Down Home Derby Day

The Kentucky Derby is one of the best loved sporting events in the south and it’s always known for inspiring some incredible parties.

There’s no need to make the trip to Churchill Downs for all the Derby fun. This May, you can host your own Run for the Roses soiree for a true race-day extravaganza! And what’s really great is that because it’s the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,” you won’t spend the entire time watching the tube, which leaves plenty of room for party fun!

Get free Derby-themed invitations online and ask your guests to dress in their Southern best to set the tone for the party. Think seersucker suits and bow ties, pretty dresses and elegant hats.

Transform your home with pennant banners of red paper triangles strung on ribbon. Cover your tables with brightly colored linens and small horse figurines or trophies from a dollar store, and of course when choosing flowers, you’ve got to go for red roses.

Create grand, yet simple topiaries with topiary forms or foam balls you can get at a craft store. Fill them with tightly packed blooms and boom … you’ve got a gorgeous centerpiece. You can also use traditional silver julep cups as containers for small red rose bouquets.

If you want to really go all out, make a large horseshoe-shaped centerpiece or wall decoration with red silk roses to really evoke the race vibe. You can even order official programs online so guests feel like they’re really at the races!

What to Serve for Derby Day

First things first, you’ve got to have a mint julep on the menu. Classically served in sterling silver cups, you can also present them in small glass or plastic tumblers. For a simple recipe, muddle six or seven fresh mint leaves in a tablespoon of simple syrup. Add 2 ounces of Kentucky bourbon and serve over crushed ice with a mint sprig. 

Usually, you’d make them individually but if you’re serving a crowd, make a large batch and present it in a pretty drink dispenser. For the non-imbibers, offer pitchers of Southern-style “sweet tea” and lemonade.

To create the perfect Derby Day menu, think Southern cooking: barbecued ribs or even a simple platter of country ham and biscuits with a variety of mustards and chutneys to give your party a rustic down home feel. Or if you want to take it up a notch, serve tea sandwiches on ladylike trays with a pretty platter of shrimp or crudité on the side. Wanna keep it super simple? Order a few buckets of KFC and embrace the kitsch of it all! 

For dessert try pecan pie or bourbon truffles, or cover a cupcake stand with red roses and serve cupcakes decorated with little plastic ponies on top. 

Finishing Touches 

Put on a bluegrass or Dixieland mix and greet guests with a julep and red rose corsage. The actual race is over in a flash, so here are a few Derby-inspired ideas to help you keep everyone entertained:

  • Post a board with the odds for each horse and take bets (or have guests pick ponies out of a hat)
  • Keep the theme going after the race by screening Sea Biscuit, The Black Stallion, or Flicka
  • Ask guests to vote & give out prizes for the best Derby wear, craziest hat, and perfect southern drawl
  • If the kids are coming, call a local farm and have a pony come over for the day
  • Horseshoes, Cornhole and other outside games are always a hit
  • Create your own “Run for the Roses” team relay race by passing a bunch of (thornless!) roses back and forth under chins 
  • Pick up stick horses and have the kiddies run their own Derby (betting on your favorite pony is up to you!)

Derby Day is always a blast and once you host your first party, you just might find that you’ve got a new yearly tradition. Have fun and don’t forget to take lots of pics and share them with me on my Facebook page! 

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Create a Chili Cook-Off

Want a fun excuse to get friends together and welcome the fall? Host your own cook-off to find out whose chili is really hot stuff! Connoisseurs of chili can get pretty competitive about their perfect recipes … beans vs. no beans, beef and pork vs. strictly veggies … and it’s a fun way to bring everyone together so they all go home full and happy.

What’s great for you is that this party is as easy to host as it is entertaining to attend, so it’s a win-win as you head into winter weather.

Send out invites to friends asking them to bring their top chili recipes, already prepared in a sIow-cooker so it’s ready to serve. To decorate, dollar store bandanas are an easy way to give a Tex-Mex feel to the room. Use them to adorn tables and line baskets of chips, and give extras out for guests to tie around their necks.

