Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Halloween 2010 Family style

It's the Muppets! Animal, Kermit, Fonzie, and Ms. Piggy
This Halloween will always be memorable since the boys were then two years old. Not old enough to really enjoy the Halloween season, but compared to the previous year they were steady on their feet with lots to say about what was going on around them. We spent the whole month celebrating by attending every kid and adult related Halloween activity in our city! Zoo Boo, haunted houses, my sister and brother in law's party (adults only), trick or treating at the local Humane Society, and the biggest family friendly Halloween party I have hosted to date. 

Welcome! Cute, not scary for two year olds.
Since we had such a great time at last year's Halloween party we decided to do it again, only bigger and better this time. In fact, our house was filled with the laughter and smiles of 17 kids under the age of 5 and 24 adults! More food, drinks, and decorations were also added this year. In previous years, I have sent out Halloween party invites in the mail. However, this year with a busy schedule and so many families I chose to sent out an Evite. While I still prefer the formal paper invites, I have become a fan of Evites' since they are FREE, convenient, and party guests are much more likely to RSVP with a click of a button .And on that note, I know we are all busy, but people please do your party host/hostess a favor and simply RSVP if you were asked to do so. All it takes is the click of a button, a phone call, email, or text and this helps the party host/hostess out a lot with planning for food, space, goodie bags, etc.

As previously mentioned, I retired last year's witch after I got a look at this witch my mom made for her Halloween party. I found the perfect spot for her in my house. I moved the cocktail table to the foyer so she was the first thing our guests saw when they walked through the front door. We added candles to the table so the light would eerily reflect off the mirror once it was dark and covered the table in appetizers and wine to greet our guests. While the kids were the focus of the party, the adults were there as guests too and I wanted to make it a fun event for all.

 I also covered the wine in Martha Stewart Halloween wine labels available at craft and Halloween party stores.

This is the book shelf reflected in the mirror behind the witch. The black crow, spider, glittery rats ($1 a piece), and a variety of gourds filled the shelves. When it was party time, I added creepy Spanish moss, snakes, and tea lights to draw attention to this scary scene which was out of reach of the little ones.

 On the kitchen table I placed this home made creation. I collected sticks from outside, draped them in spider webs, added the vulture, then stuffed and tied the monster hands from Oriental Trading with cheese popcorn for each family to take home. 

The kitchen island covered in food, drinks, and dessert.
Since the guest list was so extensive, we ordered 8 large pizzas in addition to the home made comfort food and Halloween themed food from last year. Each dish was labeled with homemade black and orange Halloween pics as seen on the left in above picture. We had devil's eggs, swamp mess (spinach and artichoke dip), witches fingers, and grubs and bugs to name a few. Salad, Martha Stewart macaroni and cheese, kielbasa and sauerkraut, spanikopita and pita (Greek dishes) were also served. Desserts included chocolate spiders with red eyes (on right in above picture), dirt cups, and chocolate cupcakes from the haunted house display. I added miniature skeletons and fencing to the display along with candy eyeballs placed on some of the cupcakes, candy pumpkins, and Oreos with skull and cross bone candy to resemble tombstones.

An easy and fun Halloween treat to make is the chocolate spider recipe I found in Ghoulish Goodies by Sharon Bowers. I have made these for my students in the past and they were a huge hit.
All you need is:
 1 (6oz) package semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
2 cups chow mein noodles
1/4 cup red hots or red mini M&Ms

1. Line 2 baking sheets with wax or parchment paper.
2. Put the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, and melt the chocolate in the microwave: Heat on high for 60 seconds, then stir. If it's not smooth, continue to heat in 2 or 3 10 second bursts, stirring well after each burst. You can also melt the chocolate in a pan on the stove, just be careful not to burn!
3. Stir the chow mein noodles into the chocolate and drop the mixture by tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Press 2 red candies onto the edge of each cluster to make eyes and lift a few chow mein noodles up to give a spidery impression. Refrigerate to cool and harden, about 20 minutes, and serve chilled. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Drinks included a non alcoholic green punch, juice boxes, beer, and wine. I also added a glass bowl of red food coloring and dry ice for the fog effect in the middle of all the food. Unfortunately this requires a lot maintenance, which I didn't have time for. You need to constantly add water to the bowl in order for the dry ice to continue giving off the spooky, foggy effect.

