Category Archives: Parties

Who doesn’t love a good party? I know I do.

You Win Some and Some You Just Don’t Even Show Up For

Here it is, April 5th and I am writing my first blog post in forever.

If that fact is not lost on you or you have noticed my absence, thank you friend for noticing.

Truthfully, you probably weren’t surprised and just though I decided to leave the country, go into hiding or simply never show my face on cyberspace again after that … Super Bowl game.

I can’t believe I just mentioned it. Out loud. Well, kind of.

Really, I just whispered it in that sort of painful rasp that barely escapes clinched teeth. You know the one. That particular method of communication reserved especially for a disrespectful child who has inundated you with repeated arguments over why he should be allowed to take his skateboard down the slide and how you are so mean and just don’t understand his needs, conversation before coffee or the profession of great shame like … oh, I don’t know the acknowledgement of an epically disastrous, horribly embarrassing, absolutely unfathomable, Super Bowl.

You’ve missed my crazy tangent laced run-on sentences, haven’t you?

Yes, you might think after going on and on about the Broncos, declaring my allegiance, professing my love, turning my back on my Seahawk heritage, that it was all just too much.

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And yes, while that game was ugly and painful and seemed as if it would never end (kind of like the last few paragraphs I would imagine), thankfully, when all is said and done, it is after all – just a game.

So, I am okay. My husband is getting there; I asked him this morning if he would like to say anything for the post – “no comment” was all I got in a clenched tooth rasp. Really, he’s getting there. We are still Broncos Fans. All is well.

On the bright side, we got to have a party and spend the afternoon with friends and eat great food. And regardless of the outcome, I would still like to share the party with you – even if it is April and I should really be talking about spring and gardening and Easter. I must finish what I started. So, a Super Bowl wrap up it is!

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The day started with a happy optimism and a lot of team spirit!

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And team effort, including some last minute sprucing up and decorating. This is how a 6 year old who is watching the outdoor patio TV helps wash peanut butter fingerprints and doggie nose smears off of the door. That would be by barely moving the cleaning rag while staring hunched over, mouth agape at said TV. Fitting really as we were getting ready to watch football. Ugg, caveman child clean window.

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I’m not really an artificial turf table cloth kind of gal so my Super Bowl decorating was more of a “nod” to team spirit. Okay, so the flag was a little “in your face” but the blue and orange edible foodie centerpiece was subtle. While peppermint patty candies and tangerine Jelly Bellies do not really taste great together, the colors were perfect so they were forced to get along.

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Orange sparkling soda and blue solo cups kept the team spirit going at the drink station.

I shared my party menu with you in my last post but since that was a really, really long time ago, here it is again …

  • Crockpot Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Slaw
  • Crispy Hot Wings with Blue Cheese
  • Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers
  • Pigs in a Blanket Bites (for the kids) with ketchup and mustard for dipping
  • Veggie Tray with Hummus
  • Relish Tray
  • Chips and Dips
  • Broncos Cupcakes
  • Beer, Iced Tea, Lemonade and an “Orange Crush” Cocktail

That was my plan and it did come together, mostly. The cupcakes didn’t happen but thankfully friends brought a huge tray of cookies and a cheesecake so all was not lost. The “Orange Crush” cocktail became beer in a cooler and a last minute add of Disaronno and diet coke – which tastes just like Dr. Pepper if you didn’t know. I guess you could just drink a Dr. Pepper, but what fun is that?Superbowl-Food-Relish-Tray

Relish trays are one of my favorite things to do for a party. Yes, they are an old school appetizer but they don’t have to be. There are so many ways to jazz them up and limitless fun options. For this particular tray, I chose items that could pull double duty as toppings or were a good accompaniment for the pulled-pork sandwiches that were my main dish.

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Browse the pickle/olive and condiment aisle and be adventurous. Then just arrange your selections on a tray and you have a fun, easy and versatile appetizer. As “Tessa” would say (that’s what Nathan calls Ina) “now that’s a relish tray with the volume turned up!”

Pigs-in-a-Blanket-Party-Dis

I found this adorable tray at Tar-jey in the home decorating section. Not safe for food use. Whatever. That’s what parchment paper is for. Sadly, a large portion of “pigs in a blanket” were wiped out by grabby little fingers before I could get a decent photo but this was a really fun way to serve them along with the accompanying condiments.

Could I have just a moment please and ask you to take notice of my phone in the background. Top left corner. Yes, there it is.

A. It is hard to stage good photos while feeding people at the same time. My friends already think I am a weirdo for always photographing food before they can eat it. Imagine if I fussed over stuff in the background too.

B. Now, could we just observe a few seconds of silence as that phone has since taken a swim in the toilet and is no longer with us. When you pee and try to play Angry Birds at the same time, your mom’s phone can fall into the toilet. Let this be a lesson.

I’ll bet this is the only blog you have read today that hopes to share appetizing food and party ideas and then talks about pee in he same post. Welcome new readers.

Perfect-Football-Crock-Pot

Allow me to redeem myself. I could not let this post hit the internet without sharing my friend Lindsey’s awesome football crockpots with you.

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Yes, she filled them with a really yummy dips but the important thing for you to know that she is also a crafty, party planning, down to the last detail weirdo too. She is also our Kindergarten’s Classroom mom so she is actually even worse than I am. Ha! And that is why I love her. Well, one of the many reasons.

Pulled Pork Teaser …

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I promise, I will tell you all about it sometime soon (remember, in my world “soon” is relative). Yes, those are all of “Tessa’s” cookbooks in the background. Every. Single. One. She’s my girl.

