Thursday, September 20, 2012

Girls Only: a Little Black Dress Dinner Party (ou a Festa do Pretinho Básico)

UPDATE:  Did you like the party printables I used for this dinner party?  You can find them (and more!) for purchase here and a matching pennant banner here.  Check it out!

I recently met these amazing girls at a friend's house, and instantly felt like we knew each other for ages... They are incredible women who - for one reason or another - moved from all parts of our native Brasil and found each other in the San Francisco Bay Area.  For over 10 years they've been getting together for monthly dinners, where they rotate the place and the cook every time (one of the girls even hosted a Zumba fitness class with a professional instructor when it was her turn to host.  How cool is that?  Unfortunately I was in Brasil and missed that one... And that would have been my first Zumba class!!) I was lucky enough to be "adopted" by these cool chicks and this month, it was my time to offer the girls-only dinner.
As I mentioned on this post, I asked them to wear their good old "little black dresses" and driven by this idea, decorated my place in black & pink and used all the accessories that I thought were pertinent to the theme: dress forms, hangers, measuring tapes, clothespins, pearls, a vintage perfume bottle (also seen here) and of course, all my black dresses displayed on a wall and on a clothes rack.  

I will go into more details about the party styling but first, I would like to talk about music selection. When planning an event, I always plan the "soundtrack" as well, be it an adult, kid, theme or casual barbecue party. I pick and choose the CDs, iPod lists or even my Pandora radio stations based on the ambiance I want to create. I might even play them during planning, set up and cooking to get me inspired and in the right mood :-)  This time around, some of the chosen ones were cool compilations such as "Euro Lounge" and "World Lounge", from Putumayo and other tunes by Bebel Gilberto, Roberta Sá, Thievery Corporation, Pink Martini, Bajofondo and Gotan Project. Very "lounge", very worldly, very girly.
To decorate the apartment, I searched for things I already had at home that could fit into the party concept.  I collected all my "LBDs" from the closet and hung them along with pearl necklaces on the wall.  The only thing I bought for this set up were pink hangers from a discount store, which I'll use for out-of-town guests after the party.
I realized I had more black dresses than I thought, so some of them went on display on a portable clothes rack by the entrance.
A pink "measuring tape" ribbon added a sweet final touch.
I used the same pearls from the Tea Party and the feather boa from our party photo booth to accessorize the mannequin by the entrance. This idea was an adaptation from last year's  Halloween party.
This is the same frame used to display the "etiquette rules" at the Afternoon Tea Party.  This time, its job was to welcome the guests (in Portuguese.)  I always try to match the font type with the concept I want to create for the event. This time, the font I chose to use throughout the party is free and believe it or not, it's called... "Little Black Dress." Yeah! 
Another "little black dress" finding was a key ingredient to my "welcome drink"...
..."Little Black Dress" Vodka!!  I combined the "LBD" black cherry-vanilla vodka, the very pink "X-Rated Fusion Liqueur" and pink lemonade in a cocktail shaker and named it "X-rated LBD." A little obvious I know, but catchy :-)  
To display the cocktail recipe, I wrapped measuring tape washi tape around a vintage wooden spool and added a wire memo holder bent at the bottom to stay in place.
The same memo holder used as a garnish pick
  But wait, there's more!
Merlot and pinot grigio "Little Black Dress" wine!!
I created personal wine tags to attach to the glass stems so no one would lose their drink... To hold all the tags, I used a ring holder. The black wine glasses were purchased last year at an after-Halloween sale.  They were hidden in storage and I am so glad I remembered to pull them out!
Appetizer & Drinks Buffet

Thai salad served in take out boxes with accompanying chopsticks. This is a somewhat elaborate shredded salad I used to prepare at this amazing restaurant I worked at in Washington, D.C.  I've served it before as an amuse bouche at a couple of parties (New Year's Eve & hubby's 40th birthday), and it is always a big favorite. To accommodate everyone, I served two options - chicken and vegetarian - and created round labels to identify which type inside each box. 
The vegetarian option was served in a pink box with black chopsticks.
And the chicken version in a black box and pink (sparkly!) chopsticks.

