potty training cake

How to Make a Potty Training Party Cake

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I’ll be honest, I don’t need a potty training party cake right now.  My son likes to tell me his toys are pooping and put them in his potty, but heaven forbid he sit on it himself. But, my best friend’s daughter recently potty trained, so of course they had to celebrate. When she was looking for cake ideas, she couldn’t find what she wanted, so she created one herself. I, being the good friend I am, saw the picture and immediately decided to steal it for the blog. Her response? Let me know how it does on Pinterest. Lol. So, people, pin away!

Now, my friend called her party a “panty party,” and the cake she did is for girls. For some reason she didn’t take pictures of the entire process (what a slacker, right?), so I had to make my own. Since my son’s older than my daughter, I figured it made sense to do one for boys. I’ll just leave the potty training party cake on my counter until he potty trains in a few months or so and then we’ll eat it. Kidding, you guys.  We’ll eat it all in one sitting like healthy people. This looks like it’s going to be pretty complicated, but it actually isn’t. The secret? Cupcakes and a willingness to be a little messy. It’s called a pull-apart cake, which I’ve never heard of before, but is apparently a thing.

Instructions for Making a Potty Training Party Cake

How to make a potty training party cake
The perfect cake for a panty party.

What You Need

24 unfrosted cupcakes in wrappers
2 batches buttercream icing (the thicker the better here – I like this recipe)
Food coloring
Fondant & Edible Spray Color (optional)
Other cake decorating items, like candies or ready made decorating icing (optional)

What to Do

No, I did not mean to have two types of cupcakes. My dog enjoyed 11 chocolate ones so I had to make more (he’s fine).
First frost. Is anyone else reminded of Mrs. Doubtfire?
Second round. So much frosting! The kids will love it.
  1. After you’ve baked your cupcakes (it is totally acceptable that they come out of a box), it’s time to set them up. First prepare a surface for  your cake. It needs to be quite big, so you might have to make one out of cardboard. I used my pizza pan. Cover it with aluminum foil. This is where the cupcakes will go.
  2.  Start with 2 rows of 6 cupcakes, then a row of 5, then 4, then 3, then 2. You may have less at the end depending on how big the tops of your cupcakes are.
  3. Push the cupcakes as close together as possible. This will help prevent frosting falling through the holes, although it’s probably going to fall through at least a little. That’s why you covered your cake tray in foil. 🙂
  4.  Smear your first batch of buttercream frosting all over those cupcakes. Have fun with it, no one’s going to see this part! In fact, this frosting doesn’t even have to be colored. You might still have some gaps in frosting here but that’s fine; just make sure they’re not too big.
  5. Put the cupcakes in the fridge to chill the frosting for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Decide what colors you want your underwear. I’m lazy and decided to opt with white for the main part, but my friend used a couple of colors for hers.
  7. Once your cupcakes have chilled, get them back out and frost all of them again with your main color. There should be no gaps this time.
  8. Add your lines. You can do this with cake decorating tips, or you can do it the real frenzied way and draw them with tube frosting. Start the top of the underwear line under the second row of 6 and the bottom of the line above the row of 2.
  9. Decorate however you see fit. The girl’s potty training party cake has stars made of fondant and colored by edible spray. I can’t tell you how to do that as I would never be bothered to use fondant, but I’m sure there are 8 million tutorials online.
  10. Put it back in the fridge until it’s time to eat. Serving is easy – just pull off a cupcake! I would note that they come off a lot cleaner if you let the cake sit out a bit beforehand. If you do it when they’re still cold the frosting will break in weird places.
Making some lines (don’t mind my terrible attempt at stars).
First we had a panty cake, now we have a tighty whitey cake.
A little mess when you pull apart, but that’s alright. Toddlers don’t judge your cake skills.

Bonus Decoration Idea

I may have mentioned over and over again that I hate decorating, but I have an idea for this one that won’t take much time. Besides balloons (because every kid party really does need balloons), why not string some underwear up and hang it someplace? It’s the same basic concept that these baby showers use with baby clothes. Just get yourself a couple packs of underwear, which you’re going to need anyway unless you’re also making this potty training party cake for giggles, and either hang them on a string or clothespin them right side up. Alright, moms and dads! Go convince your kids to use the potty so they can get this awesome cake!

tips for

Tips for Surviving Political Conversations at Parties

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Have an upcoming occasion where surviving political conversations seems impossible?  Like, say, a lazy Fourth of July party, or, I don’t know, a fancy dinner.  If so, this is the guide for you. I grew up in a purple state, and after I got bored of moving around that one I moved to another purple state. It was nice, pretending like my vote mattered. But now I live in a solid red state in a city that sometimes votes blue, and I have to tell you, sometimes I’d rather jab a fork in my eye than talk to anyone about my political leanings. I’m an American, but I have a feeling some of our European friends might feel the same way right about now.

