Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cowboys & Indians Party

Hosting a Cowboys and Indians party was such a blast.  This is a super easy theme if you are looking for a fun dinner party or kids birthday party.  Everyone loves a little rivalry which makes the games fun, and dressing up to this theme is not difficult for guests.

Invite:  Cut a brown paper bag the size you want your invite and write the party details in black marker.  Add hieroglyphics to the corners or just a simple bow and arrow.  Then crumple the bag to look like old leather.  A simple and inexpensive invitation.  You could also fashion your invite after a "Wanted: Dead or Alive" poster, but I used this idea as my place card, so I didn't want to repeat.

Decor:  I set the table with a black cloth tablecloth and then placed a smaller square of brown suede fabric on top.  I found a scrap of bandana fabric I used as a belt years ago at a cowboy-themed sorority party, and also spread it out on the table.  As a centerpiece, I placed a cowboy hat, a cornucopia, and an Indian headdress/tomahawk I bought in the kids section of Target.  I found some shot glasses in the shape of cowboy boots and added these to the table as well.

At each place setting, I use metal pie tins as plates and camping mugs as glasses.  The bandana printed napkins I bought at Party City.  I created a mini Wanted Poster as each place card.  I found individual photos of the guests where they were not smiling and added an Indian headdress or cowboy hat depending on the RSVP of the guest as to which side they would come dressed to represent.  I added funny names that also went with the theme such as "Dances with Navaho Nazly" and "Last of the Mohicans Michelle" as Indian examples, and "Wild West Wendy" and "Double-Dealing Deanna" for a couple cowboy examples.

Games/Activities:  You can't have a competition party without having some theme-related games! Our first game was Hieroglyphics (in other words Pictionary) with words that went along with the theme.  I had my husband make up the words before the party, and this was not a great idea.  Many of them were too easy.  If I were to do it again, I would probably go through the real Pictionary game stack to find words that fit with the theme or just do random words.

Our second Indian-themed game involved a bow and arrow and a buffalo.  I drew a buffalo on a piece of butcher paper (as you can see I am not a great artist), and taped it to my TV cabinet.  I bought a cheap bow and arrow from Target.  The arrow had a suction piece at the end which obviously wouldn't stick to the paper, but we just eye-balled it for points.

The last two games were cowboy-themed.  The first was to use a lasso to "catch" a horse. I used a regular rope and a kid's rocking horse!!  Guests got three tries to see if they could lasso the horse around the neck.  This was super funny!  The final game (no picture of this one) was horseshoes.

Menu:  I don't have photos of most of my menu, but it was delicious and I totally recommend the recipes. As an appetizer, I served beef jerky. I started guests with a fruit plate made to look like a bow and arrow.  Then moved on to the main dish which was Cowboy Stew and cornbread.

Bow and Arrow Fruit Salad

1 orange
Dental floss
Wooden skewers

To make the bow, slice the cantaloupe in crescent slices leaving the rind on.  Then use a large sewing needle to thread dental floss through the ends of the cantaloupe and tie to make it look like a bow.  To make the arrow, cut an orange in half.  Then cut the orange again to have a ¼ inch circle.  Cut this according to the small triangles, but leave the rind on.  Thread these pieces one at time on the skewer to look like feathers at the end of an arrow.  Cut a strawberry in half lengthwise and thread onto the skewer at the top above the oranges.  Place on a plate and serve.
Cowboy Stew

6 slices bacon, crisp
1 cup sliced onion or chopped
½ cup chopped green pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 ½ pounds ground beef
2 cans (1 lb. 13 oz. each) tomatoes, cup-up type
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 can (12 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (1 lb.) red kidney beans, drained
2 cups cubed potatoes

Cook bacon until crisp; drain on paper towels; crumble and reserve.  Saute onion, green pepper, and garlic in bacon drippings until tender.  Add ground beef; cook until well browned, breaking up with fork as it cooks.  Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and chili powder; cover; simmer 30 minutes. Add vegetables; simmer 15 minutes (potatoes may take longer)  Sprinkle with bacon.  Makes 8 servings.

