Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Favorite: Halloween Party!

As promised, here is this week's Friday Favorite - a Halloween Bash hosted by Alan and Greg in their fabulous apartment. One of the first things Alan told me while I was exclaiming over his great decorating sense was that these decorations are only a fraction of what he used to own for Halloween because he had to downsize from a house to an apartment when he moved here. I can completely sympathize with the lack of space. Even so, he did an incredible job decorating every visible inch of his place.

Note the totally cool headstone wallpaper hanging up - this stretched around the living room

In the dead body party corner, a strobe light was flashing. Alan told me that he had wished for fog, but a fog machine was out of the question in such a small space and dry ice is a pain. The effect was still very cool. Under the hanging ghost, as you can see, was a black light - very spooky.

Alan and Greg offered absolutely delicious cookies in addition to some salty snacks. The vampire teeth on the right
are vegan cookies with a citrus flavor - absolutely amazing!

I brought monster eye deviled eggs! 
 Alan and Greg had a variety of liquors with mixers, and more arrived with each guest. It was very smart that they asked folks to bring alcohol and/or something to snack on. They were fun and generous hosts, and I know that I had a majorly fun time. It was a perfect 20 Something Halloween bash, and a great use of limited space. Not to mention that they both had limited time to pull this all together! I've had fun sharing this party with you as my second Friday Favorite. Please feel free to share your favorite parties with me as well. Until next week!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween Readers

Happy Halloween! Today is one of my favorite holidays - not only because of the decorations and costumes, but because of the parties. I did not give a Halloween party this year, but I did attend one. I will share the details of this fabulous event in tomorrow's post. For now I want to briefly mention my plans for the day. This morning I made chocolate brownies with orange sprinkles. I was tempted to buy special Halloween sprinkles for this treat, but the budget it a bit tight right now, so I settled with the multi-colored sprinkles which I already have - and yes, I picked out a handful of the orange sprinkles only. This is a little type A, but I've done worse! I'm going to spread the Halloween spirit with these brownies, ending my day visiting friends who live in a much larger community than I where we will set up a bonfire, drink wine, and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Here's hoping your Halloween is as much fun or more!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Oktoberfest Party!

Last year my roommate and I hosted a Halloween party which was tons of fun and a great success. However this year I thought that I'd rather mix it up and have a different kind of Fall party (besides, a new recruit volunteered to have a Halloween party - more on that to come!). It just so happened that I was going to be visiting one of my best friends in Germany at the end of September for her lovely wedding. This gave me an idea: Oktoberfest Party! I had only dressed up for Oktoberfest once before, many years ago for another event, but this seemed like the perfect Fall occasion. 

The first thing I did was comb Pinterest (see my post on using Pinterest for Planning Parties) for Oktoberfest ideas. Then I consulted with my roommate about a menu, and I proceeded to make my lists. Then I began crafting. Using only construction paper, I made a pretzel banner (pictured here). Initially I just made a bunch of pretzels thinking I would place them all around the house, but when I strung them together, they looked much nicer. All I did was find a good looking cartoon pretzel on google images and copy it by hand onto brown construction paper, cut it out, and used it as a stencil for the others. Of course you can also just print one of the images and do the same, or even print multiple pretzels and string them up instead of drawing by hand. I also knew I wanted to have another banner over my dessert table, so I set about crafting that as well. I chose blue and yellow because they are popular Oktoberfest colors (and I had a lot of each in my construction paper pack). All I do to make these banners is draw three triangles on the background paper using a ruler, and three triangles measured one half inch less the size on the filler paper - easy to do with a ruler. then I tape the ribbon to the back of each triangle. Sometimes I hand draw the letters like I did here, but other times I print them and paste them on. This is what I did for my final craft - a Biergarten sign which I hung opposite the banner over the food. I mainly did this because the other wall needed something and it covers a wine painting I already have hanging there. 

Initially I wanted to make a mini version of the popular ginger bread hearts (pictured here) for the favors, but in the end, I ran out of time and energy to make them. Instead I made my famous ginger molasses cookies (recipe to come!) for which I received a lot of compliments. I like to offer some kind of food as a favor because it is a nice little snack on the ride home for guests. All I did in addition to baking the cookies was use microsoft word to make "tables" in which I wrote "Thanks for coming" with a pretzel cartoon. I printed them out, punched holes in one side, and attached them to the favor bags. These I set near the door so guests could take one on the way out.  
These were hung using Command
The only other decorations which I had were three German ginger bread hearts, a frauline wall decoration, and three beer stein cut-outs hanging in my front windows (not pictured here). The woman and the steins are obviously professionally made, and I bought them for a slamming deal at Party City. Since Oktoberfest ends in the first week of October, I was able to snap these up for a discounted price (a couple of dollars each).The ginger bread hearts I picked up in Germany on my way home. Since it was also the end of Oktoberfest there, they had a small selection of items for sale in the duty free shop (and the pink one was a wedding favor of my friend's). In no time and for only a few dollars, our little home was transformed into an Oktoberfest partyscape. 

