The Impromptu Preppy Pool Party (Or I Call an Audible on My Party Plans)

Guys, today is my twelve-year LA anniversary.

Twelve. Years.

Just let that sink in for a minute. It’s a looooong time to live in one place. I have to admit: in that time, LA and I have had a rocky relationship. But recently? I realized that I’m kinda crazy in love with this stupid city.

This past weekend LA did make me question its love for me, however, when a large section of the 405 was closed for construction near the beachfront hotel where I was supposed to have my birthday party. (LA? Not one of your better moments in our relationship. Just saying…)

Despite weeks of planning, I found myself facing the possibility of my friends sitting in gridlock, cursing the day I was born instead of celebrating it. (#notcool)

So, I woke up at 4:30 am the day before the festivities and I called an audible on my party. I totally changed the play on the fly ‘cuz I wasn’t going to let some freeway construction cramp my style.

With less than 36 hours before my party was supposed to kick off, I cancelled my hotel room, sent an update to my Paperless Post invite, and completely re-envisioned my menu. I also made a Pinterest Board for a totally new event — at my own pool.

I went for a simple, preppy nautical theme. Here’s how it turned out.

By Paper + Cup on Dogs Dishes and Decor

I started with the “Little Lifesaver” invite from Paper + Cup on Paperless Post. Source

Then I stenciled a whole buncha boats, anchors, and lighthouses on everything with these stencils from my friend, Martha. (#loveher)

Simple nautical party decorations from Dogs Dishes and Decor

When this is your idea of keeping things simple, it’s probably time for an intervention. Just saying…

Simple snacks at a nautical themed pool party Dogs Dishes and Decor

Here are the stenciled treat bags in action.

Sprinkles Strawberry cupcakes in Williams Sonoma cupcake liners on Dogs Dishes and Decor

I picked up some striped cupcake liners at Williams Sonoma and made a quick batch of Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes.

Also?

Nautical Chandon on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Gillian totally came through with this nautical themed bottle of Chandon. #perfection

After the poolside grilling festivities, the single people hit up a few bars in my neighborhood.

J. Crew whale sweater on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Obviously my J. Crew whale sweater and I had to keep up the whole nautical theme late night.

I know I still owe you the rest of the wrap up on Finnie’s Elephant Theme shower. Now that I think about it… LA closed the 405 the day of his Elephant shower too. I think LA hates my theme parties.

But Finnie doesn’t.

He partied so hard at my pool party that he fell asleep.

See?

Sleeping baby Finn on Dogs Dishes and Decor

So presh.

More on his shower later. I’m off to yoga.

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It’s Dark and Stormy Up in Here (Or At Least in My Glass)

Sorry for the freak out on Friday. Whoa, that was unpleasant. (Thank you all for the encouragement. Sincerely. It really means a lot!)

Anyway, I’m fixin’ to tell you about the elephants soon, but first? We should talk about my love of Fever Tree Ginger Beer.

I adore ginger. Adore. It. I could almost live on it – particularly the pickled kind. I have been known to fight my friend Melissa for the last shred of pickled ginger on a sushi plate. We are obsessed. Like have to order extra obsessed.

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This is Melissa and me with our Long Lost Danielle in the middle. We need Danielle back in LA, like immediately.

So anyway, the other night I ordered a marvelous meat sandwich from the deli up the street and mixed myself a Dark and Stormy with some Fever Tree for a divine pairing that was sort of like au jus and rum nirvana. (For real.)

If you’re not familiar with Dark and Stormies, you should be. They’re a feisty, fabulous, little rum cocktail with a good gingery bite. I think the key to making the perfect Dark and Stormy is using the right ginger beer. Bars often make them with Bundaberg’s and that’s a’ight, but not tremendous. The drink is vastly superior when it’s made with Fever Tree. Trust me.

Fever Tree is amazing, and it even has bits of ginger floating in the bottle. (Heaven!)

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Check out this bottle of feisty goodness!

Technically, the recipe looks something like this:

Dark and Stormy

2 oz dark rum
8 oz ginger beer
lime wedge

But mostly I just pour it all in my glass haphazardly, add some fresh squeezed lime juice, and then sip it with a huge grin on my face.

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Gingery rummy goodness in a glass. Pirates would be proud of me.

Fever Tree can be tricky to find, but you can buy it here.

Now I’m off to the Thai Town Rotary Club Meeting to discuss a fire station fundraiser. I don’t know how I get myself into these things*….

 *Actually I do. Here’s how: last spring, my gorgeous British friend rather sweetly and not so subtly informed an entire fire station that I was a good cook and I’d be happy to make them pasta with spicy Italian sausage. This was overheard by the Rotary Club President, blah, blah, blah, etc., you get it. Suzie was trying to set me up with 14 firemen and now I’m planning a fundraiser. Or something. 

