Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Leslie is a work at home mom of one busy little guy. As a writer, she covers a range of topics with a special focus on party planning. She is a regular contributor to PurpleTrail.com, a comprehensive party planning site and has been featured on Birthday Girl Blog, The Craft Monkey. Her love for entertaining has led her to become an expert on budget party planning without sacrificing style. From baby showers to back yard barbecues, she’s done it all – without breaking the bank.
Hostess Tips (helpful hints for “less stress” entertaining)
We all want to be the best host or hostess. Some of you have really perfected the art (Martha is jealous of you). But the remainder of us, well, like anything else in life, practice makes better. As a recovering perfectionist, I have learned how powerful letting go can be. I found the more obsessed with perfection I was the less likely it was I would actually enjoy my party. So, I began to break down the process and find out how I could manage it all better to become the stress free hostess I *hoped* I could be. (And, I think my husband was going to kill me if I didn’t chill out every time we prepared for a party). I hope these tips will help you prepare yourself and your house for an event and allow being the ultimate host(ess) with the most(ess). Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Let time work for you, not against you. This means allowing adequate time to plan for the time of party or even you are throwing. Don't try to throw a baby shower tomorrow. It always takes longer than you think it will so give yourself time to shop for supplies, create any party favors or activities, and time to clean your house. How much time you will need depends on the type of event you are hosting. A small dinner party will require less time to plan than a surprise birthday party with 50 guests. You can't be everywhere or everything to everyone all the time. You'll find that there is so much you can do ahead of time (food prep, decorating etc.) that there is no need to be stressing once the party begins.
Every time I was going to host something, I used to go nuts scrubbing and dusting and rearranging. Then my mother recently pointed this out to me – pick your battles with house cleaning. Base the amount of effort you want to put in to pre-event cleaning on the event. For example, if you are having birthday party for a 3 year old (and other 3 year olds are coming) do not scrub from top to bottom. You’ll just have to repeat it the next day after cake crumbs, juice spills and whatever other accidents occur. Pick up toys, wipe down surfaces, vacuum/sweep and make beds of guest accessible rooms. Seriously, no one is going to look at the dust on your shelves. Now, if you are throwing a housewarming or and more intimate adult gathering – by all means clean until your heart’s content. Just don’t kill yourself doing it. If your guests can’t get over the smudge on your window, reconsider inviting them back.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
Don't be afraid to ask for help! Your friends and family keep telling you they are always here for you, so call in a favor. Ask one of your friends to come over and help with food prep, get your kids to help with household chores, send your spouse to the store for last minute items so you can continue cooking. Ask your artistic, creative friends to help with decorations. Think about who you know and what their strengths are and as them to lend their expertise. They'll be touched that you think so highly of them and will enjoy helping you create a fabulous party experience. Also when someone asks if they can bring something and it would be helpful – say yes and tell them what to bring! If you have children, consider asking a babysitter (or Grandma) to come and entertain them while you prep.
Choose Food Wisely
If you aren't a really whiz in the kitchen, pick easy, make ahead recipes. Even if you are a French trained chef, it's still a good idea to select menu items that can be prepped ahead of time. That way all you're doing the day off are finishing touches, not creating something from start to finish. Also if you are going light on food, try using smaller plates. Little crudités will look lonely on giant dinner plates.
Set the Mood
People's moods are very affected by their environment. Choose appropriate lighting (low light for a cocktail party, ample lighting for kid's party with arts and crafts etc.) Use music to help you out too. If you want the tone to be soft and mellow, playing the new Metallica album probably isn't a good idea.
Have an Emergency Supply
Keep snacks that you would serve to guests in the pantry in case you run low on food or burn one of your dishes. Things like gourmet cookies, biscotti, muffins, nuts, etc. Also, keep plenty of beverages on hand in case you run low.
Once you've set the last dish out, circulate the room. Be sure you introduce people so they feel more comfortable. Think of it like wedding, you want to talk to everyone that made an effort to show up! Also keep in mind it is ok to sit and chat too. You don’t want to hurry off if someone is looking to have a sincere conversation with you.
The Glass Half Full
Keep an eye on people's beverages. Offer to fill them up before they are completely drained. It keeps people from having to leave conversations or activities the might be enjoying at your party! Be sure to offer a place to "rest" before guest's who may have over indulged head home. It also helps to keep a local cab company's number handy.