I’m not a political blogger, so I’m not about to force my political views on you.  But I am less than a week from giving birth (hopefully) and I will be on a hosting hiatus for a little while, so I thought I’d share how I manage to leave gatherings without any fork marks on my face. I consider myself independent and my husband is a registered libertarian (they exist!) so we often leave dinners and parties rolling our eyes, but I’ve never actually been offended by anyone. Well, except that one girl who thought we should bring back slavery and spend more time executing the gays than ax murderers. That’s got to be an extreme though, right?

Surviving Political Conversations 101

Perfect Your Table Dive

I swear guys, she was right here.

This one is very important and not at all facetious. Every other Thursday or so, I have to go eat with a large group of people who have at least twenty years on me. Okay, I don’t have to. They’re my husband’s coworkers and we choose to. Most of them are lovely, normal people, or we wouldn’t go. But, a couple of them are very staunch Republicans who like to make their opinions known about everything. Let me point out that them being Republican is not the issue – if I was in California instead of Tennessee it might be the staunch Democrats who bother me – but surviving political conversations is a lot harder when every single comment is political. So, enter the table dive.

That’s right. Just drop off your chair and roll under the table. Wait it out, at least until there’s food or you can get a server to bring you booze. Now, you can try and do this in secret, but chances are your companions are going to notice when you suddenly throw yourself at the ground. They may even acknowledge it by asking if you’re okay. Ignore them until the topic has changed. If it appears it’s not going to change, others at the table may soon join you. Hopefully one of you thought ahead and brought something fun to do like, playing the board game Taboo until they get the hint or tying people’s shoelaces to their chairs so they realize what they’ve done.

Avoid the Bozo

This one’s slightly more serious. Any Saturday Night Live watchers? If so, you probably know who I’m talking about. We’re looking at Drunk Uncle or Girl You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started a Conversation With at Party. These people know nothing. They’re probably drunk. The combination of the two things might make your head explode if you attempt to engage them. Don’t go thinking you’re going to get an easy win for your political team either. The bozo is not going to believe you won any debate, even if all they did was ramble, “MAGA!” over and over.

You should also be aware if you have somehow become the bozo yourself. Did you have too much to drink? Are you suddenly quoting Donald Trump tweets to anyone passing by? Please, do the rest of the party a favor and hide out somewhere until logic returns, or at least until you have a stronger urge to dance than to speak.

Know Your Stuff

Surviving political conversations is much easier when you read.

You know what’s worse than an alternate fact? Nothing. So, if you’re going somewhere that surviving political conversations seems necessary, and you’re sick and tired of all those terrible lies you hear, do your research. Favorite some of the news items you read in your phone and be prepared to whip them out. I’m not kidding. But please, for the love of all that is holy, do not use media sources like Huffington Post or The Blaze to prove any point. If you’re looking for facts, find actual facts. Take a look at this news breakdown. It shows the slant of major news sources. Try to use sources in the middle, or even better, academic ones.

This is honestly super important. We’re all getting less and less willing to compromise because we search out news that backs up whatever we believe, and the internet makes it possible to find a source for that, no matter what it is. Here’s a site about Walmart being a site for FEMA prison camps, for example. You still think the earth is flat? Yep, there’s a site for that too. So, when you’re arguing whatever point it is that gets you all riled up, use non-biased sources if you want anyone to listen to you. If it’s a topic you know nothing about, it’s probably one you don’t care about all that much, so just don’t get into it.

Don’t use the Words Racist or Snowflake

This may be you.

Okay, I admit snowflake might be a personal pet peeve of mine. It’s just stupid. Does anyone actually get insulted when you call them a snowflake? What’s the issue with individuality? And finally, why are the ones who use this word so often the ones who are always crying about people not agreeing with them? I digress. The point is, these are words that show you haven’t put any thought into what you’re saying. You’re spouting out talking points from the TV or Facebook, and that only makes surviving political conversations even harder. 

A little note about the word racist – I am well aware racism exists. I live in the south. But I’m also well aware that it shuts down a conversation faster than anything else so you will have to think of another way to get your point across.  If you’re at a party where everyone suddenly puts on white hoods, you can go ahead and assume they are racist, but I would wait until you get home to talk about it – and I’d get home immediately.