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Suzie is sexy with legs that do not end. She and I exceed at causing trouble together.

It’s Sorta Fred Segal-ish (Or How to Make a Baby Gift Arrangement on a Budget)

Last year I was producing a brand sponsored web series, and one of the actors’ wives had a baby while we were in production. Life Size at Fred Segal does darling arrangements, so I decided to put one together for the baby. The items included were inside jokes from the project, but you get the idea.

Obviously, the web series was car related.

So, anyway, when friends of mine recently had a baby, I stole the Fred Segal idea and assembled my own baby gift.

Here’s how I did it… just in case you want to try it yourself.

Both of the baby’s parents are Wolverines, so I decided to go with a Michigan theme. If you don’t want to use a theme, you could just go with a coherent color scheme instead. I found most of the gifts on Amazon, and I bought the box, tissue paper, and clear gift wrap at Target.

Here are the items before assembly. I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo, but the stuffed dog is wearing fleecy baby Michigan slippers because I’m a dork like that.

Albus thinks he’s helping.

I taped the box together so that the bottom of the box became a stage and the top of the box became a backdrop. I stuffed the one-sie so it would stand up on its own. Then I wrapped the boxes in tissue paper before taping the items in place.

Here it is all assembled and stuff.

Next, I covered the arrangement in plastic wrap and tied it together with ribbon from Michael’s. (I think I would use a wider ribbon next time.)

This was fun to make, and it was a lot more affordable than the Fred Segal version.

I’ve decided this is my new thing to do when people have babies. I suggest starting early and collecting cute items over a few months so you can do something really special. I was a little crunched for time on this particular project, but I was still pretty pleased with the results.

You know, as pleased as a perfectionist can be….

Supper and the Single People (Or How to Make Zucchini Lasagna)

This recipe uses the same marinara sauce as the spinach manicotti I made earlier. Total time saver.

Even though I like to cook fairly elaborate dishes that include expensive ingredients, I’m always looking for ways to cut costs or make the dishes simpler to prepare. Sometimes that means cutting back on the more items expensive like the lobster in this seafood macaroni and cheese or making dishes I can freeze easily like this sausage and white bean dish. Other times it means repurposing an ingredient or an element of a dish.

This week, I used the same marinara sauce for two different dishes, and I will be freezing extra servings of both.

See, I have lived alone for more than ten years, so unless I’m throwing a dinner party for like 25 friends, I’m probably eating alone. Since I don’t like eating the same meal more than twice a week, this means the freezer is my friend.

What’s this about living alone? I have been keeping you company in the kitchen for like five years, lady. I don’t do it for the celery that sometimes falls from the counter either.

And if you really live alone, then who is this enormous animal using your pillow?

OK, point taken. I haven’t exactly lived alone for the last ten years, but it’s not like the dogs sit at the table for meals, though.

Oh, never mind. I’m losing this argument.

Let’s just get to the lasagna recipe.

It’s my aunt’s recipe and it probably came from a 1980s issue of Bon Appetit, but I can’t find any links to it online.

Zucchini lasagna

Marinara Sauce
(I made extra marinara when I made the spinach manicotti and saved it for the zucchini lasagna.)

4 T olive oil
1 C finely chopped onion
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks
2-1 lb can diced tomatoes
4 T minced parsley
4 T tomato paste
1/2 C red wine
fresh basil, torn in small pieces
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic and cook until softened about 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, juice, parsley, tomato paste, wine, and half of the basil. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Add the remaining basil and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Filling

1/2 stick of butter
2 small zucchini, sliced into ¼” slices
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms cut into 1/4” slices
1/2 C whipping cream
4 T,  plus 1/2 C fresh grated parmesan
8 oz provolone cheese
salt and pepper

Lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 450.

Cook lasagna noodles until al dente. Drain and set aside. (Or you can use the no cook noodles. Either works.)

Melt the butter in heavy skillet over high heat. Add zucchini and mushrooms to the butter and sauté until the zucchini are lightly browned. Reduce heat and stir in the cream. Cook until the mixture is reduced to a smooth consistency. Add 4 T parmesan, salt, and pepper and mix to blend.

Put a thin layer of marinara in the bottom of a 2.5 quart casserole dish. Next add a layer of noodles, followed by a layer of filling and a layer of cheese. Repeat the layers of marinara, pasta, filling and cheese. Top the stack with the remaining marinara sauce. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.

Cover with foil and bake at 450 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes until the lasagna is bubbly and the cheese is lightly browned. Allow the lasagna to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Note: If you wish to make a 9×13” pan, you will need to double the recipe and it may require additional baking time.

