Around the World in 40 Years

Just for Fun

How does it feel to be 40? A lot like it felt to be 39.


Age has never been a big deal to me, especially as I get older–I just don’t get hung up on the numbers. In fact, the one thing age does afford me is the knowledge that my perception of what counts as “old” really had no basis in reality.

Turning 40, though, that’s been kind of fun!

See, several years ago we were out with friends and it came to light that Lyssa thought I was already over 40 (for reasons of maturity, she assures me, lol). When I told her that was still several years off she was mortified. Again, I don’t stress about numbers, so I wasn’t offended, but it brought up the subject of birthdays and I said that I wanted a party for my 40th (looking at Todd) that I didn’t have to plan myself.

Shiny happy party-goers!

Shiny happy party-goers!


Lyssa took that and absolutely ran with it. She decided she was going to plan it and she really went above and beyond in celebrating my birthday this year and I’m really a bit humbled by her efforts.

The reason for my request goes back 10 years, to my 30th birthday. I was turning 30 on the 30th (only happens once, you know) and it fell on a Sunday so I insisted upon throwing a little party at my apartment. Now, I’m never one to assume that just because I want things a certain way that people are going to be willing to do it. And I had a very specific menu, etc. in mind so I did it all myself. And I enjoyed it–making the food, buying the party favors, having people over, all of it! The only down side is that while I was busy being hostess, my dual role as guest of honor got pushed to the side and I ended up the marginalized caterer of my own party.

Also, as milestone birthdays go, I haven’t exactly had much luck in that department.

  • Sweet 16? Spent it at a state Latin convention (though that part I didn’t mind) where there were issues with my friends and roommates (that wasn’t cool) plus the flowers Mom tried to send me got rerouted so many times I didn’t get them until I got home.
  • 21? Failed my driver’s license test and had to walk into dinner with the family a failure. In my defense, I failed because I popped the curb backing out of the parking spot while trying not to back into the big ass truck parked behind me. What I viewed as caution they, well, did not. Went back the next day and aced it, of course, and even made a joke about it to the dude evaluating me that “I hope it last longer than the last one.” (Insert “that’s what she said”)
  • 25? Don’t even remember this one…
  • And I already explained about 30.

It’s not like I’ve always had horrible birthday luck, either. My favorite birthday hands-down forever and ever amen is the one Todd and I spent at the Jacksonville Zoo, largely because Todd did such an amazing job of making me feel special and loved. This weekend, though, it’s a very close second to that weekend, but as a milestone birthday it’s tops!

Beginning and ending: Guests picked up their passports here and later picked up dessert!

Beginning and ending: Guests picked up their passports here and later picked up dessert!

About 20 of us piled into Bacchus’ event room for a wine and cheese party using my theme of “Around the World in 40 Years.” If you saw My Art Week video then you know that I created some paintings for decoration. I also volunteered to make the party favors, which were little booklets inspired both by the sheets helpful wineries give you at tastings and the passports EPCOT hands out at the Food & Wine Festival. (The party theme actually is a spin-off of the ‘drink your way around the world’ idea of the World Showcase.)

The France station: Brie, Pinot Noir, and Duck Bread & Goat Cheese Flatbread

The France station: Brie, Pinot Noir, and Duck Bread & Goat Cheese Flatbread

Each of the four countries we settled on were represented by a wine, a cheese, and an appetizer, at least in broad strokes, and the passports (complete with a little golf pencil attached like an old-fashioned dance card) listed each of these and gave space for guests to make notes about what they liked in case they wanted to order it on another visit to Bacchus (like the Duck and Goat Cheese Flatbread… so good!) or pick up a bottle they really enjoyed. Even though I’m usually a fan of the reds, and our Pinot Noir and Malbec options were very tasty in their own way, I was loving the Unoaked Chardonnay and Reisling, both.

Angentina: Malbec, Provolone cheese, and Pao de Quiejo (cheese rolls)

Argentina: Malbec, Provolone cheese, and Pao de Quiejo (cheese rolls)

USA was represented by an Unoaked Chardonnay, White Cheddar cheese, and Cheddar-topped sliders

USA was represented by an Unoaked Chardonnay, White Cheddar cheese, and Cheddar-topped sliders

Germany: Reisling, Butterkase, and Mini-Brats

Germany: Reisling, Butterkase, and Mini-Brats

And we can’t forget the amazing cupcakes from Lucy & Leo’s–always amazing and I’m not blowing smoke up your skirt when I say their gluten-free cupcakes are better than the regular ones. They’re just that good.

And we didn't have to clean anything!

And we didn’t have to clean anything!

After Bacchus a few of us (those without graduation parties or ceremonies to get to, it was that weekend in Tallahassee) went up to George & Louie’s for a bit of a nosh to soak up some of the wine and just hang out a bit more.

