Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Romp in the Swamp Louisiana Halloween Party - Mardi Gras Decor

When you first enter our house you look into the living room and dining room, this is the biggest room of the house and usually the center of the party (possibly because that's where the food usually is too!) Here's the view moments before the party:

Mardi Gras! I thought the bright colors and hectic, festive atmosphere of Fat Tuesday would be perfect for this room, and though it was time intensive to put together (and take down!) I didn't have to do too many craft projects to bring it to life.

I hit up Party America and www.GiantPartyStore.com for some large packages of hanging foil Mardi Gras decorations and hung it all with my old standby, 3M hooks. They don't always work perfect, especially in my 1940's house I've had a few take off loose paint/plaster, but in general they're better than pins, nails, or other adhesives. To hang flat things, I use blue painter's tape, which also comes off pretty easily for things like these vinyl cut outs:

The interior wall is a long uninterrupted canvas once all of our everyday artwork was taken down and the couch moved out of the way, so it was the perfect place for a scene setter. Scene Setters are large backdrops printed on rolls of vinyl carried by many party stores, and I'll have a step by step tutorial about how I put it together tomorrow.

I continued the scene setter above the fireplace, and draped the mantle in TONS of Mardi Gras Beads. I also created a garland out of Mardi Gras feather boas wrapped around purple Xmas lights to frame the fireplace. We never actually burn fires in there, but I do like to have a brownie pan full of candles going during parties for a similar feel without the heat and smoke.

I used two green hurricane lamps I already had on the mantle, tucked a venetian mask into one, and also used it as a perch for the costume awards - more voo doo dolls! they were too cute not to display :)

These giant masks were less than $7 at Party City! That's a great deal for such a big focal point, I used 3 in my decorating. The smaller masks were also from the party store, I think around $7 for a dozen in Mardi Gras colors. Even the little lamp on the coffee table is draped in as many Mardi Gras beads as it would hold :)
The beads continued into the dining area, I wasn't sure what to do with my china hutch this year until I just started draping everything in beads - perfect!

I can't take credit for the fleur de lis pumpkins, I traded with an internet friend for those (and most of the beads, and a bunch of other things) with someone who was having a Wonderland party this year and did the NOLA theme last year. Green + Economical = WIN!

Did I mention I had a LOT of beads? They came in really handy :) Also in the Mardi Gras area was the food - my new dining table won't fit through the doors without disassembling it, so I used that for the dessert table:

Even after cutting down on sweets, I could BARELY fit everything on the table. Same with the "real" food, I had a big L-shaped table, and there was NO room to spare!

More about the food later as well - including a couple more recipes!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Romp in the Swamp Louisiana Halloween Party - Fangtasia Vampire Bar

I'm still working on these, but I haven't forgotten! I wish I had gotten better photos of our basement on Halloween, but so it goes. We already had a built in wet bar with a goofy sort of gothic archway, so it seemed a perfect fit to create my version of "Fangtasia," the vampire bar from the True Blood series.

My main tool was a TON of red gossamer that I ordered from www.giantpartystore.com. I cut it into sheets the height of our walls, folded over the top 2-3" and stapled it to form a little channel. I strung each panel on red curling ribbon stretched across the walls between 3M hooks and bunched it together to achieve my desired fullness.

I pretty much covered all the walls and bookcases that I could with 50 yards of this stuff (that was all my budget allowed!).

I also changed all of the light bulbs out in favor of red party bulbs, and used a couple strings of red Xmas lights and red coil lights (the latter were on sale for $4.99 at Menards!) which helped to create a creepy red glow. Don't you love the random rock wall in our basement too? I blame the 60's.

For my "Fangtasia" signs I did an image search for the logo and blew it up on 11" x 17" paper for a pattern. I used an x-acto knife to trace around the letters on black tagboard, and mounted it over red foil tissue paper to give the effect of glowing like neon. I glued the whole thing to some re-purposed foam core, and used some red mardi gras beads as additional trim. I cut cleanly enough that I was able to use the black "Fangtasia" letters that I had cut out as a second sign, which I mounted over the "entrance" to the bar area.

