Easter 101: Baskets, Decor and More

Easter rabbit on fresh green grass

Easter is almost here! And that means, baskets to be assembled, tables to be set, and spring cleaning to be tackled.

 

iphone april 2012 053No basket? No problem! Get tips for alternatives to a plain ‘ol wicket basket that adds to the gifty-ness of this year’s Easter treasures. And some non-candy gift ideas, too!

 

 

 

 

Powder and basket 018Basket brush-up: Once you’ve got that basket (or non-basket!) use these principles and tips to create professional-looking gift baskets.

 

 

 

 

Easter centerpiece collageTable time: Need a quick and cheap centerpiece! Try this $12 idea!

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow TulipsFlower power: Keep spring flowers fresh as a daisy with these pro tips.

 

 

 

 

 

March 2014 030Last minute decor: Add a splash of color to your Easter festivities with scarves!

 

 

 

 

 

(c) Africa Studio/Fotolia

Clean it up: Get tips on spring cleaning, although maybe just a tidying up before Easter. It’s early this year after all, and nobody’s going to see the garage. I hope.

 

 

 

 

Need more inspiration? Browse all my Easter articles here for bits of history and even some extravagance.

Rabbit photo copyright levranii/Fotolia.com.

Read More

Setting a 4th of July Table

When I was growing up, every year–come rain or come shine–we’d have a cookout on the 4th of July with paper plates held in wicker cozies and plastic utensils. Then we’d pile into dad’s car and head over to a fireworks show where I’d “oooh” and “aaaah” like I’d never seen anything like it.

Well I still like to cook on the grill on the 4th and fireworks still amaze me, but my table has grown up a bit. Here I’ve set the table with everyday place settings with just a few additions from the party store and the dollar store. It’s an easy, fun patriotic look.

4th of July placesetting

Rethink table linens.

My red table cloth looked really Christmasy, so instead of a table cloth or a runner I used red and blue napkins. Three blue napkins form a “runner” while four red napkins serve as “placemats.”

Combine old and new.

I love using seasonal luncheon plates with my everyday white china. Here I’ve combined blue plates from the local dollar store for a punch of color. They’re small enough to pack away without a lot of fuss and come out just when I need them.

 

Summer 12 031

Make napkins nifty.

Blue and white striped cotton napkins from a discount store are tied with red twill tape. For a little fun, I stuck a red foil pinwheel pick into the folds.

 

Summer 12 020

Red, white and bloom.

A bouquet from the grocery store can be made into a patriotic centerpiece. Combine red roses (clean off all the greenery) with white carnations in a low, clear vase. Add a pop of blue with a sparkly party pick from a party supply or craft store. Tuck a few additional picks under the vase to bring more festivity to the table.

 

Summer 12 033

Stars and stripes aglow.

Make easy patriotic votive candle holders from ribbon, paper and punches.

 

Choosing even just one of these ideas will certainly make your table more festive this year. Wishing you a safe and happy 4th of July!!

 

 

Read More

The $12 Easter Centerpiece

Easter Spring 2012 2 093

Even the most casual Easter meal needs a fresh, fun centerpiece. And for just a few dollars, this centerpiece is an easy, budget-friendly addition to your holiday meal. Here’s how to create the perfect centerpiece for about $12.

Two potted tulips ($3.99 each at the grocery) nestle in fun paper pails ($1 each, Target). Topped with green moss and colored eggs that I had on hand, they’re festive and cheap! In between the flowers, a white pillar candle sits on a clear saucer on top of a jar full of jelly beans ($2 a bag).  Another ring of green moss and a few more jelly beans complete this centerpiece. (Note: If you don’t have moss, try green paper shreds or natural Easter basket filler such as green excelsior, raffia, or straw.)

Look around and see what you have on hand to put together a festive but frugal centerpiece. The keys for Easter are color, color and more color!

Easter centerpiece collage

Read More

Entertaining Outside the Home

I love to throw a good party, especially at home. But sometimes entertaining outside of the home is the best solution for a celebration. In addition to offering convenience for you (no clean up!) and your guests, it can be an economical choice, too.

My past “out of house” party venues have included a pumpkin patch, an IMAX theatre and of course, local eateries.

