Pop the Champagne? Not so fast!

{my photo taken with my new camera!}

A little research this week revealed that popping the cork on a bottle of sparkling wine/champagne is not a good thing.  Rather the cork should be gently twisted off.  Good to know ... or your guests will wear the tiny little bubbles that we love so much!

More good to know sparkling wine/champagne stuff
Chill the bottle at 45 degrees F to lower the pressure (thus, avoiding the pop);

To quickly chill, use salt!  Place bottle in a bucket filled with cold water and ice, sprinkle with salt to lower the freezing point and turn the bottle occasionally.  Chills in 15-20 minutes.

Pour a little sparkling wine/champagne into a flute or tulip shaped glass; let the bubbles settle and then pour more, about 2/3 full.

Hold the glass by the stem, not the bowl, to keep your drink cold.

For complete instructions, watch this video from Ted Allen on the Food Network.

More New Year's Eve Goodies

This is a Blowout Invitation.  The invitation is tucked inside the blowout.  Isn't that fun?  I got the idea from Martha Stewart years ago.

This is a festive Table Centerpiece that I quickly assembled using Christmas garland and noisemakers.  Not a bad idea for repurposing garland? 

This pink, purple and blue garland is the inspiration for my New Years Eve family party. I can't wait to put it together and show you the photos next week!  Until then, I wish you a happy and healthy New Year!  Cheers to 2011!


{party trend} Dinner Tables Shine with Metallics

As one year ends and another begins, trends always emerge including trends that influence parties and celebrations. 

Last week, I saw cutie-petutie Nate Berkus on the TODAY show.  He discussed design trends for the new year, one of which is Metallics - incorporating touches of gold, silver, copper and mercury into your home.  He says that metals are neutral, sophisticated and create the illusion of shine.

It's not a stretch to translate Nate's design trends into party trends.  Neutral, sophisticated decor elements are classic, complementing both traditional and contemporary tastes, and who doesn't want their party to shine?!

To add shine, start with the dinner table (or food buffet). 

{photo from marthastweart.com}

Accent existing white china or serving dishes with metallic items such as these from West Elm and Crate and Barrel - linens, candles, napkin rings, chargers and glassware.

Metallic party palettes are great for milestone parties (birthdays and anniversaries) as well as New Years Eve celebrations.  How will you shine in 2011?


{event showcase} 3 Strategies for Entertaining at Home

For many people, today will be a frenzy of last minute holiday dinner preparations.  With this chaos in mind, I have 3 strategies for entertaining at home.  I'll demonstrate by showcasing a recent holiday party =)

Spread Out!
Avoid congestion by creating party zones.  For example, serve cocktails and a few appetizers in the family room; create a food buffet in the kitchen; and offer dinner seating in your dining room and adjacent [living] rooms.  After dinner, swap out wine and apps for coffee and dessert.

For my client's party, we set up a bar a desk (above left) and created a food buffet on the kitchen table.  Dinner tables were set up in the living room and in another cozy room as well as the dining room. 

Go Semi-Homemade!
I'm a huge fan of semi-homemade strategies!  For example, my quick and affordable solution for table decor is to deconstruct beautiful bouquets of flowers into smaller centerpieces for the dinner tables and food buffet as well as foyer tables and powder rooms. 

For my client's party, I purchased 3 floral bouquets to fill 4 small vases plus 1 large container.  To enhance the look, I filled the containers with faux snow and added snippets of evergreen and holly from my yard, silver ting from my client's pantry and seasonal ribbon. 

Light Up!
Candles transform rooms and convey warmth!  For my client's party, I placed a few red votive candles on the dinner tables, food buffet and kitchen island.  It was just enough accent without going over the top!

Need more ideas?  Recently, I suggested a few napkin folding ideas as well as a quick and easy recipe for Peppermint Cookie Bark (which is a great hostess gift, too!).

These are just a few of my strategies for successful entertaining at home.  We'll explore more ideas in 2011!  Until then, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas full of love, laughter and many memories!


{party trend} Pie

Move over cupcakes.  Pies are IN for 2011!  Sweet and savory, and even individual deep-fried, according to this month's Event Solutions magazine. 

The Producers predicted pie as the next big dessert trend over the summer, too (and I reported it here) but if you need more evidence, my favorite party planner, David Tutera, teamed up with Pillsbury earlier this month to promote pies.  He recommends a few pies based on your party personality and the spirit of the party:

Classic: French Silk Chocolate Pie

Glam: Raspberry Truffle Tart

Trendy: Salmon Pastry with Dill Pesto

The recipes, as well as David's encouragement to use refigerated pie crust to make baking pies more enjoyable as well as tasty, may be found on this Pillsbury web page.  Photos from pillsbury.com.

