs. Who knows who he’s stealing all those eggs from, because I went to a biology class one time and I’m pretty positive rabbits don’t lay eggs.

Anyway, that’s not even what I’m talking about. I mostly mean it’s a Christmas-like holiday, but people don’t make it a travel priority if family isn’t close. Sometimes it coincides with spring break, other times it doesn’t. I didn’t do anything for Easter for many years because I didn’t have anyone to do it with. Now I’m close to my family again, and I have my own family to entertain, so I can make my own traditions. Brunch is definitely going to be one of them, whether I ever get around to making an Easter basket filled with bizarre bunny eggs or not. So, without further adieu, here are my 5 tips for an awesome Easter brunch.

1. Find a cool centerpiece – But don’t overdo it.

I’m not a super fan of cheesy decorations, but unless you’re going straight up Christian traditional only, Easter seems like a good time to be a little silly. Like I said, it involves an egg-laying bunny. I’ve seen many cool centerpieces online over the years. One simple one I like is just carrots in a vase, but you can get much crazier than that if you have time, especially if you already own a bunch of Easter decorations. Here’s another idea, and another. All fun, none too difficult. I moved a couple of weeks ago, and I’m very excited to have my dining room table out of storage, so I’ve already practiced my own. Let me know what you think, so if it’s terrible I have time to find something else!

Step 1: Buy junk at store. Step 2: Put junk in vases.

 

So, cool centerpieces are a must. But that doesn’t mean you should go crazy with the decorations. This is the Frenzied Hostess you guys, not the I Have So Much Time I’ll Knit Placemats for Every Attendee Hostess. If you’ve got that nice Easter wreath, I’m sure that’s already up, right? Or a few little decorations the kids put up, they’re fine too. That doesn’t mean you have to spend an extra hour or two of your precious time getting ready for one meal. Set the table, have a little fun with it, and let your awesome Easter brunch menu be the shining star.

2. Have an awesome Easter brunch menu.

Ha, bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? You can serve one thing for brunch. You can do potluck. Or, you can knock it out of the park, and have your fruits, your sweets, your eggs, and your meats covered. Okay, skip the meat if you’re vegetarian. And the eggs if you’re a vegan. And the food if you’re a zombie. Don’t want to leave any eating plan out now. But the point is, have a few dishes that provide different tastes, and don’t skip the dessert, even if you are a zombie.  That doesn’t mean you need four complete dishes that will each take all day. It just means variety is the key.

Shockingly, I will have a little spare time this Easter because it coincides with the end of tax season. I will be as stressed as possible on Good Friday, but by Easter everything should be handled. Don’t worry, you still have until that Tuesday to file your taxes. Just don’t ask me to do it. I need a break. Anyway, since I have more time than usual I can actually focus on making something nice. But, I know that’s not the case for everyone, so to help you out I’m including three different cohesive menus. We’ve got the traditional, the fancy, and the fun. All of them have options for make-ahead on at least one dish. Still need help? You can always count on Martha Stewart.

Awesome Easter Brunch Menus

The Traditional

Biscuits with Jelly
Deviled Eggs
Ham
Hot Cross Buns or Pound Cake

Time Savers & Alternatives

You don’t have to hand make the biscuits, friends. Or the jelly. Just buy these things. Deviled eggs can be made the day before, morning of, whatever. They will be smelly either way, right? The hot cross buns can be done the day before in two different ways. One, you can cook them and warm them up on Easter. Two, you can make the dough, refrigerate it, and cook them the day of. I actually think this menu is the least time-consuming, even if you do have to use your oven a lot. But, if you really are in a pinch, combine your meat and egg dishes and have a ham scramble.

The Fancy

Fresh Fruit
Cheese and spinach quiche
Smoked salmon bagels or chicken salad croissants
Crepes

Time Savers and Alternatives

No time for quiche? Just do a casserole. Less fancy, same taste. Although, you can technically make quiche ahead if you want. Just form it and freeze it sometime before Easter and you’re good to go. Smoked salmon bagels are quite easy even though they look fancy, but I know not everyone’s a fan. If you prefer to do chicken salad instead, you’re in luck. That can be done the day before as well, and you have my permission to buy the croissants. Crepes sound complicated, but honestly, they’re pancakes, and no one needs to make pancakes in advance. You can skip fresh fruit altogether if you do a fruit filling with your crepes, and you can do the filling in advance. Extra time? Fancy up the fruit and put it in individual serving containers.