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So that was it, our Super Bowl Party. Great friends, great food, really bad game.

Oh, I almost forgot …

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The Jalapeno Poppers and Hot Wings (no picture – too busy with hot oil and everything) I told you all about, they were both a big hit.

Thankfully, there were actually a few poppers left over so we were able console ourselves with a really amazing breakfast the next morning.

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Bacon always makes things better.

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As always, thank you so much for reading and for continuing to stop by – especially these days when even I don’t stop by as often as I should.

Thankfully, I think that season is behind me and I’ll be back to regular posts!

I’ll explain a bit more next time. For now, let’s just say my absence is due to the fact that I am “That Mom”, or so I’ve recently been told.

Next week will be all about Easter so come back and visit.

You are always Welcome Company!

 

 

 

 

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers – a Key Player on a Winning Superbowl Menu

Broncos vs. Seahawks; just a few days left now to kick-off! But don’t worry, there is still time to throw together a fun and delicious party. Today, I am going to share my own Superbowl Party Menu with you along with some tips for feeding a crowd with ease.

But first things first; an easy, messy and oh so delicious twist (literally) on a classic.

A few days ago, I shared with you my love for the Broncos and the Perfect Hot Wing. Today I am focusing on a game day appetizer that features something near and dear to my heart; bacon.

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

While they aren’t the prettiest dish at the part, I’ll bet there won’t be a one left on the platter! How can you go wrong with a delicious pepper generously filled with a rich cheese mixture all lovingly swaddled in a piece of smoky bacon.

Just give me a moment. Sorry, I thought I smelled bacon.

The perfect bite. Well, two bites really. But hey, if you just need one, well that’s okay too.

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Ingredients

  • 8 Jalapeno Peppers, halved and seeded
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (Monterey jack, pepper Jack or cheddar work great)
  • 1 Tbsp Mayonnaise
  • 18 slices of bacon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Using a sharp paring knife, halve the jalapenos lengthwise and remove the seeds and ribs, making a “boat” for your cheese filling. I do my best to keep the stem in tact because, well it looks pretty.

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Mix the cream cheese, grated cheese mayo and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. You have some fun options when it comes to the cheeses so don’t be afraid to experiment!

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Fill the peppers with the cheese mixture, evenly distributing it.

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Wrap each pepper in a slice of bacon, being careful to overlap, leaving no seams if possible. The cheese is going to melt out a bit but we want to keep as much in as possible. Secure with a toothpick if necessary.

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Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes and then crisp the bacon under the broiler for a few minutes if necessary.

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See, I told you. Messy.

The good news is, they clean up nice and there is still plenty of ooey gooey goodness waiting under all that bacon! Besides, you have a baking sheet dotted with crispy melty cheese just waiting for you to grab a spoon!

My Superbowl Party Menu

Game day, we will have a houseful of hungry football fans (hopefully all rooting for the Broncos).

Broncos Logo 1

Here is what I will be serving …

  • Crockpot Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Slaw
  • Crispy Hot Wings with Blue Cheese
  • Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers
  • Pigs in a Blanket Bites (for the kids) with ketchup and mustard for dipping
  • Veggie Tray with Hummus
  • Relish Tray
  • Chips and Dips
  • Broncos Cupcakes
  • Beer, Iced Tea, Lemonade and an “Orange Crush” Cocktail

Now, how to pull it all together and still enjoy the game …

1. Delegate, in other words let your guests help you. They will offer. Say yes. This is not easy for me. But over the years, I have learned my lesson. Plan your menu and then decide what you want to make and what you want  to answer with when a friend asks “what can I bring?” Or if a friend says “can I bring  __________________”, say yes and modify your menu a bit.

2. Decorate and have your house ready the day before. You think you will have time the day of. You won’t. Trust me.

3. On that note, set out and label all of your serving platters ahead of time so you know what you need and you have them ready. Arrange them on your “party table” so your layout is set. Frantically searching for a serving platter and a spot to squeeze it in on the table is not what you want to be doing game day.

Right now, the friends and family who know me well are rolling their eyes and chuckling softly to themselves. Oh yes, they have seen me frantic. More than once. Don’t let it happen to you. A bit of early preparation will save you from the last minute crazies!

Which brings me to number 4. When your guests ask if there is something they can do, say yes. Have some tasks already predetermined to delegate. They want to help. You need their help. Let them help. Yes, I am talking to myself. Hopefully you’re listening too.

5. Be flexible. Did you hear that collective gasp? That went with the eye roll and soft chuckle of those who know and yet still love me. If you run out of time or find you were a little overzealous with your plan … let stuff go. I know, I can hardly believe I just said it either. Focus on having fun and being with the people you love – or at least like to hang out with.

I know I am certainly going to need a little help, it is also the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby this weekend. Heck, I may even have to let some stuff go. I promise you, it won’t be the Jalapeno Poppers.

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His car is almost finished. Are you sensing a theme here?

I’ll share the party and the Pinewood Derby with you in upcoming posts.

Have a great party!

And Go Broncos!!

How to become a Broncos fan and make the best hot wings; just in time for the big game!

This coming Sunday is no ordinary Sunday. If you haven’t heard, there is a scheduled sporting event that consumes a large percentage of the American population.

The “Big Game”.

The championship of a sport that consumes a large percentage of the American population for roughly five months out of the year.

Football. The Superbowl.

In this house, we are among the football obsessed masses. Broncos Fans. We bleed orange.

