Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Second Wedding Bells: Elvis Wedding Bells

Dear Julie Swank: I’m 39 years old and planning my second wedding. My fiance will do anything for me except wear a tuxedo. I was just 22 for my first wedding at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I wore a beautiful white dress, and my bridesmaids wore sea foam green and mauve satin. The catered shrimp cocktail and chilled champagne affair was like a dream come true. Too bad the groom turned out to be a nightmare. He wasted my youth and good looks, and my parents wasted a lot of money on my dream wedding. He left me for a librarian six months later. We looked so happy in our wedding photos, but it wasn’t meant to be. What should I do this time?
--Signed, The Princess Bride

Dear Princess: Stop Poof Pouting -- you’ll ruin your makeup. You’ve learned your lesson: fairy tale princesses often lived in dark, dank, unpleasant castles, despite their lovely dresses and grilled sea food. Respect your new fiancé’s wishes for something more casual. Second weddings can be meaningful and fun for you, your groom, and your loyal parents who still love you despite your youthful mishap when dated colors clouded your vision. Disregard the louse. He’s consigned himself to a dull life of being shushed. You’ve moved on darling. Good for you.

Swank Advice: a second wedding can still be a “fantasy affair” and this time your parents won’t have to sell a single Class A share of Berkshire Hathaway stock if you Viva Las Vegas. Yes, Mrs. Swank is advising a tried and true Elvis Wedding.

Please, no balking. It’s unbecoming. Mrs. Swank has personally attended the delightful 2nd nuptials of her dearest friends, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison and Judith Jones at the Chapel of Elvis. In fact, Mrs. Swank was a bridesmaid, and Mr. Swank was the best man. The ceremony was lively, yet meaningful, for the bride and groom who asked Elvis to sing their favorite song, “Suspicious Minds.”

The wedding party stayed at the lovely Mirage hotel:, and the bride ordered up the entire catered reception for 30, including the sinfully chocolate cake, to the honeymoon suite a few days before the event.

The food was quite good (including herb-crusted sea scallops, seared to perfection) and the presentation lovely. Obviously, the hotel has done many wedding receptions, from the intimate to the grand, and can accommodate reasonable requests quickly and efficiently. The entertainment was a breeze, since the entire wedding party descended to the lobby to play roulette after cake and vodka shooters, post haste.

The mother of the bride and assorted cousins escaped to the hotel spa the next day . A few friends frolicked at the dome covered amusement park at Circus Circus, but Mr. and Mrs. Swank took a stroll through the Mirage’s lobby to view the white tigers and dolphins (who live in splendid, yet separate, habitats, mind you).

Please note: Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Jones’ wedding took place before Roy’s tragic misunderstanding with his white tiger, when the fierce creatures still looked tame, in that exotic caged-beast way that makes Mrs. Swank swoon.

According to the bride, “My Elvis Wedding was the best day of my life. From the limo ride to the chapel, to the lovely flower bouquet that I picked out right before the ceremony, the pre-planned package was perfect. And I was able to wear my black lace cocktail dress, which was both appropriate and slimming.”

The groom, a true Southern gentleman, was equally delighted with the Elvis wedding, which was his debut at the altar. “The best part was watching the maid of honor shake her groove thing with the King after we said our vows. And, another maid bought us ‘Just married by Elvis’ t-shirts after the ceremony. You can’t get an Elvis t-shirt at a church.”

Well said, Harrison, and well done, Judith.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Heart of Dark Chocolate Martini

Women of a certain age need to contemplate their overall health when considering their beverage choices. This wholesome, nourishing aperitif fits the bill. Recent scientific studies suggest that dark chocolate and one drink of alcohol a day can be quite healthful for ladies over the age of 21, who aren’t pregnant or flying airplanes. The addition of 2% milk to this recipe will help you reach your daily calcium intake goals. Just think, all this health in one lovely drink!

Ingredients, for 2 servings:

1 Cup organic 2% milk
2 Tbls. high quality unsweetened coco powder
2 Tbls. Organic sugar (less or more, to taste. Try less! It tastes quite rich with less sugar.)
2 jiggers of vodka

Stir milk, coco and sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat, using a whisk to combine.

Remove from heat, and let cool. You can pour mixture into a heat proof measuring cup and set over an ice bath to quicken cooling.

Pour cooled mixture into a Martini shaker filled with ice. Shake, shake, shake. Strain into two Martini glasses.