I like to keep decorations pretty minimal - especially in small spaces. It’s more important to keep valuable real estate open for guests, not decorations. You can really use your food, plates and glasses as décor. Line up all the wine glass in rows near a window or where can refract light; arrange the party cups in a festive fashion. Select brightly colored napkins or plates. A touch of flowers or candles can go a long way. I think it’s nice to spread the decorations over the entire area but keeping the bulk of them on the food table. Keep banners and balloons high so they don’t crowd the room.
You don't have to have a seat for everyone that attends (unless an activity you are doing requires it). It's better if you don't have seats for everyone so people are constantly shifting around and mingling. Move your furniture around to create seating that doesn’t isolate (meaning everyone is facing and has a pretty good visual each seat). For small spaces, consider moving coffee tables out of the room and end tables in between seats. You can also consider investing a few good, oversized floor pillows (if the event is casual).
Separate Food and Drinks
Don't set the drink station right by the food. Otherwise, everyone will stay in the same spot so they can graze. If you put the drinks across the room, they have to move around! If you have TV trays, put them to good use and scatter them around the space and cover with fabric (cut up and old table cloth or visit a thrift store and find a hidden treasure). They make great tables for folks to set drinks and plates down.
Breathe and Smile
Your demeanor will likely set the tone for the party. So if little Jessie spills the lemonade pitcher or Aunt Martha drops her wine, bite your tongue and breathe. There are very few things that could happen that are really worth worrying about so relax and enjoy. If you come off as being stressed, you may create a tense environment and that's not fun for anyone. If you are of legal drinking age, enjoy a pre-event glass of wine/beer/insert favorite cocktail (one, not five) it just might take the edge off (works for me).
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Considering I spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen, it was high time we got rid of the eyesore. Here's a little before and after:
1972? They want their linoleum back.
So fresh and so clean clean.
I was so happy, I kissed the floor. Literally.
Hope you are having a relaxing Sunday!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
So. I'm officially legit now. What am I talking about? Take a look at these bad boys:
Would you like a Jackie Fo business card? (Who wouldn't, right?)
How about a stack o' cards?
Or a fan o' cards... to cool you off in the heat this summer?
Seriously though, I feel SO legit now. It's like before, I was just "playing starting my own business" and now I am "actually starting my own business." All I had to do was order my business cards and the money started rolling in. After this post I am going to take a ride in my Benz to 'da club for some Cristal.
Not true. BUT. Having my business cards DOES make me feel professional, and they really are a useful tool. I know everything is ONLINE now ... but a good old fashioned business card still goes a long way. In my book, that is.
Let's give credit where credit's due. My business card design (along with matching blog header) comes from my talented brother-in-law Michael Heid. If you need video edited or produced or graphically enhanced (or something like that) he is your guy. Michael, apologies if I just destroyed your livelihood with that terrible description.
The cards were ordered from Vista Print, one of my FAVORITE printing sites. I really don't know how they stay in business because everything is always free or 80% off, but I am not complaining. Thanks VP! (That's how tight we are, I call them VP.)
So, the next time you see me, I will probably be doing this:
That's right. Forcing one of my business cards on you. The aggressive bird gets the worm. Or the early bird. Whatever.
Hope you liked my business cards! Off to take a ride in the Benz.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
First things first... the cupcakes. Amanda had a red velvet cake at her wedding, so I knew she liked it. I decided to try red velvet cupcakes for the first time. After perusing several recipes, I went with a no fail option: Martha. Oh Martha. How I love/hate you. Let me count the ways...
I used this recipe for the cupcakes and this recipe for the frosting. They turned out very tasty and so beautiful! Honesty, the look of red velvet cupcakes is just gorgeous! I think the key is getting the right red color. With this particular recipe, Martha calls for 1/2 teaspoon of red gel- paste food coloring. I am familiar with this highly concentrated food coloring through my recent attempt at royal icing and I know how potent it is. So, using my excellent judgement and quick thinking McGyver skills, I made a last minute executive decision to use 1/4 teaspoon of the red gel instead of the 1/2 teaspoon. (Side note, baking has made me better at math as I can now easily discern that 1/4 is smaller then 1/2. They should have taught fractions with baking ingredients and maybe I would have gotten past remedial level. Joking. But I really didn't get very far.) Anyways, my little experiment was a success... the red color was pure perfection.
