Office Halloween party? Watch what you wear

french-maid-costume-180x255.jpgHere’s a story that shows how important it is to be careful about the costume you wear to an office Halloween party.

Attorney Lisa C. Johnson, writing for LegalZoom, sums up a “bizarre” sexual harassment case first reported in the AM Law Daily.

A woman who held a mid-level executive job at a Massachusetts company “sued her company and two top executives for alleged sexual harassment and for creating a hostile working environment.”

The company investigated her initial complaints and determined that she was in the wrong.

She ended up filing a civil suit in Massachusetts trial court, specifically citing the company’s raucous Halloween parties, with people dressing and behaving inappropriately.

She lost the case, “at least in part because the jurors got to see several photos showing her dressed provocatively at company Halloween parties.” The company’s attorney argued that “the photos proved that she had embraced the company’s ‘work hard, play hard’ culture and that she was not a victim of that culture.”

She appealed the verdict, arguing that the trial judge had been wrong to admit the photos as evidence. She lost again.

Right or wrong, juries and the general public often see a woman’s dressing provocatively as proof that she welcomed sexual advances, whether that’s true or not.

We’re not taking a position on that issue in this post. We’re just offering a bit of friendly advice: If you want to dress up as a sexy French maid or pirate, the office Halloween party is probably not the best place to do it. Another tip: Remember that photos that you assume are private could show up on the Internet. Something to think about.

Be sure to check out great ideas for holiday office parties, and company parties held throughout the year.

Photo courtesy of amazon.

Family Day: A warm holiday that can benefit every family

Family-Day.jpgFamily Day is a fairly new holiday, celebrated on the fourth Monday of September. This year, it falls on September 27th.

The idea is simple: Have dinner as a family at least five nights a week, to slash the risk of your kids’ using tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs.

According to research from the National Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA),  at Columbia University, the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.

The numbers: Kids who don’t have frequent dinners with their families are almost:

  • 2x as likely to have used tobacco;
  • 2x as likely to have used alcohol; and
  • 1 1/2x more likely to have used marijuana.

Experts note that it doesn’t matter “whether you’re cooking a gourmet meal, ordering take-out, or eating on the go. What your kids really want during dinnertime is YOU!  Family meals are the perfect time to talk to your kids and to listen to what’s on their minds.”

Check out the Family Day Moms and Dads page, for great ideas, plus links to fun activities, menus, and conversation starters. It’s easy to make Family Day dinner–and all family dinners–enjoyable as well as beneficial to your kids.

Fruit crisps: Best dessert recipes for entertaining

fruit-crisp-w-vanilla-ice-cream-250x207.jpgFruit crisps are among our favorite recipes for entertaining.

Even a small serving of luscious, warm fruit under a crunchy blanket topped with vanilla ice cream is one of the most satisfying (and easiest) desserts to make for company.

Crisps are all-season crowd pleasers. Any seasonal fruit will work, making it easy for a smart hostess to wow guests affordably.

We’ve included apple crisp and apple crumble recipes in our collection of fancy fruit desserts.  But almost any type of fruit works well. Last week we made a plum crisp for a dinner party, using super-plump black plums. It was fabulous.

Here, from Food Network magazine, is a useful guide for mixing and matching ingredients to create great crisps from a variety of ingredients. We liked this feature because it encourages flexibility. Want to add a bit more fruit? Why not. Like chopped nuts in the topping? Go for it.

Want an even quicker and easier way to serve fruit? Cut up fresh fruit before your party (store apple slices in orange juice or in water with fresh lemon juice, to prevent discoloration). Choose one of our simple make-ahead fruit dips, and refrigerate in a pretty bowl. Serve cut-up fruit on a dessert platter.

Photo courtesy of Food Network.

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Labor Day Party barbecued burger inspiration

delicious-cheeseburger-with-onions.jpgYesterday, the Seattle Times ran a feature about fancy new versions of burgers now served at area bars. As in many other locations, the bar burgers in Seattle have gone haute.

Here, taken from reporter Tan Vinh’s round-up, are some of the area’s gourmet bar burgers.

We think they offer great suggestions on more items to include in a fabulous Burger Bar set-up for your Labor Day barbecue:

Tavern Law:

Grass-fed beef, with red-wine onion jam, thyme aioli and gobs of provolone, topped with two sous vide pork belly.

El Gaucho:

A half-pound, aged filet mignon, ground and grilled. Topped with bacon, cheddar, onion, tomato, lettuce and Thousand Island dressing. Served on round, crunchy focaccia.

Bastille Café & Bar:

A thick, juicy lamb burger with harissa (hot chili) aioli, arugula and pickled shallot, topped with feta — a salty, acidic and peppery delight.

John Howie Steak:

A half-pound USDA prime sirloin burger, served with gourmet Kurobuta bacon strips, Beecher’s cheddar and a “drive-in sauce” on its house-baked bun.

Here are some of our favorite ways to turn ground beef into spectacular burgers with a decided ethnic flair.

Also, create your Labor Day party menu from any of our delicious healthy side dishes, colorful and substantial main dish salads, refreshing cocktail coolers for a crowd, and sensational easy, gourmet ice cream desserts.