For drinks, my roommate and I found a mini keg with an Oktoberfest name that was perfect for our party. I already wrote how we decided to splurge on 12 beer steins for the party so we could offer chilled glasses for the keg beer. Additionally we offered a selection of Sam Adams Fall Beers in bottles. We also had mulled wine on hand for those who prefer something other than beer. I placed the wine in my crockpot (pictured here) near the other drinks so the wine stayed warm throughout the party - it was also a big success!


On to the food! With this much drinking, I was prepared to offer hearty selections, and it's Oktoberfest! So naturally we had a variety of wursts (not pictured here because they rested on the stovetop) with a variety of mustard types. We also made bacon-wrapped potatoes that were a big hit, veggies and dip, and beer bread (made by my own roommate). One of the most popular dishes by far was the beer cheese. This is the first time I had ever made it, but we used the fondue pot to keep it warm and offered apples and bread to dip in. They must have liked it because it was all gone by party's end! As for dessert, well I had an easy time of it - because I was in Germany the weekend before the party, and because my friend's mom is overgenerous, I came home with armfuls of German chocolate, gummies, caramels, etc. All I did for the party was make pumpkin spiced cupcakes and set out all my German goodies - instant dessert table! 


The last detail I want to mention are these fabulous Oktoberfest bibs (pictured here). I briefly mentioned them in yesterday's post, but these were such a worthy buy! They cost only a few dollars from Party City, and everyone loved them. I was the only maniac wearing a real costume, but everyone got into the spirit with these fun photo props.

Thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned for more awesome 20 Something Parties heading your way, and be sure to stop by my Pinterest board for more fun ideas.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Party Games: Not Just for Kids Anymore

To game or not to game? Another worthy party question. While I have been to many wonderful parties with no games or activities, I tend to always plan on some kind of game for each party I plan. The trick then is what kind of game/activity? I am not fan of parties that feel like children's birthday parties with one game after another which the host has to compel the guests to play. I tend to favor one or two games/activities which can be played without breaking the rhythm of the party. It helps that nowadays there are so many great ideas for adult party games online other than your usual never-have-I-ever or murder 

One of my favorite games to play at any party is "Who am I?" for which I tape character names to each guest's back and each guest must ask yes or no questions to determine who he/she is. This is fun because guests can play in the groups they're already in, or are prompted to mingle with others to determine who they are. When kids are also present, I make easier tags for them ("ghost" "witch") than for the adults ("Freddy Kruger" "Headless Horseman"). Of course there are a few things I have to keep in mind regarding games at my parties - space and money. I don't have a lot of space in my little home (I don't even have a yard) and I definitely don't have room in the budget for costly materials to make some of the games I've seen on party blogs. So my games, like my party decorations, typically involve little more than paper and can be played in a crowded apartment without issue.

Holiday Party game clues 
One of my favorite games to design and play was inspired by a party my sister-in-law gave in which she set up little clues around the house corresponding to well-known horror films. The clues are numbered so guests can keep track of their finds. Whoever can guess them all first, wins! I imitated this for a holiday party, and it was a big success. It was also fun deciding which movies to include and how to represent them without making it too easy. For example in this picture you can see two clues - one was a frozen scene from a movie on the TV and the other is a grinch hand (made from construction paper) picking up a crumb in the fire place. I marked each clue with an ornament-shaped piece of paper with a number on it. Almost all my clues involved nothing more than construction paper or holiday decorations which I already owned. Of course you can make it as elaborate as you please. 

I found these costume props
for guests to wear online
Sometimes the party itself has some built-in activity that renders additional games unnecessary. I host a wine party each spring where each guest brings a bottle to share and "enter" into the tasting. I make printed score cards and number labels for the bottles - that's it! Whichever bottle gets the most points wins a wine-related prize. It is easy, delicious, and keeps the party going. Another option is just to leave games/activities around the house for optional entertainment. I used to keep a chess set out, but now I have other types of games/activities - flash cards with Shakespeare trivia or props for funny/themed photo ops. Rock Band, Dancing, and Singing video games are also a solid option for 20 somethings if you have the equipment. 