Haunted cupcake tower
Party time! About half of the adults arrived in costume. My goal for next time, is 100%!

The house was full of fun and laughter all night
 After everyone had eaten it was time for a couple of children's games.The big surprise was the spider pinata I ordered from Oriental Trading.  The pinata was stuffed with individual bags of candy and goodies with each child's name so no one would leave empty handed. This also insured that the goodies were age appropriate. We don't want a 1 year old leaving with a choking hazard or a 4 year old leaving with a baby toy. 

 The spider pinata was hung from our balcony above the family room which turned out to be the perfect spot. I was a little worried doing this with so many toddlers, pre-school aged kids, and a plastic baseball bat inside the house. However, all the kids were so well behaved and had a blast! All of them stood back, waited patiently for their turn, and no one was hurt. Success!
The tiger and the pinata
We let the youngest kids take a swing first.

Pin the nose on the pumpkin was back this year to finish the night off!

While we did splurge on this party by providing all the food, drinks, and goodies for each child and family, this large of party can also be done in a more budget friendly way by simplifying the food, skipping the alcohol, and stuffing the pinata with a mixture of candy versus individual goodie bags filled with small toys and candy. Asking each family to bring a dish to pass is another option.
Although, whatever your preference or budget, if you have a fun group of people, costumes, food, drinks, and games you are almost guaranteed a successful Halloween party!

In the end, it was another successful party with lots of happy little goblins and ghouls. My own little Kermit and Fonzie were all smiles at the end of the night!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Halloween Parties for the Adults in the Family

Since I come from a family of Halloween fanatics, we usually spend the whole month of October celebrating. The kick off is my mom's annual Halloween party for her children (my sisters, our spouses and I).  It's an adults only gathering, so grandpa and grandparents are in charge of the grand kids while we go to party!

While this blog is typically dedicated to my own parties, I just had to feature some of the ideas and decorations that my mom has come up with since they are so amazing. It's obvious that any creativity I have came from her. In fact, if the previous posts haven't alluded to just how creative and fun she is, these pictures and ideas will confirm it. She even has her own grandma blog full of cute and creative ideas, projects, and events she has done with her grand kids. Check out her blog at!

 My mom's Halloween parties always start after dark to achieve the full effect of scariness! The sidewalk is usually lite with pumpkin luminaries, a large plastic snake is wrapped around the porch, and the past two years there has been a note that says "went to the store quick, come on in". 

As you walk into the house, creepy Halloween music is playing,candles are glowing, spider webs are heavily draped everywhere, and there is no sign of the hostess. This particular year, the dimly light living room was covered is spider web and on the table were three furry rats with glowing red eyes and a sign that read "Enjoy My Fly Infested Rat Poison" served in glow in the dark martini glasses with fly ice cubes. 

The rats were bought from Grandin Road and the glow in the dark martini glasses are from Oriental Trading

But what really catches your attention is sitting in the chair behind the drink table.....

Scary as can be and made out of paper mache by my mom!

I was so impressed with this witch that she had to make an appearance at my own Halloween party that year. 
There was also a table with an appetizer to munch on while we sipped our "rat poison" and waited for her return from the store.

The sign read "Dig into our Moldy Graveyard". It was a warm spinach and artichoke dip with ghost shaped flat bread and crackers.

Adjoining the living room is the dining room which is always decked out for our arrival! Battery operated candles are glowing on the table, place cards with plastic spiders, hanging skeletons, perched vultures, and black and orange streamers hang from the lighting fixture.

Halloween dining room 
The first year the "Be right back note was posted" we drank, talked, and looked around the house to see where exactly she was or what was going on. In fact, so much time had gone by with no sign of her that we were all hungry and ready to dive into the delicious meal that was warming in the oven. We knew she was up to something, but we couldn't figure out what it was. Then finally she appeared. She was hiding under the dining room table the whole time waiting for us to sit down so she could grab our ankles and scare us. Needless to say, that plan failed. After a good laugh we all did sat down to enjoy the traditional Halloween party meal of a fall salad, BBQ ribs, Martha Stewart Macaroni and cheese, and a homemade Oreo dessert. This was all washed down with our rat poison martinis (Cranberry Stirrings and vodka) and Oberon beers (a well known and liked Michigan brewed beer). 

