A Hawaii Five-0 Milestone Birthday Luau!


We had so much fun this weekend!

Post-Party Selfie

Post-Party Selfie

One thing about Todd is that, while he doesn’t mind celebrating mine or anyone else’s birthday, he’s not what you would call enthusiastic about celebrating his own birthday. Which is why I was so surprised when he told me, one night before bed, that he thought of the perfect theme for his 50th birthday: his Hawaii 5-0!

Anyone up for a luau?

Setting the Scene

Oriental Trading was kind enough to send me a box of goodies for the party, including leis, decorations, and tableware. I combined them with items I’d saved from a previous promotion (long-time readers may recall the Avocado party from 2013) and beach-themed items I’d stowed away after a wedding shower I threw in 2010.

Now, I’m not necessarily thumbing my nose at the de-cluttering movement but, well, maybe I am a little. There’s a lot to be said for hanging on to decorations and party supplies (even through 2 moves) because you just don’t know when you’ll be able to use them again. And if I’d had to start over from scratch? Oof! (Did you know I “broke up with” FlyLady back in the day when she suggested we cull any craft supplies we hadn’t used in 6 months?) The important thing is how you store it! I keep decor items in bins organized by color, so for this party I knew I could grab beachy items from the blue bin and utensils and other decor from the green bin.

So I took the new stuff from Oriental Trading and combined it with my decor stashes to decorate our dining room and entryway fit for a luau.

Perfect use for a coat tree when the weather warms up? I think so!

Perfect use for a coat tree when the weather warms up? I think so!

To be ready to greet our guests, I draped the leis over the newel post and on our coat tree so I could deck them in flowers as soon as they arrived.

I once read in a mid-century party guide that the perfect hostess greets her guests at the door, takes their coat, and offers them a drink. While it might be old fashioned, is it really all that bad an idea? The problem comes when the drinks cart is two rooms away from the door, so I thought it might be worth a try setting up a drink station in our main hall.

A two-tier beverage station ready to go!

A two-tier beverage station ready to go!

Our console table was just the right size to hold a punch bowl, glasses, and two pitchers, and the inflatable canoe cooler from Oriental Trading snugged right underneath to hold cold beers. Not only was it convenient to offer guests a drink as they entered, it kept the party moving around the house a little more than if everything were in the dining room (the way we usually do it). Along with the leis from Oriental Trading, I also received some hibiscus hair clips that I hooked to the netting on the table as decoration until our guests arrived and claimed them for their own. It was a great way to have them handy without just having them in a pile somewhere!

Speaking of keeping people moving, there is some debate on whether it’s a good idea to have seating available or not (to encourage folks to mingle). It depends largely on the type of party I’m throwing, but for the luau I knew people would want to sit and enjoy their food, not have to juggle their plate and drink.

Our guests appreciated the place to put down their drink and plate and relax.

Our guests appreciated the place to put down their drink and plate and relax.


I took the chairs from around the dining room table and dispersed them through the library and living rooms with some small, wooden folding tables. We also had seating available out on the front porch for anyone who wanted to enjoy the beautiful day it turned into (despite predictions of all-day rain).

These palm trees were a quick way to really give the room a luau vibe.

These palm trees were a quick way to really give the room a luau vibe.

In the dining room I decorated our windows with these fabulous foil palm trees. They’re meant to hang from the centers but it was no problem to rearrange the fronds and hook them over the curtain rods. The looked fabulous with our gold curtains and the cheeky little sun hanging between them was just plain fun!

Just because it's off to the side, I didn't want to neglect the mantle for decorating potential.

Just because it’s off to the side, I didn’t want to neglect the mantle for decorating potential.

The dining room mantle featured cotton netting, seashells, and beach glass from my stash, and those charming tin lanterns are from Oriental Trading from a few years ago (similar ones can still be found on their site in white). That’s the great thing about a luau theme, bright colors and beachy items all work together seamlessly!

A Little Mood Music

While I wasn’t too worried about providing entertainment–I’ve learned that guests are quite capable of entertaining themselves and each other when the right atmosphere is provided–I did want to add a little something to the background.

As an Amazon Prime member I’ve really been enjoying the albums and playlists available through Amazon Music at no extra cost. For the party I put together a playlist featuring Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (aka Iz), the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, and even a little Bob Marley. They also had several classic hula and luau albums I selected some songs from. All told it was about 3 hours worth of music and I set up my Kindle tablet and a small portable speaker in the hallway.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a way to share the playlist, but if you’re a Prime member and haven’t checked out their streaming services, I’d definitely recommend it!

The Menu

The shining star of the luau, of course, is the food! After all, a luau is a feast first and foremost, and I got a lot of help with my menu planning from The Polynesian Cultural Center.

What everyone looks forward to: the food!

What everyone looks forward to: the food!

