Sunday, September 20, 2015

Monday is "Booked"

Since it is Back-to-School season, and I am an English teacher, I decided to have our monthly dinner themed around classic literature. I absolutely love all the details of this party (yes...I am tooting my own horn just a bit), and I definitely recommend this theme for those of you in a book club or other reading-based gathering.

Invite: I know our libraries don't use card catalogs anymore, but they make for such a cute invite! I found an image of a card on Google, and then just added text on Photoshop.  I used two different fonts: AA Typewriter for the bolder font and Traveling Typewriter for the thinner one.  Both are free downloads online. To make the envelope, I cut a large manila envelope the width of my card plus two flaps to fold back. I glued a black ribbon along the front and cut a page from a book before adding my "You're Invited" text.

By the way...only one book was harmed in the making of all these party details! It was a book I purchased at the dollar store, so I apologize to the author for not actually reading the book before cutting it up into pieces.  On the bright side, the pages received many a compliment at the party!

Entry Decor: The first thing I did for this party was look up the top 100 classic novels of all time.  I went through the list writing down titles that I thought I could work into my menu or other decor items. I thought Great Expectations was perfect for my entry as I hope my guests walk in with a positive attitude and expect to enjoy the evening.  I found an image of the book cover online and imitated it as best I could.  The drawing isn't great, but it worked since the original book cover was sketch-like. I added a few other classic books to the entry table as well.

Decor:  I made a table runner out of pages from the book I bought at the dollar store. This was really simple to make and only took about 10 minutes. After ripping out the pages, I used my paper cutter to trim the rough edge.  I glued the pages together with a glue stick and was done.

As centerpieces, I printed classic book covers and taped them around dollar store vases I already had. I filled them with some simple flowers.  I didn't want colorful flowers because I wanted the focus to be on the book covers.  I used classic novels I already had on my home bookshelf to elevate each vase.

In the very center of the table, I made a book topiary out of pages of the same dollar store book. I love how this turned out and took it to my classroom after the dinner, but just to warn took me 2 hours to make!  I bought the candle holder at the dollar store along with a fake orange. I went to the store looking for a foam ball, but couldn't find one.  The closest round object I could find was a fake orange, but it did the job. I cut rectangles (four to a page) out of each page in the book and used decorative scissors to trim the edges.  Then folded the paper and used a straight pin to secure each square into the orange.  The entire thing I hot glued to the candle holder.  Here's a close up of the topiary...

Since it took me 2 hours to make, I thought it deserved two photos on this post!!

For place cards, I stuck with the card catalog theme. I made the envelopes and added the ribbon and the first initial of the guest.

I found images of classic book covers online to use as napkin rings.

I used these same images to make wine charms.

I created wine labels with another classic book War and Peace.  For the red wine, I used a dark red cover of the novel, and for the white wine, I used a light blue cover.

Besides wine, I also served margaritas.  I didn't serve any Mexican food that evening, but I thought of "tequila" to replace "to kill a" in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird and I couldn't resist.  It's such a great novel, that I had to find some way to fit it into my evening.

For each menu item I served, I made these card catalog inspired signs as labels. The initial image I found online and then just added text in the same fonts as I used on the invite.
I placed the classic novel that matched the dish next to each food label.  The novels I didn't already own or find at school, I checked out from the local library.

Chapter One - Appetizers:  One of the appetizers I served, was shrimp cocktail to go with the novel The Old Man and the Sea.

A second appetizer was individual servings of vegetables and dip. This went to with novel Moby Dick. (Moby DIP).

Chapter 2 - Salad:  When we sat down at the table, I served a green salad first.  The salad had tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese cut into flowers.  This represented the novel The Secret Garden.

Chapter 3 - The Main Course: For the main course, I served Monte Cristo sandwiches.  I had never made these before, but I've had them once at Disneyland.  When I saw The Count of Monte Cristo on the top 100 novel list, I really wanted to try them out.  The only problem is that I did not want to spend a ton of party time at the stove top. I wanted to spend time with my guests. After finding a recipe on Pinterest that bakes them like a casserole in the oven, I knew I just had to try it.  They were delicious!  The only additions I made to this recipe was adding Dijon mustard to the bread, and I served it with both ham and turkey slices.  I served the sandwiches with a side of strawberry jelly so guests could control how much they wanted.