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Photo Credit

And this year, we are going to the Superbowl!

And of course, that means a Superbowl party.

I am going to share with you a great Superbowl party menu and my thoughts on how to make the best hot wings, which are a must on game day, but first just a little background on how I came to be a Broncos fan.

Oh come on, Indulge me.

It is a bit Ironic that I am a Broncos fan as the Seahawks are also going to the Superbowl this year. I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest by Seahawks fans, immersed in Seahawks culture. Some of my fondest memories of my dad center around the many Sundays we spent watching football together; the foam brick shaped “Hawk Block” being hurled at the TV over and over and over again – the Seahawks weren’t very good for a really, really long time.

And then the day came when I sought my independence, my freedom and I boldly confronted my father and informed him that from that day forward, I was officially going to be a Broncos fan. I offered the small concession that I would still root for the Seahawks too, unless of course, they were playing the Broncos.

Rebellion. Mutiny. Treason.

“A Broncos fan?! You can’t be a Broncos fan, you’ve never even been to Denver. And … they are in the same division as the Seahawks!”

“Yes, I can. I am a Broncos fan.” 

“But why? Why the Broncos?”

And then I said this, “because they have a horse on their helmet and I like horses”  and his face contorted into the strangest gaze as he slowly exhaled the breath from his body.

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Photo Credit

And so it was. On that day, I broke away, turned my back on all I had know and became a Broncos fan.

I’m sure my dad thought it was just one of about a million passing fancies but it was not. It stuck. To his credit, my dad made the most of it and a friendly rivalry developed, which, as it turned out, was even more fun than rooting for the same team. Especially since the Broncos were a whole lot better than the Seahawks.

Yes, I chose my team because they had a horse on their helmet. For what other reason would a young girl choose a team of her very own? Still, there is a bit more to it than that.

Truly, it was destiny.

The Big Guy knew that someday, I would meet and fall in love with the most fanatical most devoted Broncos fan ever to walk the earth. It would not be my charm, quick wit or perfect apple pie that would win his heart; no, in the end it would be my Elway jersey.

Just yesterday, we celebrated 18 years of marriage. Love, commitment, hard work and a united front on the field of play (well, at least on the couch watching the field of play). Friends, that is the secret to making a marriage work. It is okay, even expected, to have a rivalry with your dad but with your husband it is best to root for the same team. And it is ALWAYS best to root for the Broncos.

So there you have it. A Broncos fan not by birth but by choice.

I am proud to say that we have been able to properly influence at least part of the next generation.

Connor-BroncosConnor, my first born nephew, my first baby love.

He’s had my heart from the moment I laid eyes on his pink wrinkly self and he just keeps charming his way into my heart. Like at the age of three when he told his mom he wanted to wear makeup so he could be “pretty like Aunt Dani”. Sweet, smart boy. I can share that story with you because I guarantee without doubt that not one of his friends reads my blog. And because his mom said I could so if it scars him, it’s her fault.

And then, a few summers ago when he came down for a visit and asked me to teach him how to make a soufflé. We made two, blue cheese and chocolate.

Come to think of it though, it was on that same visit the he ditched me at the mall, giving me the first indication that I was no longer completely “cool”. Apparently a 14 year old boy shopping with his aunt is style cramping and just not done. What is even more sad is that I actually did not expect it.

I still thought I was cool.

Imagine my shock; “seriously, you don’t want to shop with me? Or be seen with me?” Luckily, he left me feeling old and uncool right in front of the Forever 21 store so I could pop in there and feel better about myself. [sarcasm]

Not to worry though, all has been forgiven because with no undue influence, bribery or coercion, my sweet, smart, awesome nephew has chosen to be a Broncos fan. All on his own. All by himself. No undue influence. None.

Alex-Broncos

And low and behold, my niece Alex, Connor’s little sister (she’s on the right), has also chosen the to walk in the light. In fact, she and the friend pictured here with her wore their full Broncos gear to school on “Seahawk Day”. From what I hear, the school administration frowned on this anti-Seahawk treachery. Whatever. That’s my girl! I’m just so proud. Upon further examination of this photo, I believe that is actually just one pair of Broncos socks and they are sharing. Sharing socks. Still, I’m proud.

She likes horses too. In fact, I chased her escapee pony through razor sharp wheat field stubble more than once. In shorts. But she’s cute and I love her and she’s a Broncos fan so I hardly notice the scars on my shins. [complete exaggeration] Or the sock sharing.

Colin, Brenton and Grace I love you too and will mail Broncos jerseys to you when you come to your senses and realize you are really Broncos fans.

So, readers, if you actually read all of that and didn’t skip ahead, bless you. I am pretty sure that you are ready for me to get to the food. I know Connor is, if for no other reason than to be certain I don’t pull out anymore embarrassing cute stories. Oh, I’ve got plenty but for now, we’ll just move on to talking wings.

How to Make the Best Hot Wings

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Hot wings are pretty much a game day must but not all wings are created equal.

Personally, I am extremely picky about wings. Mostly because I don’t like to eat chicken off the bone. It truly gives me the heebies. In fact, the thought of eating a drumstick makes me break out into a cold sweat. Really, it does; you know I am not at all prone to exaggeration.

Wings are smaller so I can eat them if they are crispy. And I mean CRISPY. C.R.I.S.P.Y. As in not one teeny tiny, itty bitty little bit of fatty smooshyness. Yes, I am using a made up word. It is the only way I can accurately depict the absolute grossness (that might be made up too) of biting into a soggy wing. Cold sweat shudder.