To really get in the spirit, ask your guests to break out their cowboy boots and hats, denim, and button down shirts. Throw on a current or classic country music mix and you’re good to go. And don’t worry if you have any non-chefs on the guest list; not everyone needs to bring chili. Even 3 or 4 options are plenty for a fun competition.

Be sure to gather copies of the recipes ahead of time so you can make sure none are repeated, and that everyone gets a chance to shine. You could even create a little Cook-Off Cookbook for your guests to take home as a party favor, with permission from the chefs, of course.

Ask your contestants to give their chili a creative name, or maybe you could provide a couple of options for each and let your guests vote on their favorite one. Another option is to do a blind judging where only you and the chefs know whose chili is whose. Whichever you choose, don’t forget to pick up some small table tents so you can label each one.

The Tasting Table

Find a space where you can set up one long table, buffet style, where you can place the slow cookers, preferably against a wall with easy access to power outlets. (Don’t forget to make sure you’ve got any extension cords or power strips you may need.) Be sure to have enough ladles available or ask your guests to bring theirs from home.  For serving, provide small disposable cups and plenty of plastic spoons so your guests can sample all the chilis without getting full.   Once the voting is done, you can set out larger bowls for people who want more substantial servings while they wait for the winner to be announced.

Decide your voting system in advance so you don’t have to figure it out mid-party. You can go as simple as having people drop a slip of paper in a bowl, or as advanced handing out pre-printed ballots with categories. You could ask your guests to consider things like appearance, consistency, originality, best name and heat level, and rate them on a scale of 1-5 or use something like yuck, meh, pretty good, amazeballs and give me more right now!) 

Get the party going!

As your chili-cooking contestants arrive, help them setup their slow cookers while your other guests enjoy their first beer. Once everyone’s set, explain the voting process to the whole crowd and let the sampling begin. When the voting’s over, let some time lapse before announcing the final tally to build some suspense. 

You can either announce one grand prize winner or spread out the awards for the top winners in individual categories.

Don’t forget to have awards for all the winners, but don’t stress over making them too extravagant either. You could give people something as simple as a bottle of hot sauce with a hand-printed label commemorating the event. Other ideas include a gift certificate to Chili’s, a collection of different chili powders or a small slow cooker. 

Don’t forget the fixin’s! 

Chili’s obviously the main course, but it’s also fun to create a table where folks can “gussy up” their chili with add-ons. Include things like tortilla chips, saltine crackers, sour cream, diced onions, guacamole, pickled jalapeños, shredded cheese and corn muffins. Add some veggies to the mix with some simple greens tossed in a light vinaigrette or a Mexican jicama salad to stay on theme.

For drinks, beer is a natural partner to chili. Select a variety of fall-themed brews and put them on ice in a large metal tub. Include pitchers of sweet tea and lemonade for non-imbibers, and don’t forget to have plenty of water on hand for palate cleansing.

Stay simple for dessert. Offer a large platter of chocolate chip cookies or brownies as a nice treat to end the evening or cool things down with an ice cream sundae bar.

Now how easy is that? So, do you have any special chili recipes or favorite can’t-do-without toppings? Tell me all about it below!

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Holiday Movie Night

A super fun way to get in the festive mood is to cozy up on the sofa and watch your favorite classic holiday films from childhood. This year, why not invite your friends and make it a party?

Pick a day before the holiday madness really sets in and plan at least 3 hours for your movie night party. Tell your friends that the dress code is “comfy casual” … whether you make it a pajama party is up to you.

What’s great about this get together is that set up is a complete breeze and there’s no need to worry about whether you’ve got the tree up or not. Just string some colorful holiday lights around the living room, light a few candles, grab holiday cups and paper plate, and you’re ready to roll.

Don’t have enough seats for everyone? No sweat! Pull out the pillows and the blankies and let everyone get comfortable old school style on the floor, like when we were kids. 

What Should You Watch?

Survey your guests in the invitation for their votes on a holiday film or simply choose your favorite must-see special. Obvious ideas include Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but don’t forget to consider more unique options.