I served french fries to go alongside the Monte Cristo sandwiches. This became my Lord of the Flies (Fries) inspired dish.

I also served fruit kabobs.  I used two types of grapes, so that they would represent the novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Chapter 4 - Dessert:  Looking back on this meal, I served some very rich foods.  The Monte Cristo sandwiches themselves are very filling and dessert-like, so I really didn't need a dessert, but I made one anyway not paying attention to that.  I decided to make a dessert out of Three Musketeer bars.  My kiddos loved this dessert, but it is VERY rich and has lots of chocolate! I found the recipe here.

I asked each of the girls to bring a wrapped, used book for a book exchange.  We had some great books exchanged, and I am excited to read the one I received. I included this photo to show the wrapping job one of my friends did.  She used wrapping paper to fold into a bow -- genius!  It looked so good, I had to include a photo.

Favor: My parting gift was inspired by the novel, The Great Gatsby. I gave each guest chocolate coins I bought at the dollar store with a tag that read "Spending time with you is better than all the riches of West End."  If you've read the novel, you understand.  I designed the label on Photoshop.

I had a great time with this theme, and I think it would be great for a book club gathering, school party, or even a baby shower theme if the mother-to-be loves books.  There is just so much to do with all the amazing book titles out there.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

End of Summer POOL Party

I decided to do a little twist on the typical end of the summer POOL party as my August theme this year.  I went with a billiards theme as my "pool".

Invite: I designed the invite in PhotoShop.  As is typical, I did not decide on my theme until the last minute, so the invite had to be quick and easy to throw together.

Entry Decor:  I made this sign for my front door with foam board, card stock, and a wooden dowel rod.  Would have loved to have had a mini pool table out front, but I don't know anyone who has one to be able to borrow it.

Inside Decor:  I tried to craft my dining room table to look like a pool table.  I used a green plastic tablecloth and cut black card stock to put on the corners/sides to look like pockets.  I used black yarn to create pretend baskets on each pocket.  As a centerpiece, I borrowed billiard balls to fill a fish bowl and placed a black billiard triangle around it.  I bought blue pool chalk to glue to each rolled napkin for added pool-themed decor.

As a place card, I painted billiard balls.  To make these, I bought 2" wooden ball knobs from Joann's Fabric Store.  I painted them the various colors of billiard balls and used a Sharpie to write the number on it.  With my husband's help, I used a saw to slice a slit at the top low enough to hold a piece of card stock with the guest's name on it. Painting the stripes was definitely a challenge as I had to do it by hand, so they aren't perfect, but I love how they turned out.

I made simple wine bottle labels using a white ball and a red ball image to distinguish the chardonnay from the Cabernet. 

I used scrapbook paper to make miniature billiard balls for wine charms. I made these to match with the guest's place card.

Menu: For an appetizer, I made these super yummy cheese balls that look like a billiard ball set.  Just as a warning if you are thinking about making take A LOT of time to prep it all, but I do think it is worth the effort.  I would suggest slicing the peppers, olives, green onions, etc. ahead of time to save you some time the day of.  It is also fairly expensive as there are a lot of items to purchase, so keep that in mind.  The top is sliced water chestnuts and a black food coloring pen.  I served this with crackers and bread sticks.  If you want to make this cute appetizer, I found the recipe on Taste of Home here.

For a salad, I served watermelon cubes carved out of an 8-ball.  I was short on time, so I ended up just drawing the 8 ball on the watermelon with a Sharpie.  The original plan was to carve it. (The Sharpie was much easier!)

For the main dish, I served teriyaki meat balls, puff pastry, and asparagus.  My original plan was to cut the puff pastry in a large triangle and then set the meatballs in a triangle on top as if it was the "triangle" holding the balls together. I changed my mind last minute when I saw how much the pastry shrunk when baked.  The asparagus is meant to be the pool sticks.  I served additional spears in a bowl to be passed around.

For dessert, I used a butter scoop to create balls in various flavors of ice cream.  I drizzled chocolate around the edge like a triangle, and added two wafer cookies as the sticks.  The ice cream flavors I used were: strawberry, chocolate, lemon cake (this flavor is AMAZING!), mint chip, cookie dough, and orange sherbet. 