Remember, You Aren’t Going to Change Their Minds

Sigh. I wish this wasn’t the case. It would be great if somehow we could get through to each other and have meaningful conversations that end with both parties feeling like they’ve learned something. There’s actually a pretty great book  (Tribe by Sebastian Junger if you’re interested) that talks about how people are better off when everyone wants to work but also wants to provide for those that can’t. Sounds like if Democrats and Republicans formed one mutant human, right? One day, maybe, we’ll all get along. But until then the most basic rule of surviving political conversations is accepting that you’re going home feeling disappointed, no matter which side you’re on.

4 Ways to Hold A

4 Ways to Organize a Copycat Recipe Potluck

Anyone ever held a copycat recipe potluck? I may throw a mean fancy dinner party, but heaven help me, I’d go crazy if I did it all the time. This week I thought I’d talk about something much, much simpler. So much simpler, you  barely have to work at all. In fact, you might even be able to convince someone else to host it. Lol. I haven’t actually done one of these yet, but I have been thinking about it for awhile. What do people love? Going out to eat. What impresses those same people? Cooking something from one of those restaurants they love eating at.

In theory, you could do the whole meal yourself, but sometimes a busy girl just needs a break. And sometimes a super pregnant girl just needs to eat and not stand on her feet cooking all day. I’m currently both, but even if I was only one or the other, I think this is the kind of party where sharing duties would be very comfortable. Copycat recipes are usually easy to find, easy to follow, and come out tasting pretty darn good. Even if your friends can’t cook, they can probably come up with something for a copycat recipe potluck. At the very least they can buy it from the restaurant and try to pass it off as theirs. Why not give it a try?

Option 1: A Copycat Recipe Potluck Free-for-All

What do I mean by this, you may ask? It’s simple. Put absolutely no limits on what people bring. Any restaurant, any course, any particular dish. It doesn’t matter if it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a tasty cocktail.

Copycat Happy Hour domestic beer mugs, everyone’s favorite.

The Drawbacks

My main concern with a copycat recipe potluck free-for-all is that you’d wind up with fifteen batches of Olive Garden breadsticks. But I guess that could be fun, right? You can judge each other harshly and pick one person to look down on for their poor attempt at fresh bread. Okay, kidding about that last part. Don’t be mean. They might not own a bread machine or have the time to knead bread. Why they chose breadsticks in that case, I don’t know. Your hypothetical bread baking friend clearly wants to be an overachiever. But I digress.

The Benefits

Honestly, what are the chances you wind up with fifteen batches of breadsticks? I bet there will be a couple of overlapping dishes, but for the most part it’s likely to be a surprise. Some people probably won’t even think of chain restaurants – they’ll use copycat recipes from their home towns, or some restaurant they visited once in New York. Plus, most of them will be glad not to have a restriction. You’re making them bring you food, and you’ve already put one theme on it. Adding more might stress them out.

Option 2: An Email Chain of Organization

What did people do before email? I mean, I lived without it for part of my life, but I can’t imagine trying to organize events now. Anyway, once you decide who’s invited you can start an email chain. Send it to all your guests, enjoy the necessity of the reply all button.

Yum, cheesecake copied from any old restaurant should be a winner.

The Drawbacks

One word: Delete.

The Benefits

This one is better for groups of friends who do not like surprises, like to stay organized, and prefer feedback before they choose a dish. They sound like a high maintenance group of friends, but they’re not really. They just don’t want to make a Cheesecake Factory dessert if no one’s going to eat it. You can’t blame them. By making sure in advance that everyone knows what everyone else is bringing, you’ll get a nice, cohesive meal and all the really bad ideas will be vetoed from the get-go. It might take a little more time up front, but it will soothe the indecisive people who don’t know what to fix.

Option 3: Assigned Restaurants

You can assign restaurants one of two ways. First, individual assignments. Everyone is either told their restaurant or they pick it from a list. Second, you pick three or four restaurants and assign groups.

Copycat Chili’s fajitas – maybe make more than one serving though, if you want to be nice about it.

The Drawbacks

There’s really only one drawback to this, and it’s that your friends may not agree with your choices. Generally when you have a potluck you’re telling people to bring their best food, so if you start putting restrictions on them left and right they might not want to participate. A copycat recipe potluck should be fun, not stressful, and not everyone is going to have the same taste as you. Of course, if you keep it really small to just close friends, you probably know exactly what restaurants you all like and this could make it super easy.

The Benefits

Anyone have a least favorite chain restaurant? I do! I mean, I had a gift card to this place for three years before I finally caved and bought a beer there. So imagine if everyone I knew brought a dish from that restaurant. Shudder. This way you’ll be sure you’ve got people bringing food from less questionable restaurants, plus for people who don’t want to think about what they’re bringing, you’ve really narrowed down the options.