An early party might not be everyone’s ideal type of celebration, but I think it was just about perfect. The mid-afternoon fete was very freeing, fornat-wise. It also allowed our guests to more easily fit it into a busy weekend. Plus, since all of the guests had to drive back down to Tallahassee, an earlier end is considerate in general. Finally, it allowed us to go home and veg out for the rest of the evening, something we were very happy to do for a number of reasons. One of which is another story for another post!

Updated to add, here’s the video!

All’s Well That Ends Well!


This past week was super-hectic wrapping up the latest Creative Mischief Kits and getting ready for our annual Halloween party. But we made it through and everything turned out great! Well, almost everything…

First, let’s have a look at last week’s menu:

On The Plate for the week of October 19th

Monday: Turkey, Brie, and Cranberry Grilled Cheese with Butternut Squash Soup
The sandwich inspiration came from and the soup was already in the freezer from a batch Todd made a month or so ago. Together, it was like Thanksgiving came early and it was perfect on a chilly evening.

Tuesday: Bacon & Egg Risotto
A Brit + Co find, I admit that I get up on my culinary high horse when it comes to a risotto recipe that doesn’t follow the risotto method. I just don’t think the time “saved” by tossing everything together and letting it steam is worth the quality lost by doing it the “right” way. Stirring a pot of risotto as you gradually add the water isn’t hard, it’s only 20 minutes. If you want quick, buy a box of Rice-a-Roni. If you want risotto, make risotto. So I didn’t follow their directions (no one is surprised by now, I’m sure) but we still had a very tasty meal and it reheated great for lunch later in the week. In addition to doing it the “long” way, I chopped the bacon before cooking and left it in for the entire time rather than playing hokey-pokey bacon. I also didn’t see the need to use a separate pan for the eggs. Once the last bit of liquid was incorporated into the rice I added the eggs to the top of the rissoto and covered it just long enough for the eggs to “poach.”

Wednesday: Chicken Tortilla Soup
Based on the Black Bean Tortilla Soup from MinimalistBaker, I added chicken and substituted a large can of hominy for the black beans (beans are still something I cannot tolerate very well, and hominy is my go-to substitute for soups). I also sliced up some gluten-free tortillas and added them like thin dumpling noodles.

Thursday: Pork Chops, Glazed Carrots, and Colcannon
My Colcannon ended up a little looser than intended–I must not have drained all the liquid out from the potatoes and kale. But even though it was just this side of Colcannon-soup, it was still absolutely delicious. And the next time I feel like making potato soup, bacon and kale might just be the things I add!

And here’s where the “normal” menu ends. I have an unofficial rule that I don’t cook the night before a big holiday dinner, party, or other food-intense day. One, because I’m usually prepping for the next day that evening, and two, because it cuts down on extra leftovers in an already-packed fridge. Instead, we went to down to Andy’s to pick up wings and then I got to work wrapping bacon around artichokes and making the pinwheels for the party. Saturday’s dinner was preempted by the party menu, and Sunday was given over to leftovers.

The table we set for our guests this year.

The table we set for our guests this year.

I’d been prepping one item from the menu a night all that week–it’s the only way I can get everything done without taking a day off work! Things like the brownies, the black bean dip, and even the spinach puffs can all be held for several days without a loss of quality, so I was able to check those off pretty quickly and slide into Saturday morning right on track!

The pumpkin bread is another recipe that can last, well-wrapped, for a couple of days on the counter. It also freezes beautifully (am I the only one who thinks of Steel Magnolias when they use that phrase?). We had one leftover from last year’s party so I put in the chest freezer, thinking I’d pull it out for Thanksgiving. I actually pulled it out last week and was noshing on it for breakfast all week.

Pumpkin Bread
from Celtic Folklore Cooking (affiliate link)

1 large can pumpkin
1 cup melted butter
3/4 cup water
4 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

Mix together pumpkin, melted butter, water, and eggs. Blend in baking soda, flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, and raisins. Place batter in a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until top is golden brown.

A few things. It doesn’t say what large equals, but I took it to mean the 29oz can that would make 2 pies. We also don’t do walnuts in this house (Todd’s not a fan), and raisins are High-FODMAP, so I substitute 2 cups of dried cranberries (yes, dried fruits in general are higher in FODMAPs than their fresh selves, this is my compromise), and I use a gluten-free flour blend that already has xanthum gum included and it works well as a 1:1 sub in this recipe (the Krusteaz brand, which we get at Sam’s Club). Finally, the recipe claims this makes one loaf and I’d really like to see the size of their loaf pan! It makes enough for two normal loaf pans.