So, now that you are hungry for wings, lets get to it.

This isn’t really a recipe as much as it is a preference of technique. I hate to be the one to tell you this but the best way – by far – to make hot wings is to fry them. Deep fry them in HOT oil.

Why do I hate to tell you this? Because it is messy. And a bit tedious. And somewhat perilous. But in the end, oh so worth it.

While it is far easier to just throw a bag of pre-sauced, pre-cooked frozen wings into the oven and heat them up and it may seem healthier to bake homemade wings, there is NO WAY to ensure an acceptable level of crispiness in the oven. And I for one, just cannot risk the horror of biting into a mushy wing. Really, I’ve got to stop talking about it.

Also, they just don’t taste as good.

So, let the frying begin.

Start with fresh chicken wings from the meat counter. You can buy raw frozen wings that have already been prepped but I really prefer the fresh whole wings as they have less moisture and fry up better.

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Crazy enough, I can’t stomach the though of eating (let’s just call them gross as to avoid anymore unfortunate made up words) a gross wing but I have no problem dispatching a whole wing into “hot wing” parts. Not grossed out a bit.

I like to use a very sharp, heavy chef’s knife. First, remove the tip of the wing. I put the tips in a baggie and then freeze them so I can add them to the pot the next time I make chicken stock. Next, pull the wing gently open and carefully run your knife between the two parts, cutting through the soft spot at the edge of the joint, separating the two pieces.

Once they are all separated, pat the wings dry.

If you are using frozen wings, be sure they are completely thawed and all of the excess moisture is patted off. If they are too wet, you are going to have just a bit of excitement when you put them in the hot oil. Dangerous excitement.

Speaking of oil, this is by far the number one tip I can offer. Do NOT fill your pot too full with oil. If you do, it will bubble over which is messy and dangerous. I fill a enameled cast iron pot about 2/3 full with canola or vegetable oil and then heat the oil on med-high heat to 380 degrees.

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Use a candy thermometer for an accurate temperature and adjust your heat up or down as needed.

Kitchen-Spider

If you don’t have a kitchen spider, I highly recommend getting one as it is the perfect tool for removing the wings and draining the oil off of them quickly. I use mine for all sorts of things.

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I gently place the wings into the hot oil with a long pair of metal tongs that keep me a safe distance from the pot. DO NOT drop, plop or toss the wings in, think careful and gentle. On that note, it is also a good idea to use a back burner if possible and to keep the kids and pets out of the kitchen just to be extra safe. You can never be too safe or cautious with hot oil.

Frying-Chicken-Wings

Fry the wings in small batches, about five at a time, for 6-7 minutes. I have seen recommended cooking times anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes but 6-7 seems to work best for crispy, juicy wings. Carefully remove the wings with your spider.

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Place the wings on paper towels to absorb any residual oil. If you are doing a lot of wings, you can keep the cooked ones warm on a sheet tray in a 250 degree oven while you finish up the remaining batches.

Hot-Wings-1When you are done frying, it is time to get those wings dressed for the party. Traditional wing sauce is a cayenne pepper based sauce. We like Frank’s RedHot and follow the recipe right on the back of the bottle, with just a couple of tweaks.

For 2 1/2 pounds of wing pieces you will want to mix 1/2 cup of hot sauce with 1/3 cup of melted butter. I just put both the butter and the sauce in a small saucepan and heat them up together on the stove over medium heat. Once the butter is melted I add a pinch of salt and several twists of the pepper grinder. I don’t know if it really matters that much but I add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper to everything. Even my bath water. Not really but I’m thinking maybe I should try it. You can also add cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to taste for extra heat.

Whisk everything together (except the bath water) and incorporate well. Pour the wing sauce over the wings and toss well to coat.

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Serve them with celery and carrot sticks, any extra wing sauce and blue cheese or ranch dressing.

After you’ve enjoyed the game and the most amazing wings, you’ll wander back into the kitchen happy (because the Broncos won) and full only to face the pot of used chicken oil mocking you from the stove.

Not to worry, click here for tips  on re-using or disposing of the oil.

That’s it! I hope you will give these wings a try for your game day festivities and of course, I hope you’ll be rooting for the Broncos.

I will share another game day appetizer and the rest of my Superbowl Party Menu and plans with you in the next few days.

Oh, and for all you 49ers fans out there, we welcome you brothers and sisters.

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 Photo Credit

 Even if for only one game.

Go Broncos!!

Pumpkin Bread and Other Things I LOVE About Fall

I think there are many reasons I love fall. The reprieve from the intense heat of summer. The colors. The hint of fun and joyful family time to come. Things seem to slow down or have the illusion of slowing down, anyway. So many things that make it a favorite time of year.

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Pumpkins. Pumkins, pumkins, pumpkins.

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Crisp Apples. Apple Crisp. Apple Dumplings. Apple Pie. Homemade Applesauce.

Our home, decorated in the rich and vibrant colors of the season. Warm and inviting.

Gardening and potting flowers. I know, only in Arizona. Our reward for surviving the summer.

Carving Pumpkins. Halloween Parties. Trick-or-Treating. Marshmallow Ghost Peeps. Ninja Turtles, Skeletons, Zom-Bees and Zombies.

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Thanksgiving right around the corner.

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And Pumpkin Bread. Not just any pumpkin bread, the best pumpkin bread ever.

E.V.E.R.

Well we think so anyway.

Here is the recipe, originally posted last fall …

Real Good” Pumpkin Bread.