Option 4: Assigned Courses

Instead of telling people what restaurants they should be copying, you can tell them what course to bring. Or, again, you can have them volunteer. Volunteering is fine, it’s just a matter of who you speak with first. You might want to suggest a course to people but be very flexible if they want to trade.

copycat recipe potluck
Copycat Panera soup, anyone?

The Drawbacks

The main drawback here is that you have to do a little more organizing than if it was a free-for-all.  The secondary drawback is that you should probably assign yourself the main course, if you choose to have a main course instead of a smorgasbord of sides and desserts. I don’t know that you really need a main dish, but if you do, it’ll probably be meat and probably cost more to serve a whole bunch of people. If it’s at your house and you’re the one doing the inviting, I would go ahead and take that hit yourself unless someone else actively wants it.

The Benefits

I mentioned breadsticks earlier, but I don’t really think you’ll get that much bread. I do, however, think you have a real chance of getting a whole lot of dips. It might be a huge variety of dips, and that might be a very fabulous party idea in itself, but is that what you want for a potluck? Probably not. Assigning courses at least guarantees you’re going to get a full menu.

If you’re feeling like a regular potluck isn’t the way to go, a copycat recipe potluck would be fun to try. Personally, I’d go with the free-for-all, because I just don’t have time to deal with organizing all those guests and their food. I will happily give suggestions, though, if they ask.  If you are going to throw one, I would go through a copycat website or two and be prepared with a few options that seem simple enough. CopyKat Recipes is a good place to start, but you can do a quick Google or Pinterest search and you’ll get plenty of ideas. Now get out there and make your friends cook for you!

tips for hosting a housewarming party

Five Tips for Throwing a Housewarming Party

Throwing a housewarming party as an adult homeowner is a different ordeal than throwing one as a college student who moves to a new rental every two months. I mean, it’s fun either way, but when you’re young and don’t actually own the property you’re living in, housewarming parties are really just an excuse to drink, aren’t they? Whereas when you’re an adult, you want to say, “Look at this piece of construction I purchased! It has four walls and a roof and I actually care about cleaning the carpets!” You may even have transitioned to real, grown-up furniture. You know, pieces that were clearly purchased to complement each other and require a coaster. Either way, throwing a housewarming party really doesn’t need to be a big ordeal. Here’s five tips to get you started.

1. Don’t worry if you’ve lived there a while.

This only works up to a certain extent, but it took me two full months from our move-in date to even start thinking about throwing a housewarming party. No one seemed to think that was odd. Actually, no one even mentioned it. Throwing a housewarming party should be fun and you want to show off your house; if you can’t do that, what’s the point? We are a very busy family, plus I’m pregnant, so unpacking and all that jazz took quite a bit longer than it’s taken me in the past. We also needed to do some projects that took precedence (building a fence, installing a dog door, etc.), schedule around my husband’s Saturday school, and pick a day when I’d have a baby-sitter so I could prepare. I’m surprised it only took us two months to throw it, actually.

Of course, there has to be some sort of deadline on this. I don’t think throwing a housewarming party six years after you’ve moved in will make any sense. Could you call that a barbecue instead? It might ruffle less feathers. I checked a few websites, but there doesn’t seem to be a general consensus on how long is too long. For us, we took a couple of months because of packing, but perhaps you’ve moved into a fixer-upper and need a little more time. If I knew you were hard at work, I wouldn’t mind waiting a year to go to your housewarming. On the other hand, if you want to throw it before you take stuff out of boxes, kudos to you. Does anyone actually care what’s in the boxes? Not unless you’ve been recreating Seven, probably.

What’s in the box?!

2. Invite your neighbors.

Neighbors? Do people actually talk to their neighbors these days? Yes! I do, anyway, and I totally recommend it. Do you know how nice it is to have someone next door to borrow a tool from or a babysitter down the street? Those are a couple of benefits of neighborhood friendships, but there’s also the possibility you could wind up becoming, I don’t know, actual friends. Think about it. You chose the same neighborhood. There’s a good chance you have a similar income. If you both have kids, you found the same school district to be worthwhile. It can’t hurt to find out what you have in common.

The possibility of friendship is not the only reason to invite the neighbors though. Ever had an awful neighbor? Yeah, they exist too. You might as well find out who they are right away. I’m not suggesting they’ll show up to your party; they won’t. Awful neighbors never do. But, they’ll know you’re having a party, so if they have issues with parking or noise or anything like that, they can let you know beforehand. If the awful neighbors don’t out themselves, maybe some of the other, nicer neighbors, who do show up to the party will fill you in. They’ll also let you know if the neighborhood has a Facebook page and other things like that.