So, what's your pie party personality?  I'm a classic gal!  The French Silk Chocolate Pie looks devine!  Enjoy!


{event showcase} Whodunit? Holiday Party

A murder mystery may seem like an unusual choice for holiday entertainment but it was ideal for a recent corporate party, providing audience participation and a lot of laughter as guests discovered who killed the maid during a "Fiends of Fentress" book reading hosted by Lady Penelope, Semper Fi.  Read on to see how the party played out.

The holiday party was hosted by the Washington, DC Studio of Fentress Architects at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.  Fentress designed the award-winning museum so it was a very fitting venue for their employee party.

My custom invitation was sent via email.  It incorporated a photo of the museum (provided by Fentress) and complemented their brand identity including logo, slogan, font and colors.



Cocktails were hosted on the Overlook (bottom right photo) and then, dinner and entertainment were held in the Tun Tavern (remaining photos), a replica of the Philadelphia tavern considered the 1775 birthplace of the Marines.

After dinner, guests participated in solving a murder mystery, as well as participating in dance auditions (bottom left) and reading select book passages (top right) during a custom comedy performance by the talented improv actors from Now This!

I really enjoy entertainment at parties; it's adds another dimension to the event! What is your favorite entertainment for a [corporate] holiday party?


Rainbow Ribbon Wreath

For every party I produce, I like to try one new design idea. For my daughter's 8th birthday party last week, I decided to make a ribbon wreath. It was really easy to assemble, fairly inexpensive, and a colorful way to greet guests at the front door!

Originally, I was inspired by this balloon wreath found on HowDoesShe.com.

Then, I came across this rainbow ribbon wreath idea on giggleberrycreations.com and knew this was the project for me!

To make a ribbon wreath, tie ribbons in a double knot around a styrofoam circle.  Seriously ... that's it!  I used probably 8 spools of 1/2" wide (or less) ribbon plus a few scraps; to save cost and time, I would recommend 1" wide ribbon or bigger.

What ribbon wreath will you make?  Winter? Valentine's Day? Super Bowl team colors?  The possibilities (and color combinations) are endless!!


{event showcase} Mad Libs Pajama Party

Earlier this month, my family celebrated my daughter's 8th birthday with a Mad Libs Pajama Party!  Originally, she wanted a sleepover but family commitments and a big guest list made that wish a challenge.  So, we invited 15 girls (plus family) to come over for an afternoon of fun and encouraged them to wear their warm PJs.  The result was exceptionally colorful ... and a lot of nonsense and laughter!  Below are the highlights in hopes of inspiring your next party!

The theme of the birthday party was established with the invitation, which included Mad Lib text and a rainbow of colors. The invitation and labels were designed by Lindi Haws of Love The Day, whom I met at Operation Shower in October.  She's a talented grapher designer, easy to work with and a great local (Northern Virginia/DC) resource!  I printed the invitation on Paper Source note cards and tucked them inside a red envelope.

Inspired by the invitation, I created a playful party space by incorporating many colorful elements: ribbon wreath on the door, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling (shown below), layered table runners to resemble a rainbow (shown below), bubble gum flower display, polka dot tissue paper, colorful popcorn and even a rainbow-layered cake.  The look was really festive and fun!

We had a sand art project for the girls to do when they arrived.  Using red, orange, green, purple, blue, yellow and white sand, the girls filled big plastic pens and bracelets to make unique art.  The pens were part of the goodie bag gift.

Entertainment for a Mad Libs theme was easy!  I called my friends at Now This!, a musical comedy improv troupe.  Together, they led the girls in creating silly songs, outrageous stories and even a human symphony!  The girls started on the couches but quickly moved to the floor and participated in the fun.  It was non-sense ... in the most creative manner!

At the end of the performance, they made up a silly song about the birthday girl.  She doesn't like being the center of attention but she couldn't control her laughter!

More color!  For this afternoon party, I chose easy snacks that offered lots of color like fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as colorful popcorn - made from Jello-O!  We made Raspberry, Grape, Lime, Orange and Blueberry.  Hands down Raspberry and Orange were my favorite flavors; my mom and sisters, too!  Did I mention the popcorn was really easy to make?  I'll share the recipe in my next post.