After our bellies are full of homemade comfort food we play our family favorite game of Bingo for cash prizes! And I will just say that none of us leave disappointed. Every year my mom comes up with a different game for us. One year, as we walked through the front door we each found our name card attached to  spider web (black yarn) and had to follow it all over the house until we reached the end where a prize awaited each of us. The webs were intertwined and at least 8 feet long so the 6 of us had a blast trying to follow our web. Another year, we each found a dollar store Halloween wind up toy at our place settings  which made for some great wind up toy races where the winner was awarded a prize. 

After we admire the year's decorations, eat and drink, and play a couple games we head home with our bellies stuffed, our pockets full of cash, and many good memories to last a lifetime!

In 2011, after we received another "be right back" note on the front door we grabbed our drinks and looked around for where she was hiding. This time, a monster slowly rose from behind the couch and actually scared one of us!

Found this at a dollar store for $1

Under the Sea 2010

The twins 2nd Birthday took place "under the sea"! They LOVE the pool and beach, and since their Birthday is at the end of August I thought what a better party theme than Under the Sea! When I planned this party I didn't know about Pinterest, so I searched the internet for ideas. However, since I have discovered Pinterest, I have found many great ideas for this kind of party and would love to do this party theme again, bigger and better in the future! Within a budget of course.

We started this party inside the house with decorations and dinner for family. Everything was set up while the boys were napping, so when they came downstairs a big surprise awaited them! I wanted it to resemble the ocean, so "blue waves" greeted the boys as did blown up beach balls, colored balloons, and a big gift from grandma and grandpa. I don't want to get off topic, but the boys Birthday present was the Pottery Barn kids craft table for six and it has been one of the best and most used gifts ever! Even adults can sit on these chairs in comfort. We use this table for arts and crafts, playing games and toys, and a place to eat when their friends are over. Also, grandma had the idea of running the bubble machine inside to add to the under water effect, but I vetoed that one and we compromised to running it outside for the second part of the party.

For the waves, my idea was to cut and staple blue streamers to twine and I hung them up from the balcony to create the ocean waves. These two year olds LOVED it! I spent about 45 minutes cutting and stapling these streamers and they had them taken down in about 3 minutes, but it was worth every minute to see the excitement and happiness on their faces!

Next it was time for dinner and of course the menu needed to compliment the theme, so seafood it was! For starters, I made a warm crab dip with sour dough bread for dipping and a light salad with mozzeralla cheese, cashews, granny smith apples, Craisins, and a poppy seed vinagrette. Martha Stewart macaroni and cheese also made an apperance because it's just that good. I put my mom in charge of making the watermelon shark again since it fit the Under the Sea theme so well and she can carve it into turn perfection.

Fishing net hung from the ceiling and was adorned with seashells and starfish, which were also scattered around the food. And once again, I realize I didn't capture all the details on camera. I may need to hire a "professional" in the future.

My guy and grandma's watermelon shark

The kids had a "fish" sandwich with ham and cheese, grapes, and veggies and dip. 

Our entree was a shrimp boil! This was a blast, easy to make and tons of fun to eat. I combined two recipes for this. There was corn on the cob, red potatoes, onion, large shrimp (60/90), hot sauce, seafood seasoning packets and seafood liquid seasoning. The only problem I found was that the pot I used was not big enough for the large amount of food I had so some pieces were very spicy while others had no spice to them. I am planning on making this again this summer for the 4th of July and will skip the seafood seasoning and make my own with hot sauce, lemon, butter, and spices. Once the shrimp boil  was cooked I drained the pot and simply poured it onto the newspaper covered table. Sides of cocktail sauce and lemon wedges were scattered around the table.

still steaming

After dinner, we headed outside for dessert and playtime with family, friends, and neighbors. Thankfully, it was a hot and humid August evening, the perfect weather for our under the sea party! Desserts, drinks, snacks, bubbles, balloons, the kiddie pool, water table, and outside toys kept the young kids busy while the adults sat back and relaxed. 

