4 Tips for a Socially Distant Birthday Party

My baby girl turned 1 this week. It was such an amazing day of excitement, reflection, and family… But it was much different than your typical 1st birthday celebration.

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It is crazy to think that only a few months ago I was planning her birthday party. I had a theme, guest list, and was scouting out party locations. I love hosting, entertaing, and party planning (thus the “party” in my blog name) and this was a celebration I had been looking forward to for quite some time. A few weeks into social distancing I realized her first birthday was not going to  pan out the way I envisioned.

This week, I decided that I was still going to “go all out” for her birthday. I was going to decorate, bake a cake, get balloons, take photos, and have cake and ice cream with our entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins). I just had to figure out how to make it all happen while following social distancing guidelines. I know some people might find my precautions extreme BUT because I have an immunocompromised relative in my family, I’m taking the “better safe than sorry” approach.

I wanted to share with you how we celebrated, along with some tips for throwing a safe and budget friendly socially distant birthday party!

Keep the Guest List Small

As much as I wanted to invite our entire support system to the 1st birthday celebration, it just wasn’t an option. We decided to keep our guest list to just family (aunts, uncles, and grandparents). We came up with time slots and shared the availability with the family. This actually ended up being a great approach because it kept our birthday girl from being over stimulated AND we only had a few people over at a time. If we had hosted a traditional style party we would have had 17 family members at the house at one time.2020-05-28-11.54.09-1

Keep the Budget Small

I know it seems like a no brainer, but it’s not always easy when it comes to a celebration. For the decorations I reused some tassles I had from a babyshower we hosted a few years back. I purchased the balloons from the dollar store, and made my own cupcakes and smash cake. I even made a cake stand for less than $2.00! You can find an easy tutorial for this DIY by watching the video below!

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Rethink the Traditional Cake and Ice Cream

Instead of making one big cake for everyone to share, I made cupcakes and packaged them individually. I was sure to wear a mask when handling and decorating and kept the mask on until the cupcakes were packaged into individual cupcake boxes. The boxes served a dual purpose — the packaging kept the cupcakes germ free and allowed anyone that stoped by to pick out their cupcake of choice. I ordered these adorable cupcake boxes off of amazon and loved that they were easy to assemble and super sturdy.

I also purchased individually packaged ice cream as an extra precaution. They’re the perfect serving size, don’t require separate bowls, and keep things germ free. 2020-05-28-11.53.28-1

I used Snixy Kitchen’s Spiced Banana Date Cake recipe for the smash cake (I used a whole weat/oat flour blend)! I loved that the smash cake wasn’t overly sweet. Our girl still LOVED the cake and frosting and I didn’t have the guilt of loading her up on refined sugar.2020-05-28-11.55.06-1

Offer a Live Stream but Keep Things Simple

Again, we wanted our entire family to be able to see our girl enjoy her first slice of cake but if I’m being honest, I think we all are experiencing a bit of video chat burnout.

I shared a Zoom video link and let the family know that they were welcome to log in and see our girl eat cake! I was also very open in stating that it wasn’t a “virtual birthday party”.  Folks could log in, watch her devour her cake, and then log off whenever they wanted. Everyone felt included but there was no expectation for them to be tuned in for a long virtual event.

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I hope that these tips are helpful and provide a fun way for you to celebrate a special milestone in the age of social distancing. This approach can be tailored for all sorts of birthdays and milestones, not just 1st birthday parties!

Southern Style Fried Chicken… Without a Recipe.

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My mom recently celebrated a birthday and us kids wanted to do something special for her. We decided we would cook her a meal… anything she desired… and she requested “soul food.”

If you’ve ever eaten my food, my brothers food, or my sister’s food you would understand what I mean when I say, “we don’t cook soul food.” I can cook a mean batch of Mac and Cheese and my sister can cook a delicious asian inspired dish… but we just don’t do soul food.

My sister and I paired up and really had to think through what our menu was going to be. We knew that if we were going to do this, we were going to go soul food all the way. We decided on a menu that consisted of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, pork chops, sweet potato souffle, and sweet tea. My brother was in charge of the sweet tea, my sister was in charge of the mac’ and cheese and pork chops, and it was my job to provide the greens, sweet potatoes and of course, the fried chicken.

I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a HUGE southern style fried chicken fan. I love chicken strips, and Chick-fil-A, but bone in deep fried chicken isn’t my all time favorite thing to eat. I also don’t cook fried food very often either — we stick to grilled, sautéed, and baked for most of our meats.

My husband loves fried chicken, and when I say love, I mean LOVE. His mom makes some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had so I’ve shied away from cooking it at our home because I like to leave the chicken frying up to the experts. I knew, that I needed to get over my fear of fried chicken and jump right in.

I’ve made only fried chicken once before in our home and it was for our first meal of the year as a married couple. I took what I learned from that go round and applied it to the fried chicken for my mom’s birthday.

Not to toot my own horn… but my fried chicken turned out pretty darn good If I do say so myself. It’s possible to make good fried chicken, and it’s possible to make it without a recipe.

I cannot stress enough about the caloric repercussions of eating this chicken. It is not healthy at all.  It’s soaked in buttermilk and deep fried in shortening… but it tastes great and it’s a nice treat for the family to have once in a blue moon.

