Thursday, January 23, 2014

DIY Super Bowl Party Snack Stadium. Ahem, that's SNACKADIUM.

I know it's cool when chicks are into cars and football and can kick your ass at poker. But I'm not cool. I like makeup and Taylor Swift and Clueless. So my point here is that I don't don't give a furniture store about football. Or the Super Bowl. But the one glorious light at the end of the tunnel that is football season? THE SUPER BOWL PARTY.

I have no idea who played in last year's super bowl. But I can tell you who played in the year before that's bowl because of the glorious Snack+Stadium=Snackadium I created. In honor of #throwbackthursday AND #flashbackfriday (because in real life who knows when this will go up)... here it is:

And here's how to make your own:

Cover a large area with foil. Place baking sheets in the center. I used one large one and one small one from a set of three. Use foil to partition off the end zones. Start building the walls. I used Twinkies, cucumber sandwiches and toothpicks.

Fill the walls with dippin' stuff: chips, crackers, pretzels, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, celery, etc. I didn't use anything to divide the different snacks--just stuffed 'em in there. 

Fill the field with guacamole and end zones with other types of dips. I used queso on one end and spinach dip on the other. Then I enlisted boys to line the field with pulled apart string cheese lines.

Since I had enlisted knowledgeable man help, I also had them set up little smokies as my football players (complete with little cheese helmets attached with toothpicks) into some semblance of an actual football formation. I'm told the little smokie back in the Patriots' endzone--aka the spinach dip--was Brandon Jacobs. 

The field goals were created by cutting up Slim Jims, assembling them with toothpicks, and shoving the bases into blocks of cheese buried in the dips. 

As for the decor, I attached some giant balloons and paper poms I picked up at the dollar store to the light over the kitchen island. The colorful paper fans were created by going through my old stockpile of magazines, ripping out red, white, and blue pages, folding them accordion style, and taping them together in a circular shape. I tied fishing line to them for hanging. 

Other handmade paper fans were taped to the wall around the less-spectacular food. Since both of the teams' colors were red, white, and blue... pulling together the decor was easy. Had I taken the time to really think this out I would have drug out the 4th of July decor and really gone wild. 

I don't remember what, if any, New England-y food we had... but we definitely had the New York angle covered. 

I'm not sure I'll have the time (or, honestly, the interest) in throwing a Super Bowl party this year...but writing this suddenly has me feeling inspired. Maybe a dessert snackadium this year? 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Swanky New Year's Eve Party Ideas For the Host on a Budget

You're too broke to throw a swanky NYE party so just give up and adopt twelve cats instead. Just kidding. Here's how, for cheap:

Work with what you have.

I already had this glittery tree thingy and a friend of mine gave me the squirrel as a Christmas gift, so I used that as the basis for this year's NYE party decor. 

Since I was going in the squirrel direction (and hey, when am I not?) I also pulled out this previously unopened pack of 60 year old squirrel napkins I'd gotten from an estate sale. 

We also have a few pink depression glass pieces that are reminiscent of pink champagne, so I incorporated those in for a pop of New Year-appropriate color. 

We own a couple of fondue pots and a chocolate fondue fountain. Ok, we have two, but who's counting? Anyway, the easy and obvious choice here was to serve fondue apps. And, because we're extra budget-conscious, we didn't go out and get special fondue fillery stuff. Nah, we used dark chocolate chips in the fountain with some vegetable oil. And for the cheese fondue? Eff it. We used canned queso. And not the fancy kind. We're talking the Tostitos kind from the chip aisle in Wal-Mart. The best part? Because we presented it in my fancy Cathrineholm fondue pot, people just assumed it was nicer. Not making that up.

To snazz up the dipping items I dipped them in colored sugar crystals. To make the sugar stick to the marshmallows I dipped the ends into a little bowl of water first. The sugar stuck on its own to the bananas and the apples. #thanksfruit PS, I originally bought the sugar crystals at Michael's, but returned them because I found them for about half the price at Home Goods. Go there first for foofy baking items. 

Start your decor shopping at the dollar store. And work your way up in order of expensive-ness. 

If you're already a dollar store shopper, you're nodding your head in agreement right now. But if you're not it's probably because the dollar store in your neighborhood has hunched over drug addicts puffing on cigarettes outside and the inside smells like poverty and desperation. I know friend, because that's what the one by my house is like. But hear me out here. While Christmas stuff was out, I scooped up some tinsel trees that are simple. I'd seen similar things for $5-10 at places like Michael's.

These chargers and napkin rings? Dollar store. And then, I realized I hadn't gotten enough chargers and had to go out for more, only to discover they weren't there anymore. I ended up finding them at Big Lots. They were more expensive there, but I went after Christmas when they were 50% off and ended up paying $1.25 each. They are cheap crappy plastic but when arranged nicely, look great. The plain black napkins are from Wal-Mart.  Most everything else was from Home Goods (more on that in a minute). 

