3 July, 2012  |   8 Comments

Nora Lea’s Fourth Birthday Party

My girl, she turned four.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Six months ago, she told me she wanted a
Birthday party.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Instead of reading good night stories, we would tell tales about the birthday party she was going to have when she turned four.

“And that’s the year I can have gum, mama.”
“No honey, not until you’re five.”
“I know. I thought I’d try.”

So we planned and planned and planned and it turned out I’d be returning late at night the night before her party from a conference. So we planned around that too.

We bought some nylon butterflies to decorate the park.
We asked a real life ballerina if she could give a little class.
We looked into propane heaters and vats of oil to fry beignets.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

And then I decided that that last one was a little too much to bite off.
Instead, we threw just a
Birthday party.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Plus, if there’s anything cuter than a gaggle of toddlers in tutus leaping over imaginary puddles, it’s a baby panda comforting a baby elephant and I don’t think that’s a thing.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

I made an Israeli couscous salad that is basically my bocce pasta salad, but instead of orzo I use pearl couscous.

Easy peasy.

I scooped the salads into chinese food takeout containers so that guests could have individual servings. (I love them, but kids are dirty germheads.)

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

I also made a broccoli salad that got scooped into those takeout containers.

We made three big sandwiches on giant loaves of french bread from the grocery store bakery area.

Tomato, basil, mozzarella with some arugula tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.
Turkey, red onion, bacon, avocado, tomato with green leaf lettuce.
Ham and cheddar and mayo with green leaf lettuce.

I wrapped the sandwiches in parchment paper and sealed with some masking tape. I wrote the sandwich name on the masking tape, just in case I forgot.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Of course we had lots of potato chips to round it out.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

In one of our late night planning sessions, Nora Lea requested lemonade flavored cupcakes. It’s a good thing we live so close to our friend Melissa, a friend who works at a fancy bakery. She made these beauties.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Toddlers eat foods strangely.
Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Gluten-and-dairy-free guests got butterfly lollipops.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

It was a whirlwind 24 hours, going from speaking at the Digital Family Summit (more on that later) to hosting friends and family for a Tchaikovsky inspired romp through the park to a Midsummer’s Night like performance with roly pollies and naked toddlers.

We ended with a show in the backyard. Nora Lea sang new songs (songs that were born that day! just like her!), Dottie couldn’t be bothered with clothes, and my sister showed up. It couldn’t have been a more fitting day.

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Nora Lea's fourth birthday

Happy birthday Nora Lea.
We love you so much.

11 June, 2012  |   22 Comments

Porch Party, the how-to

Porch party, let’s do it.

Porch Party, June 1

No really, how in the heck do I find time to throw parties when I work full time, have no housekeeper, no assistant and no photographer? (Let’s not forget the two toddlers that attend preschool part time).

It’s something that you may have wondered.
It’s something I wonder.

Porch Party, June 1

And my only answer is that James and I prioritize hosting as a core family value. It’s important to us to get friends together to share food and drink and therefore we make time for it.

Porch Party, June 1

We do it by making lists, lots of them.
I do it by taking a deep breath, several times a day.
I do it by remaining flexible and positive.

Porch Party, June 1

Here’s my countdown to a porch party — it outlines the steps I take (starting on Sunday) to host a Friday night party. This is especially important if you have to schedule like we do — with two working parents, an active dog and two small, funny little people.

Sunday, I made a list of what I wanted to serve at the party. By editing my menu down to no more than 3 or 4 snacks and 1 specialty drink, sanity is maintained. What’s in my pantry and fridge gets reviewed during my weekly meal planning so it was fresh in my mind when I made my list. For this party, I decided to focus on dips and dippers, especially pre-made dips that only need to be plopped into a bowl.

Plan theme of party, food and drink.
Review contents of refrigerator and pantry.

I worked in San Francisco on Monday so I was out of the house from 5:30am until 8:00pm. I made a shopping list on the ferry on the way home from work when my brain was too tired for work but not too tired for a list.

Make shopping list.

On Tuesday, I worked from home, which gave me the flexibility to go to the grocery store during my lunch hour. My budget for this party was $150 which was evenly split between dips, dippers and white sangria recipe ingredients. I also post the event to Facebook on this day — to make sure all my favorite people are invited.

Grocery shop for items that can be purchased ahead of time.
Invite guests.

I worked in San Francisco on Wednesday but came home at 7:00pm instead of 8:00pm. On the ferry ride home, I organized my playlist, getting the music for the evening ready to go on an Mp3 player (My trusty Zune. Don’t laugh. I love it.). I like this more than a music streaming service on my phone because I need my phone during the party to communicate with guests and take photos.

Getting home an hour earlier than usual meant that after putting the kids to bed, I had a chance to put away clutter, as well as dust and wipe off the worst of the offenders. The best part about throwing an outdoor party is that your home (save for your bathroom) stays relatively clean.

Clean house.
Make party playlist.

On Thursday, I also worked from home. Please know, that when I work from home, it ain’t no kicking back with the Real Housewives. I’m on calls and hunched over my laptop for the better part of 10 hours.

Just like you are.

I tuck bathroom cleaning into a bathroom visit. Our main bathroom gets a workout on party nights, and I like to have towels clean, sinks, counters and toilets sparkling. It only takes 10 minutes if you’re on your way in or out and has a huge impact on your guests’ comfort.