I also did a google image search for hi-resolution pics of the main characters who work in the bar, and printed them on 11" x 17" paper to make posters for the proprietor:


Also the Manager on Duty and Employee of the Month:

As part of their marketing campaign, HBO had created a bunch of faux advertisements for the TruBlood drink that the show gets its name from - I figured those would be right at home in a vampire bar, so I printed a bunch in color and scooped up frames at the Dollar Tree to post them in:

I scattered them around on the bar (we just had all the booze and mixers set out, no bartender).

Of course you can buy a TruBlood officially licensed drink from HBO, but $4 each + shipping is a bit out of my price range, so I made my own "v-shots" from tiny glass vials:

In the show, vampire blood (v-juice) is a potent drug, and seems to be trafficked in tiny vials - I got mine from AxMan surplus store and ran them through the dishwasher a few times. They were filled with a mix of sparkling pomegranate juice and strawberry or raspberry pucker. I didn't get to try any, but they were all gone before the night finished, so I'm guessing they were okay.

Of course there were a million other little details I had hoped to add, but regardless I think I got the point across, and fans of the show at least appreciated it :) The clean up was also pretty easy as I just untied the ribbons holding up the gossamer and switched the lightbulbs back.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sugar & Spice and EVERYTHING Nice!

I don't have to think that hard to find things I'm thankful for this year - especially after the mega outpouring of love that was my baby shower last weekend! What a WONDERFUL day, I couldn't have felt more special. My BFF Alison outdid herself (as she often does). You already saw the impossibly cute invitations she made here, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were SO MANY adorable little details, I'll let the pictures do most of the talking:

I entered to bunches of brightly colored balloons floating all about the house:

Looped over the end of the banister are little die-cut cupcakes on ribbon necklaces for the icebreaker game - guess the famous mother! You asked yes or no questions, and when you got someone's "identity" right, you captured their cupcake :) So cute!

More die cut cupcakes made a huge swag banner, and the "guest book" was a gorgeous collection of fairy tales that I can't WAIT to read to our little one! Everyone signed dear messages on the cover page, it is definitely a keepsake.

The mantle was trimmed with custom made cupcake onesies Al ordered from Etsy! Did you know our little Cupcake would be decked out in such couture finery? :) My favorite is the one with the face :)

Pink favor boxes tied with ribbon waited on the table - filled with jellybeans that matched the balloons, and foil wrapped Hershey Kisses.

And then there was the food! I started drooling as soon as I walked in, and I HAD to claim one of these strawberry shortcakes...they were AMAZING! (Also, I loved my dress...that was the one I ordered to wear for Halloween but then changed my mind about my costume, but I'm so glad I got the dress :) It's about the only non-jeans maternity wear I've purchased!)

Mmmm, are you drooling yet? Tiny morsels of deliciousness...

My lil' sis flew in from Utah for the occasion, and even made these pretty cupcakes - YUM!

There were two full tables of desserts, including this "Milk & Cookies Bar" that is too cute for words.

Onesie cookies!

Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla milk - is this not the best menu ever for a pregnant woman?!?!? With my heartburn, dessert is pretty much the only pleasant food group these days, and I'm drinking 1/2 gallon of milk a DAY. Not to mention it looks so very Martha all displayed in the carafes :)

Cake Balls! My cousin Holly has been making Bakerella-style cake pops and cake balls, I can't wait for her to teach me!

And of COURSE, you need some classic cookies - my soon to be sister-in-law (AKA, the OTHER HEATHER) made these little chocolate chip and chocolate mint goodies, perfect for dipping in milk.

I am not a glamorous gift opener, so I'll spare you the whole litany of my strange facial expressions, this is one of the most "normal" looking snapshots :) In the future, I'll have to be a little more conscious and try for much more photogenic posing. But I definitely appreciated EVERYTHING, and it was so fun to see what everyone picked out! We got a few of the essentials, and a LOT of little girl outfigs - the Cupcake definitely has a full and fancy wardrobe now, including this hand-crocheted frock from her Great Grandma (above).