One of my very first posts in fact. And while a few things have changed since then, like the fact that I don’t eat sugar or much wheat anymore, it is still one of my favorite things to make as a treat for the rest of my family or a gift for someone special.

I have found some pretty tasty gluten and sugar free pumpkin recipes but there is really no substitute. Thankfully, I still enjoy the incredible aroma that fills the house with each loaf.

Okay, and a little taste once in a while.

Okay, and I ate a mini-Baby Ruth or two out of the kid’s Halloween Candy. Mostly sugar and gluten free. Mostly.

Happy fall, everyone!

Now go make some Pumpkin Bread!

And watch out for Zom-Bees.

They love Pumpkin Bread you know.

 

Dinner for 175 – Art Deco Style

I guess you could say I love history. But while I love it, I think it is fair to say that I am not a history buff in the true sense of the word. Admittedly, it is not actual historical events that fascinate me as much as it is “lifestyle” through out history. How did people live? What influenced them? What did they value, create, do?

So maybe, I am really a Social Anthropology buff. I know I am an “Anthropologie” buff so that would just make sense.

Breaking it down even further, what truly peaks my interest the most is the style and design that so prominently and uniquely defines each period in history.

Okay, so right now you might be rolling your eyes and thinking something like “wow, that’s deep”. Or maybe you are just thinking “oh, my gosh, I LOVE Anthropologie too!” – in which case I would say “I know, right! Did you see those gorgeous vintage ’40’s red shoes?”

The style of an era tells a story about that period of time. It truly does. Music, art, architecture, décor, clothing; every element of design has evolved from the experiences and lessons of the preceding times. Style is not random nor is it frivolous, it is a reflection of mankind’s desire to keep moving forward and even to break free of what came before. To set a new standard, to be innovative, to leave a unique and lasting impression on history.

What is really interesting is that eventually, all that is old becomes new again which is most often due to the historical events and experiences that create in us a nostalgia and desire for the past. You can see it in a simple Art History timeline. Take a look. Do you see how each movement almost does a 180 back to what had come before? Baroque to Neoclassical, Neoclassical to Romanticism, Romanticism to Realism, Realism to Impressionism; each “opposite” movement taking bits and pieces of the past forward with it.

Steps toward the future often bring back the “best” of what has past. Well, mostly. Bell bottoms and orange shag carpet not included. I’m sorry, the ’70’s was not humanity’s best effort and I have a master bathroom to prove it.

I think what fascinates me so much about style and design throughout history is the ingenuity and talent God has placed within humanity. It is evidence to the fact that we have a God of great imagination who values beauty and creativity and wants us to enjoy the majesty of His creation, to be inspired by it and to in turn create for His glory and pleasure. And yes, He has forgiven us for the 1970’s.

So what does all of this have to do with dinner?

In my world, a lot.

In July, I was asked to plan and pull together a staff dinner for our church. This dinner’s purpose was two-fold. It was to be an informative celebration of sorts as we kick off the planning and direction of our church’s future, the “movement” forward or MVMT as it has been creatively tagged.  But this dinner was also to be a thank you for all of the hard work and dedication of our staff and board members who have sacrificed greatly during the incredible growth our church has experienced. With spouses, the final dinner count came to 175. Not a small event but an amazing opportunity to serve and give back to those who do so much for so many and ask so little in return.

Throughout the coming week, I will share this event with you from planning and preparation all the way through dessert; a gelato bar you won’t want to miss. To start with though, I wanted to talk about the inspiration for the dinner’s “theme”.

When I do an event, big or small, I really like to have a theme to work from and to inspire each aspect of the occasion. No, I don’t want that theme to take over (unless it is a kid’s party then I let the theme run wild) but I want it to influence every detail in such a way that it creates a cohesive and well thought out end result

There are several things to consider when coming up with a theme.  What is the purpose of the event? The mood? The desired effect? What is the venue/setting like? Who will be coming? Who is throwing the event and how can their “style” be represented and reflected?

In the case of the MVMT dinner, it needed to be elegant and special but not stuffy and formal. We are definitely not a stuffy and formal group. In fact, the vibe at our church is quite the opposite.  It is a pretty cool place and by cool, I mean cooool with kind of a “hipster” vibe and that is what I wanted to capture.

So, how did I do it?

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I went Gatsby.

Okay, so I know what you are thinking. A church event doesn’t exactly scream “Gatsby Party”, allow me to explain. While the “lifestyle” of Jay Gatsby isn’t something I’m advocating, romanticizing or looking to replicate, his “style” or more accurately, the style of the era is another story.

Art Deco design is a particular favorite of mine. While the Art Deco movement isn’t reflected in my personal design choices, I am absolutely captivated by it. From the Chrysler Building (the most beautiful building ever constructed)  to the “modern” and industrial geometric shapes that inspired the beautiful patterns so indicative of the period; it fascinates me and inspires me.

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The Chrysler Building, courtesy of a Google image search.

The Art Deco movement was born out of the end of the first world war as the desire to leave the tragedy and hardship of the recent past behind led to an almost over the top opulence and high style. There’s that 180 again. The movement originated in France around 1925 and was in it’s heyday throughout the 1930’s.

“With its symmetrical angles, black and gilt ornamentation and Eastern influences, a new design style, Art Deco, spread from France to Britain and America and provided the perfect backdrop for Bloomsbury poetry readings, impromptu jazz concerts and speakeasy rendezvous. Although Art Deco would dominate the design scene until the 1950’s, the party it bolstered wouldn’t last forever.” – Elaine Phillips from Well Styled Home

I love these classic Art Deco Patterns.