Sandal cookies. I got this idea from Family Fun magazine.
At the end of a great afternoon, the boys sat down to read their Birthday cards and play with their presents before bedtime. At that very moment their cousin was born! So now we get to look forward to next year's shared Birthday celebrations!!!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Halloween Party with Kiddos

My little lion and monkey
The boys were two months old on their first Halloween so we stuck a pumpkin hat and cute little Halloween onsie on them (courtesy of my sister) and called it good. But the second year, it was time to party! I was so excited to get the boys their first Halloween costumes that I ordered these in August of that year! This turned out to be a great idea since we had to do many trial runs before they got used to wearing them. No joke, this may have been the first time my lion didn't cry in this cute little getup.

Before this child-friendly Halloween party, we hosted an annual "adults only" Halloween party for five years. Here a few glimpses of our past parties...

Costumes were always required!


So, as you can see, there were quite a few changes that needed to be made to accommodate the majority of our new guests in the age 2 and under category! While it was easy to cut way back on the alcohol, make more fun and creative food, and add a game of pin the nose on the pumpkin, I did find it hard to scale back the decorating. The skeletons, fake blood, hanging bats, 6 foot tall Dracula with glowing red eyes, and creepy music stayed stored in the basement. However, I couldn't bear to keep one of my favorite decorations, the witch, in storage too. Thankfully, she didn't scare any of the kids away. It may have helped that inside her pumpkin were popcorn stuffed plastic monster hands from Oriental Trading for each family to take home after the party. And honestly, I think the very young age of our guests was a factor. I chose not to bring her back out the following year for our second Halloween party because we had many more little munchins in the age range of 2-5 years attending. Although this witch may have retired for the next year this doesn't mean a new witch didn't make an appearance. Stay tuned....

My mom bought this years ago. Did I mention my whole family is crazy for Halloween?
Simple. Martha Stewart cut out spiders from JoAnn Fabrics
While the decorations were kept to a minimum, the menu expanded greatly!
The appetizers consisted of cheese & crackers, swamp toes (pretzel rods dipped in chocolate with a sliced almond died green for the toenails), and witches fingers (spicy, cheese bread with pepperoni fingernails). I posted the recipe for witches finger below. The swamp toes and witches fingers recipes came out of Ghoulish Goodies by Sharon Bowers. This book has a ton of cute Halloween recipes. 

Swamp toes and "stinky" cheese
 A fall salad with cranberries, pecans, feta cheese, red onion, and a light vinaigrette was on the table. As was ants on a log and fresh fruit (for the kids or kids at heart), Martha Stewarts's homemade macaroni and cheese (a family favorite), individual servings of beef stew with ghostly mashed potatoes, and a variety of Greek dishes (my mother-in-law was back!) served as the main course. 
The beef stew and ghost mash potatoes were cute and easy to make
Witches fingers are on the right next to the center plate
Witches' Fingers Recipe from Ghoulish Goodies

1 cup of water                     1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 Tbl. of water                     
1/2 cup of butter                  Dried rosemary leaves
1 cup all-purpose flour         9 pieces of slices pepperoni, cut into quarters
1 teaspoon salt                        
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or wax paper.
2. Place the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour, salt, cumin, and chili powder. Return the mixture to the heat and cook, beating constantly with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to pull away from sides of pan, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and stir 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly cooled. One at a time, beat in the eggs, incorporating each egg well. Stir in the mustard and cheese.
4. Put the dough in a Ziplock bag and cut a 1/2 inch hole in one corner. Squeeze 3 inch long fingers onto the prepared baking sheets. Brush them with the egg yolk mixture and press a pepperoni fingernail onto each tip. Lay a few rosemary needles just beneath the nail in the middle of the finger as knuckle lines.
5. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the fingers are golden brown and crisp. Serve hot or warm. If you store them (in a sealed bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days), reheat for 6 to 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven before serving.

And for dessert, chocolate pudding dirt cups topped with crumbled Oreo cookies and a gummy worm!
Chocolate pudding dirt cups

The drink station consisted of two different local micro-brews in the cauldron, blood red wine, and a non-alcoholic red punch made of 2 quarts cranberry juice, 2 quarts apple juice and 2 liters of ginger ale. I also filled a clean latex glove with water and froze it before peeling the glove off to reveal a hand shaped ice cube to put in the punch. Although, by the time I got around to taking a close up picture of the punch only one finger was left on the hand. I opted to leave this picture out. Currently, I have become much better at taking detailed pictures to capture the event and making sure that I have time to take pictures before the guests arrive. Just another helpful tip that Mrs. Party Planner has learned along the way!