We played a second little game during the gift opening as well - after each gift, Alison asked me a question about my childhood or my husband's, and if my answer matched the information that my mom or his mom had given about our early years, then the gift GIVER won a prize! I'm sorry to say I was oddly TERRIBLE at this game, at least when it came to my own childhood :) But I got some of hubby's questions right, and it was pretty cute to hear the stories!

The "big finish" was pretty literal - this huge present was Cupcake's crib & mattress, from her Grandparents (my mom & dad)! Can't wait to get it assembled in her room, I think it will really make it feel like a nursery.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Alison & everyone who came to share in this "sweet" occasion :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round...

I seem to be spinning in a few circles right now with all the different directions I'm trying to go, and I can't be sure I'm actually moving anywhere...but regardless, time keeps marching on! Today marks just SEVEN WEEKS till the Cupcake's due date!?!?! I can't quite believe it.

So here's what's going on:

- still planning on finishing up the Halloween party recaps & tutorials, it hasn't quite been a month since the party so I don't feel too bad...yet :)

- had an EPIC and AMAZING baby shower this past weekend, thrown by my dear sweet BFF Alison, and I can't wait to share all of her adorable little touches, as well as show off Cupcake's giant new wardrobe.

- now I probably should get a move on with all the "other stuff" we need to start buying up, mainly the super glamorous stuff like "rectal thermometers" and "diaper bags", and lots of sheets and mattress pads.

- finally took down all of the voodoo decorations from the nursery, so I can get back to the mermaids & pirates theme we had intended :) I have a few ideas in mind, and a lot of Etsy listings bookmarked, so hopefully this weekend will bring a lot of progress.

- decided that I had to put up at least a few holiday decorations this year, and started to assemble the medium sized Christmas tree. Remember when I bought all of these "sweets" ornaments last year? I'm dying to break them out...but I can't seem to FIND them! I spent a few hours going through the Xmas boxes last week, but I did such a "tetris"-like job fitting everything in, I was scared to take it all apart and really look for what I needed. Maybe I'll have some time this weekend to track them down.

- I have yet to address the blue screen of death on my laptop. Probably should get on that. I really miss it already :( I think I'm in the avoidance stage of grieving...

- and according to "the books," I'm supposed to have my hospital bag packed and my birth plan printed out by this time...so...uh...yeah, maybe I'll start thinking about that sometime...STAY, Cupcake, STAY PUT! At least until I can catch up at little! Though I can understand if you are in a hurry to see all your cute things, such as this little romper which might be my favorite:

Happy Thanksgiving, happy long holiday weekend, and happy short work week to you all!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Romp in the Swamp Louisiana Halloween Party - Talbot Topping

True Blood was one of my main reasons for choosing the Louisiana theme, though in the end I didn't end up doing a ton of TB specific projects. I did transform the basement into Eric's vampire bar, Fangtasia, but that's still to come. Today I just wanted to post a quick little True Blood touch from my dessert table - here's Talbot:

Look familiar? How about if I show you this:

For those of you who do not follow the show, the glass jar above contains the remains of a staked vampire. The vampire's name was Talbot, and he was the lover of the very evil little vampire dude holding the jar, Russell. Russell couldn't bear that Talbot was gone, so he hauled that glass urn all over creation with him, talking to it and being generally creepy, till Sookie Stackhouse dumped it down the garbage disposal laughing maniacally. I really wanted to do that after the party, but I don't have a garbage disposal. And I wanted to save the rest of the strawberry compote anyways :)

The glass apothecary jar was from Homegoods - my only caution is to get one wide enough to allow a ladle down in, mine was just barely big enough for a small scoop, and they're not very long generally. It's filled with strawberry compote - just the frozen "sliced strawberries in sugar" you get in the grocery store, and we served it with mini cheesecakes, pound cake, and vanilla ice cream. I had 3 servings of Talbot that night :)

The nametag was a very quick project - I found the "Hello, My Name Is" tag in a google image search (this might not be the exact one, but you get the idea), slapped it into Powerpoint, and used the "Chiller" font to put in the name. I printed it on tagboard and cut it out, attached it to the lid with a small curl of tape and it was done.

This was easy and really fun - I'd definitely recommend it for True Blood parties. You could also use chunky red salsa and eat "Talbot" with chips!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Romp in the Swamp Louisiana Halloween Party - Recipes!