The Art Deco Movement may not have lasted forever but it’s influence certainly has and while the Great Depression knocked the era down, it did not knock it out. The Art Deco influence carried into the 40’s and 50’s and shaped what we would now call “old Hollywood glamour”. Love that too.

While I didn’t turn our church’s family center into a Speakeasy or ask our pastors and elders to dress up as flappers and gangsters – restraint and good judgment can be helpful tools in the use of a theme – I was most definitely inspired by the style of the era.

Let me show you some of that inspiration (all images were found on the internet and are not my original photos)

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This table just about says it all. If it is possible to be in love with a table cloth, I am in love with this one.

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I love the lighting here, this is the exact ambiance I wanted to create not dark but intimate with a warm amber glow. I also love the screens in the background and was inspired by this to create a stage vignette where Pastor Mark would sit and share the MVMT vision.

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Text book art deco and the inspiration for the menus.

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When I think of Art Deco décor, I see a room filled with gorgeous leafy green palms.

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Did I tell you how much I love the geometric shapes and how the Art Deco movement uses them so artistically and beautifully.

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Feathers are definitely a nice Art Deco touch but unless you are throwing a true theme party, they are best used subtly.

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This Art Deco tablescape is from Ruffled Blog.

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I can say nothing except … be still my heart; and where can I get that dress? Probably Anthropologie. These photos are from Easton Events.

I am looking forward to sharing with you my interpretation of the Art Deco theme this coming week. I hope you will find some inspiration.

The Great Gatsby is not one of my favorite stories – yes I know it is a literary classic but I was forced to read it in high school (which almost automatically makes a book dead to me) and a story has to have more than one redeemable character to make my “favorites” list. Even so, I will be watching the movie when it is released on Blue-Ray next week as I did not go to see it in the theater. And I promise you, I will be looking right past “Leo” to the wallpaper in the background.

Hey, he was in Titanic too. Another one I suffered through just so I could take into my being the period clothing and set design. We do what we must for the sake of art.

Thank the Lord for Downton Abbey.

I would love to know some of your favorite design periods and influences. Be sure to leave a comment and share them with me.

Is it too Late to Say “Happy New Year”?

Yes, I am three days late but I still can not miss the chance to wish you HAPPY NEW YEAR!  A BLESSED New Year full of promise and adventure. I am so hoping yours started a lot “healthier” than ours did, which brings me to the culprit behind the belated salutation – a nasty virus. For your own sake, I will say no more about it.

Despite that which I will not speak of (nasty virus), the Holiday season is still in full swing around here … siggghhhh. Yep, full swing. Long ago, crazy newlywed me thought it would be sweet to humor my adorable new husband and agree that the festivities (including decorations) shouldn’t end (or get put away) until after his early (but not nearly early enough) January birthday. I love Christmas. I love my house all done up for Christmas. I also love the fresh start of the New Year and am at this point I.T.C.H.I.N.G. to get the decorations down and the house put back in order (well as ‘in order’ as it ever is). Truth be told, with the uhum … nasty virus… it wouldn’t have all been put away by now anyway but I still find myself longing for that fresh clean slate. Silly, I know. My husband doesn’t ask for much so the Christmas lights twinkling into mid-January really isn’t that big of a deal.

So, how do the Brewers ring in the New Year? With food, of course. Even when we’re sick. We also celebrate at home in our PJs with our kids, a roaring fire, a good movie and a few fireworks (not the incendiary kind, the pop and leave steamers of colorful confetti paper all over the yard kind) wondering who will actually make it to midnight. Exciting? Maybe not, but it is my favorite kind of party and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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That is how I grew up and I have very happy memories of New Year’s Eve. I want the same for my kids. My dad was a ski-area manager so he worked late into New Year’s Eve and then was back up the mountain at the crack of dawn New Years Day. Needless to say, my parents didn’t party like rock stars, everything they did was family oriented. I think that is why I am the same way; that and the fact that I am over 40 with three young kids and could no longer party like a rock star even if I wanted to. Say what you will about keeping your mojo but I am good with my jammies and my slippers.

My mom always made the evening special for my sister and I. First of all, we got to have Dr. Pepper. For us, soda was a treat and a whole can of Dr. Pepper was a BIG deal! I actually drank a Dr. Pepper this year and it was heavenly! Partly because my throat hurt so badly it was the only thing that sounded good. Is it just me or is there something delightful about carbonation on a sore throat? She always put out fancy little finger foods and festive plates and napkins. Just to make it special. Just for us. My kids had a blast with the plastic champagne flutes that I bought just for them.

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Our feast this year consisted of pigs in a blanket, mini-quiche, cheese tarts and hot wings with homemade blue cheese dressing, sparkling cider and a little bit of good Cabernet (it was New Year’s Eve, I had a virus, I wasn’t dead).

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I had planned on making French Onion Soup from a recipe I found on one of my very favorite blogs, My French Heaven by Stephane Gabart, but I could only muster enough culinary gumption for heat and serve. I think the soup is on the menu for tonight, I am so excited to try it!

David helped me make the favorite of the night, pigs in a blanket which were created out of 7 hot dogs I had in the fridge and puff pastry from the spare freezer. You can do just about anything if you have puff pastry in the freezer.

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I told him seam side down (even showed him) but he’s eight and in the end, liked the crazy pastry puffs sticking out the side anyway.

We did fireworks at about 9pm as making it to midnight wasn’t looking good for any of us.