Thanks to services like Netflix and onDemand, you can easily just go to the holiday section and pick something out for your guests to screen together.

Consider these crowd-pleasing hits:

  • Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol – the first ever animated holiday special.
  • A Christmas Story – you know, the one with the kid who gets his tongue stuck to the frozen metal pole
  • Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire – where it all began. This is the original Simpsons full length feature where we met and fell in love with that little brat, Bart.
  • Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas – A Jim Henson special from the days before the Muppets about an otter family with very little money, but a whole lot of love. 

What Should You Serve?

Think pigs in blankets, sliders, mini pizza bagels or other finger foods that are easy to enjoy while cuddled up in front of the tube. For sweets, think chocolate chip cookies, mini cupcakes and of course, don’t forget the popcorn. Take your game up a notch by providing a variety of gourmet flavored popcorns in a divided bucket.

Once you select your movie for the night, you can even build a theme around it. Come up with clever or funny names for your snacks based on characters like Charlie’s Brownies or pull recipe ideas from the films for creations like woofle jelly cupcakes with razzleberry dressing. 

For drinks, set up a beverage station so your guests can serve themselves, and you can hang out with the gang instead of running to the kitchen allthe time. If it’s a kids-only party, include water, juices, sodas, hot cocoa and maybe a little eggnog. Be sure to have plenty of marshmallows & whipped cream on hand. For grown-ups, you can add mulled wine, whipped cream flavored vodka (to spike the cocoa), coffee and flavorful liqueurs like Frangelico and Kahlua to the mix.

Honestly, for this party to be a hit, as long as you have some good friends, tasty snacks and a fun flick, you’re all set. Still, if you want to take things to the next level, try a fun game where you write movie-based gags onto slips of paper and have guests draw one as they arrive. Have them keep their gag secret until their scene in the film happens. They could be asked to sing along to Holly Jolly Christmas, dance with the twins in Charlie Brown or literally hop up and put “one foot in front of the other.”

And, don’t think this party idea is just for the holidays! You can always throw a fun movie night: a throwback Thursday with a classic from the ’80’s, a summer fun party with Beach Blanket Bingo or do a Valentine’s date night with other couples and screen When Harry Met Sally. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination!

What ideas can you come up with?

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Throw a Vegas-Worthy Poker Party

Whether you go for Texas Hold ‘Em, 5-Card Stud or a rousing battle of War, a casino party is a great way to get friends together for some fun, food and friendly competition.

Tips to Set the Casino Vibe

Invite your pals over and encourage them to dress in their Rat Pack best, or tackiest casino wear. Then get your place ready with some simple decorative touches — poker chips, cards, and dice used in clever ways really add that va-va-voom, and sticking with an overall party palette of red, black, and green (for table coverings, plates, cups, utensils) keeps everything tied together.

To give your living room some casino floor glitz, grab several packs of cards in varying sizes then string them on ribbons to hang, scatter on buffet tables, or use for other table décor. String party lights and beaded garlands to create a festive vibe or use the four card suits as a theme. Cut out large heart, club, diamond, and spade shapes to use as wall decorations.

You can even wrap some large square boxes in plain white paper and glue on black circle cutouts to make dice. To make an easy yet great looking centerpiece, fill a vase with poker chips and red flowers. Scatter chips and dice around the base and you’re good to go!

Use extra decks of cards to create your own Vegas style buffet. Glue hands together into a full house or royal flush to use as decoration, or write on individual cards as a cute way to label dishes. There are lots of options … just get creative.

When it comes to deciding which game to play, that’s dealer’s choice. If you really want to blow it out, consider hiring a casino party company with experienced dealers to teach everyone the rules and run the tables during the party. You can even rent game tables to give your place an authentic feel.

If you’d rather not dish out the moolah for real dealers, ask your card shark friends to run the tables and keep the peeps up to speed on the rules. Serving as the dealer can be seriously fun, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting help. For an official game table, just grab some green felt and cut it to fit your table — no sewing necessary. Masking tape is great for making table markings, depending on your  game of choice. 