At this party, the meal was the big event since most of the kids were too young to play games. So we ate, chatted, took lots of pictures of the kids and adults in their costumes, and played with the toys that came in each child's party bag. I didn't get a picture of the favor bags, but inside the pumpkin decorated plastic bag were large bouncy balls, a small colored flashlight, monster sucker, and a monster pop-up all bought from Oriental Trading. I also had a couple of party bags with a teether or rattle for a couple of the babies that attended too.

My happy little lion
Yes, all the adults dressed up too!
In the end, I must say it was a successful night and just the beginning of many family friendly parties to come!


Saturday, March 31, 2012

TheTwin's 1st Birthday Party

Happy 1st Birthday!

My twin's first Birthday party was the first time I hosted a party post-babies and the first time I was responsible for feeding 30 plus people an actual meal. It was a lot different from the parties in my early twenties where a keg and few crock pots full of cocktail wieners and meatballs were sufficient! Needless to say I learned a lot that day about hosting large dinner parties. And the two most important things I learned that day were:

1. You can never have too much food because it goes fast!
2. Thank goodness for family! My mother-in-law saved me that day by quickly whipping up four more homemade Greek dishes when she realized the food I had was not going to be enough for everyone we had coming to the party. This woman is amazing and a fabulous cook! we need, this dear lady is there for us!

The menu and decor were Mediterranean themed and simple; blue and white plates, cups, napkins, and lots of white votive candles. Blue and white Birthday hats and banners were also hung up and scattered around the house. Because what one year old is really going to care if they have a children's themed party or not?! Although, once the boys turned two, the children's party themes have been in full effect!

However, this first Birthday party was to celebrate the boys turning one in the company of family and friends,old and new. My mother-in-law from New York was there and primarily in charge of making the food (see above paragraph). My best friends for years and our new friends from church and the neighborhood were all there to celebrate.

The spread was a variety of delicious, homemade Mediterranean inspired dishes such as Greek salad, pastichio (baked pasta, meat, and cheese), tiropita, spanakopita (spinach pie), dolmathes (meat and rice rolled up in grape leaves), fried eggplant, hummus, tzatziki sauce, fresh baked bread, souvlaki, potatoes seasoned with lemon, and stuffed mushrooms. We also served Greek wines and coffee.            

Beautiful sunflowers as our centerpiece
 For dessert, my mother made the shark watermelon complete with Swedish fish inside the mouth! My mother-in-law also added a few dozen homemade goodies such as delicious baklava and I made the "cupcake cake". I got the idea for the "cupcake cake" from the book Hello, Cupcake! Written by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson. In the book they have the cupcakes stacked on top of each other to look like actual cake, however, I thought that would be too messy with all the little ones so I used a three tier dessert stand. The candles were carefully constructed by my brother-in-law and good friend Elise. They did this twenty minutes before the party was set to begin since I was clearly not ready and on the verge of a nervous breakdown! The candles were made out of Chocolate Pirouette Rolled Waffers from Pepperidge Farm with banana Runts as the flame and orange icing to hold them together.

 The Birthday boys each had their own yellow cake with chocolate frosting and fell in love with sugar that day. Since one of my guys wasn't feeling well we did a re-do on his Birthday cake the next day when he was feeling better and he may have had the biggest smile I have ever seen on his face. Until the day he discovered construction vehicles and planes that is!

After dessert the boys opened their gifts and played with their friends until it was time for everyone to leave. It was a great day and thankfully turned out to be a successful party!

My little guy loving his cake

The clean-up crew the following day!

And the great thing about having half of your family living in another state is that you get to have TWO parties! That's right these loved little guys also had another Birthday celebration in New York at Calabria's with our Greek family and friends. I didn't need to plan this party, my in-laws took care of that. The room was full of family, friends, laughter, good food, wine, balloons, and two very happy little twin boys!

Can you tell who the guest of honor is?