Butternut Squash Soup garnished with Coconut Milk. The hanging spoons offered the option of having the soup as a shot or as a conventional... well, soup.
I used a wire hanger printed fabric to spruce up the hammered trays.
Paper napkins customized with edible ink (details here) and mini (doll) metal hangers scattered on the table.
Tabletop dress forms "prepped" for the night
An overall view of the dinning room
The day before the party, while shopping for food and other supplies, I found this mirrored wall sticker "chandelier" on sale for less than $4 and thought it would be amusing to incorporate it in the decoration. 

I used the same glass candle holders from the Vintage Baby Shower, but embellished with black and pink lace this time around.
I fell in love with these mini mannequin place card holders a while ago, and ordered a bunch thinking I could use them for my birthday party or something like that.  More than six months later, the opportunity finally came (and this might have been the true reason behind the idea of a LBD party. Shhhhh!!)  The drawback was that I didn't have enough for all the girls (only a couple short.) I tried ordering online again, but couldn't find them anywhere.  Sigh...

Place setting...
... and centerpiece: pink ostrich feathers and a long string of pearls inside a mercury glass vase.
The menu in 2 versions, English and Portuguese.  Welcome drink, appetizers (squash & coconut soup; Thai salad in a box), main dish (miso-ginger marinated salmon - recipe below; string beans in beurre noisette; brown rice)...
...and for a perfect ending to the night, mini berry-almond cheesecakes!  I made a gluten-free almond crust and topped with a fresh berry coulis with a touch of Chambord (black raspberry liqueur.)  The mini candelabra candleholders are from Umbra, and their début was at last year's Halloween party.
For a souvenir of the dinner party, I offered "LBD" shaped cookies: white whole wheat shortbread cookies covered in black fondant and pearlized sprinkles (a gluten-free version was available as well.)
Quick visual tutorial of the cookies, as seen here.
I placed the cookies in pink organza drawstring bags and attached a tag that said "Obrigada!" (thank you) on one side and had the trio of black dress mannequins on the other.  It was a little challenging to photograph all this pink and some colors came out a little off...
I even got myself a bright pink wig to go with my "LBD"

Miso-Ginger Marinated Salmon
(adapted from Bobby Flays's recipe)

Note 1: This recipe feeds 4 people; I had to triple the ingredients, so make sure you have enough for your crowd!
Note 2: One of the girls is gluten-intolerant, so I made sure to use a completely gluten-free version of the tamari sauce. In fact, true tamari is fermented without any gluten, so be sure to read the labels!

    1/4 cup red miso (fermented soybean paste)
    1/4 cup sake
    2 tablespoons rice vinegar
    2-3 tablespoons organic tamari (or good quality soy sauce, look for "naturally fermented", or "aged")
    2 tablespoons minced green onions
    1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
    2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
    4 wild salmon fillets, 8 ounces each
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    Brown sugar to sprinkle on top, optional

Whisk together miso, sake, vinegar, tamari, green onions, ginger, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Place the salmon in a baking dish, pour the marinade over, and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer. Preheat broiler and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil coated with oil. Remove the salmon from the marinade, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with brown sugar. Broil for 8 minutes. Turn, and broil for an additional 4 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Cooking time can vary depending on your oven, so keep checking for doneness and watch so it doesn't overcook, dry or burn.  You want a nice golden brown crust to form on top, and moist and cooked through meat underneath.  Let it rest for a few minutes before serving and enjoy!

UPDATE:  Did you like the party printables I used for this dinner party?  You can find them (and more!) for purchase here and a matching pennant banner here.  Check it out!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Vintage Afternoon Tea Baby Shower (+ the all gluten-free challenge)

If you like this party and want to throw your own "vintage tea party" and accessorize with charming party printables, head to my Etsy store here or to the blog's shop section here.

I'm happy to finally share this intimate and beautiful "shabby chic" vintage afternoon tea party I put together for a very dear friend who is expecting her first child. I briefly describe how the idea for this baby shower came to life here, if you are interested.
As I mentioned on this post, the guest of honor is gluten-intolerant and I wanted her to be able to sample all the food she wanted without restrictions... well, minus the alcoholic welcome drink, sorry! Thus, everything served at this baby shower was gluten-free. Gluten is a protein found in all types and forms of wheat (including spelt, kamut, faro, durum...), rye and barley.  It is mainly present in breads, crackers, pasta and beer (oh no, not the beer!! Don't worry, there are a few GF versions on the market now... Phew!)  It can also be hiding in commercial salad dressing, soy sauce, mayonnaise, processed meats, packaged soups, vanilla flavoring (not the real extract), ice cream... That's because gluten can often be disguised in the form of artificial flavors, fillers and thickeners (another reason to eat natural and homemade!) and even in some toothpastes, hidden under "natural" flavor!!  Here's more information on gluten, gluten sensitivity/intolerance, wheat allergy and celiac disease.