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Happy-New-Year-7He looks a little scruffy ruggedly handsome (he’s been sick) but it was such a cute picture that I had to put it in.

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If his feet aren’t bare, they are in flip-flops.

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I think they look like Charlie’s Angels in this picture, if Charlie’s Angels were under the age of 11 and two of them were boys.

So that was our New Year’s Rockin’ Eve!

Who made it to midnight? Nathan … and Gary and I, but only because Nathan did.

I am so excited for 2013 and have so much to look forward to and share here on this little blog that I have come to love writing so much. Thank you for encouraging and supporting me. Thank you for reading and liking my posts for sharing them on Facebook and Pinterest and for leaving your comments that are so important to me. I have made some wonderful connections since I started this new venture in October and I can’t wait to see where 2013 takes me.

A few things to watch for in the coming months …

More on the Hacienda, the fixer-upper that only I would be crazy enough to take on (well my husband and I – he is either crazy too or just really loves me). Next up, master bathroom remodel.

Many, many more recipes as I am finally going to put together the family cookbook that I have wanted to do for so long.

My love/hate (mostly love until I’ve been shredded by a Palo Verde branch) relationship with gardening in the desert and the creatures that inevitably visit us on the “Brewer Nature Preserve”.

Healthy food and fitness posts as I am going to try not to get any chubbier in the process of writing a cookbook and testing recipes.

Lots of memories and stories and of course, faith and family life including, but not limited to, all the birthday parties, holidays, celebrations, mischief, mishaps and mayhem you can stand. Inevitably, there will be some posts that will really only interest our grandmas but they are part of our story and our memories which is a big part, the biggest part, of what this is all about.

Thanks for joining us on the journey. As always, you are Welcome Company!

A Martha, A Mary or A Monica?

I recently read a post by Jennifer Schmidt via the [In] Courage blog site that really resonated with me. In her post, The Christmas Party that Almost Wasn’t , Jennifer talked about how she almost cancelled a gathering of friends because her busy schedule had left her Christmas decorating unfinshed and her house a mess and not exactly party ready. But then she remember why she had planned the party in the first place and put the voices of self-doubt to rest; “They didn’t care if my tree trimming mimicked Martha’s because in spite of what she whispers, I knew this was a Good ‘Enough’ Thing.” She went on to have the party and enjoy a truly blessed and special evening. An evening she would have missed. An opportunity to bless other women would have been missed had she listened to “Martha’s” voice in the back of her head. Take a moment to click the link above and read her story. I know you will be blessed and encouraged by it, I certainly was.

Not only did the post itself hit home but so did many of the comments afterward. So many women holding back, afraid to open their homes for so many reasons; too messy, too cluttered too small, too worn down, plain or undecorated, too “lived-in”. But also afraid of being rejected because they had put themselves out there at some point and had had been hurt when no one came and were left feeling insecure and unwilling to try again.

We are holding ourselves back because we are afraid of failure, judgement and rejection. We are afraid we won’t measure up, aren’t good enough or don’t matter so why bother? I just can’t stop thinking about these women, wanting to reach out to the heart of each one and reassure her that she has so much to offer. That she doesn’t need to be perfect, just genuine and willing. Encourage her to do what she can and trust God to do what she can’t.

I want to reach out because as much as I love to open my home to others, to entertain and to fellowship, I get it, I have been there too. And I have been worse. I haven’t just been a Martha, I have been a Monica. I want them to know from the heart of a recovering perfectionist that thinking you have to be perfect and have it all together before you can be accepted only holds you back from your purpose. God works through imperfect people. All the time. He has to, there are no other kind. But it is when we trust Him with our imperfection that He is truly able to use us.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

There was a time in my life when I poured my heart and soul into the illusion of perfection. How I looked, how my home looked. How everything looked. I was compensating on the outside for all that was missing on the inside and what was missing was a true relationship with Jesus and an understanding of His gifting on my life and how I was to use it.

We joke about Martha Stewart and how she has contributed to all of our insecurities. Side note: don’t you love God’s sense of humor naming this woman who symbolizes all that makes us feel inferior “Martha” when it was Martha in the bible who struggled in a similar way?

But as I said, I wasn’t just a Martha, I was a Monica. If you are over the age of 30, I know you remember Monica from the TV show “Friends”. An uptight, type-A, intense, neurotic, controlling perfectionist. Yep, that’s the one.

Now before you run from this blog and never look back, I wasn’t entirely horrible. Actually, that wasn’t really me at all or at least not who I was meant to be. In truth, I was wearing the weight of the world’s expectations, as so many women are. Misjudging the gift of hospitality and service God had given me and putting everything I had into being what I thought I was supposed to be, what I thought I wanted to be. God created me with a servant’s heart but because I didn’t put Him first, I was missing the point and was held captive by worldly expectations.

When I “welcomed” people into my home or entertained, it wasn’t with a heart focused on hospitality and blessing others. It was with a heart desiring to be accepted and applauded not for who I was but for what I could do.

Let me share with you and example of how things went back when I was “perfect”. Please don’t feel obligated to use these tips in the planning of your next party.

The “Twenty Steps to a Perfect Party”

Step one; conception and planning or over-planning of big gathering (a.k.a. production).

Step two; creation of a detailed TO DO list for big production approximately 2.4 miles long.

Step three; become overwhelmed by TO DO list and procrastinate everything that isn’t fun.

Step four; do all of the fun stuff on the TO DO list and then freak out about all of the other stuff that remains on TO DO list; which is most of it.