I'm falling behind. I just finally sucked up all the feathers and pulled the last of the 3M strips off the living room ceiling yesterday. But I promised recipes and rundowns of all the Halloween 2010 highlights, and I intend to deliver, so today here are the recipes I tried out for NOLA themed food. Keep in mind, I'm the pickiest eater on the face of the planet, and add pregnancy on top of that. I don't eat anything spicy, seafood, white sauces, vegetables, sour cream, or a million other things that most people do. So...I didn't actually try most of these. Yeah, that's right. I have no idea how they taste other than the reviews my guests gave and how much was left over at the end. But I can comment on the process of making them, from the eyes of someone with zero experience.

First Up, Confetti Rice:

I knew I needed some vegetarian dishes to balance out the meaty main courses I was bringing in, and I wanted something that still had relevance to the theme. I started googling "Cajun recipes" and wandered onto Zatarain's site, where I found "confetti rice." I decided to try it because it fit the theme & was vegetarian friendly, and also since it was served cold I could make it ahead and didn't have to find another chafing dish or crock pot to keep it hot.

Confession: I have never cooked rice. Seriously. I'm scared of it. I assumed it was hard. On Hell's Kitchen, people always get yelled at for bad rice. But guess what? I followed the directions on the box, and it worked just fine. I couldn't find Zatarain's Long Grain & Wild Rice in the 3-4 stores I looked in, so I ended up grabbing another brand (Rice a Roni maybe? It was right next to the Zatarains stuff). The boxes were remarkably similar, so I convinced myself it would be fine. I quibble a little with the "preparation time" being listed as 5 minutes...maybe if you are used to chopping onions and peppers, but I surely am not. I'm also terrible at estimating how many peppers and onions I needed to get a cup or half cup (this was a recurring theme in everything I cooked). I made a double batch of this recipe, and I used less than one onion, and less than two really small peppers (I got a 4-pack of small but pretty colored sweet peppers. I figured something called "confetti" needed a few more pops of color). It did look pretty, and at least one person told me they liked it, so I consider it a success. There was a lot left over, but in general I make too much food, so it's hard to say if that meant anything.

Next Up - something I did actually try, and it was WAY BETTER than I had thought! SWAMP JUICE punch:

We asked guests to bring a bottle for the bar (for the first time ever, usually we've provided everything) but with myself + a bunch of other pregnant ladies in attendance, I knew I wanted a few NA beverage options too. In addition to all the mixers, a punch seemed like a good idea. I went with this "Green Punch Recipe" from allrecipes.com. I think I may have added too much ginger ale, and my husband added way too much ice...but I'm glad he did. I had planned to float chunks of rainbow sherbet on top, but I didn't...which was also good. This is actually a REALLY sweet punch, and cutting it just a bit with more ice and not adding more sweet sherbet wasn't a bad decision. You might even consider leaving out some of the sugar or adding more water to taste. The color is a very vivid green (perfect for the name "SWAMP JUICE"), and the taste was more citrus than limey, which I prefer. It was quick - I dissolved the jello early in the day, let it cool, and then mixed in everything else except the ginger ale and refrigerated it till party time. I'd definitely make this again, would be perfect for St. Patty's day.

Another themed attempt - also from the Zatarains site, I made "Creole Mustard Dip" for veggies. Since I don't eat either veggies or dip, I have no idea how this tasted. I do know I made WAY too much (a double batch), even the "normal" batch seems big for veggie dip.

This was really easy to make as well, my only difficulties were finding the creole mustard (finally tracked it down at Byerly's) and again, estimating how much of an ingredient I really needed. I failed on the latter situation at EVERY possible turn -I bought 3 of the tiny jars of mustard, and used 1. And again, that was for a double batch. I bought at least double the sour cream I used. Oops. I clearly need to learn my conversions before shopping for ingredients :) I also saved time by pairing this with a store-bought veggie tray from Target - I'm not fast at washing & chopping fruits & veggies, and it's not stuff that can be done very far in advance, so it was worth it to me to pay a little more and save the time for more pressing needs.