A last super-silly, seriously-fun option: set up tables for Go Fish, Old Maid, Snap or War. Hang a poster with the rules nearby and let the childhood games begin.

What to feed your friends?

Go retro with finger foods that are easy to snack on without showing your hand. Think mini sandwiches on cocktail bread, chips and dips, pretzels, pizza bagels, and pigs in blankets. Bust out your martini glasses for a fancy, on-theme way to serve nut mixes, small candies or even shrimp cocktail. 

Get whimsical with dessert by dotting sugar cubes with chocolate frosting to use as “dice” cupcake toppers, or do the same with white frosting on square brownies. Fill glass bowls with red and black colored candies (licorice, gummies) and gold coin chocolates for sweet table treats. 

Set up a serve-yourself martini bar with shakers and garnishes, or keep it simple with a signature old school cocktail in a beverage dispenser. Try my Peachy Keen Whiskey Sours for an easy crowd pleaser. Be sure to offer plenty of water too so your friends don’t feel like extras from “The Hangover” the next day!

For the final touches, throw on a Sinatra mix and loop Vegas-themed movies on TV (The Gambler, Casino Royale, Casino, or almost any Rat Pack movie) and let the party begin! Make the call ahead of time on whether you’ll be playing for cash or bragging rights. For any non-gamers, throw a “house of cards” building contest. Then send everyone home with a stack of Baby Grand candy bars wrapped in a gold ribbon. Everyone wins on Casino Night!

What’s your card game of choice?

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Championship Winning Home-Gate Game Plan

Just because you don’t have tickets to get into the stadium, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the joy of tailgating. You can easily enjoy all the fun of a parking lot party and get excited about watching the big game at your own home-gating bash! 

Home-gating is a great way to cheer on your favorite team with all your friends, without the hassle and hustle of actually going to the game. No traffic, no weather worries and no crazy expensive tab for substandard hot dogs and warm beer. Plus … you get full rights to the remote control. 

Arrange Your Arena

With just a few simple decorations, you can set the scene with a stadium-inspired theme. Think pennants, streamers and fun party-ware like cups, plates and even serving platters with team logos. Add extra chairs, beanbags or floor pillows to accommodate all your guests in the TV room and pipe the audio throughout your place and yard with bluetooth speakers to keep everyone in on the action. 

If people want to flip between several games during the day, designate a “Ruler of the Remote” to avoid tussles over which to watch. In the case of the Super Bowl, your RotR is in charge of volume control both for the TV and the crowd, to make sure no one misses those great commercial breaks! 

Plan Your Plays

Come up with ideas to keep the action going during halftime or between games – or to entertain the folks who are less than enthusiastic about watching sports. Great game day go-tos include touch football, beer pong or corn hole. If the weather’s too crappy for outdoor activities, let people pick squares in a box pool where winners are determined by the score at the end of each quarter. Prize ideas could range from coffee mugs with the team’s logo to tickets to an upcoming game to a team jersey.

Create a Football Feast

If you’re planning to party from pre-game to post, you want to make sure you’ve got plenty of food and drinks on hand to keep the troops satiated. A mix of make-ahead, self-serve and fresh off the grill options allow people to easily grab snacks as they move and mingle. 

If you’re thinking of cooking, your crock pot is a great way to make a hearty, one-pot meal that serves as its own warmer throughout the party. And, don’t be afraid to dial for delivery … there’sno shame in ordering pizza and wings from the local spot to make things super simple. For dessert, cookies and cupcakes are an easy, crowd-pleasing way to go. 

Or, another idea is to make brownies and cut them into football shapes. Add “laces” by piping on white icing. Adorable! 

As for drinks, beer’s the obvious choice for the imbibers. Grab a couple cases of bottles or even cans, or ramp things up with a mini keg. Put out a bucket of ice with sodas and water for the kids and adults who want a non-alcoholic option. For the cocktail fans, consider mixing up a batch of something special in honor of your favorite team. Anyone up for Patriots Punch or Seahawks Sangria? 