It is important to note that when preparing foods for people with certain food restrictions or allergies, you must watch closely for proper food handling.  Make sure there's no cross-contamination with other red flag ingredients by clearing your workspace of any possible allergens and washing your hands often. Read labels for foods manufactured in a facility that also processes wheat/barley/rye products and its derivatives such as (barley) malt, semolina, grain alcohol and vinegar.

Be mindful that some celiac people might have reactions to oat products as well, since they are commonly grown near crops of wheat and rye and can suffer cross pollination. Be sure to ask your guests how they feel about it and if you need to, check if the oat is certified gluten-free.

I made all the food myself (minus the bread - I used Udi's whole grain sandwich bread), and even though I haven't baked exclusively with gluten-free flours before, I was pretty confident that, if something didn't go so well, I had a great back up plan: there's a wonderful gluten-free store right next door to my apartment building (it's actually the only dedicated GF Grocery Store in all of San Francisco!) Not only they offer a great selection of products, the whole staff is adorable, knowledgeable, very helpful and makes you feel like a special friend :-)
It's tea time!!

To start our "travel in time",  I went on to work on the music selection, rotating a few different CDs. But I kept going back to this one I love: "Stylish Songs for Unforgettable Gals" (fitting, huh?), with performances by  Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and other great lady legends.  I think it set the mood perfectly and transported all of us to another era...
For the buffet centerpiece I arranged together a few items I already had at home. My first advice for anyone planning a party? "Shop" at home first. I always find new ways to use old pieces or find inspiration in forgotten objects around the house.  So here's what I found: 
1. a big letter "K" from my son's bedroom (my friend's first and last name start with this letter, so it was a homage to her and to her "baby K.", since I didn't know his name yet);
2. my good old pregnant wire dress form all dressed up with a hair flower band and a blue ribbon;
3. a silver mint julep cup (found at Thrift Town when I went looking for my baby's highchair) holding a pearl necklace and gerber daisy napkin holders;
4. an antique silverplate tray from Goodwill I repurposed by painting the center in chalkboard paint;
5. mismatched tea cups under a glass cloche;
6. blue tablecloth used at the Elvis Presley theme party and a lace table runner (a gift from grandma);
7. and many, many paper butterflies!

I have this pregnant wire form since my first pregnancy and I like to think it brings good fortune to future mammas... Here's another way I accessorized it to match the décor.
 I gathered a few antique tea cups and piled them up under a glass cloche for visual interest
These paper doily hanging decorations are so adorable, fun and whimsical!  I love their ethereal beauty and the ease it was to make them! 

1. Just measure the circumference of the doily area you want to cover (in this case, the uncut space in the center, where is just plain paper, without "lace" decorations).
2. Cut round circles of pattern paper to these dimensions and glue them to the doilies.  
3. Lightly fold in half and set aside. Do this to as many as you want to be clustered together.  I used 3 "composed" doilies/paper per hanging mobile.  
4. Glue half of one back side to the other half back side of another doily. This is where the fold you previously made comes in handy, marking the center and highlighting where you should glue them.
5. Attach a nylon line, hang, and admire :-)

Mismatched textured glass bottles with cold drinks: coconut water, limeade, orange juice and filtered water.

Antique utensils printed napkins and holder. The holder is actually a recipe book display I got from Anthropologie many years ago. A good polish brought it to life again :-) Here's a good way to naturally clean silver using salt (or baking soda), aluminum foil and boiling water: line a large pan, baking dish or kitchen sink with aluminum foil. Pour really hot water mixed with the salt/soda and arrange your silver utensils on the dish. The aluminum attracts and removes the tarnish like magic! There's a nice visual guide here.
I cut strips of the patterned "shabby chic" digital paper collection by fellow Brazilian Kika Esteves and then cut the edges using a doily lace paper punch from Martha Stewart Crafts. I wrapped them around champagne flutes and added a delicate butterfly cut from the same papers
Small paper doilies dyed in blue food coloring served as coasters for the welcome drink "Bubbles & Blue". Simply combine equal parts of chilled champagne & Hpnotiq.  Cheers, saúde!!
I even dressed the Hpnotiq bottle with a vintage crochet lace.
As table confetti, I used two different sizes of butterfly paper punches, both from Martha Stewart Crafts as well.  The ones resting on top of the flutes are the larger ones.