A final recipe I used, that I don't have a photo to share of, was a Bananas Foster recipe cooked in a crock pot. This got rave reviews! I used AllRecipes.com again, and on their site you can scale recipes to the number of servings you want - I used 10. I wouldn't go much more than this in a standard size crock pot, but 10 servings fit okay. I also used a crock pot liner, since I knew I was going to end up with sticky caramelized sugar and I did NOT want to scrape that all off! For rum I used Malibu, because we had it on hand, and because there was coconut being added anyways I figured the flavors would mesh just fine. We offered pound cake and vanilla ice cream to serve it over, and it was nearly gone by the end of the night. I meant to try this, and somehow was too busy till it was about wiped out. Heard great things though, and I'll probably try it again on a smaller scale.

None of these were showstoppers on the scale of last year's "Peppered Pigs in a Blanket," but they were all easy enough to make and fit the theme, so I'd recommend them for a Mardi Gras/New Orleans themed event.

Friday, November 12, 2010

This is the sound of my will being broken...

The computers have us in their evil grasps now, and just when we've become utterly complicit, they are clearly going to rise up and put a massive dent in our easy way of life.

I'm having somewhat of a bad tech time lately.

In addition to my laptop laying down and dying, yesterday my work was without Internet from 1pm on...WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITHOUT INTERNET??? I'm not just talking about all the blog updating/random site reading/emails I had planned to send personally, but even were I to want to throw in some work, I couldn't access our department files, my networked printer, our financial system, or anything else necessary to get something accomplished. I couldn't even make phone calls because my directory of numbers is solely online. And yet, I stuck it out for a very long 4 hours...

Today things are looking a LITTLE better, though my work computer still will not print. It's been sort of an ongoing problem for the past couple weeks, something got scrambled (just on my computer, the rest of the office is fine) and we have no computer support to fix it. This means I'm emailing everything I need to print from one computer to another (one which still DOES print) and let's just say it's not super convenient or productive. And I'm ornery from lack of sleep and general "doneness" with this week.

(Deep breath. Acknowledge it is Friday.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Romp in the Swamp Louisiana Halloween Party - Mardi Gras Costumes

My Halloween entourage is pretty great. They generally RSVP. They show up on time, so I don't have that angsty "what if nobody comes?" moment of terror. Other than a drink ring on the mantle (boo!) nobody wrecked my house this year. And above all else, they always acquiesce to my costume mandate, and generally impress the heck out of me. This year was no exception. Not only were the costumes fun and creative, but nearly all of them even played into the theme! That's some serious party dedication.

Let's start with my favorite photo of the whole evening - this is lil' brother and his girlfriend, also known as "The Other Heather" (I'm surrounded!).

They did a great twist on vampire and victim, starting with formal Mardi Gras reveler outfits, paired with some fangs and a bloody "bite" mark. It's creepy but also kind of pretty!

For their efforts, they took home the "Best Couple or Group" Costume award this year. They celebrated with a bite:

(do you just love the vein popping out in his temple? so authentic!)

Another set of Mardi Gras Celebrants - my cousin Holly & her husband in some excellent masks. Holly made hers almost from scratch! She's so crafty.

I love Kelly's Venetian-style "beak" mask, it was pretty cool - it broke into 2 pieces so he could keep the top half on and still eat and drink by taking the bottom part off. Smart & stylish!

Beth and Dan had actual gator heads around their necks, along with the Mardi Gras beads:

And speaking of gators...

Attack! Dan sorta looks like he fell in our bathtub, eh? :)

I'm going to throw Jen's costume into the category of Mardi Gras revelers as well, because there's something Venetian about her bird costume that just screams Mardi Gras to me. It was dark and a little spooky, but also really elegant and pretty:

She made the skirt herself out of feather boas (sort of like Bjork!)and her beak is paper! I love simple solutions that look so chic :)Her long talons didn't last the evening, but they were on long enough to attack an errant lumberjack.

Ahh, newlyweds :)

Many more costumes, decor vignettes, and recipes to come, despite my dead laptop I am THANKING MY LUCKY STARS that lil' sis got me a passport backup drive a few years ago, and all my important files (aka, photos!) are safe and sound. Whew!