That said, the better part of my lunch time on Thursday was spent vacuuming and hosing off the porch. Since Thursday was also a bocce night ([!] I know!) I spent the precious hour between 5 and 6 making double the recipe of AB Chao’s pimento dip, my white sangria and cutting and blanching the veggies that I bought on Tuesday. I brought one of the pimento dips to bocce and saved one for Friday’s party.

After bocce, James and I borrowed a cooler from a friend. As is our unofficial bocce custom, whoever is throwing the party that weekend gets to take the leftover wine and beer back to their homes. If no one is throwing a party that weekend (unlikely!) then the drinks return to the bocce courts for another week.

Clean house part II.
Make what food you can ahead of time.
Collect coolers and serving platters.

Party day! Also! Work from home day!
On Friday, lists become invaluable.

Grocery lists, cleaning lists, food to put on which table lists, it all goes on a list. Like I said, I’m chained to my laptop straight from 7:00am until 5:00pm so without a list that other people can also interpret, time is of the essence.

The last minute grocery list got picked up at lunch time. At 5:30, I started plopping. Dips were scooped from their plastic containers into one set of bowls, chips and dippers were dropped into another set of bowls. Since some people feel an “ick” factor when it comes to dips, I plop my dips into as many small bowls as possible, so group contamination is kept to a minimum.

James was in charge of coolers and ice, getting everything ready so drinks were cold, and at 6:00, the first guests arrived.

Put drinks in coolers.
Put food out.
Set up music.
Have fun.

That last one is the most important. If you don’t take a second to shake off the stress of your day, your guests do pick up on it — and aren’t able to kick back themselves.

Porch Party, June 1

Any additional questions?
I’m happy to answer in the comments.

Porch Party, June 1

6 June, 2012  |   3 Comments

AB Chao’s Pimento Dip

AB Chao's Pimento Dip

You know AB Chao, of course you do.
She’s our bite-sized Southern style maven.
She makes rooms sing and beauty happen wherever she goes.
Plus, she’s funny as heck.

AB helped me out with our last bocce game theme, “Southern food.”
See, I was stuck. Malcolm had called fried chicken, EMartin had called macaroni and cheese and KBalls’ fried green tomato club sandwich, well, who can top that?
I had no other Southern foods in my wheel house!

Malcolm's Perfect Chicken

Erin Martin's Mac & Cheese

Kevin's Fried Green Tomato Club Sandwich

Anna Beth sent her Pimento Dip recipe.
I doubled it, for the next day’s porch party.
And it was a huge hit.
Both times.

And, on the day after bocce, my picky husband was spotted, scooping this dip into an omelette.
It’s that good.

AB Chao’s Pimento Dip Recipe

2 cups sharp white cheddar
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or until the dip gets to the right dip consistency [dipsistency?])
1 jar pimentos, drained
1 jalapeno, seeded and rib removed, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir all of the ingredients in a bowl until they’re well-combined. You will need to continue to stir, after you think you’re done, until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

Scoop smoothly into a flat serving bowl.
Your guests will flip out.

Thanks AB!
Fool proof and fancy free, the way I like it.

AB Chao's Pimento Dip

4 June, 2012  |   6 Comments

Cash Mob. Main St. Books.

I want THAT one

Local mom and book enthusiast Brooke Casey sent an email to neighbors in our small town.  She proposed a simple, straightforward idea to help out our struggling used bookstore.

Shopping, shoppersFrom Brooke’s email, “To demonstrate our support for this amazing, historic small town business and its kindhearted shopkeepers, we are planning a special event called a “cash mob

The basic premise is that a critical mass of people comes together to give a much-needed influx of income to a struggling independent small business…”

Cash Mobs, the Anti-Groupon, Are Coming to a Store Near You – Business – GOOD

The word spread and spread,
thanks to friends like Malcolm,
thanks to a tight community,
thanks to people who care about maintaining a thriving local economy.

Malcolm got the word out

Nora Lea and I took cash in hand to join our neighbors Saturday morning. I picked up a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” (seemed fitting), presents for James and the girls as well as some gift certificates for end of year gifts for their preschool teachers.

Used books, the finest two words I think there are

My favorite outcome of the weekend’s cash mob was hearing neighbors say, “We’d forgotten this store was even here.”

Yes the store was hot and crowded.
(Duh, it’s a tiny used book store.)

But more important was that palpable feeling of camaraderie, neighbors coming together to prioritize something important. We showed our local bookstore that they matter.

Because they do.


28 February, 2012  |   2 Comments

Conn Creek’s Premier Napa Valley Party

Paul’s a master party thrower.
He knows what the people want, he delivers.
At this year’s Premier Party, there was an old Hollywood band, perfect lamb chops and a really tasty barrel lot for the sampling.

Premier Party at Conn Creek

My friends came in from all over the country for a little professional/personal collaboration.
(I got really, really sick the next day.)

Premier Party at Conn Creek

Now THAT was a foxy old Hollywood band, with the sexytime lead singers.

Premier Party at Conn Creek

A red carpet between the tanks?
Yes, I’ll walk down that red carpet, with a little better posture.
And a little more swagger.

Premier Party at Conn Creek

Wine between the wine between the vines.

Premier Party at Conn Creek

Gorgeous party, Paul.
You know how to make us feel special

Premier Party at Conn Creek

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