Buttermilk Corn Bread

1 – 8x8 inch baking dish, buttered and floured
¼ cup butter, melted
2 eggs
¼ cup sugar
1 cup flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Put butter on to melt.  Beat eggs in  large bowl; add sugar and mix well.  Sift and measure flour; sift again with cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk to egg-sugar mixture.  Stir in melted butter and pour into baking dish.  Bake about 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.  Makes 8-12 servings.

For dessert, I made each guest a cupcake teepee.  This is not a very good picture, but it was great looking in person.

TeePee Dessert

 1 large cupcake
1 smaller cupcake
Brown frosting
3 thin pretzel sticks
Red whip licorice
Orange fruit leather (fruit roll-up)

Bake cupcakes as directed on box.  Remove wrapper from smaller cupcake and stack upside down on top of frosted lower cupcake.  Frost the top cupcake.  Insert the 3 pretzel sticks at angles so they cross at the top, tying them together with licorice.  Wrap the fruit leather “hide” around the cupcakes (it took me two fruit roll-ups).  Using a writing tip, decorate the “hide” with designs.

We had a great time at this party.  The rivalry was fun, and there is so much you could do with this theme.  I would love to do it again for a birthday party or just a random get together!  Hee-Haw!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trash Truck Birthday Party

My nephew LOVES trash trucks, so my brother and sister-in-law put together a Trash Truck themed 3rd birthday party that was amazing!  Check out these super cute ideas...

Decor:  This is the incredible trash truck that my brother made out of boxes and paint!!  The kids loved playing in it during the party.  The front had a steering wheel and stick shift for the kids to pretend to drive (see my super cute nephew below).  The back end was filled with empty cereal boxes and other empty food items.  The kids took items out of the back and then dropped them in the top (see below).  They would flow down a ramp into the back again.  The part of the truck that normally wraps around the trash can to pick it up also would wrap around the kids if someone pulled the strings on the opposite side of truck.

Table decor is easy and inexpensive for this party -- simply newspaper! The party also had empty soda cans and water bottles littered throughout the yard to add to the trash truck theme.  My sister-in-law found these nifty grabbers as a favor for each of the kids.  They had fun using them to pick up the trash items and place them in the appropriate recycle bin.

Activities:  Picking up cans and bottles was one activity/game the kids had fun with, but there were several others. One was recycle bags that the kids colored with markers. These can be found at Oriental Trading among other stores.

Pizza box art was another activity for the kids.  You take an empty pizza box and put a piece of cardboard (your canvas) and a marble inside along with a bit of paint.  Then you shake the pizza box to create a fun splatter design.  You continue to repeat this with various colors.

Bottle cap necklaces was another activity.  The holes in the bottle caps are drilled ahead of time, so all the kids have to do is string them on.  Colored beads helped to separate the caps.

Dessert:  For dessert, my mom baked a cake with a trash truck design.  She added a cut out photo of Anthony in the driver's seat of the truck.  My sister-in-law baked trash can cupcakes.  I used this idea when I hosted my Trash to Treasure Recycling dinner.  Hers are much cuter than mine!!

It was a great party, and the kids really loved all the crafts and playing in the trash truck. Most importantly, my nephew grinned ear to ear throughout the party and had a blast!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Death and Taxes Party!

Taxes are due in a few days, and what better way to celebrate the hassle associated with tax season than to host a themed party!  Hence...A Death and Taxes Party!

Invite:  Create a fake refund check made out to each of your guests.  Give party details on the back & let them know they have to attend the party in order to get this year's tax refund!  The text on my invite read:

 April 15th is coming soon...
but we're moving tax day up a few days
and "Turbo"ing into Tax Day with a
"Death and Taxes Party!"
All your hard work can be "taxing", so come hang out 
with the girls and relax for a few hours.  
"IOU" a great dinner & then maybe
you'll "return" next time!

