My Farm-to-Table Birthday Dinner Party

The word that best describes the night is magical, and it really, really was.

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Last week, I turned 24, and to celebrate, I hosted a farm-to-table with a group of wonderful friends in my own backyard. It was the best birthday I’ve had in my adult life.

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My roommate Elizabeth and I have been talking about hosting a farm-to-table dinner for weeks. To serve a meal sourced exclusively from local ingredients. And then when my birthday entered the horizon, we decided it was the perfect occasion to turn our idea into reality. With the tables I had purchased for the Woodlawn Street Market, we turned our backyard into the most magical place on earth.

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We kept the decorations simple and embraced a mixed-matched theme. I had purchased the white tablecloths for the street market, and the burlap table runners came from my grandmother’s 80th birthday party. I have an assortment of cloth napkins that I had purchased from prop sales at work. And we used every chair in our house (plus a few from Elizabeth’s mom).

My dear friend Stephanie arranged the flowers using jars I had lying around the house. I love how elegant the simple arrangements look, using only sunflowers, spray roses and baby’s breath.

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I don’t know what this says about Elizabeth and I, but we had to borrow plates, knives and chairs to accommodate 16 people, yet we had more than enough wine glasses. We set out drinks and appetizers for when people arrived, keeping the main courses inside to avoid bugs. I made a yummy white wine sangria, my friend Leah brought rum to make Dark ‘n’ Stormys, and (since my mother always say you should have a yummy, nonalcoholic option) I had lemonade and cucumber-lemon water. And then several people brought a bottle of wine.

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As people arrived, we mingled on our back porch, and we have a nice stone patio at the base of the porch steps. To combat the bugs, we had tiki torches lit on the deck, and we set up a couple of these mosquito coils from Off. (We found ours at Target.) They worked great. Highly suggested.

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The food – oh the food – was so crazy good! I prepared a bbq pork shoulder from Morning Song Farm in the slow cooker. Elizabeth made cheese grits with McEwen & Sons grits. We also enjoyed potato and green bean salad, yellow squash casserole, feta and artichoke tarts and so much more!

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We ate, drank and talked for hours. It was spectacular. And then we ended the meal with a personal favorite: Edgar’s strawberry cake. Perfection! I couldn’t have asked for a better night with wonderful weather, delicious food and amazing friends. I vote this becomes an annual tradition.

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A huge thank you to Stephanie for taking these pictures throughout the night!

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Lamb-Themed Sip & See

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Back in March, my mother and I had the honor of hosting a Sip & See for my sister-in-law Liz and Kate Lily, my niece. We initially planned to host a baby shower. But Kate decided to enter the world 6 weeks early, and plans changed. We chose to keep things simple. We picked a lamb theme (since they are Liz’s favorite), and made it an open house (meaning boys were invited too).

I first heard the term “Sip & See” recently at work. Editors here use the term as a type of meeting, like, “Call down to the test kitchen, and let’s set up a Sip & See before the photo shoot.” A little baffled, I finally asked someone what she meant. A co-worker explained that our office doesn’t use the term in the traditional sense. In reality, a Sip & See is a traditional Southern term for an open house or shower after a baby is born. Traditionally occurring soon after, the mother welcomes people over to her home to “sip” lemonade or punch and “see” the new baby.

(Note: I wish I took more pictures, but alas, I only have these few that I snapped before the party started.)

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So let’s start with dessert, shall we? We cleaned up the kitchen desk/workspace and set out brownie bits, sugar cookies and a classic buttermilk poundcake with buttermilk custard and mixed berries.

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I still can’t get over these lamb sugar cookies for a local Birmingham bakery called Icing on the Cookie. When I first ordered them, I’ll admit, I thought they would be too plain. But this order proves that simplicity can be adorable. They pressed nonpareilles into the icing to create a cool texture.

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We wanted to create a menu that would be delicious and approachable for both adults and kids since we knew a lot of people were bringing their little ones. So we kept it simple. We made ham & cheese sliders on Hawaiian sweet rolls, pimento cheese with crackers, a layered cornbread salad, and coleslaw. And since the weather was pretty cold the week leading up to the party, I made a Lemon Chicken soup that we placed in the crock pot so it stayed warm through the party. For drinks, I made raspberry lemonade punch, and we had sweet tea and coke products.

