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My Dad’s Surprise 50th Birthday Party

30 Nov

I didn’t do much baking over Thanksgiving – I ended up being a little busy with work – so in lieu of fresh baking projects, I thought I’d give a little more detail about the surprise party we threw for my Dad earlier this month. My mom, older sister Nikki, and I sent about a trillion e-mails back and forth to organize the whole thing, all while keeping everything under the radar. And we enlisted help from dozens of friends and family members – including Betsy – for prep, food, set-up, and clean-up.

First up: invitations. We invited all our extended family and some old long-lost friends of his and my mom. Work was another issue — I did some digging on my dad’s LinkedIn account, found a name I recognized as a co-worker, and contacted her. I asked her to take charge of inviting his work buddies since I don’t know them, and voila — problem solved. Mom found the most adorable old photo of Dad as a kid, and Nikki created an invitation on Shutterfly.


Next we worried about decorations. Mom booked the Page-Walker House in downtown Cary. It was a great venue — we got the 3rd floor to ourselves, which consisted of a big, open room, a small prep room, and a bathroom. The party room held about 40 people comfortably, which was perfect for us. Mom wanted light blue (my dad went to UNC and is a Tar Heel born and bred) and I wanted fall colors, so we went with light blue, burnt orange, and chocolate brown. It made a great combination. Mom rented a few tall cocktail tables, which Nikki topped with plain white tablecloths tied at the bottom with alternating blue, orange, and brown wide ribbon. We set each table with these awesome $3 candle lanterns we found at Ikea and a few orangey-red fake fall leaves. And we floated a few blue, orange, and brown helium-filled balloons randomly around the room.

DecorationsNikki also made great candles for the windows by decorating plain glass votives with an orangey-red fake fall leaf and wrapping it in twine, though her 3-year-old spent all night blowing them out.

Connor and the CandleThe only other decorations were a couple fall flower bouquets (gerber daisies and roses) arranged in short, square vases and nestled among the food platters.


I also made a gift table to collect gifts and host a book for guests to sign. An old friend just happened to give him a corkboard decorated with pictures and mementos from Dad’s youth, so added to the table at the last minute, it made a great backdrop. The guest book, a sign, a couple of the extra leaf votives, and a few bowls of personalized M&Ms (light blue and orange, some with balloons printed on them and some that said “Happy 50th!”) were all that was needed to decorate the table since the gifts really filled it up. And after the party, I scanned images of people’s notes in the guest book and combined them with pictures in the party to make a hardcover book on Shutterfly – a great memento to give to my dad, without the time-suck of making a scrapbook.

Gift Table
So now for the best part: the menu! The biggest concern in planning the menu was the fact that we didn’t have a kitchen. The prep room had a sink and a table, and that was it. So we planned mostly foods that didn’t need to be cooked on-the-spot or kept hot. We did bring in a toaster oven just in case something needed to be heated up, and Mom rented 2 of those server trays with the heat things under them – I can’t remember what they’re called.

– Chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce
– Party meatballs
– Stuffed mushrooms
– Mom’s spinach dip and chips
– Cheese and crackers
– Bruschetta
Mini Party Quiches
– Chick-fil-A nugget tray
– Sausage balls
– Deli spirals

Yum! The only issue was that we forgot to light the heat sources under the serving trays, so the mushrooms were not quite as hot as would have been preferred, but everything was still delicious. Note: Those things need to be lit like an hour in advance. Whoops!

Food Table

For drinks, Mom got 2 huge galvanized tubs and filled one with soda and water and the other with beer. Nikki had also picked up a few bottles of 3-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s, so with soda, beer, and wine, everyone was happy. Also, a super cute idea: before the party, Mom and Nikki set our family visitors to work decorating plain wine glasses with scrapbooking stickers and rub-ons, so each glass was festive and personalized.

Wine Glass

And of course — dessert! We ordered cupcakes from The Cupcake Bar, a company that makes and delivers gourmet cupcakes inspired by cocktails and drinks. Nikki borrowed a friend’s cupcake tower and we had a beautiful display of apple cider, pina colada, and margarita cupcakes. I also baked a Blueberry Cobbler, since fruit desserts are my dad’s favorite.


And once I dragged our old stereo system into the venue and hooked my iPod up to it, there you go — a complete surprise 50th birthday party. The party was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the people were fun. We all had a great time. I had to remind a few people that meeting them when I was 5 years old means I don’t know them and they should tell me who they are before they hug me and ask how my life is, but even that was rather pleasant.

Oh, and the surprise… well, it was half a surprise. Dad expected something was up – there were suddenly tons of relatives in town, after all – but he didn’t know what. He thought we would just have dinner at the house or something. Mom told him that’s exactly what was happening, and told him he needed to get out of the house for a little while to let them set up dinner and “pretend to go along with the surprise.” So she suggested they visit a wine tasting at the Page-Walker House together for an hour or so, then head back home for the party. He was a little surprised when the party was there instead of a wine tasting, and even more surprised to see his work buddies and some long-lost friends waiting for him.