Decor: You could do a red, white and blue color scheme for a regular tax day party, but I chose green and black to play up the "money" and "death" theme of the evening.  As guest's entered, I set up tombstones like a cemetery.  Use funny money related epitaphs like "Owen Moore", "Bill M. Lader", "Will B. Owen", and "M.T. Wallet".

My table was set with newspaper instead of a tablecloth.  The newspaper was a mixture of Wall Street Journal pages and obituaries to play up both sides of the theme.  For the centerpiece, I borrowed a white piggy bank from a friend and set up a Turbo Tax box next to it. I scattered chocolate gold coins and fanned dollar bills around the table.  If I were to host this theme again, I would add a mini gravestone in the middle as well.  Another thought would be to create a small money tree spray painted black like death.  You could dangle the fanned bills and gold coins from it like ornaments.  I also taped 1040 Tax forms and funeral forms to the walls.  The tax ones are free from the Post Office.  You can find sample funeral records free online.

For my place card, I printed off million dollar bills from an image I found on the Internet.  I then found a facial photo of each guest and cut/glued it over the President's face.

Menu: I had a hard time deciding what to serve for this party, but I eventually decided on a foods that I could relate to the "Boston Tea Party" idea.  I served a Boston clam chowder, "tea" sandwiches, Boston Baked Beans, and finished the meal with a Boston Cream Pie.

Crockpot Boston Clam Chowder

4 potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 (8 ounce) can chopped clams, drained
3 large celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup clam juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 quart half-and-half cream
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of butter

First sauté the celery, onions, and garlic with butter in a skillet.  Add all ingredients into the crockpot and pour in the sauted mixture.  Stir the ingredients around and cook on low for 8 hours for a very delicious New English clam chowder. 

Boston Cream Pie

Cake Ingredients:
1¼ cup sugar
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9½ inch springform baking pan.  Combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl.  Cream together using an electric mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Beat the eggs in thoroughly one at a time.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Combine with the first mixture and milk.  Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let the cake cool in the pan on a rack.

Custard Ingredients:
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup milk
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine the cornstarch, sugar, milk, eggs, cream, vanilla extract, and salt in a saucepan.  Bring the custard to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly.  Continuing to whisk, let the custard boil for two minutes.  Remove from heat, and whisk in the butter.  Set custard aside to cook, continuing to which occasionally.

Glaze Ingredients:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt

In a double boiler, melt together the chocolate, water, butter, corn syrup, and salt stirring until smooth.  Remove top of double boiler from heat.

Putting it Together:
Remove the cake from the pan and cut it in half horizontally with a long serrated knife.  Place one half of the cake on a plate. Top with custard.  Place the other half of the cake on top.  Coat the top of the cake with glaze allowing it to drip down the sides.

This cookie photo is not my photo.  I did not take a photo of the cookie from my party

Favor:  I baked foot shaped cookies with beige icing and wrapped them in a cellophane bag.  I cut the cookie a little bit near the big toe before baking so that I would have a place to tie the tag from the morgue. I found the tag online and just added the name, date, cause of death, and parting message.  A bit of a morbid ending to the evening, but super fun!!

Hope your taxes don't cause you stress as the deadline approaches. Of course, if they a Death & Taxes party to bring in some fun!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rendezvous with Recycling: Trash to Treasure Party

With Earth Day and Spring cleaning as my motivation, I decided this month's monthly dinner theme would be A Rendezvous with Recycling: Trash to Treasure party!  I decorated with all recycled materials so it was a very inexpensive party, and because we did a trash to treasure exchange, I got rid of some items I don't use anymore and picked up some "new" fun things.

Invite:  Use the backs of old birthday/holiday cards or old postcards to give out your party details. Or simply send your invitation by Evite to save on postage, paper, etc.