The day before the shower I realized I didn't have a bowl that would be "retro enough" to serve the quinoa salad in. A quick stop at Out of the Closet solved this problem, as I found this gorgeous glass and silver bowl.  It did create another "problem" though - I found 2, and not just one bowl and just had to use them both :-) So I went with a mixed greens salad and whipped a quick raspberry-champagne vinaigrette.
My friend Paula (also on a GF diet) brought her delicious leek quiche in a gluten-free crust. Thanks!!

With leftover paper and doilies plus a few drops of food coloring (from the "Time Flies" party), I made these simple decorations for the wall.  Here's how you can do it too:  
1. dilute food dye in water and stain the doilies by submerging them for a few minutes and very carefully removing afterwards;
2. let them dry over a kitchen towel (a bunch of paper towels would work too);
3. in the meantime, cut circles of design paper matching the circumference of the inner part of the doily;
4. once dried, glue them together (you might want to weight them down with a heavy book to flatten.)
They were stuck to the wall with double-sided tape, but you can thread them on a fishing line, ribbon or baker's twine and hang like a garland if you so wish.
Each place setting consisted of a mismatched dinner and salad plate; teacup and saucer; fork, knife, dessert spoon, demitasse spoon and butter knife; a crochet doily; cloth napkin and ring; a blue Fleur de Lis drinking glass (Pottery Barn) with a paper straw (from my son's Soda Shop & Diner party) on an antique glass and silver coaster; and a side dish of European butter sprinkled with fleur de sel.  This "butter dish" is actually a tea light holder. As I said before, "shop" your own home and you'll be surprised at how many different ways you can use a single object.

For my guest of honor, I offered a special set of "baby-boy" blue handle utensils.  I know sometimes it is frustrating to be planning a party and not be able to find exactly what you have in mind. But it compensates when at other times I'm not even looking and then spot things like this fun set of fork, knife and spoon.  For $0.99 cents a piece at Target, of all places.  Such a joy!
 Pick your favorite :-)

Lovely details inside these two teacups

Almond "thumbprint" cookies with raspberry jam and "doily" shortbread cookies.  Notice how I decorated the glass candle holders with white lace?
And this is how you make the romantic crochet doily-imprinted cookies: just press the doily down and roll with a rolling pin. Then tear off the excess around it or use a large round cookie cutter to do so. 

I wrapped the tea sandwiches with the same strips of paper I used for the champagne flutes. The food pick tags have scalloped edges and a vintage picture of tea cups, teapots, china plates and ornate utensils on top of the design paper.
Feta, Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut (recipe at the end of this post); Homemade Pesto with Smoked Mozzarella & Heirloom Tomatoes; and Smoked Trout, Horseradish & Watercress (using GF mayo.) All super tasty!  

It's all in the small details: mini chair place card holders
Pão de queijo is a Brazilian delicacy made using tapioca starch, eggs, oil, milk and cheese. They are crunchy outside and gooey and cheesy inside. I'd say it is a distant cousin of the Hungarian flaky pogácsa and the French gougère (which uses regular wheat flour, and is a bit drier inside.) There are countless versions of the recipe, but I have yet to find someone who doesn't like this treat, specially when is just fresh out of the oven! Parmesan-Black Pepper Biscotti: I adapted my tried-and-true savory biscotti recipe using Bob's Mill GF flour mix (and a little leftover of King Arthur's GF version as well.)
I finally got to use my toast rack from Pier 1.  I knew it was an essential item to have handy ;-)  Cherry and apricot jams were served in a white porcelain dish nested inside antique glass and silver coasters.  I thought the plain white dishes were "too contemporary" and added the little vintage touch with the coasters.
Lemon wedges, demerara sugar cubes, stevia packets, hot water, fresh flowers and milk on a footed antique tray.