Wait til the last minute. You're a rebel.

I wouldn't normally recommend this, but a lot of Christmas decor can also double as great NYE decor. And all that Christmas decor? It goes on sale after Christmas. And the more days you wait after Christmas, the cheaper it gets. I already mentioned I got my chargers for $1.25. I also found a lot of good deals on marked down Christmas stuff at Home Goods. I found the gold tray for my centerpiece above for $7. The frames were $3.50 (for the larger one) and $3 (for the smaller one). The gold and silver candles were all $2.50-$3.50. The table runner and some of the champagne glasses weren't on sale, but I can use them year-round and were also purchased Home Goods inexpensively. The gold garland I used for the picture wall below was on sale at Michael's for 70% off. 

If you're having a dinner party, buy a matching china set...but be frugal about it.

There are two different routes I would recommend going here. The first is to invest in a nice, standard white set. A big one, with service for at least eight. You can never go wrong here and, as long as you stick within your budget, I'd consider this a sound investment.

The second option is to scour Craigslist/Estate Sales/Antique Stores for a large vintage set. I have two sets of vintage china I obtained this way. One is a huge mid-century Cathay set I found on Craigslist for $10. Yes, $10 (and comparable sets on Etsy are going for over $200). The other is another large mid-century Franciscan Merry Go Round set I found on sale at an antique store for $18. That is the set I used for this year's NYE party. It's retro, but minimal so I thought it worked well incorporated into the other decor. The added fun of going this route is that if you pick a popular pattern you can slowly build the set through the years. And, if the pattern was cool 60 years ago, it will probably be cool for years to come. Extra, extra bonus: if you keep this up for long enough but then decide you're not into this pattern anymore, you can probably sell it for a decent profit to another vintage lover later down the line.

This set also had serving pieces like this platter.

Make your own crap.

I bought these two frames for a total of $6.50. They came matted, but the mats were red so I cut up sparkly black paper and covered up the red. I used my Cricut to cut the letters out of gold paper. 

I really wanted a place for photos so I bought two packs of tinsel garland for a total of $14, chopped them up, and tacked them to the wall. I used my Cricut to cut the pieces for the garland. The tinsel tassels were from three bags of tinsel (one gold, one silver, and one light pink) from the dollar store. The gold bows were on Christmas clearance at Big Lots and the gold leaf garland was on Christmas clearance from Micheal's. 

I used the extra tinsel garland to add a little somethin-somethin to the dining room chairs.

And decide what's not worth making.

I found a balloon drop tutorial on Pinterest and decided I was going to do it to make midnight a bit more exciting. And it looked pretty easy. But then I found this balloon drop at Party City for $7. It was super easy and super fast and worth the extra $2 it probably cost me to buy it already made. Worth it.

Pick a couple upscale items and everything else will look fancy in its presence.

Sure, our fondue cheese was really just queso from Wal-Mart. And maybe our chargers were from the dollar store. And our napkins were from Wal-Mart. BUT DID YOU SEE THE LOBSTER? We're probably rich.

What else was on the menu? Mac & cheese, asparagus baked with olive oil and parmesan, and cheddar bay biscuits. Nothing fancy here. But did you see that lobster?!

Make simple stuff look....less simple.

Rock candy in the champagne flutes? Check. Little flags made out of pipe cleaners on the paper straws? Checkity check.

For a simple finger food, I sandwiched banana slices between vanilla wafers, rolled them in sugar crystals, and then stuck a toothpick with a pipe cleaner flag in them.

I used this recipe for butter beer Jell-o shots that I thought looked champagne-y. They looked pretty (although, admittedly, not as pretty as my inspiration) but, in my opinion, were so disgusting. At least one other person nearly hurled upon tasting them. 

But what should you, like, DO (other than eat all the foods, duh)?

Maybe you're at an awkward age for a party-goer. You are (or, at least, your body is) too old to be getting absolutely wasted. You don't have time to sleep off that hangover all New Year's day, because, damnit, you have a real house now and have to spend the day taking down Christmas decorations. But you're also not quite old enough to have kids that are old enough to enjoy a kid-friendly NYE party. Also, you only have two friends who would consider actual dancing at a dance party. So what do you do? Board games, friend. BOARD GAMES. Here are some fun options: Cards Against Humanity, Mad Gab, and What's Yours Like. This year we also played a game I found at a yard sale for $5 called The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Game. It was fun, but mostly because it was over a decade old and gave a lot of debatably factual advice. 

Resolution for next year: do it for even cheaper (but simultaneously make it nicer). Challenge accepted, self.