Decor: I created a banner using newspaper and letters cut out from my Cricut machine (sorry, no photo of this).  I set the table with a blue cloth tablecloth and green cloth napkins to tie in the Earth tones and to keep with the earth-friendly idea of no paper products.  I cut the top out of a 12-pack of canned Pepsi to use as a flowerpot, and cut flowers out of cereal boxes, cookie boxes, etc.  I used the caps of milk jugs as the center of each flower. (You'll see how I used the rest of the milk carton later in the post.)  This was my centerpiece which I placed on top of 2 squares of newspaper.  I also used two empty Coca Cola cans as candle holders and placed a tea-light on the top.

At each place setting, I used a piece of newspaper as the placemat, and recycled cups from various hotels, etc. as glasses.  I made a silverware holder out of paint swatches I had from trying to decide what color to paint my son's bedroom.  Just stapled two together and placed the silverware inside.

On a side table, I used empty beer bottles filled with water as vases for roses cut from my front yard. I also had the handmade gift bags and the cupcakes out on this table.  To elevate the cupcakes, I recycled a cereal box placed on an open magazine.

Menu: After getting the invite, many of my friends joked that we must be having leftovers at this monthly dinner. I decided to play that up a bit, but still stick with my menu with was centered around being "green".

I started with a green salad with green papers and broccoli along with some other goodies.  I served these in empty milk jugs that I cut and fashioned into little boxes.  A simple Velcro tab held the lid down until guests were ready to eat.  Here are the directions:

Step 1:  Mark a one-gallon milk jug as shown.
Step 2:  Cut along the lines.  You can then make the crease lines by using a thumbtack to pierce a row of dots at 1/4-inch intervals across each side of the jug, 1 3/4 inches up from the bottom. I did this with one of mine, but found I didn't need to spend the time, so my remaining jugs were just folded on their own.
Step 3:  Fold the flaps down and adhere with an adhesive-backed Velcro dot closure.
These don't hold too much, but they were perfect for the salad. You can also use them as a children's lunch box, but I was not able to serve my whole meal in them.

I served the main course in leftover containers I bought at a local Chinese food store.  These were perfect because they were already sectioned into three (and they made less dishes for me to wash after the party!).  I wanted to serve "green" food, so I made a chicken with a pesto gravy, white rice with peas, and green beans.

For dessert, I made trashcan cupcakes to go with our Trash to Treasure theme. My nephew had these at his last birthday party, so I totally stole the idea.  I baked cupcakes with silver liners which I frosted with grey icing and dipped in crushed oreos and sprinkles so it looked like "trash".  The trashcan lid is a cookie frosted with grey icing. To fully cover all parts of the cookie, I used edible spray paint.  This is SUPER expensive, but enables you to get the bottom and sides of the cookie. I then used a tip to pipe the black lines on the top of the cookie to complete the look.

Activity:  The girls loved the activity from our Rags to Riches party over a year ago, and they wanted to do it again.  It seems to go well with this theme.  I asked the girls to go through their closets, clean out those drawers, and bring 3-5 (or more if they wanted) items to recycle amongst friends.  We drew numbers and went "shopping".  Our trash became one girl's treasure!  Anything not taken at the end, I took to Goodwill.

Favors: I made each guest a newspaper necklace out of magazine pages. All you need is two colorful pages from a magazine (ads work best), hot glue gun, eye pins, and jump rings to make these.  They do take a little time, but they are very easy to make.  I found a bag of jump rings and eye pins at Michaels for $1.99 and it had a bunch of them in it.  

I gave these necklaces to the guests in gift bags I made out of newspaper to keep with the recycling theme.  These are very easy to make.  I followed the directions from How About Orange, but you can make your bag with whatever dimensions fit the gift inside. 

Sorry for the long post, but this was a very fun party and it was nice to find creative ways to use materials rather than spending a ton of money purchasing decorations. I think we all need to do a little bit more conservation of materials.  Finding ways tor reduce, reuse, and recycle was fun, and there are plenty more ideas out there.  Hope one of you can "recycle" this idea for your next gathering!!