3. Don’t decorate.

I mean this sincerely. If you’re throwing a housewarming party, don’t decorate. Put the balloons down, Becky, I see you trying to sneak them in your cart. No, not even for the mailbox to let friends and family know which house is yours. If they can’t read the house numbers already on your house or mailbox, you need new friends and family. If you don’t have house numbers somewhere, you should get them, or you’re never going to be able to order pizza.

Still concerned? Try an address sign like this.

My reasoning for this is pretty simple. When people attend a housewarming party, what do they expect to see? A house. They want to see how your regular decor is done, not whether you are a streamer or plastic tablecloth kind of person. If you have a fixer upper and there’s something you’re trying to hide, put some boxes or a plant in front of it. Or, hey, leave it out in the open and see if you can get any suggestions for it. I did put a plastic tablecloth on my dining room table when I threw my party, but that was not for decoration. That was so people could spill whatever they wanted and I wouldn’t have to clean it.

4. Serve a combination of packaged and homemade food.

Speaking of spillage, you should serve food and drinks at your party. Depending on where you are in your life, you might want more food or more drinks, but you’re going to have to serve something. You may already have twenty fabulous recipes figured out, but even if you do, throw something store-bought out on the serving table. Why? Remember how I told you to invite those neighbors? Well, you’re probably a completely new person to them. They might not trust your cooking just yet. You know there is always someone who participates in the office potluck that just shouldn’t,  and it makes everyone wary of eating strangers’ cooking unless there’s a health inspector grading them on it.

Baby cup for baby guests only, pasta salad for all.

Personally, I’m a big fan of homemade dips, and they’re easy to make, so that’s always a good option. This Chili’s queso knock-off was a big hit if you want to give it a try. As for the store stuff, Costco brownie bites worked really well, and of course we had the standard fruit and vegetable trays. I made sliders (turkey and barbecue) for the main dish, since they’re both pretty easy and I’m always in a time crunch. Your menu doesn’t really matter here, as long as you choose things you know you will eat if your guests don’t. But, the reason you need to feed those guests is pretty simple. They’re probably bringing a gift…

5. Don’t ask for gifts when throwing a housewarming party.

Crazy, right? You don’t ask for them and they show up with one anyway. I think back in the day there was some sort of etiquette rule about gifts and housewarming parties, but I could not be bothered to look that up. Just don’t ask for anything. Is it your first house? They’ll bring you decor things, whether you want them or not. Are you quite young? They’ll probably ask you what you want. Did you just get married? Then you just had a whole registry they chose from, don’t be greedy! For everyone else… Be prepared for plants and wine. Seriously. I wound up with more wine than what I started with, and the only reason I had any wine at all was to serve to our guests. Not that I’m complaining; once I evict this baby next month, that wine is all mine!

Empty pre-party, stocked post-party. Only at housewarmings.

Your younger friends and your neighbors probably won’t arrive with gifts, but that’s fine. It is not anyone else’s job to furnish your house. You don’t buy friends gifts when they purchase cars and other expensive items, do you? I thought not. I don’t think it matters if you mention anything about gifts on your invitation or not. When people see the word “housewarming,” if they’re the gift-giving type, they’re going to show up with something even if you specifically ask them not to, so just leave it alone and don’t make it awkward later. Well, that’s about it. Congrats on your new house, go out and have a fabulous party!

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!

Why i'm hosting my own birthday party

Why I’m Hosting My Own Birthday Party

I’m turning 32 in a couple of weeks. Last time I checked, no one cares when you turn 32. That is why I’m throwing my own birthday party this year. I usually do this anyway, as it would be a lot to ask someone else to do every year, but I’ll be handling everything this time around. That means I’m the greeter, the chef, the baker, the decorator, the clean-up, and the designated driver. What?! The designated driver at my own birthday party?! Sounds crazy, I know. But I’m pregnant, so it’s really not that big a deal. Typically someone else would get that job, as well as cleanup and baking, but I’ve run into a few issues this year.

The first issue is that I’m preggo. I already have one child and I don’t need a second shower, but I know my family is going to do at least a “sprinkle,” because that’s just how they are. So I don’t need them throwing another party for me. I also happen to be finding out the sex the weekend before my birthday. Since we like to reveal with blue or pink cake, it just makes sense for me to combine that with my own birthday party.  The second issue is I’m still new to Tennessee, and I don’t feel like letting one of my recent acquaintances come up with a guest list to introduce me to people. Regardless, there is nothing wrong with throwing your own birthday party! Just follow a few rules so you don’t come off as needy. Unless you are needy. Then do what you want.