Roast Pig
King’s Hawaiian Rolls
Condiments (Mayo, Grainy Mustard, BBQ Sauce)

Hawaiian Chicken Legs
Lomilomi Salmon
Sweet Leilani Luau Salad
Potato Salad

Hawaiian Cheese Dip
Assorted Crackers
Fruit Tray

Banana Pudding
Mini Pineapple Upside Down Cakes

Luau Punch
Sweet Tea
Sparkling Hibiscus Berry Tea
Beer and Soda

A whole pig is synonymous with a luau and it was the first thing I knew we needed. Now, I considered doing the pig myself and looked into multiple ways but, thankfully, came to my senses and called our favorite local barbecue joint to see if they would be willing and able to handle the roasting duties for us. Man, did they delivery!

That's some pig!

That’s some pig!

Not only did Fallin’s source and smoke a whole pig for us and the owner, John, delivered in on Saturday afternoon, they did it for an amazing price, too. There was no need to carve the pork, once you peeled back the skin it just came off in pieces with tongs. And the flavor was amazing. Our guests unanimously agreed that it was delicious–not too much smoke, just right. Of course, this is just one of the many reasons we love Fallin’s, but it’s a big one!

Preparing the Lomilomi Salmon the day before gave the flavors time to mingle.

The napkins from OTC coordinated nicely with the plates we purchased at Sam’s Club.

I’d taken Friday off of work so I could prep as many of the dishes as possible and not have to rush before the party started at 2pm. It helps that a lot of the side dishes were meant to be served cold or had components that could be put together and combined just before the party.

Those chicken legs... wow!

Those chicken legs… wow!

The Hawaiian Chicken Legs were a particular hit, and it’s all thanks to marinating them overnight. I did tweak the recipe just a little bit as I had a surfeit of pineapple juice and, unfortunately, Kikoman soy sauce which the recipe originator claimed too salty for the job. So I improvised with 3/4 c of soy sauce, 3/4 c of water, and 3/4 c pineapple juice per batch. Between that, the brown sugar, and the coconut milk, the chicken turned out the best I’ve ever made.

The fresh pineapple in the Sweet Leilani Luau Salad worked to marinate the rest of the vegetables overnight, then I added the actual dressing about 15 minutes before combining it with the quinoa I made in the rice cooked just before the party.

The fresh pineapple in the Sweet Leilani Luau Salad worked to marinate the rest of the vegetables overnight, then I added the actual dressing about 15 minutes before combining it with the quinoa I made in the rice cooked just before the party.

Another favorite was our vegetarian main dish option: the Sweet Leilani Luau Salad. Quinoa, vegetables, and pineapple with a light dressing of soy sauce and lime juice. Even though most of our friends and family are omnivores, we do have some vegetarians in our crowd and I try to always accommodate their needs with more than a side dish or vegetable platter.

There was one slight mishap with the menu: the Banana Pudding. I’ve made cooked vanilla custard many times with nary an issue, but this time it just didn’t gel. It looked like it was right when I took it off the heat to cool, but after a night in the fridge it was just as liquid as when it went in. Maybe even more so! And baking it long enough to brown the meringue topping didn’t magically pull it together.

But when something like this happens right before the party you just have to roll with it. After all, I knew the components were good, so I put out extra cups and a ladle and the first pan was empty by the end of the party. If you’ve ever had Floating Islands (meringue in a pool of thin vanilla custard sauce), this was a lot like that, but with banana slices and Nila Wafers.

The Pineapple Upside Down Cakes were a big hit!

The Pineapple Upside Down Cakes were a big hit!

But it also didn’t hurt that I’d made a second dessert, as well. Options are a good thing and the mini-Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes might have been the single most time consuming dish of the party (pineapple rings don’t fit into the bottoms of muffin tins, so each little piece of pineapple was trimmed and placed individually, for all 36 cakes) but it was so worth it once I actually tasted one.

While I used the linked recipe for the inspiration, I subbed a Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Yellow Cake mix for reliability and used pineapple juice in place of the water the instructions called for on the box. Another thing to know is that you really need to saturate your cupcake liners with pan spray before filling them to ensure the brown sugar mixture and the cake do not permanently bond to the liners and make a big mess when you unmold them shortly after they come out of the oven.

The End Result

Another view of the buffet, just because.

Another view of the buffet, just because.

Todd and our guests had a wonderful time. Fewer people than expected showed up so we definitely didn’t run out of food (and I won’t have to cook much of anything for the first few days of the week, at least). We showed the house to the few folks who hadn’t been there before, everyone ate their fill and spent some quality time chatting in the library, living room, and on the front porch enjoying the cool breezes and sunshine.

Todd’s dad came into town from Nebraska for the weekend and helped get the bathroom into shape before our guests arrived–they even squeezed in a Lowe’s run Saturday morning after breakfast! We had a nice visit with him before he headed back to the Midwest on Sunday afternoon.

Big thanks to Oriental Trading for providing the decorations and huge props to Fallin’s Barbecue for taking on the pig roast duties. I will faithfully recommend both for their outstanding customer service and products to anyone who asks (and plenty who don’t, truth be told).

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We’re linking up with the Get It Together Link Party this week!

Sunny Sweet Days