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There are essential ingredients to any southern style fried chicken. They are: Bone in chicken pieces (I prefer thighs and legs), buttermilk, salt, pepper, hot sauce, and flour. I think frying in shortening gives the chicken the crispiest crust, but peanut oil or vegetable oil works as well. DO NOT fry in olive oil.

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In addition to the staple ingredients I like to have the following spices on hand: Cayenne pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and Old Bay cajun seasoning.

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Step One: Season your raw chicken. I use salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and Old Bay seasoning. At the least, use salt and pepper.

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Step Two: Create your buttermilk brine. Add hot sauce to the buttermilk (less for less spicy, more for more spicy). In addition to the hot sauce, add a generous amount of the same seasonings you used on the raw chicken being sure to use enough salt… but not too much salt.

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Step Three: Pour your buttermilk over the raw chicken and let sit for AT LEAST one hour or up to six hours.

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Step Four: Create your breading. At the very least create a breading mix of flour, salt, and pepper. I like to add in cornstarch (just for a little extra crispiness) and the same seasonings I used on my raw chicken.

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Step Five: Bread your chicken. The buttermilk will work as a binding agent to bond the breading to the chicken. Let the excess buttermilk drip off the chicken and then dredge the chicken in the flour. Place each piece of breaded chicken on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet. Let the chicken sit for a least 10 minutes before frying so that the breading has a good bond with the chicken. If you run out of breading or it begins to get doughy… just make more breading.

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Step Six: Heat your oil. I used shortening but you can use any high heat oil. Heat your oil to about 375 degrees (medium high heat should be the best setting).  I suggest using a deep dutch oven, fryer, or cast iron skillet. Your frying pan should be deep enough to hold about 2.5 – 3 inches of oil. Keep in mind that you will add chicken to the pan so you don’t want your oil to spill over.

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Step Seven: Fry. Fry your chicken in batches. My fryer holds about 5 pieces of chicken… but to be safe, don’t over fill your pan. Fry your bone-in dark meat for 20 minutes (10 minutes on each side). Fry your bone-in white meat for 15 minutes (7.5 minutes per side). Fry your boneless white meat tenders for 13 minutes (6 – 7 minutes per side).

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Step Eight: Salt, Salt, Salt. Be sure to salt your chicken as soon as it comes out of the fryer.

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Serve warm with mac and cheese and a green vegetable.

ENJOY!

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Quick and Easy Entertaining

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I recently celebrated my first birthday as a married woman. My husband and I had our families over for cake and ice cream in the middle of a long and busy weekend. We wanted to have heavy snacks that would keep our guests full, but wanted food that did not require a lot of prep.

I went last-minute grocery shopping and filled my cart with easy to prepare items, dressings that I planned to doctor up, chips, salsa, cheeses, and meats. Purchasing foods that don’t require much preparation but look good on a spread is key for last-minute entertaining. Here are my 7 simple tips for creating a welcoming (and delicious) spread for a last-minute party.

1. Cook simple favorites that you’ve made hundreds of times: I love chicken nuggets. I’ve made them hundreds of time and chicken nuggets tossed in BBQ or Buffalo sauce are “Boneless Wings”. Boneless wings are easy, delicious, and most people love them. I served my boneless wings in a crudite server with a blue cheese dressing and fresh celery sticks.

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2. Do as much as you can the day before: I cut all of my cheeses the day before and refrigerated them in ziplock bags. Cutting the cheese the day before was a simple step that saved me a lot of stress. I also “set” my table the day before. Knowing where my dishes, cutlery, and plates were going to go ahead of time allows for me to have a more inviting setup.

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3. Create a menu with foods that can be eaten at room temperature: I am a fan of cheese platters and since the items tend to be eaten rather quickly they don’t need to be kept warm or cold. Chips and salsa are easy and lately my guests have loved pita chips with hummus. Having to keep foods cold or warm means more work for the host.

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4. Be selective with processed and pre-prepared items: Avoid pre packaged or pre-prepared foods as much as possible. If you have to use pre-prepared items, doctor them up where you can. I used a pre-bottled blue cheese dressing but to give it a bolder taste I crumbled fresh blue cheese and added it on top.

5. Use disposable plates and cutlery (when appropriate): I love having clear glass plates available for my guests to eat off… but I opt for sturdy and simple disposable plates when I’m on a time crunch. Disposable plates are being produced at a higher quality and the best part is that you don’t have to stay up as late clearing and washing dishes.

6. Invest in quality serving trays and platters: One tip I came across when registering for wedding gifts was, “Invest in white”. Plain white dinnerware, platters, and serving trays are timeless. Foods look better on white and you don’t have to worry about the color of your food clashing with the color of your plate. Food also looks better in sturdy and quality dishes. Take the extra few minutes to place the chips in a bowl, the lemonade in a carafe, and the turkey on a platter. Macy’s The Cellar line has a variety of items available in all price points. Most of my serving dishes are from The Cellar line. Crate and Barrel has slate boards which are pretty to use as a cheese trays. Use soapstone chalk to label your items.

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7. Buy Ice: I believe the best way to keep canned beverages cool is by placing them in a beverage bucket filled with ice. If you forget to buy ice, you won’t have any ice available for your guests to use in their cups. Spend the extra $2.00 and buy a bag of ice.