Additionally, I rounded out the menu with mini crescent roll wrapped hot dogs, stuffed pizza with marina sauce and chips and dip.  To drink, we served pink lemonade and ice tea.

The birthday cake was yummy - and again, colorful!  My favorite local bakery, Patisserie Lille, made the cake with 5 layers of color, creamy white frosting and a design to complement the invitation.

As the girls departed, the birthday girl thanked them with a goodie bag.  Tucked inside the white paper bag and colorful tissue paper was a Happy Birthday Mad Libs book, the sand art pen that each girl made and a rainbow lollipop stick.

To thank family and friends for the many birthday gifts, I created these Thank You notes using Paper Source red envelopes and white note cards with the custom rainbow labels.

So ... lots of fun, lots of color!  What was your favorite design element?  What other rainbow or Mad Lib details could I have incorporated?

Rainbow Popcorn

In yesterday's post, I showcased a Mad Libs Pajama Party for my daughter's 8th birthday!  In addition to a lot of nonsense and laughter, there was a lot of color - like a rainbow of colors.  One of the colorful details was the Rainbow Popcorn - a really tasty snack made with Jell-O.  My daughter and I made 5 flavors of popcorn - raspberry, orange, lime, blueberry and grape.  Raspberry and orange tasted the best - just ask my sister, who asked me to blog the recipe.  Here you go, Michele!


8 cups popped popcorn
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar or granulated sugar
1 pkg. (4-serving size) JELL-O Any Flavor Gelatin

PREHEAT oven to 300°F. Line 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil or wax paper. Toss popcorn and peanuts in large bowl; set aside.

PLACE butter and syrup in small saucepan; cook on low heat until butter is melted. Add sugar and gelatin; stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. Bring to boil on medium heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes. Pour immediately over popcorn mixture; toss to coat well. Spread into prepared pan, using 2 forks to spread evenly.

BAKE 10 minutes. Cool. Remove from pan. Break into small pieces.

Enjoy!  This snack is easy and fast to make and you'll really enjoy the outcome!


Peppermint Cookie Bark

I went to my first Cookie Exchange last weekend!  As expected, it was fun ... even for me, who doesn't bake a lot.  I tried this new "no-bake" recipe - Peppermint Cookie Bark from The Celebration Shoppe.  It was insanely simple and oh so good; however, if I make it again, I will stick with the original recipe and use white creme Oreos instead of holiday red.  Though my version was yummy and festive, the red creme tinted the white chocolate, which didn't look as nice.

Peppermint Cookie Bark
{link to the exact recipe}

1 package of Oreo cookies, crushed
6 oz. Candy canes (or red and white candies), crushed
1.5 cups of white chocolate (though I used a lot more)

Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler
Stir in Oreo cookies and candy
Spread on wax paper-lined cookie sheet
Refigerate for 45 minutes
Break into pieces to serve

I'm off to sample another cookie!  What is your favorite cookie recipe?


Fan, Tree, Jingle Bell Roll: Christmas Napkin Folds

Want to set a pretty Christmas dinner table without a lot of effort?  Fold your napkins!

I learned a new napkin fold this weekend.  The fan.  It's actually an old design used in the nicest restaurants and hotel ballrooms ... for good reason.  It's elegant (without being over the top) and so simple to fold!

Above are photos from my client's holiday party last weekend. The tables look fabulous (if I must say so myself)! And that's Mabel; she showed me how to fold the napkins into fans.  Real Simple has a great video with written instructions on how to fold a fan.  Or try one of these Christmas folds:

Christmas Tree
{instructions available from bhg.com}

Jingle Bell Roll
{instructions available here}

or how about this clever Bread Basket?
{instructions available from marthastewart.com}

What is your favorite napkin fold?  Please share with me!


Cookie Swap ... with a Twist!

The December issue of my e-newsletter, party possibilities, features a Cookie Swap ... with a Twist holiday party!  Basically, gather friends together for cookies and cocktails without baking at 350!  Inside the issue are inspiring ideas for getting the part started - invite text, cocktail recipes, decor and goodie bags.  I encourage you to read it and let me know what you think!

Below are a few of my favorite invitation designs to support the party theme:

Which would you choose?


{holiday party} Corporate Competitions with Benefits

My professional event management experience began in corporate, producing marketing events, conferences and employee events for Network Solutions and then, VeriSign.  Now that I own posh parties, I produce fewer corporate events but I always keep my eyes and ears open for fantastic ideas ... like these (mostly affordable) corporate holiday parties with multiple benefits including improved team work and employee morale while giving back to the community ... 