See below in Martha's picture from her recipe. I think the cupcake looks brown... and don't get me wrong, I am always down for a chocolate cupcake. BUT. If you go to the trouble of making red velvet (and the trouble of buying white distilled vinegar for the recipe- what is that about btw), I want it to be RED!
While pretty, it doesn't have the dramatic color that red velvet is known for. This little comparison has nothing to do with my post, I just wanted to prove that I did something better than Martha. Jackie: 1, Martha: Zero.
Next on the list of Amanda's favorite things: Apple Martinis. Let me just tell you something about Ms. Casabrasi. She is not really a drinker. I try to peer pressure her to have wine with me, but it doesn't really work. (I'm a good friend.) But she loves her some apple martinis. Or I should say, she likes 1 apple martini. You know that phrase "One and she's done?" Invented for Amanda. (Don't hate me Amanda.)
And finally, we come to the main event. Twilight. No, are not 17 year old girls. We are mature, married working women who happen to love everything Twilight. You got a problem with that? You know you love it too. I set up a little tablescape with the help of some free downloads from the always fabulous Hostess with the Mostess.
(Plates and napkins from Tar-jay. Unfortunately, the plates were a mix of Edward's face and Jacob's face. I asked them to separate them into just Edward plates and just Jacob plates. But they wouldn't. Nice customer service Target. (Joking. Target I love you with all of my heart) ... But seriously, wouldn't that be an excellent way to chart the ongoing "Team Edward vs. Team Jacob" debate? I know everyone is talking about healthcare and all that, but isn't this the real issue?
I got to use my adorable cupcake pedastals from Modern Chic Home. If you haven't checked these out, you definitely should. They are adorable and very versatile! Take a look at my post on them that shows several different ways to use them besides cupcake stands.
I made the cupcake toppers with my craft punch (a.ka. my current favorite possession) They had various phrases such as:"Twilight, Bella & Edward, Vampire Love (my personal favorite) and Team Edward." Oh yes. Did I mention we are Team Edward? And also, that this blog is only for Team Edward readers?
JOKING. This is an equal opportunity blog and we do not discriminate based on ones love for werewolves vs. vampires. (Plus, Jacob did look quite handsome in New Moon. I am saying handsome because he is underage and I don't want to get arrested for saying something else. But you get what I mean. Hmmm... that was creepy Jackie)
So that was our little birthday girls night in. It was fun and super easy to do. I used items I had around the house except I had to buy a bag of apples (and that damn distilled vinegar).
Thanks again to the AMAZING Hostess for the Mostess for the fun signs and drink labels! One day I hope to be like you ... or work for you... seriously, I will get your coffee for you. Call me.
Have a great week!
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Fun Item #1) I am SO excited to say that I have applied and been accepted to be a SocialWriter for the great site Gather.com. Gather is a huge social networking site where anyone can write posts on ANYTHING! I know that is an extremely vague description, but it's the truth! People write about current events, celebrity news, sports, etc. The possibilities are endless. To become a SocialWriter you are required to write at least 20 posts a month. It's quite a daunting task, but if I work out a schedule, I know I can do it. I haven't been as active as normal on the blogosphere this week because I am trying to work this all out. Between my job, blog, freelance writing (cool - I am a freelance writer!!!), my friends, husband and sleep, it's a lot. It would be GREAT if you could go to my Gather site from time to time and check out my posts. Here is my site: http://jackiefo.gather.com/. I am no writing hack people. If you hadn't already picked up on my super intensive writing background, I was the editor of my high school newspaper, The HawkEye. Go Hawks by the way. (Is this sad that I am only half joking about this... it's not a bad claim to fame, no?!)
Fun Item #2) My Pearl Party was featured on the FANTASTIC site Creative Hostess! I am so excited! It was a really lovely feature, and you can check out that post here:
Fun Items #3) My good friend Amanda at CasaBrasi also had a feature this week - in fact, it was a HUGE feature on the popular blog The DIY Show Off! Check out her great work at this link here and see a preview below. Yea for Amanda!
So that is my fun news for the week... and it's only Thursday! If my post is lacking its usual sarcastic wit and charm (it's normally super witty and charming, right?!) I do apologize. While I have had a GREAT week in my bloggy life, I received some not so great news at work this week. Things will be fine and I know they will work out the way they should, but I am a little stressed at the moment. I think being stressed takes away my ability to make self deprecating jokes like I normally do. So if you miss those, I am sorry. I should be back to my normal sarcastic self as soon as I get out of this funk. You still love me, right?!