Fall Means Football and The Race for the Rescues (Or Why We Walk)

Labor Day is rapidly approaching. And even though the oppressive heat isn’t really waning, fall is technically on its way. And while I will defy my strict WASP upbringing by wearing white well after the 3rd, I am preparing for the two events that define fall for me: college football and the Race for the Rescues.

See, I love football. Like, my mood for the entire week is determined by the performance of a pack of 19 year old boys in spandex, love football. So this is basically going to be me until December.

Photo courtesy of someecards.

Not only does football mean yelling at my television for four straight hours every Saturday, but it also means football parties. Be on the lookout for great game day recipes in the coming weeks. And I will absolutely do my best to be a lady and not subject you to my rants about bad play calling and interceptions. I will save those for Facebook where my college friends and I come together to publicly mourn, berate, and celebrate our boys in blue.

The other event that means fall for me? Is the annual Race for the Rescues at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It’s a 10 K benefiting 12 non profit animal welfare organizations in Los Angeles, and I do it with my dogs every year. You can read more about it here. The participating organizations rehabilitate wildlife, provide low cost veterinary care for low income families (including free spay and neuter clinics), and also place adoptable animals in loving homes.

Why do we walk?

Because 400 dogs and cats are euthanized in Los Angeles shelters each week. That means more than 20,000 adoptable animals die in Los Angeles shelters every year. Because approximately 3-4 million animals are euthanized nationwide. Because 60% of dogs and 70% of cats who enter shelters will never find a home. And because I can’t close my eyes and wish those statistics away.

I do not mean to make anyone feel guilty for obtaining their loving pet from a responsible breeder, and I understand that pet adoption is not for everyone, but it is for me. I have adopted four dogs in my adult life and each one has enriched my life immeasurably.

So, October 7, my two red rescues and I are walking in honor of Woodley’s littermate, Peyton, who has brought joy to her new mommy. (That’s a long story for a different post. Just know it’s not advisable to adopt litter mates.)

Peyton was adopted in December and even though I miss her, I know she has a safe, loving home.

And we’re walking in memory of Brady, Hunter, Rocco, Max, and Bella who are all playing together in Dog Heaven.

This photo was taken the last Christmas Brady and I spent together. On December 29, 2007, he lost a long battle with congestive heart failure.

Hunter was Brady’s best friend, and I was by Huntie’s side when he died. Hunter and his mommy have a special place in my heart. Forever.

Rocco was a beloved big brother and family member. He was skilled at unwrapping presents and making everyone smile. He loved his family and his soap operas. We miss you, Mister Roccos!

Bella put up a valiant fight against cancer, but lost her battle last week. Blake, Audrey, Matt, and Kelley miss their beautiful girl. So this is me giving them a huge internet hug because my arms aren’t long enough to reach to Chicago.

Max was by his mommy’s side for so many adventures including a move to Mexico last year. He died suddenly this summer, and now this little angel has real wings to match his amazing ears.

I need to make myself an event shirt to honor the pups. If you have any ideas, please send them my way!

If you live in the Los Angeles area and want to participate, it’s not too late to register! If you are interested in making a tax deductible donation to our walk, you can do so here. Please don’t feel obligated, though. We all show support for the causes we care about in our own ways.

If you or a friend is mourning the loss of a furry family member, Bella’s mommy recommends the book Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant.

Wag on, guys.

I know I owe you all kinds of recipes for things like pina colada cupcakes and pollo con rajas. I haven’t forgotten. I promise!

Prince Harry, Pina Coladas, and Other Observations on Vegas. (Or I’m Looking for the Perfect Pina Colada)

Note to self: I need hurricane glasses. Pina Coladas just don’t look right when served in the wrong glassware.

You have probably already heard, but just in case you haven’t, Prince Harry’s blurry bum and bits are prominently featured on TMZ today. I mean, he was in Vegas, so it’s kind of, “Whatever. Leave the poor prince alone!” But it is the royal bum, so it’s breaking news. Or something.

(By the way, if you want to see the blurry pics of the prince, who apparently isn’t all that good at playing pool, here’s the link, but maybe don’t click on it if you’re at work.)

You’re welcome.

So, yeah, that’s all very different than my last trip to the strip. The last time I went to Vegas I had a large pina colada outside of Paris after a day at the pool and then promptly fell asleep snuggling with the dogs while watching TV.

The only available “glassware” for serving Pina Coladas outside of Paris were either this balloon situation or a large plastic Eiffel Tower that hung from my neck. I considered this the lesser of two aesthetic evils.

Clearly, I didn’t do Vegas right. I didn’t step on any burning cigarettes or broken glass while carrying my shoes across the strip at 7 am, I didn’t drop $400 on food in two days, and I didn’t play strip pool with a prince.