Saturday morning started nice and early: 7:30 am. I needed to get downstairs and start the pork in the slow cooker and put the potatoes in the oven, then clean all the floors in the house before it got too late. That way I could get all the messy work out of the way and get a shower before having to run an errand (to delivery a local Creative Mischief Kit order and pick up ice for the party). All was going swimmingly–I was crossing items off the to-do list, I even had enough time to add a small tray of grapes, vegetables, and cheese and a batch of my seeded chicken salad to the menu. I was calm, relaxed, and in the groove.

Then I went to put on my costume.

Vanellope and Ralph, Halloween 2015

Vanellope and Ralph, Halloween 2015–a little blurry, but appropriate by the time this photo was taken 😉

Notice anything missing? The tights that I was so careful to do “right” were very wrong. Despite stretching them while they were being painted to prevent shrinking and buying a size larger than I’d usually wear, when I went to put them on (after having to fight it off the cardboard inserts in the first place) they just wouldn’t fit.

And that’s when the doorbell rang.

Thank goodness Todd was already dressed and could go down to answer the door!

Despite the bumpy start, the party was a lot of fun. Our guests ate, drank, and made merry. We gave a house tour to those who hadn’t been there before and this time I got to include a few ghost stories, as well. (I’ll be sharing what I know about the Dollhouse’s spectral residents in Friday’s post.) After that I was mainly occupied giving readings until the last guests left around 1am. Last year I decided to offer readings (Tarot) to any guest who was curious and a few people took me up on it. This year? They were asking when I was going to start and forming a line! I ended up doing 10 readings this year. It’s a great way to get some quality one-on-one time with my guests, but it does take away from the mixing and mingling.

Sunday was spent recharging from the late night. Thankfully, clean-up from a party like this is pretty simple–just a matter of putting away perishables (which we did before going to bed) and washing up the platters and bowls (which we did after sleeping in/napping half of Sunday away). The decorations get to stay up for another week and, hey, the house is mostly clean and uncluttered!

Happy Hallo-Week!

What to Feed Your Halloween Party


In addition to my regular menu planning this weekend, I had to finalize our party menu, too! Saturday was our bi-monthly Sam’s shopping trip–excellent timing on that one–so we took advantage of already being in the warehouse store to stock up on the usual goods plus anything else we’d need for party food.

We also stopped by Trader Joe's on the way home. (This doesn't include the cooler full of meat or the case of beer.)

We also stopped by Trader Joe’s on the way home. (This doesn’t include the cooler full of meat or the case of beer we also purchased at Sam’s.)

Todd’s trunk was so weighed down it made alarming noises when we stopped at red lights! And there was no way everything was fitting in the pantry, so party prep items are still hanging out at the end of the dining room table until needed. I’d estimate we spend $200-$300 extra in groceries when prepping for a big party like this, and it always feels like money well spent. Our guests have plenty of options and the leftovers feed us (and sometimes our offices) in the days after the party so we don’t have to worry about cooking after the fun. It all evens out.

Speaking of those options, this is what the menu is currently set at:

Spanish Pulled Pork with Kings Hawaiian Rolls
Vegan Corn Chowder*
Roast Beef and Swiss Pinwheels
Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese Pinwheels

Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts*
Stacked Spuds*
Spinach Puffs*
Spicy Black Bean Dip* with assorted crackers and chips

Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread
Chocolate Chip Brownies*

Paladin Punch* (non-alcholic)
Mulled Apple Cider
Frank-n-Brew (tequila)
Black Juleps (whiskey)
Beer: Yuengling Oktoberfest and Not Your Father’s Root Beer
Assorted wine, sodas, full bar, and mixers are always available

(Menu items marked with an * are from my cookbook, What to Feed Your Raiding Party.)

It’s very similar to last year’s menu with a lot of “fan favorites” like the bacon-wrapped artichoke hearts and the pinwheels. I had multiple dips on last year’s menu, but with so much food they got overlooked, so I slimmed it down to only one (and one that is always a hit at out parties). I also had a couple more desserts on the menu for last year, but I know that at least one guest is bringing a couple of sweet items for the table, so I lessened my to-do list knowing that we’ll have plenty.

We had all of this, plus 3 more items on the table in the kitchen that we just couldn't make room for!

In the end we had all of this, plus 3 more items on the table in the kitchen that we just couldn’t make room for!

And last year’s table was so jammed full that I thought it would be nice to have a little more room to maneuver this year!


This picture is from last year, too–I like to plan what is going where on the table and what serving dishes I’ll need before I start filling platters and dressing up the table. It looks like we only had 2 of the 3 leaves in place–I guess we only added the third leaf for Thanksgiving, though we’ve left it in place since. Good! That means we’ll have even more room to work with!

Okay, now back to work on my costume!

Your Secret to the Perfect Party Revealed!