Photo courtesy of French’s

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Best wines to serve with hot, spicy foods

The Spice Depot, a company that sells spices, runs a lovely Web site that has lots of good information, including helpful, in-depth details about pairing hot spicy foods– great for summer entertaining–with white and red wines.

Here are some excerpts from the company’s excellent section Ethnic Food & Wine.

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Caribbean Jerk Dishes

“With over ten percent of the United States immigrant population coming from the Caribbean, its unique cuisine has become increasingly popular in North America. So what kind of wines go best with the kick of jerk seasoning or curries flavored with lime and coconut?

“German Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blancs are generally pretty safe bets…. [L]ook for reds made from grapes that are naturally low in tannins. These include pinot noir and Barbera grapes, as well as Zinfandel.”

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Spicy Mexican Dishes

“The robust taste of Mexican food is best paired with …Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and German Riesling. [R]eds like Chianti and Pinot Noir work pair quite well with chili based sauces…. Fruity Zinfandels work well with most chili sauces, as do wines made from Sangiovese grapes.

“Mexican cuisine often delivers strong citrus notes. Citrus and most reds and oaked whites do not get along, but citrus and Sauvignon Blanc pair well.”

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Spicy Thai Curries

“Popular Thai dishes include red curry, where the feature ingredients are chili peppers; green curry made with green chili peppers and Thai basil; pad thai, a noodle dish with peanuts, lime, and bean sprouts; Masaman curry, a less spicy curry, but full of flavor and made with coconut milk, peanuts, bay leaves, fish sauce and various spices; and yellow curry, made with coconut cream and milk and turmeric.

“German Rieslings pair well with chicken or seafood red curry as its acidity levels help to cut the spiciness of the dish. For red curries with beef or pork, try a French Beaujolais or Italian Barbera.

As for general advice on pairing wine with ethnic foods, Spice Depot offers this useful guidance: “When in doubt, perhaps try a Pinot Noir (red) or a Sauvignon Blanc (white). [T]hese two versatile wines pair well with most food – and both names are fun to say in front of company or in a restaurant.”

Photo sources: Jerk chicken and red beans courtesy of The Spice Depot; Ceviche de pescado courtesy of biggestmenu; Red Thai chicken curry courtesy of Cookfood.

 

French, fresh macarons make a delightful dessert

french-macarons-275x214.jpgSlide over, cupcakes. There are new sweeties on the block that are as pretty as they are delicious. We’re talking about macarons (not to be confused with macaroons, which are dense, coconut goodies.)

Macarons are delicate disk-shaped, bite-size, meringue-like cookies–puffy and tasty clouds of sweetness.

The cookies are eye-catching, too, thanks to their feminine pastel colors and flavored buttercream fillings. Chocolate, raspberry, and pistachio are among the most familiar.

The talented baker who anonymously writes the blog, Coco & Me, and whose gorgeous macarons are shown in the photo above, runs a Saturday-only stall at the Broadway Market in East London. She reported that pink macarons and those that feature chocolate were the most popular, in her experience.

Macarons are très French and can be found at the finest patisseries in Paris. But they’re now huge in New York City’s boutique bakeries and have made a splash across the country, as well.

Party tip: Stack macarons for a colorful, delectable centerpiece, perfect for a baby or bridal shower. The cookies also make nice party favors. Wrap pairs in cellophane and tie with ribbon to match the color of one of the cookies.

See our recipes for delicious macarons, including four flavors of buttercream filling. Also see other beautiful dessert party ideas!

Photo source: Coco & Me.

Teen birthday parties

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Hosting a summer teen birthday party can be easy and a lot of fun–especially if you choose the perfect theme. While Twilight parties for teens are very popular due to the release of “Eclipse,” we have other ideas for great summer birthday parties.

Beach and pool parties are particularly good teen party choices. These parties can be sophisticated as well as fun. Here are some of our favorite ideas for throwing a stylish teen birthday party with a beach or pool theme.

Fun with food: Small bites such as pigs in the blanket, pizza pinwheels, skewered appetizers (shown above), sliders, and other finger foods are a teen favorite. They are quick and easy to eat while mingling by the pool or water. They are often very easy to make (check out our list of great teen party recipes). Smoothies are another great way to keep the kids cool and keep with the theme. Choose a few different signature combinations to serve (see our great ideas for smoothies). For some added sophistication, ask the birthday boy or girl to select a few great names for the signature smoothies.

Simple desserts: Set up a beautiful candy buffet and allow the guests to fill beach or pool themed bags with a variety of delicious sweets. This more sophisticated “goodie bag,” is sure to make your party even more special and make you a “cool” mom. Click here to get the goodie bags pictured above.

Sophisticated, fun decorations: Choose stylish decorations that bring out the kid in everyone. Use beach balls, beach buckets, sea shells, and other themed decorations like those shown to create a fun atmosphere. To learn how to create the buckets filled with sunflowers pictured above visit Real Simple. Click here to get the invitations shown above.

Image credits: Candy buffet by mykateparkerwedding.com; seashells for save-on-crafts.com; dangling decoration from Amazon.