There you go! Your home-gate game plan is set and you’re ready for the big day. Hope you have a blast with your friends and go team! 

Be sure to check back in and let me know how it goes! Share your favorite football party ideas with me below.

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Host an At-Home Clambake: No Beach Required!

As iconic as the lighthouses dotting the coast, a New England clambake is a party tradition where lobsters, corn, potatoes, sausage, and of course clams are cooked over hot rocks and seaweed in a big sandpit. No beach? No worries! With my easy ideas, you can host a coast-worthy clambake right in your own backyard

Here are my ideas for you to bring the surf to your turf with my super-simple at-home clambake party … no beach required!

Make Your Plan

Ask friends to don their beachy best, and start the party late in the day to take advantage of evening breezes and maximize bonfire time.

Recreate beach-roasted deliciousness at home by adding a metal smoker box filled with soaked applewood chips to your grill, and maybe borrow a second one if you’re hosting a crowd. (Note: If you don’t have the capability to cook outside, this whole menu can be done indoors as well.)

Set the Scene

Seashells, fishing nets and poles, hemp rope … almost anything nautical or beachy works great for décor. Create a conversation circle with beach chairs set around a chiminea or build an impromptu pit with a few Duraflame logs and a ring of bricks or large stones.

This meal’s a messy one, so stick to vinyl tablecloths for easy cleanup. The traditional red and white checkered pattern is a clambake classic but anything with a seashells or beach scenes will work great. Grab a few large sand pails for discarded shells and add a separate buffet table to keep things easy.

Pre-wrap silverware in napkins and tuck them in individual mason jars with a pack of oyster crackers, some wet wipes, a lobster cracker and bib. Guests can grab one as they fill their plates and once they dump their place settings, and fill the jar with beverages from pitchers on the table.  

Feed the Folks

Pre-order seafood from your fish monger (or online) and pick up corn, potatoes, butter and sausage.The rule of thumb is for 6 people you’ll need approximately: 6 ears corn, 1 ½ lb potatoes, 6 1-lb lobsters, 36 clams, 3 lbs mussels, 3 lbs linguica or spicy Italian sausage

Fill pitchers or beverage dispensers with water, lemonade, and iced tea for guests to self-serve in their mason jars. My [Lose Your Shoes Margaritas] are a great addition, and tubs of bottled beer are a natural. Pre-make other cocktail options in sealed mason jars, and nestle them in with the beer. Need more space? A kiddie pool filled with ice is a fun touch!  

Here are some tips for pulling together the food with indoor & outdoor cooking options:

  • Serve everything up family-style on large platters 
  • Precook potatoes the day before in the microwave or boiling water until they’re fork-tender
  • Shuck corn ahead of time and cook and toss it with butter before everyone arrives (be sure to keep it warm)
  • Cube butter and put it in small bowls the night before to melt and put out
  • Drop your live lobster directly into the boiling water, or halve it (again, live) then grill it 10 minutes before serving at the party
  • Sausage can either be precooked inside and warmed in the oven, or thrown on the grill with the lobster
  • You can either bake or steam your clams and mussels inside, or toss ’em on the grill with everything else 
  • If you’re using a smoker, cook shellfish and potatoes in a pan together until shellfish open. Follow with sausage and lobster in another pan.
  • For dessert ideas think Maine Blueberry pie, watermelon slices, and firepit s’mores

Note: For those of you who are squeamish about the live lobster situation or prefer a simpler menu, buy precooked lobster meat or lobster salad. Use small dinner rolls to make adorable lobster roll sliders and grab a large container of potato salad from your deli to serve on the side. From there, you just have to steam clams and putout pre-cooked sausage and corn. Done!

Party On!

Once your guests arrive, let the bon fire, relaxation, and fun ensue. Pipe some ocean sounds through your speakers or throw on the Beach Boys Pandora channel and chill out.

Other fun ideas include:

  • Cheap kiddie pools filled with water to soak feet, or with sand to hold a sandcastle contest.
  • Frizbees, hula hoops, and bottles of bubbles
  • Set up a slip n’ slide, if you dare! 

