Party Newsletter – December 2011

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December 2011
In This Issue…

Host a Christmas Tree Decorating Party

Christmas Tree Decorating PartyDecorating the Christmas tree each year is, in my opinion, one of the best parts about the holiday season. We all know Christmas is coming—the department stores waste no time in making sure you’re aware—but to me, Christmas isn’t officially here until that tree is up!

Decorating the tree was always something my family and I did the weekend just after Thanksgiving. I’ve continued this tradition as an adult. However, a few years ago I invited a handful of our closest friends to join us in decorating our tree. It was so much fun that we’ve done it again each year since—and the guest list has gotten bigger! I’ve expanded on the concept and have turned it into a party theme (any excuse for a party!). Here are a few ideas on how you can host a Christmas tree decorating party yourself:

  • Plan it at least two weeks in advance to give your invited guests time to pencil you in—the holiday season is a busy time for everyone. Whether you decide to host it in the afternoon or evening, I would definitely suggest either a Saturday or Sunday.
  • Serve appetizers and dessert foods—this is a party, not a dinner—so you want to keep it light. Make sure to let your guests know that it won’t be a dinner so that they don’t show up expecting turkey with all the fixins’!
  • Be sure to have your tree up, whether you choose a real tree or a fake one. Don’t put the lights on it or any of the ornaments—a naked tree is what you’re guests want to see! Have all of your decorations out and ready for your guests to grab and hang on the tree.
  • Play Christmas carols in the background or have a classic Christmas movie playing such as A Christmas Carol, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, or It’s a Wonderful Life.

You’re guests are sure to have a wonderful time, and chances are good that this may become a new tradition you all share together each year!

Stress-Free Christmas Shopping

Black Friday mayhemChristmas is almost here! And what that means is Christmas shopping is in full swing. For some of us, this is a fun endeavor, but for most of us, it can be a hassle which leaves us financially strapped until our first paycheck after the holidays—especially in this economy.

To help my fellow Christmas shoppers out, I thought I’d share a few tips on how to make this year’s Christmas a bit less stressful and a lot more fun:

  • Shopping on Black Friday can be crazy, I’ll agree, but the fact is, you can get some really amazing deals! If you have some big ticket items you want to get your loved ones this year, then venturing out the Friday after Thanksgiving may be worth it. The trick is to look at it as an adventure, not a chore. Bring a friend or two with you, be prepared to get there early, supply yourself with snacks and beverages, and when those doors open, just go bananas! It’ll be over before you know it, you’ll have gotten some great deals, and then you can go home and nap!
  • If the idea of venturing out for Black Friday is just too much for you, then stay in and shop online. The deals may not be quite as good, but they’ll still be better than any other day of online shopping. Prices are cut, buy one get one deals are everywhere, and many websites offer free shipping on total purchases of certain amounts. Plus, you can shop in your pj’s—you can’t beat that!
  • A handful of major department stores offer lay-a-way shopping. This is a great option for those of us who live on a tight budget. There’s usually a small fee involved, but if it means being able to purchase the gifts you want for your loved ones, then it’s worth it. If you’ve never used lay-a-way, then give it a shot this year. I bet you’ll like it!

Inexpensive Gifts Everyone Can Appreciate

Christmas presentsI don’t know about you, but when I was a late teenager and early twenty-something, I was a hard person to buy for. My parents still wanted to get me Christmas gifts I would like, but I didn’t want toys anymore and I was too young to appreciate really thoughtful gifts. My mom’s solution to this dilemma was to buy me things she knew I would use.

When you’re first on your own, learning to budget and pay your own bills, there are definitely times when you opt for pizza and beer rather than shampoo and toothpaste—well, at least I know I did! So my first few years away from home, my mom would gift me care packages for Christmas filled with things such as shampoo, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, toilet paper, and razors. Not very exciting stuff, I’ll admit, but stuff I definitely needed and was sure to use!

As I got a little older, she expanded a bit and would gift me things like kitchen towels, dishes, cooking utensils, lamps, blankets, and pillows. Now, as an adult, I can look around my home and see gifts she’s given me over the years which I still use. My first set of dishes are now my back-up dishes, my blankets and pillows from college are in my guest room, and I still have a few of those lamps scattered throughout the house!

Nowadays my parents still use this method, only now it’s things I’ll definitely use but would never buy for myself—gourmet coffee, that homemade ice cream maker I’ve been eyeballing, hopefully that digital camera I just can’t bring myself to splurge on!

So if you have that one person who is impossible to buy for, whether it’s your child whose recently been kicked out of the nest, a younger brother or sister, or even just a friend or family member you can just never please, buy them something they’ll be sure to use, and you can’t go wrong!

Traditional Heritage Foods for Christmas Dinner

Traditional Heritage Foods for Christmas DinnerAll of us come from somewhere, meaning, we all have some kind of heritage–whether we’re from Europe, Southern America, Asia, native to North America, or some other part of the world. And within those parts of the world we’re from, different countries have different cultures, beliefs, mores, etc.

A big part of a people’s culture is their food. I think as we get removed from our roots, we lose a lot of our traditions, and in turn, we lose a lot of our traditional foods.