Rules I Have for Hosting My Own Birthday Party

1. No Requesting Gifts

Did you know some people out there still bring gifts to birthday parties? I feel like in college all my friends and I were so broke we just gave up on that tradition and never picked it back up. Then I moved to the south and guests kept bringing me things, whether it was for my birthday or housewarming or whatever. I might bring a bottle of wine if I’m invited somewhere, but I’m not  into gift giving for every occasion.  I don’t want gifts either – unless it’s wine, obviously. So, when I host my own birthday party, I not only don’t request gifts, but I specifically tell people not to bring them. Maybe it’s tacky, maybe it isn’t. Either way, I don’t want you to stress when you come to my party.

2. Don’t Go Overboard

This, my friends, is the opposite of going overboard!

If I’m throwing a party for someone else, I almost always buy more food and/or decor than I will have time to deal with. I want everything to be perfect for them. But guess what? When I’m throwing my own birthday party, I’m usually just impressed I thought of inviting people ahead of time. I feel like it’d be weird to hang a whole bunch of birthday banners for myself, so I’ll definitely skip that. I get to pick my own favorite foods, whether I pick it up or cook. It’s also nice not to have to deal with some fancy bakery – I don’t like a lot of cake frosting, but bakers love it. So I’ll slather some buttercream on it and be done.  No fuss, o headaches, just all my favorite things.

3. Don’t Feel Bad Combining With Another Event

This year I’m doing a little gender reveal during my birthday. Last year I had a newborn and have legitimately no memory of my birthday as I was very sleep-deprived. The year before I enjoyed the big 3-0 at the same time as the Big Game. I know not everyone has a championship to watch on their birthday, but if there’s something else to combine it with, why not? I feel like it takes the spotlight off me, plus it keeps us “old” folks from getting partied out. If I was still in my early twenties back-to-back parties might be fun, but that’s not the case anymore. I had two Christmas parties in three days this December and it about killed me. Maybe that will change once the kids are older, but that seems so far away.

4. Don’t Get Caught up with Etiquette

Why do I say don’t get caught up with etiquette while I’m posting rules that are basically about etiquette? Well, look. Some people get really stressed about what society has to say about throwing your own birthday party. Miss Manners is particularly gruff on this point. There are whole discussion boards in forums dedicated to how tacky it is, and yadda yadda yadda. But who cares? If Miss Manners is your friend, just don’t invite her. Tell those forum people to stay home too. Not everyone knows how to throw a party, and even if they did, not everyone has friends who would want to throw one for them. Feel free to ignore advice that is simply too old-fashioned to listen to.

5. Have Fun!

This one’s actually important. You know what the worst part of hosting my own birthday party is? It’s that I’m a hostess. I like hosting, obviously, but it’s a lot of work and running around. You have to check on people and make sure your guests are okay, specifically your guest of honor. So how do you check on the guest of honor when it’s you? Don’t feel bad if you get caught up with someone and don’t make constant rounds to other people. This is your show, so you might as well enjoy it and let them come to you if you want. That’s about it for rules. So go out, have fun, and plan your own party!

 

GOUNELLE

Game Day Food by Football Team Cities

Have you ever tried to plan your game day food by NFL city? The play-offs are fast approaching, which means most people will have their eye on the big game. But, if you’re like me, your team will only be hosting the game, not playing in it. So, I celebrate them in earlier rounds. I try to be fair in my game day food, even when I have a preferred team. I’ll use one signature dish from each team’s city (or state, or region if that’s what they represent). I do this all of January every year, yet I never remember my research. It was high time to make a comprehensive list, and I had to share it. There are lists like this out there, I know, but I don’t want to buy specific ice creams or make cabbage rolls, so here we are.

The great thing about having a list like this is you can use it all year. Some teams see the play-offs all the time; others are Cleveland, where the best game of the season is game 1. (Sorry Cleveland! At least you have basketball.) Why not enjoy a little city-specific game day food all year long? It doesn’t have to be a big party; in fact some of these would be better for just a few friends. When it comes to game day food, it can be really fun to color coordinate things like cupcakes or punch, but it’s also fun to get  cultured. I tried to find three ideas for each team, using main or side dishes where possible. Some were easy – think Philadelphia or  New York. Some were ridiculously difficult – I’m looking at you, Jacksonville. If you know of better ideas, feel free to let me know!