Share ghost stories and s’mores around the fire pit late night and create a fun summer vacation experience -no tickets necessary. 

What’s your favorite? Clams, mussels or lobster? 

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13 Themes for Spooky Halloween Soirées

There’s no better time than Halloween to throw a banging bash. Costumes, and candy, and cocktails, oh my! How could you not feel festive? Host a frightfully fun fiesta they won’t soon forget with my 13 horrifyingly haunted ideas for a spoooooky soirée!

Here are my 13 ideas to throw the most frightfully fun Halloween party around:

Heaven & Hell – Party in the afterlife with themed rooms. Create an angelic ambiance by draping furniture with white sheets and using white tulle and batting for a cloud effect on tables. Add white, silver, and sparkly balloons to corners of the room to continue the cloud look. For your hellish room, use red lights, black balloons, pitchforks, and red and yellow cellophane “flames” on the walls. Obvious dessert go-to’s? Angel food and devil’s food cakes!

Dynamic Duo – Dressing as a couple gives you twice the extra opportunity to get silly with your look, and you don’t have to be romantically involved to make it work! Think celeb couples, TV, book, or movie characters, or salt and pepper shakers – dress up time is always more fun with a pal.

True Blood or Twilight – Vampire culture is huge these days, but on Halloween those blood suckers really go all out! Invite guests to dress as their favorite supernatural creature of the night and decorate your place with crosses, bats, cobwebs, faux tombstones, and black lights. Have extra vampire teeth, blood, and capes on hand for un-prepared partiers, and be sure to mix up a big batch of blood red punch for this one!

Heroes & Villains – A great theme for any age group, this one is particularly good for group family costumes, too. (Think, “The Incredibles,” or the “Fantastic Four.”) Have everyone dress as their favorite good guy or tap into their internal Mr. Hyde side. Use your favorite superhero-themed supplies from the party goods store and hang cartoon bubble “Pow” and “Kazaam” signs around for a cool comic book touch.

Zombie Night – Create a zombie-friendly zone with torn mesh, flashing black lights, a fog machine, and classic zombie movies looping on TV. Guest can portray their fave Walking Dead character or just zombie-fy themselves freestyle. 

Dead & Famous – Invite guests to dress as their favorite dead celebrity and have a contest for best costume, cleverest call back or funniest look-a-like. Loop old movies on TV and decorate using old photos of famous dead celebs. For a fun game, play a round of celebrity “dead or alive” (find lists online).

Day of the Dead – Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican celebration honoring the dead and inviting their spirits back for a visit over a 3-day-long fiesta, which makes for a perfect Halloween party theme. Fill your home with marigolds, sugar skulls, skeletons, tissue paper decorations, and altars with prayer candles and invite guests  dress in gothic black or colorful Mexican inspired attire. Serve Mexican fare and play Spanish music to evoke an authentic vibe and hire a face-painter to give everyone a beautiful sugar skull mask of their own.

The Hair Raising 80s  – The 80s was one of the best decades for stand out fashion statements, which makes it a totally tubular theme for your Halloween party. Neon is the way to go for décor, and Pop Rocks and Diet Coke are a fun, “if you dare” combo on the buffet table. Invite guest to dress as their fave TV or movie characters from the era. Think Smurfs, Care Bears, Garbage Pail Kids, Brat Pack-ers, Goonies or Bad News Bears. Show 80s movies or sitcoms on TV and blast those 80’s pop hits!

House of Horrors – Transform your home into a full-on haunted house from the outside in. Hang creepy signage in the yard and scatter roughly hewn arrows around to point the way in through a spooky side or basement entrance. Plan a dimly lit pathway through connecting rooms for guests to walk through and go to town with dark sheets, dry ice, cobwebs, mirrors, mock gore, and ghouls who jump out … or just entertain. 