This year for Christmas Dinner, I challenge you all to delve into your past and bring back a bit of your heritage! As Americans, our Christmas Dinner has become pretty standard—turkey or ham, stuffing mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie—sound familiar? Why not make it a bit more exciting?

For example, in Germany, instead of mashed potatoes, they might have Kartoffelsalat (German potato salad). In Italy, panettone is the eponymous Christmas cake. In Spain, seafood is a stable, so a main dish such as lobster or shrimp is not rare. In Sweden, Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs) are a definite dish of choice for Christmas Dinner. And in Poland, Pierogies filled with sauerkraut and mushrooms are a must.

It’s true that the traditional American Christmas Dinner spread dates back to the dishes the settlers were accustomed to and able to get ahold of, but our history is much richer than those original settlers. Since the birth of America, people have come from far and wide to make our country what it is, and we can’t let their traditions die.

So this year, look into your family’s past and prepare a few dishes your ancestors may have enjoyed hundreds of years ago. If you have a mixture of heritages at your dinner table, prepare of mixture of foods. Have fun with it…and dig in!

New Year’s Eve Cocktail Ideas

New Year’s Eve Cocktail Ideas

If you’re planning on hosting a New Year’s Eve Party this year, then you already know you better have an abundance of booze! Most people plan to get at least a little tipsy when they attend a New Year’s Eve Party. Sometime it’s odd to me that we all look forward to starting out the first day of the New Year inebriated, but who am I to judge tradition?!

With that in mind, here are a couple unique cocktail recipes to try out at your party this year:

Limoncello Sparkle

Champagne is a must for any New Year’s Eve Party, but why not make it a little more interesting? The Limoncello Sparkle is a citrusy twist that all of your guest will be sure to love!

Ingredients
• 1 ounce Limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur)
• 1/2 ounce Cointreau
• Champagne
• Long lemon peel, for garnish

Directions
Combine the Limoncello and Cointreau in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake moderately, and strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with a long lemon peel.

The Lanesborough

Looking for an even more fruity twist to classic champagne? Try the Lanesborough out for size. A slightly more festive version of the classic Mimosa, you’re guest will be sure to love it!

Ingredients
• .66 oz Grand Marnier
• .66 oz Cranberry juice
• .66 oz Passion fruit juice or puree
• 2 oz Moet Champagne
• Orange spiral twist (garnish)

Directions
Add Grand Marnier, cranberry juice, passion fruit juice or puree to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled Champagne flute. Top with Moet Champagne and garnish with an orange spiral twist.

***Recipes can be found at www.epicurious.com and www.liquer.com

Theme Party of the Month: Gingerbread Party

Gingerbread cookiesDo you love gingerbread? Host a delicious party theme around it! Nothing says “it’s the holidays!” like gingerbread decorations, games, drinks … and yes, the baked goodies themselves (mmmm). These ideas are great for a kid’s or adult’s party. This is good old fashioned Christmas fun, so let’s whip up a gingerbread party theme get-together. Here’s some great ideas, from the planning, the recipes, the food and the fun.

Planning Your Party Menu

There’s so much you can do with gingerbread that you’ll love setting a whole table along the theme. Plan a few weeks in advance what you plan to make – a gingerbread house? Cookies? If you’ve thought about our idea of asking people to bring their old Halloween candy, then you will certainly be planning some personal gingerbread houses that your guests will be able to make and take home.

Butterscotch Gingerbread Cookies – Gingerbread men are a must for your party menu. I’ve used this recipe before with great success. It uses pudding mix instead of molasses, and the taste isn’t as spicy as traditional gingerbread, which my kids don’t like. The dough will be very dry – this is normal – keep mixing, and chill in the refrigerator. I bake mine a bit less than the recipe calls for (about 9 minutes), to make a chewier cookie.

Gingerbread Lattes: You can go to a specialty coffee shop for these, but why spend $4 a serving for something you can make yourself? Freshly prepared, this drink is delicious. Hand cups to guests as they arrive at the party or set out at a goodies table if you’ll be eating dessert separately. Here’s my recipe – it’s not as sweet as Starbucks, but you can add more sugar (I like mine a bit more bitter):

Gingerbread Syrup:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes, uncovered, until it begins to thicken. Stir often. The mixture makes about 4 servings – you can store the rest in the refrigerator for about 2 or 3 weeks.

Make a double shot of espresso, add 1/8 cup of the syrup (a quarter cup for larger “grande” mugs), then steamed milk (or heated). Stir well, let it sit for a minute, then stir again. Top with milk foam (if using a steamer) or whipped cream. Finally, add a dash of nutmeg or, because your party has a candy theme, little candy sprinkles. Yum!

Read more ideas for a Gingerbread Party

Sales and Coupon Codes for Online Party Merchants

Celebrateexpress.com – coupon code 30XMAS – Save 30% off all Christmas items, Kids Costumes, and Stocking Stuffers. Products eligible for the 30% discount are denoted by a christmas icon. Discount is applied before taxes, shipping or duties, and can not be combined with any other offer. Use coupon code at checkout. Good through December 23, 2011

Shindigz.com – Coupon code WSNFX4 – Save 15% on orders $85 and over! Order is for ground shipping in the continental US, and can not be combined with any other offer. Expires at the end of December, 2011.

Next issue in mid January. See you then, and happy holidays!