The Fun

Fruit kebabs or fun shaped fruit platter
Eggs in a hole
French toast sausage roll ups
Monkey Bread or Dirt Cake

Time Savers and Alternatives

First thing’s first:  If you’re a Pinterest user, look up “Easter fruit” to see what I’m talking about with that. Next thing: If you’re out of time, scrap the fruit platters and put it in a bowl! Eggs in a hole are pretty easy to do if you bake them. You can cut out the bread the night before. If your kids don’t like those, just scramble something up. Both monkey bread and dirt cake can be done in advance, but they’re also both super easy so you might not have to. The worst here is the french toast sausage roll ups, so if you’re really short and time but determined to do this, why not buy prepared pancakes and roll them around the sausage instead? It’s close enough.

3. Don’t forget about the drinks – alcoholic or not.

Do people usually drink on Easter? I don’t even know. I won’t be, but I’m knocked up, so I don’t count. My family members aren’t huge drinkers either, so I don’t think I’m going to be in a rush to buy a bunch of liquor. But, if you are, no judgment from me. My only concern is that you serve something nice. Now, I don’t like to invite people over for events and expect them to bring food, unless we specifically decided a potluck would be fun, but I do think it’s perfectly reasonable to have them bring drinks. It takes no effort to buy a carton of orange juice. Slightly more to buy a bottle of champagne if your ID doesn’t easily slide out of your wallet, but still, nothing too taxing. So don’t feel bad about assigning people drinks if you want.

Having other people bring them, doing it yourself, alcoholic, non-alcoholic, none of these things are terribly important. What is important is that the drinks are special. Sure, you can serve plain orange juice and milk. But what’s awesome about that? You don’t have to do anything complicated, but adding a little splash of color or something will certainly make for a more entertaining meal. Here’s a few alcoholic beverages that look exciting, and here’s a few that you could make for the kids. Serve one one fancy drink to go with your regular choices, and your guests will be dazzled. Or they’ll yawn, and get kicked off the guest list for next year’s awesome Easter brunch.

4. Use the good dishes. Make someone else clean them.

Hey, you’re doing all this work to make sure everyone has an awesome Easter brunch! Why should you have to cook and clean? I never use my good dishes. Literally, I mean never. They’re still in packaging. So this year I’m pulling out all the stops and embracing the terror that is allowing other people to use my nice things. (I’m just kidding you guys. If I trust you enough to have you for a meal, I trust you enough to hold a plate like a normal human being.) If you have your own nice dishes, might as well use them for this special occasion too, right? Even though paper plates would be so much less of a hassle…

But, here’s the thing about not having potlucks. It means the people you invited didn’t cook, they didn’t set out the beautiful centerpiece you found, and they aren’t going to be stuck with a pile of dishes. So it’s not so terrible to ask for a little help. Now, I wouldn’t ask my friends to clean up after themselves if it was a dinner party, but for Easter it’s my family. My husband and mom will probably do the dishes without being asked anyway, but if your family isn’t that way, perhaps you could print this Slate article and leave it strategically on your table before the meal starts. That will show them how to be a good guest. Trust me, if you can get someone to help you clean up, it will be a much more awesome Easter brunch for you.

5. Hide an egg, kids or not.

What’s more Easter-y than hiding some eggs? If you have kids attending, go throw them all over your yard. Seriously, just toss them around. It’ll take two minutes, your yard will look extremely festive, and it will entertain them while the grown-ups sip on whatever fancy drink you concocted and you finish the dish that inevitably took too long. Tell them they’re missing one if they find all the eggs too fast. There are other Easter games, I’m sure, but I don’t remember them. An Easter egg hunt is just so simple, why bother with other things? Of course, if it’s cold you’ll have to hide them inside, so make your boundaries VERY clear for those little weirdos.

No kids coming to your brunch? So what? Hide a “golden” egg somewhere and give the guests a prize. You don’t have to play a serious game of hide-and-seek with the egg. It can be a raffle, or one of those gold star on the chair sort of prize giveaways. It just adds a little bit of fun to have a prize at the end. Admit it, you hate those cheesy office Christmas parties, but you love it when they give out the prizes. Same idea. If your guests are drinking, I say hide it good and see what happens. It might be hilarious for everyone. Well, that’s my thoughts on having an awesome Easter brunch. Stay tuned – next week we need to talk about Easter dinner!

Rock a 3 course valentine's day dinner

How to Rock a Three Course Valentine’s Day Dinner

Valentine’s Day dinner. Ug, am I right? Like I need another special meal to plan in between the cleaning, working, and baby-watching. I suppose I could be like most normal people I know and go out on the town. But it’s not exactly romantic when I have to drag my toddler along, especially considering he’s incapable of sitting down. Does anyone else have that problem? I’m not sure why my husband and I even try to go out anymore. We can’t talk to each other because one of us is always walking around the restaurant following our son. We do occasionally have a baby-sitter, but my parents have been happily married for three hundred years and it’s also my mom’s birthday, so they’re out for this one.