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My favorite detail of the party was the guest book I created with the help of Shutterfly.com. I received a promotion email randomly from World Market one day that offered a free 8 x 8 photo book from Shutterfly, so I created “Kate’s Alphabet Book.” Each page listed a letter or two, and I like the idea that each guest filled in a letter, maybe drew a picture and wrote a note. I laid the book out on a coffee table in the center of the room with  a bunch of markers and colored pencils. And I filled in the first page as an example (pictured above).

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The only downside to this idea is that not everyone got into it. It didn’t occur to me that not everyone would want to draw (such blasphemy). But the people who did sit down and participate produced adorable content. (The earwig for Kate’s Uncle Teddy was my favorite addition!)

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Luckily, Kate has a bunch of cousins who were happy to help me fill in any blank pages. Her cousins Faith and Charity contributed the most. We even had the littlest cousin Isaiah provide some doodles for the letter D.

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We also kept the decorations around the house simple. Mom taught me at an early age that a party is not complete without balloons. And I draped ribbon along the fireplace, hung a banner of onesies along the kitchen windows and placed stuffed toy lambs throughout the house.

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We used a lot of decor that we already owned. I had purchased these white candle holders from Ikea during Christmas. (And though I wanted to fill them with pink tulips, the store was out of them that day, and my dad purchased pink roses instead.) And you might remember the burlap table runner from my Grandma’s 80th birthday party back in December.

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We had the most spectacular weather on the day of the party, and with so many kids in attendance, most people spent the afternoon outside, snacking on the yummy food and watching the kids run around. But – being a newborn – Kate ended up sleeping through the entire thing! But it didn’t stop anyone from loving on her. I don’t think she was ever set down; she was simply passed from person to person.

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I mean, come on, she’s the cutest, right!

Bread & Wine, A Supper Club

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My dear friend Rachel gave me Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine for  my birthday last May. I read a handful of stories, but set it down for another day. Luckily, another friend came up with the idea of making it the focus of a book club early in September, and my Tuesday nights have never been the same.

Bread and Wine is a beautiful collection of stories about hospitality and community, so it is only fitting that we take turns each week opening up our homes and apartments to cook, eat and drink together. Each chapters ends with a recipe, so those recipes make up our weekly meals.

This week, we made the Mango Chicken Curry. I have never cooked curry before, and though it turned out to be delicious, it was a hilarious understanding. About halfway through, we all we sneezing and coughing because of the strong spices. It was like a scene out of a slapstick comedy.

Mango Chicken Curry

Ingredients:

1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicen breasts, cut into small pieces
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red onion, copped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cups currants or raisins
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 mango, pitted and diced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
Cooked rice, if desired

Mix together flour, curry powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Toss chicken breast pieces into the flour mixture.

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil to a pan, and cook chicken on medium-high heat until browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Set aside.

Add additional 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook garlic, red onion, ginger, and red pepper until onion is golden, about 4 minutes. Add chicken back to the pan, lower heat.

Add chicken broth. Cook at a simmer until chicken is tender and broth is reduced by one-fourth. Add currants, tomatoes, and mango, and simmer until heated through.

Off heat, add lime juice, cilantro, basil. Serve over rice. (Serves 6)

This book also has an amazing recipe for Goat Cheese Biscuits, but I’m going to let you buy the book to try it for yourself.

Quick & Easy Birthday Cake Topper

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Every good bundt cake needs a little decoration. For a recent birthday dinner party, I made the Buttermilk Pound Cake with Buttermilk Custard from Southern Living’s The Southern Cake Book. Topped with fresh berries, this summery dessert is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

To match the simplicity of the cake, I created a cake topper that didn’t require many materials and is quick to make. First, I found a free printable for Chalkboard alphabet bunting online.