The bottom line is that you do not need to spend a lot of money or even time to offer your guests a little entertainment - and sometimes your choice of game can really make the party memorable. What activities have you planned in the past? Were they successful? Please share your experiences with us! 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Surprise Backyard Birthday Party

Apologies for the brief hiatus. The week got away from me, but I have been dying to share this 20 Something Party with you. So now let me share this Friday Favorite a day late. A good friend of mine, Karen, set out to surprise her best friend with a secret birthday party - all on a budget. This was my kind of party. To begin with, she invited us all privately on Facebook to get the word out. While surprise party invitations are always tricky - and you can never warn guests enough to keep quiet about it - consider those affordable means open to you for party invitations. Facebook is great when you may not have everyone's email addresses handy - especially if you are throwing a party for someone else - like a baby shower. My favorite invitation, however, is Evite. Both my roommate and I have our friends' emails saved which makes it quite easy to generate invite lists each time we throw a party. Evite is free and always has beautifully designed invitations. I am also a fan of how you can customize the reply function depending on the kind of party you are having. Nowadays, there is no reason why you shouldn't use a free, electronic (and of course Green) invitation.

Karen's home is situated right next to a cornfield with a nice-sized yard - a great space for this outdoor BBQ/Surprise party. Because it was Fall and getting chilly, she also fashioned a home-made fire pit for the occasion which was a welcome addition as the sun set and the wind picked up. I am a fan of fire pits when the weather suits - they are practical, festive, relatively inexpensive after the initial cost of the pit, and great for making s'mores - the most delicious, easy, and cheap dessert for a large group of people. Karen's party decor embraces one of my favorite party philosophies - use what you have. She has an RV parked in the backyard which she festooned with twinkle lights and under which she placed the food table. Again, easy, festive, and inexpensive.

 In her invitation, Karen asked us all to bring a side dish to share and a beverage of our choice. A potluck is always a great way throw a big party without breaking the bank, and she was smart to make it BYOB because alcohol is almost always your greatest party expense. In addition to the beer and wine that folks brought to the party, she set out a pitcher with a mixed drink in it. It is always a good idea to have at least one signature drink at a party - my roommate and I don't even own all the liquor we would need for a full bar. In lieu of letting folks mix their own drinks, we always set up a signature drink with wine and beer which we find is much more affordable and less chaotic. 

With side dishes and beverages taken care of by the guests, she was able to splurge on an entire pig to grill which was not only a delicious main course, but also a major party show-piece. Her husband chose to grill it in the Cuban style on a home-made grill. In the past, when I've hosted potlucks, I always make sure to have at least a few snacks on hand to get the party going before all the dishes arrive. Chips and dip, deviled eggs, and pretzels/nuts/something salty are easy, inexpensive additions to your party table. In fact, someone brought incredibly tasty deviled eggs to this party - topped with capers and a jalepeno-stuffed olive - creamy, salty, and hot (I must try this version asap!). When hosting a potluck, there are a few tips I have to make sure you are making the most of the potluck. In the invite, for example, encourage people to reply with their intended dish so that all guests can see what is on the menu - that way you won't, in theory, have five plates of deviled eggs and nothing else. Not everyone will comply with your instructions, but enough people will that you should have a good spread. In theory, guests who bring side dishes that require special utensils should bring those with the dish, but, in my experience, this doesn't always happen. It is smart to have extra service spoons/forks, bowls as well as plates (for chilis, soups, etc), and even an extra serving dish or two - sometimes guests arrive with dishes which need to be assembled or baked - and sometimes they don't have anything to set the finished dish on.

Karen's final party touch (and something I would always recommend for party hosting) was entertainment - corn holing! These wooden boards with holes are easily made with scrap wood or easily bought as they have come back into style for backyard parties (I am even seeing them more and more often included at outdoor weddings). Whatever kind of party you're having, consider including at least one game or activity. While it is fun to stand around eating, drinking, and talking with friends, it is a nice gesture to guests to include some kind of game. Don't worry - I have an entire post on games coming up next week, but for now, consider including one at your next gathering.  

This has been my first Friday Favorite (on Saturday). Stay tuned for more favorites coming your way. And feel free to share your favorite 20 Something Parties with me. Also, I'm on Pinterest (20 Something Parties)! Consider following me there. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Splurge

By now you should have a sense of how I like to throw parties. I am a budget-conscious 20 something who likes to entertain, so being frugal is key to my continued success. Still, I almost always come across something in the party planning stages that I really don't need, but which I really, really want and which would give my party a unique wow factor. The following conversation always takes place in my head:

These plastic jello shot syringes are the coolest thing! 
Yes, but just because you want to serve jello shots does not mean you should spend $30 on a pack of 20
Plastic cups are only $5
I know but these are so cool! 
You could use that $25 for more food, drinks, or rent! 
But syringes!!! 

