Oh my goodness…..the last several weeks have been a whirlwind! I’ve wanted to post so many times; however each time I wanted to write, it was about the surprise party I was planning for Jeff. And, of course, writing about it on the blog sort of ruins the element of surprise!
This year was a big birthday for Jeff – in fact, it was the Big Five-Oh! As in OhmygoodnesshowcanIbeturning50!?! Although this birthday didn’t seem to hit him as hard as his 30th, he was still a bit mopey…throwing out phrases like, “this is my last shower (cup of coffee, work day, etc.) in my 40’s.”
As hard as this birthday was for him, it was hard on me too! Just about every single sentence I spoke to him from January 15th through March 4th was a lie! While that may sound easy [and to some it IS easy], it was pretty difficult for me. I don’t know which was harder – thinking of the lies or remembering the lies!
And in the midst of the planning were Valentine’s Day (which isn’t that big a deal to us, but has to be acknowledged nonetheless), his actual birthday, class prep, a party for a friend, cooking for a bridal shower my niece Ashley was throwing for a friend [which happened to be the same day of the party], my regular schedule, and – oh yeah, just for fun – another kidney stone!!! Additionally, I was trying to throw this party with 40 guests without raising suspicion that I was spending money – not easy to pull off when Jeff enters all the financial transactions into the computer! If nothing else, I thrive on stress….
I’d like to say I took tons of pictures of the food; but that would be a lie. I took pics of the party set up but by the time the party got underway, I was too involved in trying to surprise Jeff and hostessing. Incidentally, the surprise part was a bit of a flop; but the party itself was a lot of fun!
Jeff’s good friend, Craig (you might remember him from my Something’s Brewing post) brewed two commemorative beers for the occasion and put together a killer playlist (which he and Jeff refer to as a mix-tape – those of you in my age bracket will giggle at this terminology)! Having Craig take charge of beer and music was a huge help. That allowed me to focus on food and decorations. So, I thought about what kind of food (1) goes well with beer; (2) can be prepared ahead and secretly transported to another location; (3) feeds a crowd and (4) is on Jeff’s list of favorite foods (or at least near the favorites list).
Chili bar was the obvious choice. I decided to make my Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili (with ground beef instead of sirloin cubes as a time saver). After choosing the main food, the rest pretty much fell into place. Rice, Fritos, Ranch Oyster Crackers (thanks, Ron), toppings (such as cheddar, pepper-jack, scallions, sour cream, and cilantro), a big salad [and not just any salad – MIMI’s SALAD], buttermilk cornbread with Honey-Cinnamon-Cayenne Butter, and for dessert – Jeff’s favorite – his mom’s chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and some s’mores bark for good measure. Obviously, I needed to add some other beverages – wine for the non-beer drinkers, “middle of the road” beer for the less adventurous beer drinkers, bottled water and soda rounded out the beverage options.
Then came the theme – since it was a chili bar, I found some great printables on Pinterest and took it from there. I designed the invitation and then created a burlap table banner to “match” the invite. I also borrowed a previously used table banner reading ‘Aged to Perfection,’ which loosely related to the beer theme. I wrapped “silverware” in brown bags and tied it with bakery twine, made some 50-related signs that I displayed in beer bottles and copied old photos of Jeff onto velum and wrapped clear candle holders with the velum for fun table decorations. I used six-pack carriers as Frito “bowls” around the room, I put chalkboard stickers on wine and beer cups so people could personalize them and got paper plates and napkins to match the theme. Throw in some bandanas and a Chili Bar sign and voila – a party.
Deciding where to have it was another challenge – it’s quite a complex undertaking to throw a surprise party for 40 people where the guest of honor lives!!! I didn’t even try that. A few places came to mind, but the clubhouse in my parent’s neighborhood was a great landing-place from a surprise perspective. The challenge; however, was getting everything there without Jeff knowing. For several weeks before the party I carted things from our house to my parent’s house – and I mean lots of things. My parent’s living room was gradually getting smaller due to the pile of ‘party stuff’ I was making.
The day before the party, I prepped the food for the surprise and most of the food for the bridal shower (see above) – with help from a friend, thanks Tammy! The day of, I had to get up early and head to my mom’s house to finalize the shower food and meet my niece for the food hand-off. After that, Mimi and I set up the room and prepped the remaining food for Jeff’s party. In the afternoon I raced home to get ready (there was barely time for a shower and some primping) and then met my sister to start carrying the pile from my parent’s living room to the party venue – thanks Laura!
We met up with Craig (my beer & music hero) and Chris (his lovely wife who was such a big help throughout the party). Then Laura and I raced back to my parent’s house to change our clothes in the living room – laughing and somewhat out of breath. Then Laura went back to the party venue to greet guests while I waited for Jeff to arrive for our “night out to celebrate his birthday.” On the way out the door, my mom asked if we could help her by delivering her food to a block party (yes, this was part of the lie to get Jeff to the party). Jeff [carrying some the of food for his own party] and I walked through the door of the clubhouse and were about 5 feet from the door to the room in which the party was being held when he looked over at me and asked, “do you want me to ACT surprised?”
In that split second I thought about the ramifications of murdering him, but decided that 40 witnesses were too many so I did my best not to strangle him and proceeded to enjoy time with our friends and family. Although the surprise was not a success, the party was.
And, as it turns out, so was the bridal shower Ashley hosted. For that I made Cornmeal Cheddar Scones (my friend Tammy’s recipe), Caramel Macchiato Scones, individual omelets in ham cups and fruit skewers with orange vinaigrette.
As I mentioned, in the midst of all this craziness I was also preparing for some classes. The first class – Perfectly Provencal. The foods and wines were a yummy tribute to the Provencal region of France. The menu:
- Double-Baked Cheese Soufflé w/ Parmesan Cream
- Grated Baby Beet Salad
- Seared Halibut w/ Spicy Mussel Aioli
- Luxe French Potatoes w/ Lavender
- Tian Provencal
- Blood Orange Sponge Cake
The second class – Bring a Friend to Spain. The foods for this were from all different regions of Spain. The menu:
- Coca (Pizza) w/ Candied Red Peppers
- Festive Frisee w/ Pears & Honeyed Lardon
- Comforting Chicken in Almond & Saffron Sauce
- Smokey Spiced Spanish Potatoes
- Asparagus w/ Tangerine Vinaigrette & Pistachio Dust
- Quesada Pasiega (Spanish Catabrian Cheesecake)
Perhaps my favorite event of recent weeks was the Doljanchi for our twin great-niece and great-nephew. The doljanchi is the elaborate Korean first birthday celebration with a very interesting ritual – the doljabi. In addition to the doljabi were tables and tables of delicious Korean foods and unmatched hospitality from Justin’s family. We had a wonderful time and best of all I didn’t have to make anything, carry anything or keep anything a secret!!!! I was able to be a guest and enjoy a beautiful celebration of two very cool little people who have stolen my heart!
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t somewhat tired from the flurry of activity over the last several weeks. However, reviewing it all has reminded me how truly lucky I am. I have a great husband (who is older than me), family and friends who are quick to ask “what can I do” when I say I’m throwing a party (AND THEY MEAN IT), three beautiful littles who bring joy and hope for the future to our family, and so many people with whom Jeff and I can enjoy life…one bite at a time!