I don't want to throw myself a pity party, because all in all, things are good. I have several parties coming up in the next few months and I know they will all be fabulous! I am so happy to have the opportunity to plan parties for people I love. It's incredibly rewarding in so many ways. Just thinking about it starts to get me out of my silly funk!
I can almost smell the weekend... planning on seeing the musical Jersey boys with my mom and having cupcakes and cocktails with friends. Hope you are doing something fun too!
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I recently wrote a truly exhilarating post on the items in my pantry. The top item that was in my pantry was Progresso bread crumbs. But I didn't specify. I always have regular bread crumbs, but I also always have Panko Bread crumbs. Why? They rock. Plus, a lot of people don't know what they are, so if you just throw out the words "Panko bread crumbs," you automatically go up in cool points.
So ... the question is:
Unlike the standard bread crumbs, Panko bread crumbs are crispy. So instead of having a "soft coating" on meat, you get a crispy crust once the meat is cooked. Panko is the Japanese word for bread crumbs. I didn't steal that off the bread crumb box, I actually knew that. Side note: this means that in total, I know 1 whole Japanese word.
You can use Panko bread crumbs on chicken, fish, pork; anything you would want to use a breading on. In my case, because my husband is secretly a 7-year-old, I frequently use Panko bread crumbs to make chicken fingers. This way, Mr. Fo is happy because he can have chicken fingers with ketchup and pretend he is at McDonalds. In turn, I am happy because I can say I am making something that is "Panko encrusted."
So here is my EASY, QUICK AND DELISH recipe for the ever glamorous:
Panko Encrusted Chicken (Fingers):
1 package of chicken tenders (or whatever meat or fish you choose)
A handful or so of Panko bread crumbs
A smaller handful of Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
A beaten egg
Any other spices that suit your liking
Here we go:
1: Mix your panko, cheese and spices together in a bowl.
2. Beat an egg and dip your chicken into the egg. No picture here as everybody knows a beaten egg looks like.
3. Dip the egg-coated chicken into the panko mixture:
4. Heat up a pan on the stove to about Medium/Medium high heat. I like to leave it at a medium temp because I have a tendency to burn chicken if I try to rush and cook it on a high temperature. Once the pan is hot, get out your fancy olive oil dispenser thingy for coating the pan:
(This was a purely gratuitous shot of my new Olive Oil dispenser thingy (it's legal name)). I got this from Sur La Table for only $7.99. If I could marry a store, it would be Sur La Tab. Mr. Sur La Tab, if you are listening, please let me be Mrs. Sur La Tab. We could be happy together.
5. Cook the chicken, about 5-6 minutes on each side. Tip: Before putting the chicken on the skillet, shake off the excess panko crumbs! I promise, stray panko crumbs will burn in 5 seconds, creating a smoky kitchen and a husband asking if everything is okay (but really just wondering if his dinner is ruined).
6. Eat your sophisticated chicken fingers with Japanese breadcrumbs. We are so cultured at the Fo Household, and you can be too. Just be sure to always stock Panko in your pantry.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Just a short post to say I'm back from my super fun weekend, rejuvenated and feeling like this:
Okay, I don't know about a million bucks, but I feel pretty good. MUCH better than last week - which is a relief.
The bachelorette weekend was a success with fun had by all. Plus I walked away with a GREAT party favor idea, courtesy of the maid of honor, Kristin. DISCLAIMER: This is not a party favor for a children's party of ANY kind! I mean, I think you will know that when see what they are. But still. You can never be too careful.
The party favors were mini bottles of liquor with labels and cute favor tags. How cute are these! Plus, they are under 3 oz. of liquid each, so they are safe to bring home on an airplane. And yes, I was that lush that took home 4 mini bottles and put them the plastic baggie through the security belt. Everyone else has their toothpaste and shampoo. Me? 4 mini bottles of alcohol.
Off to unpack (kidding, won't do that for days) and relax before a start to another week.
Oh, and I found out this weekend that I have a reader of my blog that was somewhat of a surprise. So, Aaron W, if you are reading (and we all know you are), I just wanted to give you a shout out. How cool are you feeling right now? Getting a shout out on the internet by a famous blogger?! (Famous is a relative term.)