List of NFL Game Day Food

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals play in Glendale, but since they claim the whole state I didn’t feel obligated to stick to the area. You might think of Mexican when you think of the Southwest, but there’s also a heavy Native American influence to give you more of a variety of dishes.

Chimichangas
Fry Bread
Cheese Crisps

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta is a great food city. I would legitimately drive there right now just for dinner if my child enjoyed the car.  You can likely find any kind of food you want there, but when it comes to it’s signature dishes, think Southern.

Fried Chicken
Biscuits
Grits

Baltimore Ravens

I feel like it would be cheating if I wrote three different types of crabs, but friends, they have at least that many signature crab dishes. I listed Lake Trout here, although there seems to be an argument as to what that actually is. Have fun with that if you just can’t stand crab!

Crab Cakes
Pit Beef Sandwiches
Lake Trout

Buffalo Bills

When you think Buffalo, I’m sure you think buffalo wings, and that is a good option. But it’s not the only option! There were actually quite a few dishes the city claimed to be good at, although they didn’t all seem like game day food.

Chicken Wings
Beef on Weck
Charcoal Broiled Hot Dogs

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are supposed to encompass both Carolinas. I was tempted to only do North Carolina since I lived there for five years, but I decided to be nice. When I say barbecue, you should be aware, there are very distinct types from each state. Choose wisely!

Barbecue
Shrimp & Grits
Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

Chicago Bears

Did I even need to bother with Chicago? I’m not sure that I did. It has so many signature dishes, you might as well make anything you can think of and just call it “Chicago-style.”

Deep Dish Pizza
Chicago Style Dogs
Italian Beef

Cincinnati Bengals

I was recently in Cincinnati and determined to stop by one of their chili places, but I didn’t make it. Their chili fascinates me though – they put it on spaghetti! Who thinks of this stuff?

Cincinnati Chili
Goetta
Montgomery Inn-Style Barbecue

Cleveland Browns

I thought I was going to have a hard time with Cleveland, but they surprised me. They have several dishes that not only make sense as a game day food, but they’re also pretty easy to make, even for a group.

Polish Boys
Pierogies
Pizza Bagels

Dallas Cowboys

Ah, Texas. So much food, so little time. Luckily there are two Texas teams to fit it all in. I tried to split them appropriately, but they both have that Tex Mex style to them and love meat. Perfect for games, right?

Brisket
Burgers
Tex Mex

Denver Broncos

I love Denver’s restaurant scene, but they have a lot of influences from all over the place, so it was hard to narrow it down. If you’re on the east coast, you’ll probably prefer a Denver sandwich over the omelette, but west coasters might enjoy them for an early morning game.

Bison Burgers
Green Chili
Denver Sandwiches/Omelettes

Detroit Lions

I always thought a Coney Dog was a Coney Island thing, but either I’m wrong or confused about the history. Apparently they’re Detroit’s signature dish. I’m kind of vague about apples, I know, but it gives you a chance to be creative.

Coney Dogs
Square Deep Dish
Apple Dishes

Green Bay Packers

The team’s fans are called Cheeseheads, and if I wasn’t sharing this list, it would be all cheese. Since I am, I did my best to find some other dishes. Wisconsin sounds like a good place for game day food!

Fish Fry
Cheese Curds
Brats

Houston Texans

Houston’s food is all over the place due to it’s history of immigrants from everywhere. There’s a big Cajun influence along with their Tex Mex, and of course regular ole’ Texas chili.

Chili (no beans)
Cajun Shrimp
Pecan Pie

Indianapolis Colts

Every source I looked at claimed Indianapolis loves breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, so I would have to say this one is actually definitive. Of course, if pork isn’t for you, there are other options.

Corn on the Cobb or Sweet Corn
Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches
Sugar Cream Pies

Jacksonville Jaguars

Oh Jacksonville. You all claimed you have no specific dish, and after a morning of searching, I believe you. In fact, I picked shrimp for you because you had a lot of vague “seafood” comments. But your baseball team is the Jumbo Shrimp, so the crustacean must be cooked somewhere, right?

Camel Rider Sandwiches
Shrimp
Lubi Sandwiches

Kansas City Chiefs

I’ll be honest with you. After researching Kansas City food, I’m pretty sure all they eat is barbecue. For breakfast, lunch, dinner, it doesn’t matter. In fact, if you are a vegetarian, you might cease to exist once you cross city limits. I added some broader Kansas/Missouri foods to round it out.

KC Barbecue
Fried Chicken
Zwieboch

Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles claims to be good at everything, so go ahead and make whatever you want. I left a ton of stuff off this list, like tacos, but other cities needed foods too, so LA has to share.

