Monday, June 29, 2009

Q and A: 30th birthday celebration

Hi Dinah,

As the queen of all things party I could really use your expertise. I am starting the adventure that is planning my 30th birthday celebration and I am trying to figure out menus/drinks. It is looking like I might be doing more of a cocktail hour than BBQ, but it all depends on how I fit the budget. Do you have any secrets for where you shop or how you come up with your ideas?

Right now it looks like we are going for a “Glamorous 30's,” black/white/red cocktail party theme. Everyone in swimsuits, but glammed up with great hair, accessories, etc. Should be a blast!!

What do you think?


Honey, I think that party sounds fabulous!

I think the key to any successful shindig is to keep it as simple as possible. I even shortened the menu for this year's Oscar fete, and did anyone notice? Nope.

First of all, I think you need a signature cocktail that you can make in big batches and either serve over ice or shake up to chill before serving. “The Christini,” if you will. What's YOUR favorite cocktail? Start there, find a couple recipes, put your own twist on it, and voila! Signature drink! This is a fun research process, what with all the tasting in advance. In fact, I think we should get together with some options—black vodka, raspberry vodka maybe, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, maybe some creme de cassis, and something sparkling like 7-up or champagne—and see what we come up with. In fact, I want a Christini RIGHT NOW. Is it too early to start drinking?

As for the rest of the menu, there's a couple ways to play off the 30's or black/white/red theme. With the 30's you've got the Depression (depressing) or maybe a super old-school Hollywood thing you could do, which means you could just serve whatever you want and give it cute names like Greta Gumbo. Hell, you could serve Shirley Temples--no cleverness required!

Personally, I would lean more towards the black/white/red theme because it’s easier (and probably cheaper). What about a pasta salad made with pasta shells, black olives, tomatoes and roasted red peppers, and a little Parmesan cheese? Dress it with Italian dressing and some salt & pepper--yummy! You've got Oreos that are black & white, all manner of red fruits & veggies...lots of possibilities.

I recommend brainstorming like crazy until you have a whole bunch of ideas, then group them all up and see what will go well together and what will be the EASIEST and CHEAPEST. Also, keep your menu as short as you can: entree, salad or side, snacky/chip & dippy item, something sweet, and that's it. Maybe make sure there's something for the vegetarians, if you're so inclined. If you're expecting a big turnout, just make stuff in big batches.

Beyond the menu & drinks (which, by the way, I have officially just now decided should be the Christini, Shirley Temples, champagne and nothing else--people can bring their own beer or whatever), I'd recommend just a handful of key decor items to bring out the theme. Costume parties are genius, because then your attendees decorate the place themselves with their costumes. But for something like this, I think I'd hunt down some cheap-o feather boas (at costume or party supply stores) to place around strategically--red, black & white. Do your plates, napkins & tablecloth in the theme colors (cheap versions from the grocery store or party supply store are what I use). Anything else really depends on your space & budget. Do a quick walk-through of the party space, close your eyes and visualize what your ideal party would look like, and boil it down to its key elements.

So now that I know you're having the coolest party ever, when is this shindig? I gotta get it on our calendar! :)

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