Recently two coworkers and I hosted a baby shower for a fellow coworker. We knew we wanted an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, so a tea party seemed ideal. We were able to find a local English gastro pub that featured daily high tea. Because high tea is a prix fixe (fixed price) menu, we were able to work out a group rate that was about what we would have paid for food and beverage anyway.

Luckily, the mother-to-be favors a pink and brown color scheme, and the restaurant had brown and white linens. Adding touches of pink was a cinch with balloon bouquets for each table, pink butter mints sprinkled on the table and pink and brown gift bags at each place setting.

Although the bags look extravagant, they were relatively inexpensive to put together. We found tea infusers online for a couple dollars each, then added a custom blended tea that we called “Lavender Lullaby” from a local tea shop. I printed bag tags with my color printer in just a few minutes. Filling individual tea bags took the most time and patience! Then it was just a matter of setting up an assembly line of bags (from www.nashvillewraps.com) and dropping in tea bags, the infuser and a brochure about tea (free from the tea store), then topping them off with some pink tissue from my local Party City store.

Because high tea is served in courses, it kept the afternoon on track and we could skip the shower games. Instead, we opted for “new mom advice cards” that every guest filled out. This also encouraged conversation at the tables. Later we organized all the cards into a photo album.

Guests stayed briefly to chat and wrap up the party after the gifts were opened. We paid the bill and were free to go. The guests appreciated the central location of the restaurant and the abundance of parking, which can sometimes be an issue at a private residence.

It was a very satisfying hostess experience!

Besides leaving the clean up for the restaurant, entertaining in a restaurant provides a certain finality to the festivities—no guests lingering on your sofa until the wee hours. And you can always leave, even when the last guest refuses to go. (Anyone who’s had the person who just won’t leave when all you can think about is going to sleep because it was a really long day/party knows what I mean.)

Here are some tips for entertaining in a restaurant:

  • Pick a theme and a color scheme; it simplifies decisions about decorations.
  • Coordinate with the venue’s colors where possible.
  • Keep the favors simple and easy to transport.
  • Use ice breakers or other devices to encourage table conversation.
  • Keep the menu simple; work with the venue for a prix fixe menu.
  • Split the cost and the responsibilities with other hostesses.
  • Confirm what time you may arrive to decorate and set up, and see if restaurant staff is available to assist.
  • Confirm the number of tables you will need, including a gift table, and any special requests.
  • Many restaurants have private dining rooms for parties at no extra cost.

The next time you’d love to have a get together or a celebration, consider saving yourself a lot of time and effort and look to entertain outside the home.

Read More

Easy Easter Placecards

It’s a throwback to more formal times for sure, but using placecards to seat your guests at Easter dinner is a fun way to encourage conversation and add some color to the table. Here are three super easy creations.

Dyed egg: Write the name or initial of the guest on a dyed egg (you already have them on hand; why not use them?). Place the egg in an egg cup or, as here, a liqueur glass. Or, look for paper egg stands where you purchase dye kits.

Candy carrot: Cut orange tissue paper into 8 inch squares. Place a scant handful of jelly beans or chocolate candies in the center of the paper, gather into a loose cone shape and tie with green curling ribbon. Cut a piece of green paper and a piece of velum into leaf shapes; write the guest’s name on the velum leaf. Layer them together, punch a hole and attach to the ribbon. Curl the ends of the ribbon for carrot tops!

Bunny buddy: Who can resist a solid chocolate bunny on Easter? Simply write the guest’s name on a white tag (available at office supply stores) and tie the tag to the bunny’s neck with curling ribbon. Your guests can take their treat home to enjoy later, or indulge (ears first, of course!) right at the table.

Read More

Big Game Buffet Menu

NYE to Val 2012 064The “Big Game” is on Sunday, February 5, and while millions will gather to watch football and clever commercials, millions more will be there for the food. Whether you’re hosting a game viewing party or a game-protesting movie marathon, easy-to-make yet delicious fare is sure to be a hit. This menu supposes a half-time or intermission buffet; round out your day with some snacks on the coffee table (a dip with chips and carrots along with party mix, for example) and a beverage or two and you’re all set. There’s a healthy chili (well, depending on how you garnish it it’s healthy!), a satisfying snacker sandwich and a tangy chopped salad. In other words, a little something for everyone!