After cutting out the flags, I attached the letters using Elmer’s glue to red and white baker’s twine. Then I tied the garland to wooden dowels I purchased from Hobby Lobby. Carefully, I inserted the dowels into the cake. Simple, easy and quick!

* Sorry for the black and white photo. Living in the moment, I forgot to take a picture, but luckily a friend was able to send me this one.

** Also, in my search for a free printable, I found this really cool Fiesta Bunting I hope to use very soon!

DIY: Candy Buffet

At the bridal shower previously mentioned (see here), my friends gave me the task of creating a candy buffet. It was a causal request via text, but you know me, I naturally took it as a challenge to create the cutest thing possible.

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Choosing your containers: Every website I went to when researching candy buffets said the same thing: pick you container first. And in my experience, I completely agree. Before you take a step into a candy aisle, know how many containers you have and their sizes. (A game plan helps make shopping feel less overwhelming.)

And do not buy containers. Even if you don’t own them, ask around and borrow them. I went home and raided my mom’s collection of glassware. She had several of the round vases from my brother’s wedding. My grandmother gave me taller vases. And the bowl of pretzels is a salad bowl I use almost everyday.

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My mom also had these adorable letters from Valentine’s Day with ridges perfect for holding candy. And it was her idea to put the Swedish Fish in a glass fish bowl.

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Picking the candy: My initial problem was figuring out how much candy to get. I set a budget of $35 (though I did end up going over it), and we were planning on having 30 to 40 people in attendance. I avoided the candy at Sam’s. It was more candy than I needed, and each bag cost around $10. So I decided to pick a mix of name brand candy and cheap generic candy. M&M’s, Swedish Fish, Smarties, Sweet Tarts and Kit-Kat Bites covered the name brands. Gummy worms, Peach rings and lollipops were cheap and helped fill in the gaps. Plus, I decided to make chocolate-covered pretzels, which ended up being the most popular treat.

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Decorative touches: With your containers selected and the candy purchased, the rest is in the details. I found rolls of polka-dot brown wrapping paper at Target for only $1 that I used as the table covering. And then using string that I had around my apartment, I tried to decorate each vase to add touches of color. I found the candy scoops at Party City. I didn’t purchase a scoop for each container of candy. I figure since it was a relatively small party, people could share.

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To go bags: The candy buffet was set up in the middle of the party. So as the afternoon progressed, everyone came around for a handful of candy here and a few chocolate-covered pretzels there. But you could see it in everyone’s eye that they were hoping to take some home. For to-go bags, I found these cheap favor bags at Hobby Lobby. After buying them, I realized that they did not come with twist ties, so I set out of roll of washi tape to help secure the bags.

If you haven’t already noticed, my candy buffet uses several cigar boxes. Below, I used one to help store the bags and washi tape. Others were used to add a little height to some containers.

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Come with a plan: The day before the party, I mocked up the candy buffet to see what it would look like. I filled each container with its respected candy to make sure I had enough, but more importantly, I was able to think things through and play with different placement options. I’m so glad that I did this because when I showed up to help set up the next day, it was a little chaotic. People were running around everywhere, but since I knew what I wanted to do, I was able to set everything up in 10 minutes.

Plus, I made sure to bring my own essentials – scissors, tape and a sharpie – just in case. Since the party was not at my house, I was able to set up the buffet without having to search for these things. I just threw everything in a box and brought it to the party.

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Some people want their candy buffets to be themed in specific colors. Obviously, I didn’t go that route. I love how my candy buffet turned out so colorful and sweet. And it was so fun to pull it all together for an event celebrating such a close friend.

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The Southern Pie Party

At my job, I look at recipes all day, everyday. And some days, you just have to come home and make them! So when the physical copies of Southern Living’s new cookbook, The Southern Pie Book, arrived in the office, I invited a few friends over for what we called Pie Party 2013!

We made three pies: the Margarita Key Lime Pie, the Chocolate Fudge Pie and Mama’s Peach Cobbler. And trust me, we didn’t skimp on anything. When the recipe called for whipping cream, we used whipping cream, causing the pies to be oh-so-delicous! (Many happy dances occurred.)

Lucky for you, the book goes on sale this week!