Just in case we needed more options to sweeten our tea... agave nectar, maple syrup and mesquite honey inside vintage syrup dispensers from Etsy.
Sweets & Tea table. Unfortunately, the Hazelnut-Chocolate Tart is missing in this picture. I promise I'll make it again, post pictures and share the recipe. Think "rich Nutella cheesecake with a ground almond crust."  Divine!
I made customized envelopes for the tea bags and labeled each of them. Inside this old box lid I displayed the invitation that was sent out to guests. Teapot graphics from the Graphics Fairy (thanks, Karen!)  On the invitation I asked the ladies to "get in a vintage mood - and outfit", and they did so very elegantly :-)

The flower vase is an old hand soap pump from the bathroom. The screw top became very rusty, but the beautiful cut glass work prevented me from tossing it.
Blueberry "Cheesecake" Macarons. Remember my somewhat frustrated experience with my first homemade macarons? This time I used blanched almond flour instead of the almond meal I used previously and the texture was slightly smoother.  I think I might be getting somewhere...
I found a guide on "English Tea Etiquette" online, printed and framed it for display on the support table.  It offered some peculiar advice, from an extensive and detailed description on how to hold a tea cup, to the proper way to stir and sip it. My favorite one was "Tea sandwiches and treats should be eaten in delicate bites. Remember to smile and chat between bites." Since this was in no way a formal gathering, I told the ladies they were not required to follow any of these rules. Besides of course, to “smile and chat between bites.”
I made my friend a découpage "K" using paper, glue (mod podge) and a clear waterproof acrylic sealer.
In case you are wondering... these fantastic food card holders are nothing but repurposed hand-bent mismatched antique forks. Give it a try!
I made these whimsical gluten-free cupcakes filled with mixed berries and hazelnuts. I frosted with a simple recipe of buttercream, lightly sprinkled with blue pearlized sugar and for the grand finale, edible rice paper butterflies from Sweet Dejà Vu. Yep, that's right, edible :-)
It was the first time I frosted cupcakes using a pipping bag and tip. I watched a couple of video tutorials, but that only confused me even more (some recommend that you start at the edges and work inwards, others offer advice on how to start in the center and continue in a outward circular motion...)  I admit I had to scrape the frosting off a couple times on the first one, but then it was a breeze (well, sort of) once I got a hang of it!
I know it sounds a bit crazy, but I made this pastry stand the morning of the party. After I made the cupcakes - frosted and all -, I realized that the wire stand I had wouldn't be able to hold them all or be easy to transport (I actually lost a couple of the sweets when moving them to the table...)  So I "hired" hubby for the job of drilling through these antique plates and then I assembled the rest. I already had all the materials I needed, just never had the time before to actually execute this project.  I'm so, so glad I did it! It looks gorgeous, perfect for the occasion, and best of all - homemade! There are several tutorials online - go ahead, you can do it too :-)
I found more vintage accessories and decoration pieces that I thought I would, so at the last minute I decided to put together a photo booth and use these items as photo props, just like I did at my son's birthday party a month before. Antique rotary dial phone (I also used it at our Halloween party last year), perfume bottles with atomizers, gloves, tiaras, fascinators, pearls, feather boas, shawls and lace hand fans.  A floral Ralph Lauren tablecloth served as a "shabby chic" backdrop.
I displayed the party favors by the side of a framed ultrasound of the baby which I copied from my friend's social network page to surprise her.
If you missed the post about the baby shower favors and the tutorial on how to make them, check it out here. I offered the ladies chocolate-covered spoons wrapped in delicate blue organza drawstring bags with a tag attached reading "Stir your hot milk with this chocolate spoon for a real treat!" An easy and charming party favor that goes beyond flavoring your hot drink, since they can keep the spoon for many other uses after that.

Roasted Red Pepper, Feta & Walnut Dip

I adapted this dip recipe from Bon Appétit Magazine into a Roasted Red Pepper-Feta-Walnut "Pesto" to fill my tea sandwiches.  Here I share my take on this garlicky red pepper spread (for the pesto recipe, click here.)  Enjoy!


  • 4 red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 cups crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts (use more for a thicker, more spreadable consistency)
  • salt & pepper

  • Method:

    Char peppers directly over gas flame or under broiler until blackened on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic, letting it "sweat" for 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and quarter peppers. Purée peppers, oil, garlic, cheese and walnuts in a blender or food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill at least 3 hours or overnight.  
    Here's a lovely portrait of some very distinguished ladies :-)
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