Midwinter is a great time to throw a party.
Husband’s 60th birthday made it a perfect occasion. Only problem: we didn’t have an unlimited budget. Here are some tricks I used to show him (and 22 others) a good time.
*I didn’t spend extra on postage. Invites for out-of-town family and friends went out tucked into Christmas cards, but the majority of people just got an e-mail invite. (Yes, you can use Facebook or Twitter…but make sure your invitees use it regularly. Otherwise, they might not notice in time.)
*Most everything on the menu was homemade. Custom-made cakes are beautiful, but if you’re serving a meal, as well, they can really jack up your budget. Make your own cakes, and save. (We had three, for a variety of tastes: buttermilk pound cake, carrot cake and the birthday boy’s favorite: Sachertorte.
*Everything was in bulk or on sale. Sam’s Club provided the plates, cups and baking materials. (The paper goods were coordinated to match the blue choo-choo kid’s birthday napkins, and IKEA blue and white basics, I’d stashed away.) Blue Moon and PBR Pabst Blue Ribbon beer were snapped up on sale, as was RC Cola and Fanta. (I did a contest for people to guess why those brands; they were connected with places he’d lived! PBR was a favorite for Chicago drinkers, and he drank more than his share of RC and Fanta, growing up as a kid in Jacksonville, NC. (Oh, and Blue Moon is his current favorite here in Colorado.)
*Borrow what you need — like chairs. Our house is your standard size. So where did we put 23 people, when it was too cold to go outside? We moved all furniture to the walls, got 12 chairs (some of them folding), and stacked those in between. It worked.
*Don’t worry about the house. A clean floor (it’s bound to get dirty again, anyways, with all those people), clutter-free tabletops (so glasses and plates can be set down with impunity), clean bathrooms and your secret weapon: firelight and lots of candles. Candlelight hides a multitude of sins.
*Choose guests who have something — but not everything — in common. In our case, it was our church, our family…and music. Many of the people who came had either played or sung with us in various groups over the years. They were greeted by a blazing fire in the fireplace, and music on the stereo ranging from gospel bluegrass to Bonnie Raitt and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors.” (Our friends, like us, tend to have eclectic tastes.)
One of the best parts of the party: several brought instruments with, and jammed for a few hours after the cake was consumed. You haven’t lived, until someone is playing “My Guitar Gently Weeps” in your living room.
*Keep your menu simple — and fresh. Once again, I tried hard to buy things that were inexpensive, or on sale. I went to my favorite go-to: roast chicken. Slathered with olive oil, garlic, marjoram and oregano (bake 2 hours at 325-350 degrees), it was delicious…and a heck of a lot cheaper, at 99 cents per pound, than $6-per-pound steaks. We served the chicken with hot tortillas, fresh salsa, cut veggies, chips and dip. (And yes, if you’re wondering — these were all on sale.) Instead of ice cream, each slice of cake got a celebratory — and cheaper — spritz of whipped cream. (It keeps longer in a spray can, too, than tubs or cartons.)
*Add something unexpected. A plate of soup adds pizzazz to a dinner party…but it also keeps your guests from filling up on that expensive roast. (Go here for some helpful recipes.) After dessert, I like to put out a bowl of fruit and a box of chocolates — guests can nibble or not, as they please. (And it’s a good pick-me-up after you’ve been playing mandolin for a few hours.)
All told, we spent less than $60 on the party — and that included the beer. You could do even better by inviting fewer people, and sticking to desserts and coffee only. The key isn’t fancy food or an elaborate setting: it’s inviting people who like each other, and enjoy just being together.
Did we have a great time? Look and see…