Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Graduation Party...With a Twist

Last weekend my younger sister graduated from high school and, like any good big sister, I was more than happy to step up to the task of planning her party. Our Mom passed away when she was 9, so my sisters and I have always made sure our youngest sister has had strong female influences. I like to think my influence on her includes passing on my kitchen skills.

Graduation parties have changed a lot since I graduated from high school; the hamburgers off the grill, veggie tray, and purchased sheet cake have all evolved to a more sophisticated level. Suddenly the plastic tablecloths, confetti that finds its way into your food, and the color coordination of everything to the high school's colors seems a little contrived.

My sister's school colors were black and orange, so right off the bat I nixed playing on that color scheme (hello, Halloween!). Her favorite color is purple, so the combination of that and chocolate brown eventually brought me to a "French Countryside" theme. We wanted to have a brunch, allowing us to try foods different from the normal graduation-party fare. Another great benefit of a brunch is that the ingredients (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, cheese) are very budget friendly. 

The Menu:
Baked caramel French toast with caramel sauce
Cheese and bacon quiche
Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting
Banana bread 
Chocolate-chocolate chip muffins (my sister's special request!)
Fruit salad
Country-style baked macaroni and cheese
Tortellini pasta salad with spinach and tomatoes
Croissants and all the sandwich fixings
Monogrammed cupcakes with fondant and buttercream
                                           Coffee, juices, soda, and water

Above: cinnamon roll dough, ready to be sliced
Chocolate-chocolate chip muffins
Cupcakes with pale lavender fondant and a chocolate monogram

For decor we wanted to keep things simple and feminine. Instead of plastic tablecloths, we bought cheap cotton tablecloths for only a few dollars more. To dress up the tables, I bought yards of cotton French toile and enlisted my sister to make several table runners and table coverings. Wildflowers clipped from the ditch across the street were heaped into baskets, and grocery-store flowers in purple and white were arranged in large hurricane vases and Mason jars with river stones in the bottom. I am by no means a professional floral arranger, which was perfect for the country theme...the more organic and slightly disheveled the flowers look, the better! 
 The linens and flowers for the tables in the tent
 Having been through this party-planning experience, I thought I'd share a few of the things I learned along the way. 
  • When trying to figure out how many people will eat at your party, plan on 25% of the invited guests eating a full meal, and 50% of the invited guests to eat a limited amount or only come for dessert. Make sure there are plenty of beverages for all invited guests.
  • Make sure to keep your hot foods hot and your cold foods cold. I used chafing pans and shallow foil baking pans filled with ice to keep food the proper temperature. I also tried to plan foods that were good at room temperature.
  • Try to stagger the timing of your hot foods and entrees to keep things fresh. That's one thing I wish I would've done better in my planning. I went through several pans of French toast very quickly, and later guests missed out. Had I staggered the timing on this entree, I would've had enough for all guests. 
  • Don't forget the guest-of-honor's likes, dislikes, and opinions when making plans. This is their day, and incorporating things they love into the decor and food will make it all the more special. My sister picked the colors, most of the food, the cupcake flavors, and the music playlist.
  • Re-purpose things found around the house to save on decoration costs. I stacked cake pedestals I already owned, gathered baskets found around the house, and dug old vases and Mason jars out of pantry cabinets. 
  • A little creativity and elbow grease can help make your party one-of-a-kind....and save you money. I didn't like the typical graduation banners found at party stores, so I took an old white tablecloth and painted it with acrylic paint. I saved a lot of money by purchasing flowers at the grocery store and arranging them myself. Several yards of toile and about an hours' worth of hemming made the rental tables look a lot more luxurious. I also saved money by making cupcakes instead of ordering a large sheet cake from a bakery.
  • Enlist those around you with a special talent. One of my sisters is a computer whiz and made all of the invitations. The graduate is very artistic, and she made her own poster boards, covered in mementos and photos from her school years. My Dad has a knack for organization and cleaning, so his tasks revolved around keeping everyone on task and on schedule. 
  • Lastly, don't forget to enjoy the moment when it arrives! Enjoy your hard work and preparation....your guests undoubtedly will.