Favor:  This favor I actually invented by accident.  I ordered small billiard balls off of Amazon to use in my centerpiece, but I didn't really pay attention to how small I was ordering.  When they came and I opened them, I realized they wouldn't work for my fish bowl centerpiece and thought I would just return them.  I made cupcakes that I was planning to decorate like billiard balls and use as my favor, but the day before the party, I realized I just had too much still to do and wouldn't have time after work to decorate them.  That is where this idea of wine stoppers came about, and I decided just to try it. was easy!  I bought corks from the store and just hot glued a ball to the top.  That was it!!  They turned out so cute and were a huge hit with the girls.

As usual, we had a great time! A fun idea for an End-of-Summer "Pool" Party!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tour de France Fun

My husband is obsessed with the Tour de France bicycling event, and over the years, I have grown more interested myself.  What intrigued me even more was deciding how to transform this event into my July monthly dinner theme...

Invite: I designed the invitation on PhotoShop using a Tour de France poster image I found on the Internet.  Nothing super special to this invite sadly.

Entry: I knew I wanted to incorporate my husband's actual road bike into the decor, but wasn't sure how at first.  I decided on this simple entry.  I made a banner using scrapbook paper and my Cricut machine.  For those of you that don't know about cycling, the background papers represent the 4 jerseys that the leaders of each category from the previous stage wear wear during the next stage.  White with red polka dots is the King of the Mountain jersey; green represents the lead sprinter; white is the fastest overall rider under 25 years old; yellow is the overall leader of the race.

Inside Decor:  I created a street down the center of my table using card stock and used my Cricut to cut out cyclists in various jerseys. I also borrowed one of those giant Eiffel Tower drinking cups they sell at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas from a friend of mine.  She didn't mind me spray painting it grey, so I did.

My original idea for place cards was to shape paper clips into bikes with large buttons as wheels.  After making one, my fingers were killing me, so I had to come up with another idea.  I bought these plastic water bottles from the Dollar Tree and made a simple label. Not super creative, but at least it goes with the theme.

I made wine bottle labels on Photoshop to represent the theme and translated the white and red wine into French. My menu represented a few of the stages of the Tour de France, so since wine is always our first stop, it became Stage 1.

For wine charms, I used images of the jerseys of popular teams in the 2015 Tour de France.

Menu: Since the Tour de France happens all over France, I decide to serve French cuisine.  Our starter was a spinach salad with French dressing.  This was Stage 2 of the race.  The salad was topped with red onion, mushrooms, bacon, and shredded cheese.  To make the dressing I mixed a 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and two green onions finely chopped (with tops). I am not normally a fan of French dressing, but this was tasty.

For Stage 3, I served Beef Bourguignon that I made in the crock pot.  I found the recipe here. It was very good.  If I were to make it again, I would thicken the sauce to make a gravy before serving.

Normally I would serve the Beef Bourguignon with mashed potatoes, but since this was a Tour de France party, I served it over wheel pasta with butter.  It was "wheelie" good!

I have been wanting to make crepes forever, and my original plan was to make the entire meal crepes.  One of my guests recently found out she has a wheat allergy, so this changed that plan. I did make two different kinds for dessert though.

The first was a chocolate crepe.  I made them a few days before and froze them.  Inside, I put strawberry yogurt.  Then drizzled chocolate on the top with a dollop of whipped cream, some chocolate shavings, and a strawberry.

The second crepe dessert was AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS! These were Lemon Raspberry Crepes.  The inside is a lemon curd with whipped cream.  Outside is drizzled with a raspberry sauce and then garnished with a dollop of whipped cream and a fresh raspberry. I used a different recipe for the crepe, but the curd and sauce recipe I found at Buttercream Bakehouse.

Favors:  I sent the ladies home with bars a chocolate with bicycles on them.  These took a while to paint the dark chocolate bike, but they were super cute.  I used my husband's bike helmet as a basket to display them.  The tag read:
For those of you that are clueless about cycling (which some of my guests were too), a Peloton is the main field or group of cyclists in a race.

This was a fun theme.  Great if you are into cycling and Tour de France of course, but even if you aren't, try these recipes.  They were definitely something I would make again for my family.

This was