Gingerbread House Decorating Contest
Group employees into small teams and challenge each team to decorate the best gingerbread house! After the party, donate the gingerbread houses to your local family shelter or assisted living home.

Iron Chef Competition
Again, group employees into small teams and challenge each team to create the best holiday food item (depends on the time of the party) using a mystery basket of ingredients. After the competition, enjoy the results; your food display is ready to eat or you may share with a local food bank!

{photo from www.gettyimages.com}

Bike-Building Contest
This corporate holiday party is absolutely my favorite!  Challenge your employees to quickly assemble a child's bike ... works best in teams!  At the end, donate the bikes to local less fortunate children to make their holidays merry and bright!  In fact, invite leadership from your local youth service organization and present the bikes directly.  Or have your "elves" deliver the bikes to the children. 

However you choose to celebrate, share your story and photos with local media.  Positive news, like corporate giving, is always appreciated and the publicity may pay for the party!

Thanks to Stacy McGuigan of Everyday Celebrations for prompting today's post!


{holiday party} Simple, Easy and Festive Hors d'oeuvre

My client requested an alterative for the usual cheese and cracker display.  I quickly suggested this Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Cranberries hors d'oeuvre (found in the November issue of Real Simple magazine).  It looks simple and easy to make but very festive for a holiday party.  What do you think - thumbs up or down?  Do you have other simple, easy and festive hors d'oeuvres ideas to share?

Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Cranberries

2 tablespoons roasted pistachios, chopped
2 tablespoons dried cranberries, chopped
1 8- to 10-ounce log fresh goat cheese
crackers or bread, for serving

On a large plate, combine the pistachios and cranberries.
Roll the goat cheese in the fruit-and-nut mixture to coat. Serve with the crackers or bread.


{event showcase} 30th Anniversary Celebration

I am very fortunate to work with fantastic clients, including a few fun and creative corporate ones like the awesome team at Fentress Architects' DC office!  Last month, they hosted a 30th Anniversary Celebration in their office and asked me to help produce it.  Below is an overview of the playful 1980's inspired cocktail reception I produced.  Enjoy!

The invitation, provided by Fentress Architects, was the inspiration for the event design.  I hung colorful paper lanterns in the primary areas to mimic the confetti on the cover of the invitation.  [My client liked the lanterns so much, they are staying up through the holidays!]

The reception desk was turned into a bar.  Wine, beer and soda were offered as well as a Ruby Red Celebration signature drink, which the guests really enjoyed!  Here's the recipe from Absolut Vodka:

1 part Absolut Vodka Ruby Red
2 parts Cranberry Juice
1 part Champagne or Sparkling Wine

Add vodka and cranberry juice to a chilled glass. Top off with champagne or sparkling wine.

To ensure proper flow of guest traffic, food was display in three areas of the office.

 Vegetable Summer Rolls with Hoisin Lime Dip

Wheel of Brie with Caramelized Walnuts, dried Bananas and Cranberries

Peppadew and Goat Cheese Boule

Smoked Salmon Mousse

Herb Marinated Sliced Tenderloin offered with Horseradish, Herbed Aioli and Violet Mustard and Miniature Rolls

Antipasto Display of Marinated Artichokes, Black Olives, Roasted Red Peppers, Black Pepper Mushrooms and Dried Cured Meats

Trio of Dips - Black Olive Tapenade, Chipotle Carrot Dip, Hummus

Artisan Cheese Display offered with Cabernet Honey, Seasonal Jam and Caramelized Onion Chutney

and finally,

Mojito Shrimp with Salsa Verde

Tuna Nicoise Canape

For dessert, I ordered Red Velvet Cupcakes with Buttercream icing and embellished with a red square (to mimic the company logo) which was imprinted with "30".

Additionally, to drive home the 1980's theme, there was great 80's music and an assortment of vintage props - legwarmers, mullet wigs, guitars, Michael Jackson glove, bangles and fishnet accessories - laid out on a table near the Fentress Architects' wall hanging logo to encourage flashback photos!

 A note about the party design details
With a limited budget, I made a big impact on the space with playful paper lanterns ($1 each from justartifacts.com) and accessorized with the corporate color Red:
red cocktail napkins
red table runners
red votive candles
red menu photo frames
plus festive red cupcakes and a red signature drink

Thank you to the Fentress Architects' DC office team for allowing me to produce your special celebration and my sincere appreciation to my team of vendors: Fusions Cuisine, Georgetown CupcakesBialeks Music and BBJ Linens.