Yeah, okay, not exactly a big secret, right? But I lost track of how many people said ‘I don’t know how you did it’ or something similar at or after the Halloween party. Because, yes, when the dining room table is fully extended and still barely contains everything, it does look like a lot of work.


That’s roughly 24 square feet of deliciousness.

So the “secret” is organization, and the strategy is divide and conquer.

Food is always a big part of all my parties. If you leave my house hungry, it’s your own damn fault. I like there to be a good variety and enough so that I don’t have to worry about running out of food before the fun is done. But it’s true that time is of the essence, so being organized to a fault is a plus and being reasonable with my expectations. Once I figure our what I’m making, I put it in order of what holds best on down to what must be made just before serving and then I start making 1-3 things a night for the week leading up to the party.

But what to make and how much of it? Catering math is the completion of the party-planning trifecta.

Catering math involves 3 variables and simple multiplication (yes, you can use a calculator if you need to).

  • How many people do you expect?
  • How long will the party last?
  • Will dinner be served?

If you’re serving nibbles before a dinner, you don’t need as many hors d’oeuvres otherwise your guests will be too full to enjoy the meal. But if all you’re serving is cocktail food (especially if it’s during the main lunch or dinner window) you need to have enough to serve as the meal. So for a party with both snacks and dinner, it’s 5 pieces per person per hour. Without a dinner planned it’s 10 pieces per person per hour. Simple as that!

Catering math made simple.

Catering math made simple.

For the Halloween party I figured on around 25 people for 5 hours or so with no separate meal served, which means I needed somewhere in the vicinity of 1250 (25x5x10) pieces for the evening.

1250 pieces sounds like a lot, but when you figure that–for instance–each veggie on a veggie tray, each meatball, each little cookie counts as a piece (and a bigger cookie counts as a 2 or 3 pieces), the numbers start adding up quickly. And if you’re serving things that a little bigger, you can fudge those numbers even more. So as I add things to my party menu, I note how many pieces I’m expecting out of each and I can keep a running total as I build it out. The number is a guide, though, and you have to know your guests and adjust accordingly.

I also make my shopping list, prep schedule, and plan for serving pieces while I make the menu: a one stop planning doc!

I also make my shopping list, prep schedule, and plan for serving pieces while I make the menu: a one stop planning doc!

Something else I do as I make my menu is to categorize the dishes by content, texture, and temperature as well as taste. Having a balance between sweet and savory is often as far as a lot of hosts go, but I like to make sure I plan options that are both crunchy and creamy, hot and cold, plus a good mix of vegetarian options among the more carnivore-friendly. It’s all about the mix, just like the mix of people you invite over!

Preparing for this year’s party was surprisingly chill. I kept up with my prep schedule and Todd and I kept everything moving so that on the day of the party there was no last minute rush before the guests arrived and we were able to greet our guests as calm and collected hosts. I hope these tips help you navigate your next party in similar form!

AlcoHOLidays | Election Day | Political Party


Back when I was first in college (in the dim mists of the late 20th century), I was incredibly political and planning to become an event planner. I even went as far, for a Intro to Business project, as creating a business plan based on my company-to-be, aptly named Party Politics. I’ve volunteered on campaigns, participated in straw polls, attended election parties, and become thoroughly disillusioned with the entire process.

And that’s about all I’m going to say on the subject of politics as I blog about cocktails to be convivial, not combative.

Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday of November (so somewhere between the 2nd and the 8th), was chosen for its “sweet spot” location of just after harvest but just before the bad weather. And while some states consider it a civic holiday, most folks have to squeeze in their voting before or after work (unless they use the increasingly available early voting options). I remember one Election Day in particular, again in college, where our economics professor was so disgusted that only a few of us had voted (it was only 9 am, by the way) that he cancelled class so people could go vote.

Didn’t matter than many of us didn’t have cars and taking the bus wasn’t practical when you had a 10 am class to be back for, but whatever.

This was also the same professor that held up class for a tirade on Valentine’s Day, so take that for what you will.

At any rate, when I decided to create a drink based on politics and elections, I had to think of what spirits would best reflect the process.

Political Party

1 1/2 oz Vodka
3/4 oz Kahlua
1/2 oz Goldschlager
1/4 oz Galliano

Combine all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish patriotically (I  used a skewer of star fruit, blueberries, and raspberries).

With a bit of reflection I settled on vodka for the clean-as-a-whistle background you want to have as a candidate, Kahlua for the numerous cups of coffee those all-night strategy sessions can take, Goldschlager for the money that powers the campaigns, and Galliano for the bitterness of losing. After all, elections are the one area where they’ve yet to play the “everybody wins/there are no losers” card.

While this cocktail retains a certain sweetness (gotta lure you in somehow), it may not appeal to every palate. That’s okay… partisan politics isn’t to everyone’s taste.