How Sue Sees It:
I don’t think I would change anything about this party. It was a lot of fun, and it mostly went off without a hitch. Even the small things – one food item didn’t cook quite correctly and the burners weren’t lit on time — just didn’t really matter much. A few tips, if you’re throwing a party:
– Always prioritize on the food. That’s what people care about. And, it’s always better to have too much than too little.
– If you can’t find everyone’s mailing address, don’t worry about contacting a few people via phone or e-mail. If you really want to, you can always offer to send them an official invitation in the mail after contacting them.
– Make sure you have enough help. We were not stressed out at all with set-up because we had tons of helpers, including young sisters and cousins to help out with arranging glasses, running for ice, and taking out trash.
– If you have to, triage. Betsy and I were originally planning on making the Mini Party Quiches AND cheese straws. When we realized the quiches would take way longer than expected, we just went with it and axed the cheese straws — we had enough food anyway.
– Happy party planning!


Mini Party Quiches

20 Nov

Can you tell we like things mini? Mini things are so cute!

Last weekend my family and I threw a surprise party for my Dad’s 50th birthday. Once I got my baking assignments, I called Betsy, and we got together that morning to put together a couple dishes. We made a simple blueberry cobbler, but the mini quiches were the highlight, and we made a TON of them. Quadrupling the recipe may have been a little overboard — there were plenty leftover — but we wanted to be prepared. We made two different varieties: a bacon cheddar quiche and a spinach, tomato, and swiss quiche. Deelish!

We began by mixing up the fillings and setting them aside.

  • For the bacon cheddar: Betsy cooked up 10 slices of bacon, let them cool, and then crumbled them up. I mixed 1 8-oz block softened cream cheese, 4 T milk, 4 eggs, and 2 T dried garlic flakes into a large bowl, and beat it with an electric mixer on low until it got relatively smooth. I stirred in 2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese and set the bowl aside. The bowl of cheese mush looked pretty disgusting, especially sitting next to a plate of bacon bits.
    Milk, eggs, and cheese... yum!Gross Cheese Mixture
  • For the SpinTomSwiss: I chopped up 1 1/2 hot house tomatoes and a couple handfuls of spinach and set them aside. Then I mixed 2 8-oz blocks softened cream cheese, 2 T milk, 4 eggs, and 2 T oregano into a large bowl, and beat it with an electric mixer on low until it got relatively smooth. I stirred in 1 cup grated swiss cheese and set the bowl aside. This one looked disgusting too.

Now for the tricky part. We greased some mini muffin pans and set them out. I un-popped a tin of crescent rolls, spread them on the counter, and mushed the scoring lines back together so it would be one big square instead of divided into the triangles. Betsy used a circle cookie cutter and cut round pieces of dough that I shaped into the mini muffin pan.Cutting DoughWord to the wise: Leave the dough in the fridge as long as possible before you take it out, and work quickly with the dough once you open the tin. The dough seizes up really quickly. We tried to roll out the leftover dough and cut it again, and it was REALLY hard. The dough becomes really elastic, so when we tried to spread it into the muffin tin, it just shrunk back up on itself. If you have an extra couple dollars to spend, I recommend just buying a couple extra tins of crescent rolls and tossing the old dough. We re-used a little bit of the dough, then got frustrated and threw it out. So in the end, it took about 3 tins of crescent rolls to make the base for 48 mini quiches.

Dough Cups
So once we lined all the muffin tins with dough, I filled them up.

  • Bacon Cheddar:  Sprinkle bacon in the bottom of each quiche cup. Fill each cup with about 1 tsp of the cheddar mixture. Sprinkle a couple more pieces of bacon on top. (This just makes it easier to identify what it is, which is nice visually, but also is important if you have any vegetarians in your crowd.)
    Mmm... bacon cupsBubbling Bacon Cheddar Quiches
  • SpinTomSwiss: Sprinkle tomato and spinach pieces in the bottom of each quiche cup. Fill each cup with about 1 tsp of the swiss mixture.
    Spinach and Tomato CupsBubbling Spinach Tomato & Swiss Quiches

Bake on 375 F for 10-12 minutes. The bread edges of the quiche will start to turn a golden brown, and the tops might get a little bubbly.
Golden Brown Edges

They’re so cute! The bacon cheddar is a nice golden yellow color, and the SpinTomSwiss is more of a white color.

Mini Party Quiches!

How Sue Sees It:

  • The most difficult part of this is definitely working with the dough. If you want them to look nice, like if you’re serving them at a party, then don’t worry about re-using the dough. Just buy extra, toss the leftover dough, and don’t worry about it. But if you care more about taste than looks, just cram the dough down there however you can. Even if the dough kind of sits on the bottom and doesn’t make a cup, the dough will still rise and the egg mixture will stiffen enough that it will still hold a firm muffin shape.
  • And don’t worry too much about over-filling the cups either, unless you’re going for a nice uniform look. It will still hold a muffin shape.
  • Take some time to experiment with your own flavors! The original recipe I found called for bacon and swiss, and I just modified the recipe a bit more to our crowd’s tastes. As long as you preserve the basic egg and dairy components, you can add or substitute pretty much whatever else you want in there.

Betsy & Susie