Ramen
Thai Food
French Dips

Miami Dolphins

To me, Miami is all about Cuban food. They might serve something else, but I’ve never looked. I know some of these things look difficult and not like what a frenzied host might want to make, but they aren’t that bad. If you don’t have time to try them, make any Cuban dish and call it a day.

Ceviche
Croquettas
Fried Plantains

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota has a ton of regional food. A lot of it comes from Nordic influences, which is perfect for the Vikings. They may be hard to accomplish. But the other parts are kind of like what you would expect at a state fair or an unhealthy potluck (think Jello salad), so you have a variety of foods to choose from.

Lefse and/or Lutefisk
Deep Fried Cheese Curds
Tater Tot Hot Dish

New England Patriots

Friends, if you don’t have a good recipe for clam chowder or know of  a can worth serving to people, let your eyes skim right past that option. Pretend you saw oysters or cranberries. There’s probably many more choices as well, since the Patriots are greedy and represent a whole region.

Clam Chowder
Lobster Rolls
Boston Cream Pies

New Orleans Saints

You know what’s great about New Orleans food? No other city claims it. They have a rich history of Cajun/Creole cooking that’s really distinctive, and it sure was nice not having to read about what kind of tacos they serve.

Gumbo
Jambalaya
Muffulettas

game day food

New York Giants

You may be aware that there are two New York teams. Two! And they play in New Jersey! It’s nonsense. But, I’m perfectly okay with it in this situation because New York has a ton of food they can claim as their own. Add a few more teams, I’m sure I could find a few more options.

Pizza
Hot Dogs
General Tsos Chicken

New York Jets

If you’re wondering, these are listed completely at random. I don’t feel like the Jets would be more likely to eat bagels than the Giants, or that the Giants would be more likely to eat pizza than the Jets. Wouldn’t it be kind of funny if they were though?

Pastrami on Rye
Chicken & Waffles
Bagels

Oakland Raiders

Yes, that’s right, I gave taco truck tacos to Oakland. All the forums I read were pretty insistent about this, so it is what it is. I’m not sure precisely what kind of tacos appear in those trucks, so I guess that means you can choose whatever you want.

Taco Truck Tacos
Barbecue
Oysters

Philadelphia Eagles

Philly’s really adamant that they’re more than cheesesteak, so please don’t feel like that has to be your only choice. Pretzels for game day sounds amazing. By the way, Irish potatoes aren’t Irish or potatoes. I wonder what the Irish think of that.

Cheesesteak
Irish Potatoes
Soft Pretzels

Pittsburgh Steelers

You are reading this right. Pierogies are appearing on the list for a second time. Who knew this country had such a love of pierogies? I ate them in North Carolina once and no one else knew what they were. Primante is a restaurant, but you can find their recipes online.

Pierogies
Primante Sandwiches
Fried Zucchini

San Diego Chargers

Do I remember something about San Diego moving to LA with the Rams? I might have to change this soon. Until then, enjoy some more California food with a beachy vibe.

Carne Asada Burritos
Fish Tacos
Turkey Avocado Sandwich

 

San Francisco 49ers

I miss San Francisco clam chowder in a bread bowl. I ate clam chowder all over Boston, but nobody served it like they do on the pier. Cioppino’s a pricier meal, but it’s actually pretty easy to cook. Just remember to clean your shellfish.

Clam Chowder with Sourdough
Cioppino
Mission-Style Burritos

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle folks couldn’t seem to agree on anything other than salmon, so serve that however you want. They also kept mentioning coffee, but last time I checked you can’t eat that. They do say their vegan food is great, so if you are feeling like it’s time to try something animal product-less, might as well start with this.

Salmon
Fish and Chips
Vegan

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I bet you’re surprised to see Cuban sandwiches here instead of Miami. They actually started out there, but the more I read about Tampa, the more I realized this is where they belong. And yes, that says enchilado, not enchilada. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t create it.

Cuban Sandwiches
Crab Enchilado
Spanish Bean Soup

Tennessee Titans

Here’s my current home team (although not the one I root for). With these three dishes you’ve got Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville covered. I’m not a super fan of cornbread, but it is a nice and easy addition to a game day meal.

Memphis Barbecue
Hot Chicken
Cornbread

Washington Redskins

Our nation’s capitol is known mostly for food of other country’s. Neat, huh? Everyone agrees the main signature dish is the half-smoke, although they claim locals don’t actually eat it. But then, D.C. isn’t exactly full of locals anyway.

Half Smoke
Ethiopian
Mumbo Sauce

Well, that’s it! I hope this gives you enough game day food ideas for at least a couple of years.