Mom’s Mini Ham n’ Cheese

One bite of these tasty little sandwiches is a walk down memory lane for me. My mom came up with this combination, and this recipe is as close to authentic as I get it without my hometown bakery and butcher shop. We would set up an assembly line on the kitchen table and make dozens at a time when the bakery had the “right” rolls. I’ve tried everything from hamburger buns to croissants over the years, but the premade dinner rolls from the grocery store bakery seem to do the trick. These freeze beautifully and make great after school snacks or a quick “I’m too tired to cook” dinner with a simple green salad. (Try arugula drizzled with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.)

12 bakery dinner rolls
3/4 pound sliced deli hamNYE to Val 2012 016
6 slices Swiss cheese
¼ c. plus 1 T. Miracle Whip® salad dressing (or mayonnaise)
2 T. yellow mustard
1 t. dry minced onion

Combine the Miracle Whip®, mustard and onion in a small bowl and set aside. Cut the rolls in half with a serrated knife

and separate the top and bottom; line up the cut rolls on a cutting board or counter top. Cut the cheese slices in half. To assemble the sandwiches, place 2 slices of ham (fold it to fit on the roll) on the bottom portion of each roll and top with ½ a slice of cheese folded in half. Spread the top portion of each roll with a scant teaspoon of the mustard sauce. Wrap each sandwich in a piece of aluminum foil. At this point, the sandwiches may be refrigerated overnight before an event or stored in the freezer for up to 2 months.

To serve, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake sandwiches 15 to 17 minutes until the center is piping hot. From frozen, bake 30 to 35 minutes. Serves 12 as an appetizer; 6 as a dinner portion

White Chicken Chili

Using a slow cooker is a smart play on game day: you can cook and serve your dish piping hot right on the buffet table. I like the idea of serving this super healthy chili in mugs since they’re easier to carry and hold on to while sitting on the couch.

2 T. olive oil
2 pounds ground chicken (or turkey)
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 ½ c. frozen white petite corn
1 white onion, dicedNYE to Val 2012 055
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. salt
½ t. white pepper
1 T. dried oregano
1 T. chili powder
2 T. ground cumin
1 32 oz. box low-sodium chicken stock
1 bag fresh baby spinach

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and the chicken. Cook the chicken, stirring frequently and mashing the chicken with a fork to separate it. Place the chicken the crock of a slow cooker (3.5 to 5 quart size) and add all remaining items except the spinach. Stir thoroughly to combine. Cook on low 10 to 12 hours; on NYE to Val 2012 056high 5 to 6 hours. One hour before serving, taste and adjust seasonings. Add the spinach, one handful at a time, stirring after each addition. If the chili is too thin for your preference, thicken it by making a slurry: remove a ladle of hot liquid to a small bowl and whisk in 2 t. cornstarch. Stir the slurry into the chili; replace the cover and finish cooking.

Serve hot with one or more garnishes: shredded Monterrey Jack cheese; sour cream, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, chopped jalapenos, and crumbled tortilla chips. Serves 6 to 8.

Chopped Salad

A chopped salad is a perfect party food; since everything is already cut into bite-sized pieces, your guests don’t need a knife! This can be labor-intensive, so one option is to chop everything the morning of your event and store the ingredients in plastic bags until just before tossing and serving. This is also a good use of any leftover veggies, meats or cheeses in the fridge; substitute what you prefer or what you have on hand!NYE to Val 2012 061

1 head iceberg lettuce
4 oz. hard salami or pepperoni
4 oz. block Swiss cheese
1 red pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
1 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. cherry tomatoes, quartered

Wash and dry the lettuce; chop into bite-size pieces and place in a large serving bowl. Cut the salami and Swiss cheese into ¼ inch cubes and add to the bowl. Add remaining ingredients; toss well. Serve with honey-lime vinaigrette or a dressing of your choice on the side. Serves 6 to 8.

Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

Juice and zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine lime juice, zest, vinegar and honey in a bowl and whisk to combine. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil. Whisk until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Read More