I’m left with two choices. Either I cook, or I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day at all. That actually doesn’t sound so terrible, but my husband does like to acknowledge the holiday even though we don’t do gifts. So, cooking it is. Some of you may think I should have the hubby cook. No. You come eat his cooking sometime and then see how you feel about that. More power to you if you’re in a couple where you both cook. It sounds amazing. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my plan to fix a three course Valentine’s Day dinner without wasting all day in the kitchen.

Plan your Valentine’s Day Dinner Ahead

I would love if I always had everything I needed in my refrigerator, but it’s a rare rare day when that happens. I go through phases where I meal plan a week at a time, with some great advice, but I can’t keep up with myself during tax season. There could be anything in my fridge right now. Or nothing, which is probably more likely. This means for a three course meal I really need to come up with a plan ahead of time. Then I can grocery shop in advance, not have to run to the store later, and know exactly how much time I need to carve out of my day.

Pick a Cohesive Menu

Do you like Italian? Greek? Want to recreate some meal you and your lover had all those years ago? Pick one and go with it. The last thing you need is to have to come up with some sort of palate cleanser in between the important stuff. I’m going Greek this year because I need to practice a baklava recipe. Yes, I know baklava is originally from Turkey. That doesn’t mean they don’t make it in Greece. Anyway, that’s not the point. I want to practice this recipe, and my husband loves Greek gyros, so that’s the direction I’m going. Last year we had Italian if I remember correctly, and I also seriously considered French, but we’ll take it one year at a time.

I do have one caveat for your cohesive menu – the emergency cheese. What? You’ve never had to invest in an emergency cheese? Well, you should get used to the idea. It’s great. I know I’m going to do my best to plan everything and have a fixed schedule. I also know that’s not going to happen, because, life. That’s why I like to buy a good block of cheese when I’m doing my special occasion shopping. For my husband, only Gouda will do, so that’s what I get. Once I get backed up, which I inevitably will, he can munch on that with some apples. It also works as a first course appetizer or a dessert cheese plate if you really get behind. Wah lah! Emergency cheese.

Make Ahead Dessert

Dessert is the last course of the day, but I think it’s a great idea to make it the first course you cook. I’m going to make mine Thursday night after the kid goes to sleep. That way I know it’s done. Here’s a quick list of make-ahead desserts, but I’m sure Pinterest will show you a thousand more ideas if you can’t find one to fit your theme. Some desserts, like cheesecake, actually taste better to me after a day of sitting around, and it will allow you a little more time to do something fancy if you like. Plus, it’s the last course of your Valentine’s Day dinner so if you’re too tired to cook anymore, it doesn’t matter. Even something like creme brulee, which sounds really difficult but isn’t, can mostly be done ahead, then crisped up at the last second.

Easy but Elegant Salad

Anyone can dump a package of salad in a bowl. In fact, if that’s what you want to do, I’m not going to stop you. But, salads can also be really beautiful and elegant without a lot of work. When they’re not the main course, you usually don’t have to worry about getting a lot of protein in there, and that saves you cooking time. I think the last time I did a French salad the most difficult thing I did was toast some walnuts and dump in pre-crumbled goat cheese. Here’s another good list. If you’re following along my Greek menu, I’ll be doing your basic Greek salad by picking up a bunch of ingredients at the grocery store antipasti bar. They let everything swim in oil, so I probably won’t even have a dressing. I’ll throw my antipasti in a bowl with some lettuce and mix. So easy!

Spend your time on the Main Dish

You have to make a main dish, right? The emergency cheese just can’t replace your main course, no matter how much you want it to. If you’re going to get crazy, this is the place to do it, although I wouldn’t necessarily advise it. Does your theme have a slow cooker meal you could try? That’d save some time. You might not have to cook anything by the time Valentine’s Day dinner starts! I will be making gyro meat and tzatziki sauce. Is this complicated? Yes. I’m not going to pretend it’s not. But, I can do it in phases, like sauce in the morning, meat mixing afternoon, cooking it while I mix the salad. If I could ever find a good tzatziki, I would buy it and save myself the trouble, so please feel free to make recommendations. I do like cooking the meat though.

Whether you’re spending a lot of time on the main dish at night or in the morning, I would still aim for something really tasty. This actually is a special occasion. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t go through all the trouble. As for a side dish, that’s totally up to you. I’m going to buy pitas to serve our meal as a sandwich, but other dishes might necessitate something more. Pasta’s fine on it’s own. A piece of chicken or steak might require a vegetable or something though. In that case I’d suggest steaming a vegetable, or maybe throwing a baked potato in the oven when the cheese comes out. Those are both super easy options that won’t distract you from the other stuff. Alright, readers. Go out and put together a fabulous three course Valentine’s Day dinner!