Great party salads using pre-grilled chicken and steak

chicken-quesadillas-with-avocado-250x152.jpgIf you’re a follower of Celebrate with Style, you know that one of our favorite entertaining tactics is to have at least one make-ahead component of a party menu. Pre-cooked ingredients makes entertaining simpler and more stress-free.

We especially love the idea of grilling extra chicken or beef when you have a barbecue, and using it later to compose delicious, elegant main-dish salads.

So we loved this article by Melissa Clark, in the July 2, 2010 The New York Times.

Clark offers some interesting insights into preserving the taste of chilled grilled meat. And her refreshing combinations of ingredients should inspire some fabulous spur-of-the-moment entertaining. Her suggestions:

“There is one caveat when using leftover grilled meat. As the meat chills, the flavors recede, becoming quieter and mellower. So while a nicely seasoned garlic-rubbed leg of lamb might taste like savory perfection eaten hot off the flames, the next day it could probably use a boost.

“In sandwiches, the condiments do that work.

“For the chicken quesadillas that I made out of Sunday’s grilled chicken thighs, shredded and stuffed into a corn tortilla with a little cheese and quickly toasted, I stirred together a lime-zest-imbued cucumber and avocado salsa that added a welcome citrus edge.

“For a Vietnamese-inspired cold steak and rice noodle salad I had made a few weeks earlier, I used fish sauce and chilies to play up the beefy nuances while peanuts added texture and a warm, toasted flavor. To keep things as speedy as possible, I picked up some thin rice sticks, which complemented the flavors of the sauce and could be soaked instead of boiled.”

Be sure to check out and enjoy even more light and delicious party-perfect salads!

Photo credit: Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

Hamburger: Barbecue favorite

bacon-cheeseburger.jpgJuly 4th weekend is probably the biggest barbecue weekend of the year. All across the country, families are getting ready to fire up the grill and cook more hamburgers (and hot dogs) than at any other time.

According to the website mywebgrocer, hamburger purchases in the week ending July 3, 2009 increased by more than 100% over the amount sold in the previous week.

Among the increases in purchases of fixins’ the week before July 4, 2009:

Hamburger: +105%; Frozen veggie burgers: +93%; Hamburger rolls: 64%;   Hot dog rolls: +54%; Pickles: +45%;  Relish: +44%;  Beer: +41%;  Fresh corn: +39%; and hot dogs: +38%.

For this weekend’s BBQ, and for all summer grilling festivities, if you’re planning to grill hamburgers, be sure to see lots of great ideas for a fabulous hamburger bar (featuring terrific alternatives for southwestern, Italian, Greek, and many other cuisines), plus luscious, healthy side dishes.

Clever kids’ birthday party

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We came across this beautiful little girl’s birthday party and just adored it. The theme, “peaches and cream,” was thoughtfully designed and executed by Jessica Levitt,   author of the blog “Juicy Bits...” Jessica, a talented textile designer and crafter, posted photos and the details of her daughter, Aurora’s, lovely “peaches and cream” party, held last September.

We especially loved how Jessica carried the theme through every aspect of this outdoor celebration. Here are the elements that Jessica brought together to create a fabulous party for her little girl:

Location: Jessica chose to host the party on a farm that grows peaches and allows people to pick fruit. Understanding the risks of planning an outdoor event, she arranged to have a tent within a fenced-off area for the main event space. Fortunately, it was sunny on the day of the party, though Jessica reported problems with wind and yellow jackets.

Décor: Jessica decorated the tent with fabric garlands and peach-colored paper lanterns that she hung from the support bars of the tent. She also collected a variety of different patterned fabrics to use for table runners, tablecloths, and to line baskets.

The different peach-colored patterns created an elegant, yet craftsy look.  Jennifer chose a budget-friendly centerpiece that also provided beautiful greenery. She decorated long rectangular boxes and filled them with wheat grass. She completed the look with adorable place settings to match the peach-themed décor.

Activities: The kids were kept busy from the moment they got there until the end of the event. When the guests first arrived, they fed carrots to the farm animals or had the opportunity to color pictures of farm animals.

Next, they played games, such as ‘ring around the rosy,” as they waited for the hayride that would take them peach picking. Once they reached the picking area, they were each given an adorable little basket in which to collect fruit in (shown above). The baskets and fruit served as party favors.

On the day of the party, the farm happened to be hosting a fall festival. So Jessica bought wristbands for all the kids, so they also got to go on pony rides, enjoy more hayrides, jump in a bounce house, and go “tractor train” riding.

Food: Much of the party food kept with the “peaches and cream theme.” The kids enjoyed a variety of sandwiches, fruit kebabs, cheese and crackers, nuts, peach-themed cupcakes and peach-colored cakeballs on top of ice cream cones. Capping off the party was delicious ice cream, kept cold in the ice cream cart that Jessica had rented.

What a perfect party–clever, creative, and one that the birthday girl and her friends will long remember. Thanks for the inspiration, Jessica! We can hardly wait to see what you do to carry out the theme of Aurora’s next birthday party–unicorns and rainbows!

Photos shown here were posted on Juicy Bits and taken by Christianne Ebel.

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