Flapper Fright Fest – Get your Gatsby on with a roaring 20’s theme. Pump up the jazz, pop the champagne, pass out mock cigarettes in holders, and pour retro cocktails like my Grapefruit Gin Fizzes with Rosemary Simple Syrup. Show 20’s-themed movies on TV and serve beer in brown bags to create a speakeasy vibe.

Paranormal Party – Tap into the other side with a creepy spirit-themed eve. Ask the local psychic, tarot card reader, or palm reader to set up a table, and create a séance mood with plenty of candles, draped sheets and gauze. Use vaguely creepy black and white photographs from generations long gone and blocks of ice to up the spook-factor. 

Rocky Horror Picture Show – This one’s a no brainer. Invite guests to dress as main characters or their own trippy interpretations of Frankenfurter’s party guests. Cover furniture with sheets, toss some lingerie around for effect and be sure to decorate the buffet with props like water guns and folded newspapers for interactive fun. The Time Warp’s an obvious must for your play list, but beware. If you’re screening the film on TV, know there are some pretty risqué moments that are best kept for grown up eyes only.

Top Pumpkin Carver Competition – This theme is a great option if costumes just aren’t your thing or you’d rather host an afternoon / kid-friendly party earlier in the season. Get more details here: Host a Pumpkin Picking Party [Insert Link]

What was your best Halloween costume?

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How to Shower the Bride in Style

Have a friend or family member getting married soon? How exciting! So, how to celebrate and shower her with love and well-wishes before the big day? A bridal shower is a centuries-old tradition that was created to help set the bride and her betrothed up with gear for their new home. With some modern touches, you can update this still-relative custom and throw a pre-wedding bash the bride and her guests will love.

Start your planning by consulting the bride about the party. Some people enjoy the spotlight while others don’t like to have anyone make a fuss. Shy brides might prefer a couple’s shower where they don’t have to be the center of attention. Others might want to skip the traditional shower format and just have fun with their friends.

No need to get hung up on who’s hosting or where to throw the bash to make sure everyone can make it. Many brides have multiple showers (friends, family, co-workers, college pals), so don’t feel like yours needs to be the end-all-be-all for your friend. Just focus on having fun and honoring the bride. 

Pro Tip: Create a secret Pinterest board for inspiration and to share ideas among planners.

Still, you want to coordinate guest lists, particularly in the case of multiple showers. Guests who aren’t invited to the wedding typically shouldn’t be invited to the shower, and you want to make sure each guest just gets invited to one party. Note: In cases of small or destination weddings, the bride may want to make an exception. Be sure to check. 

5 Tips for Your Best Bridal Bash

  • Be sure to discuss and agree on your shower budget ahead of time. That helps dictate location, design, food and more. A solid plan means less stress for everyone involved. Think ahead on things like venue, decorations, party favors, menus and games. You also want to invite guests 4-6 weeks prior to the event.
  • Delegate the duties so you don’t get overwhelmed. Many hands make light work, plus the opportunity to help with tasks is a great option for people who can’t contribute as much financially. Use volunteers to arrange flowers, bake treats, address invitations, set up decorations, or pitch in with cooking and cleanup. 
  • Tradition, schmadition. Break out of the usual bridal shower box for fun party options. Maybe invite guests on a trip to a winery or a spa, to a group cooking class, or throw an outdoor yoga picnic. Does your bride have a favorite charity or plans for buying a new house with her hubby-to-be? Consider asking for donations in lieu of a registry.
  • Keep cringe-worthy bow-hats at bay with updated versions of shower games. Maybe hang a line to display “silky little somethings” as your bride opens presents, or entertain guests with a fun game of “Name that Gift” with prizes for the best or funniest guess. Pass around a pretty notebook where guests can offer marriage tips, or write a sweet memory of the bride for her to take home. 
  • Customize your event just for your bride with personal touches like her favorite candy or flowers, her initials on cupcakes, pictures of the happy couple, or pitchers of her signature cocktail. Use a theme to set the scene, especially if you’re throwing a traditional sit-down party: a color combination, her honeymoon destination, or even a favorite food (wine and cheese, chocolate, Mexican, sushi, pizza). Carry your theme through the invitations, decorations, and favors. You can even invite guests to dress accordingly.