Have a great week!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
This sickness is twofold: 1) Mr. Fo was sick all weekend so we must have had a transfer of germs situation and 2) My silver car is literally lime green from the ridiculous amount of pollen that has settled on it. So it's a Cold/Allergy combo. A "Callergy" if you will.
So after work (yes, I still go to work, despite this sickness. I am an excellent worker bee. Or the alternate reason - I want to save my vacation days for something other than sneezing and snotting), I do this:
That old fella is Rip Van Winkle, who, if you remember, slept for 100 years. In fact, this is the first night I have been up past 7 in a few days. Impressive.
Normally I wouldn't be such a wuss and I wouldn't go to bed at 6 PM. But I need to rest up so I can be in tip top shape this upcoming weekend. I am going to one of my best friend's bachelorette party. So I have to be prepared for lots of this:
And hopefully LOTS of THIS:
Okay... I am joking, we aren't those kind of girls.... but I mean, if that's what is planned, I will be a good bridesmaid and go along with it. If I must.
So please don't forget about me while I take a little break to rest up before my party weekend. The ripe old age of 27 is apparently hitting me hard, as I now need to "rest up" to do what I used to do every weekend in college. Sigh.
Next week I am back in action though - I have some fun news to share, a laundry list of upcoming parties to plan, and a post about my "culinary goals." Are you on the edge of your seat yet?! Seriously you guys, calm down. I know you are excited, but don't hurt yourself jumping around.
Have a great rest of your week!!!!
Monday, April 5, 2010
This weekend was also my first attempt at using royal icing for decorating cut out cookies. After reading several tutorials, I took the plunge. The result? Well, I am really hard on myself and for a few hours this weekend, you could find me cursing at these poor little cookies in the kitchen. They weren't disastrous. But not AMAZING. I used Bake at 350's (check out her amazing creations) wonderfully detailed royal icing tutorial. .
Here is the pinnacle of cookies made with royal icing. Perfect and almost too pretty to eat.
All images are from Bake at 350:
This is a marbling technique, shown on Bake at 350 by the equally awesome Sweetopia.
Cute little bunnies with sanding sugar on the edges... precious!
And the always necessary beer cookies. You know, for the man in your life.
Do you think it's stupid that I am showing my first attempt immediately after showing these masterfully perfect creations? I do. I am glad that I pointed it out to you as well, so that you can really focus on it while looking at my cookies. Man I am feeling brave today. Or is it stupid?
Easter and spring cookie cutters... i love you guys...(I really do.)
Cookies out of the oven. I found my go-to cookie cutter sugar recipe at Bake Space. These cookies don't spread, and a hint of almond extract gives them a great taste.
Okay... here goes... don't judge! (Note: The pictures did not turn out that well, so I apologize for that)
Practically Perfect Petals (Not perfect at all, I was going for alliteration in that title.)
Egg-licious Easter egg (I really liked this one although the title is sub-par, I admit :))
So.... for a work in progress, what do you think? It was my first try after all. I got the concept down, so that is a good start. I was able to "flood" the cookies without the flooded icing bleeding over the outside piped line. There are definitely some issues... air bubbles in the icing, wobbly lines, over flooding, etc. I REALLY need some additional piping practice. The wobbly line kills me. Straight lines Jackie!! I will look into my company's benefit program. Perhaps they have a "Piping Leave." Similar to a maternity leave, you are allowed paid leave to perfect your piping. I will present this to my boss asap and let you know how it goes. I see it being a real success.
Here is my ultimate goal: To make the flower cookies for my niece's baptism at the end of July. My sister-in-law said I could serve them as is, but she is just being nice. (Note: Some people have grandiose goals of creating world peace, or finding the cure for a disease. Mine is to make cookies. I feel small.)
Does anyone have any tips? Constructive criticism? Don't be mean or I will cry... and then get angry. That's how I am. I at first cry, then I get angry. Just an FYI.
To end the post, here is something undeniably cute:
A bunny cake made by Drew. I felt bad when I ate part of the bunny's cute little ear. But not too bad as it was delicious. I always go for the ear first, even on a chocolate bunny. Do I have a weird demonic ear thing?!
My niece Brookie. She's not too impressed by the cake as she appears to have fallen asleep mid air. Now that's talent.
I am a bit under the weather, so I am off to relax and hit the sack early. Sleep is my friend right now. My best friend.
Happy Week Everyone!