Step five; Shop for big production. Correction, over shop, over buy, over spend for big production.

Step six; stress about imperfect house. Vow to finish all unfinished projects.

Step seven; stress about having to do everything myself and brood about being the only one who cares about the TO DO list.

Step eight; stay up way too late the night before the big production over cleaning and over perfecting all that I have procrastinated and vowed to accomplish, grumbling the whole time because I am so overwhelmed.

Step nine; get up way too early (after staying up way too late) and get more and more frustrated at my husband because he is still asleep and not up helping me wipe the dust off of the top of the base moldings behind the door of every bathroom and hide all of the unfinished projects that never got finished. Why is he still asleep? Because he is not a crazy person.

Step ten; present my husband with his own TO DO list after he finally decides to get out of bed and help me.

Step eleven; give my husband “the look” and the silent treatment after he says “you know, these are our friends, they don’t care how the house looks or if everything is perfect, they are coming to see us and to hang out with us. We can just order pizza”. I’m sorry, what did he just say? I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that last part. Poor guy, he is obviously unaware that girls peek behind other girls shower curtains to see if the tub is sparkling or (heaven forbid) is in need of some attention.

Step twelve; spend the next several hours in a crazed whirlwind perfecting my house, my meal, my presentation, my personal appearance. Did I leave anything out?

Step thirteen; freak out when the doorbell rings because I would give just about anything for just one more hour. It seems like I could always use just one more hour.

Step fourteen; The moment of truth. Just a few seconds to shove anything less than perfect into the oven, cupboard, closet or pantry. Will anyone need to get into the pantry? Lord, I hope not.

Step fifteen; put on an “it was nothing” smile and soak up the kudos, the “I don’t know how you do its” and the “you are amazings” – stressed, exhausted, missing the point  and a little over the top (okay, so far over the top that I need an oxygen mask) but amazing.

Step sixteen; spend the next hour in the kitchen finishing the meal (ugg, where is that extra hour) while everyone else is socializing and having fun.

Step seventeen; decline any offers of help, really, I’ve got everything under control.

Step eighteen; manage to enjoy exactly 22 minutes of the party.

Step nineteen; start cleaning up because once again, I am just too good of a hostess to accept any offers of help. After all, I certainly can do it all.

Step twenty; skip church the next day because I am a tired crabby mess from being so perfect.

Sound like fun? That is what it takes to put on a perfect “show”. It is crazy, it is unnatural, it is unhealthy and it is unneccessary. I hope you have never done this to yourself but I am willing to bet I am not alone. Why, why, why do we do this to ourselves?

One year I put on a big Halloween Party and slept through the whole thing. No joke. I planned and planned and decorated and made costumes and cooked and cleaned made everything “perfect” and was so exhausted I fell asleep on the couch about an hour into the party. And the party was not even at our house. And I don’t even like Halloween all that much.

I know, crazy. But that is the good news. I am now able to see how crazy all of it was.

Praise God, He did not leave me stuck there. He gave me reason to seek Him to rely on Him to long for His company. At the time, that period of refinement seemed like pain and heartbreak but in the end, it was a blessing, a deliverance.

He made me more of a Mary. And then He made me a Mom. Priority shift, perspective, humility and a softened heart – all wrapped up in three little packages. I am still a Martha and always will be. It is my nature. It is who He created me to be. The difference is I am learning to be a Martha for Him and not for me. Monica still pops in for a visit every now and then but thankfully she doesn’t stay long, one of my children usually sees to that.

My-Mess-4The warning I have posted in my boy’s bathroom because even though it is okay not to be perfect, there are just some things you need to warn people about.

So why am I taking a risk and laying it all out there? Because I am no longer afraid to admit my imperfections and because I was touched by a group of women I don’t know but can relate to. Because I don’t want one more woman to miss out on the joy of fellowship and welcoming people into her life and her home because she doesn’t think she is good enough. And because I don’t ever want to fall back into the trap of pretending to be perfect.

The Christmas season is here and it is the perfect time for opening up your home to others. If this is intimidating to you, start small. Invite just one or two people over, family or close friends you love and trust and order Chinese take-out or pizza (a wise man once suggested that to me) something simple. Or start with brunch and ask everyone to bring something. I love having people over for brunch, it is easy, intimate and relaxed and far less intimidating than a dinner party. The details aren’t what matter, it is the company and moving beyond your comfort zone that does. Try it and see how God works. I’ll be praying for you.

If you, on the other hand, can relate to even a little of what I have shared in this post, here is my challenge to you. Invite someone over and leave the dishes in the sink, the unfolded laundry on the couch and the stack (or stacks) of unsorted school papers and mail on the kitchen counter. I dare you. You may feel like you want to throw up but I promise you in the end you will feel free or at least on your way to feeling free and you will bless your guest by sharing what is real and putting them at ease and they will love you for it. I’ll be praying for you too, you’re gonna need it.

If you don’t know the story of Martha and Mary, I encourage you to read about these wonderful sisters in Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-12:11. I also encourage you to read the book “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” by Joanna Weaver. I read it several years ago and am now reading through it again, a refresher course before the holiday entertaining begins.

I’ll be posting soon about “Decking the Halls” around here so just for the sake of authenticity, here are a few behind the scenes photos.

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Christmas decorations awaiting my attention.

My-Mess-2There are always plenty of Legos to step on and after Christmas, there will probably be more.My-Mess-1And the stockings were hung draped over the back of the chair for the last four days, with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Happy December and Happy Imperfect Entertaining!