What was the best bridal shower you ever went to?

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Kids’ Top Pizza Chef Party

Instead of the same old delivery pizza party, why not take this fun school’s out for summer theme up a notch and host a kid’s top chef pizza party cook-off? Your vacationing scholars will have a blast making their own creations at this simple-setup, easy-cleanup shindig. 

Make Your Plan

Call up a few families or your older child’s classmates to celebrate the start of summer with a pizza party cook off. Host it outside for easy cleanup and grab some paper aprons and chef hats online to really get everyone in the mood.

Use several folding tables (borrow or rent if you don’t have them) to setup pizza making stations and avoid crowding. Set up one table for gear and dough, one for sauces, another for cheeses, one more for meats & veggies and then one long table for eating.

No need to make vats of dough ahead of time. There are lots of frozen versions that taste great. Or, grab some fresh from your local pizza place and while you’re there, pick up small pizza boxes to use as “doggie bags” for leftovers. Maybe even hire someone to come do a dough tossing lesson. Just make sure you’ve got extra dough for “oops” moments!

Gear to grab:

  • Disposable foil trays or extra cookie sheets for baking multiple pizzas at once
  • Rolls of parchment for a nonstick surface that kids can label in pencil
  • Extra pizza cutters
  • Red and white checked disposable tablecloths for all the tables
  • Paper plates and napkins
  • Disposable plastic storage containers for toppings
  • Plastic spoons for scooping toppings
  • Red, white, and green balloons for decorations

Before you decide on the guest list, think about your oven’s capacity. If you’re making personal sized pizzas, you should be able to bake 4 at a time. To increase that number, grab some rack extenders to maximize oven space. A toaster oven provides extra real estate as well, and you can easily borrow extras from neighbors.

Another pizza-for-a-crowd option is to use pre-baked crusts that you can pop in the oven and heat toppings in minutes. Let kids get their fun with fresh dough by letting them make garlic knots, pretzel shapes, or brown sugar cinnamon sticks to bake and send home as party favors.

To make set up a snap, prep toppings in advance and store them in plastic storage containers that can go straight to pizza stations. Label the front to keep things organized and be sure to include a mix of kid-friendly and fun-for-adults options:

  • Sauces: Marinara, pesto, vodka sauce, roasted pepper spread, buffalo wing sauce, BBQ sauce, Alfredo sauce
  • Cheeses: Shredded mozzarella, ricotta, sliced fresh mozzarella, crumbled feta, goat cheese, shredded cheddar, jack, parmesan, gorgonzola
  • Meats:  Cooked crumbled sausage, pepperoni slices, sliced mini-meatballs, sliced prosciutto, diced ham, cooked crumbled bacon, shredded cooked chicken
  • Veggies & Fruit: Well drained! sautéed spinach, cooked broccoli, thin sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, diced raw onions, cooked caramelized onions, roasted peppers, diced tomatoes, grilled eggplant, hot peppers, sliced olives, fresh basil leaves, pineapple, sliced figs, red grapes
  • Spices: garlic salt, dried oregano, hot pepper flakes

Fill a bucket with ice for drinks like bottled water and sodas. 

For a sweet touch? Make an easy dessert pizza made with cookie dough, small candies like m&m’s, crushed pretzels and mini marshmallows. You can either prepare it yourself, or let kids in on the action after they’re done with pizza.

Party On!

Give guests fake moustaches to go with their chefs hats and aprons and play Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, or other Italian-inspired music to set the mood then get to cooking.

Explain to kids how they should label their pizza and work through the stations. For little ones at the party, you can also organize teams by family and make larger pies. As creations come out of the oven, display them on the judges table for sampling and award prizes for “strangely delicious,” prettiest presentation, or top 1/2 & 1/2 pie. Get as creative as you want and have a blast.

Encourage guests to sample and share and send everyone home with a slice or two of their favorites as a tasty memory of your fun party. Trust me, this is sure to start off the summer with a bang!

What’s your favorite pizza topping combo?

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