I mean, it should hardly even count as a trip to Vegas if about six girls aren’t washing their filthy feet in the spa tub at the same time and at least one person doesn’t play poker until dawn with an off season athlete. (And, no, that is absolutely not a euphemism.) But this was not that kind of trip. Not the kind that leads to dirty feet or royal debauchery, anyway.

After vacillating for weeks about meeting up with friends who were in town for a hockey tournament, I made a game day decision — like booked my room at 10 am and jumped in the car with the dogs at 11 am kind of game day decision. Obviously, I would never bring them for a wild weekend, but this was just a chill, catch up with friends by the pool kind of trip. Totally the kind for dogs. I should probably do a post on bringing dogs to Vegas because there are challenges, but it can be done, and I have the pictures to prove it.

Albus discovers that everything is super sized in Vegas. Even the cats.

Apparently, Albus has caught the scent of margaritas, quesadillas, and sin. This photo was taken moments before he tried to enter Margaritaville of his own volition.

So anyway, all of this TMZ talk of Vegas was really making me want a pina colada and some vintage booty music tonight, so I cranked up some bad 90s jams like Yolanda, Tootsee Roll, and Fatboy and pulled out the blender.

I mixed up a batch of pina coladas, and I have to admit it wasn’t life changing. I mean, it was pretty good and it wasn’t as cloyingly sweet as the crappy made from a mix kind, but I think I wanted more pineapple punch. Next time I’ll probably use fresh pineapple instead of the canned version in juice. I may even freeze the pineapple before mixing it and cut down on the ice so the drink will have a little more sweet pineappley pizzazz.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering: 68% of the TMZ audience? Now thinks Prince Harry is awesome.

(And, yes, I had to vote to find that out. I might have even voted twice. Don’t judge me. After all, I did hear about the royal debacle from NPR in the first place.)

Pina Colada

2/3 C light rum
2/3 C pineapple
2/3 C cream of coconut
3 C crushed ice

Add the rum, pineapple and cream of coconut and blend thoroughly. Add the crushed ice and blend completely.

To achieve a more uniform slushy consistency, I put the cocktail in my ice cream maker and let it do its magic for about ten minutes. That made it an awesome consistency.

If you have any other suggestions to improve upon the pina colada recipe, please hook me up. I need to find my perfect Prince Charming Pina Colada.

Whooooo’s Impatient? (Or How to Make Owl Cupcakes)

I’m impatient — like I freak out in front of the microwave — impatient. And so is my birthday buddy, Connor. He was born five weeks early — the day before his own baby shower. He’s healthy, and so is his mom, and that’s what really matters.

Since we have pushed his Owl-themed shower until he’s ready to meet all of the ladies at once, I had a lot of owl cupcake supplies sitting in my pantry. I didn’t want to wait to use them. (See reference to impatience above.)

I recently made Amy Sedaris’ cupcakes and figured it was the perfect opportunity to see if I could actually deliver the owl design I had promised.

I think I did.

Whoooo wants a cupcake?

Because I had initially planned on using banana cupcakes as the base for the owl cupcakes, I deviated a bit from the Hello, Cupcake! suggestion to use chocolate Oreos and Junior Mints for the eyes. I went with Golden Oreos and Reese’s pieces instead. I chose Double Stuff Oreos instead of the regular Oreos because they’re easier to separate. (I just happen to know this because I kind of like dismembering my food before consuming it.)

If you go with the regular Oreo variety, Hello, Cupcake! recommends microwaving the Oreos briefly before twisting off the top layer. I didn’t find this step necessary.

Here’s the supply situation.

To make the owl ears(?!?) you cut the top of the Oreo in half and affix it to the cupcake with frosting.

Here’s the pointy bit of the owl.

I ended up slicing a little off of the bottom of the cookie so that less stuck out, but it’s up to you. (I was worried the weight of the frosting would make the cookie ears fall off.)

Here’s the owl before final frosting embellishment.

Instead of making banana Runt beaks, I used a banana candy I found at a store in the mall. I looooove Runts, but I couldn’t find them ANYWHERE. (I did finally find them at the mall where I also found the banana candies, but it was easier to buy banana candy than it was to pick out banana Runts from a large colorful bin.) If you don’t feel like schlepping to the mall, Amazon has banana candies here.

To achieve the blue and yellow two tone frosting, I stuck a Wilton pastry bag of blue frosting into the yellow bag of frosting like this.

You don’t necessarily need to have two colors for the owl feathers. I just felt like making things more difficult for myself.

So, those are the owls. You should totally make them. If you do, decorate the owls the same day you serve them; the Oreos get a little gummy if you refrigerate them.

By now you’ve probably figured out there are few things I love more than a party. Those things? Are football — and theme parties. In the coming months, look out for some party planning posts involving a Winnie the Pooh party for a very special one year old boy, and some serious football theme parties.

This owl army? Is ready to get in my belly.