It seems like a miracle that I can ever compete with my rational self, but typically I do indulge in one "splurge" item for each party - something which I do not need at all, but which would be awesome for my guests. Even then, however, I try to be as frugal as possible. I scour the web for coupons, check out any site offerings for discounts, deals, etc. I always comparison shop to make sure I am getting the most for every splurge dollar. In the case of the syringes, I found them in the right amount for the right price, and they were a huge hit at our halloween party! (special note if you decide to use these in the future: remember the fridge space you will need to hold them - they take up quite a bit of room). Another time I wanted to splurge on glass beer steins for an Oktoberfest party because I liked the idea of being able to offer real chilled glasses for the keg beer instead of plastic cups - luckily my roommate and I found an incredible deal at Bed Bath and Beyond, plus I had coupons. I can't tell you how please I was when I could open my freezer door and pull out real chilled steins for my party guests - they were very impressed!

      My recommendation for you is to find some room in the budget for a little splurge, but make sure you are making the most of that indulgence - something that has maximum impact for the cost. There are a million store-bought and DIY projects on which you can spend a little extra money for parties, but try and make sure whatever your splurge is on is something that will make a bigish difference in the experience of your guests. I would never, for example, spend $30 on a sparkly skull (or make a sparkly skull) for a large party (maybe for a small dinner party). But I did splurge for a graduation party on these adorable plastic margarita glasses because they matched my tropical color scheme, weren't breakable, washed easily, made a 50 person party seem personal, and doubled as party favors (check out my thoughts on party favors).

What do you splurge on for parties? Please feel free to share! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Party Day: Getting Ready and Staying Relaxed

You probably all have experience at one time or another with a host/hostess who looks dead on his/her feet once the party has started. I tend to arrive early or on time to things, and so I've seen the wild-eyes and stressed smile that come after a full day of party prepping and regret because no time was left to dry hair or put on makeup. Even if you end up accomplishing everything on your list, I do not recommend this approach. Not only are you stressed out and walking around with wet hair, but your guests sense your stress and are often unsure about what to do with themselves. Should they offer to help? What should they do with themselves while their hostess is still running around the kitchen trying to finish the dishes? Where is the music? Should they help themselves to a drink?

   Of course it is much easier when you are hosting a party with another person - someone who can greet your guests, take their coats, and offer them a drink. But even if you do have a second host, the last thing guests want to see is a party host dog tired and stressed out. The good news is that whether you are a single or part of a pair of hosts, you have the potential to get everything done and even have time to dry your hair. All it take is a little planning.

    Not to brag, but my roommate and I have this party prepping day down to a science. We typically get up early, head to the grocery store with my lists, and return ready to prep. She cleans the house while I make everything I possibly can ahead of the party. Once the cleaning is finished and all the cleaning supplies are put away, we rearrange furniture together and hang the last of the decorations. Then she will pitch in with food prep if I need it or get the music situation set up. I have a few hard and fast rules when it comes to my selection of party food: 1) as soon as the party starts, I do not want to have anything more to do. To that end, I select foods that don't need to be coddled, I select dishes that can be made ahead of time, and I try to have a cool oven by the time guests arrive - if you've ever lived in a small space, you will know why this is desirable. And 2), I always, always, always built time in to the schedule to sit with my roomie with a pre-party beverage and watch a funny episode or two of our favorite tv shows. By the time my guests arrive, I am relaxed, done prepping, and I even have my hair and makeup done. What is my secret?

    In my early party days I would need to take breaks from my own party to sit or lie down in my room because my feet hurt from standing in the kitchen all day and I was literally exhausted from running around trying to make everything perfect. Then I got a tip from one of my party gurus, Ina Garten, (whom I wrote about last week) that I should make a party schedule. 
Basic Party Schedule
    I begin with the party start time and work backwards from there. I look at all my recipes and note when they need to go into and out of the oven, I estimate prep time and include that, and I even schedule in that relaxation time with my roommate to make sure I have a moment to sit down and re-energize. Since then, the schedule has never failed me - it is a useful exercise not only to make sure you get everything done on time, but also great when planning a menu so you can make sure you aren't cooking too many things all in the oven at different temperatures which need to be done at the same time. All in all, it is a great party planning tool. You've heard the expression that a happy mom is a happy family? Well similarly, a happy host/hostess is a happy party. It doesn't matter if everything goes exactly as planned if you look like you want to cry all night. Remember that parties are fun - if you're not having fun, you are not doing them correctly. Make it easiest on yourself because a happy host is a happy party. What tips do you have for the day of?