Drink to your health and good taste. Well done!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Orange Party

Color Your Party Orange

A dear friend of Mrs. Swank’s recently hosted a milestone birthday party for her sister. Talk of “Over the Hill” and “Heavens, you’re old!” seemed quite inappropriate. Instead, the hostess decided to plan the entire party around the guest of honor’s favorite color, orange. A fitting testament to her vivacious outlook on life, I think.

The festivities started with the invitations, which were sent to guests on laminated orange-slice photo coasters. Guests were asked to wear orange. Most of them brought orange gifts, which added to the explosion of colorful decorations. There was one particular orange leather jacket presented to the birthday girl that effectively caused Mrs. Swank to swoon.

The hostess placed orange luminaries on the sidewalk and porch steps to light the way to the party. Inside, orange globes, orange twinkle lights, orange candles, and orange vases with flowers greeted the guests. The table was set with shimmering orange organdy goodie bags filled with orange items at each place. The bags were filled with orange sunglasses, orange beaded necklaces, orange gloves, orange lip balm, orange handbags filled with orange candy, and an individual orange-chocolate truffle wrapped in a sweet little box with orange thread. To top it off, there was an orange feather boa at each place. The guests modeled the accessories, of course, and posed for pictures.

The appetizers were orange, not surprisingly. Carrots, cheddar cheese, Cheez-its, Cheese Puffs, orange bell peppers, etc. The drinks were the show stopper, literally. Orange mango martini’s fit the bill perfectly, and added greatly to the party atmosphere. The dinner food was divine, as the hostess happens to be a gourmet cook. The orange cake from a specialty baker was stunning in appearance and flavor.

The guest of honor was thrilled with the gracious nod to her favorite color, and even more thrilled to be surrounded by the beautiful orange-spirited women on her special day.

Another job well done!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Delightful Children’s Tea Party:

Nothing says “charming childhood” like a delightful tea party for lucky little children in the garden. A perfect party for the under 6’s is easy enough to achieve with just a bit of advanced planning.

A few tips to make a truly memorable tea party:

  • Tiny sandwiches: yes, they will eat them if the crusts are cut off, and white bread is preferable. For fillings, stick with the favorites, including PB&J and peanut butter and honey. Egg salad works too, and don’t forget a bit of curried chicken salad to enrich their little palates. It is nice to have a fun treats for their mothers to enjoy as well.

  • Make the mothers and nannies stay for the party. It’s much easier than trying to keep track of all those little darlings on your own. Entice them with a bit of sangria if you must.

  • Real tea in real cups: if you’re worried about breaking your grandmother’s china, pick up some cups and saucers at the second hand store, or take advantage of your local discount store’s children’s tiny tea sets. I’ve found the tikes will be extra careful when using “real” cups and it’s a great way for them to practice party manners. Really, the big treat for the young ones is to pour the cream from the little cream pitchers, and scoop several spoonfuls of sugar into their tea cups.

  • Plan an outdoor party, on the lawn, if you can. I’ve been known to use my great aunt’s “Dessert Rose” china (much to my mother’s chagrin, as she points out that each cup and saucer is worth at least $40 now…not to mention the highly collectible ice-cream cups I like to use as mini jam dishes…) This way, if anything drops, it simply bounces on the grass.

  • Ask the children to dress in white. It’s so sweet, and if you have wicker furniture, and use black and white film for the photos, the pictures will be keepsakes for years to come.

  • Serve sweets…mini cupcakes with edible nasturtiums on top are an easy favorite. In fact, anything small is quite darling, and the mothers and nannies won’t feel so conspicuous eating a few of the cute little pastries. Bake extra, of course.

  • Flowers, flowers everywhere! Cut fresh flowers from the garden and place in assorted tea cups and tea pots to add to the festivities!

Pour yourself a cup of herbal delight, and enjoy another job well done!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Grand ideas for Patriotic Celebrations!

Here's a lovely idea for the 4th of July:

Wine, Cheese and Lights at the Art Gallery

Julie Swank

I firmly believe in giving back to my community by volunteering my time and talent to support the causes I believe in. A lovely little non-profit art gallery asked me to arrange an evening of wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres to honor their donors. Of course, I accepted with a smile. Some of my dearest friends are artists.

The first order of business was to establish a theme. Upon finding a plethora of twinkle lights, floating candles, and snazzy yellow stringed globe lights stashed away at the gallery, my dear friend Sissy, who graciously offered her assistance at a mere moment’s notice, decided that “Thank You for Lighting Our Way” would be the theme. Well done Sissy!

A superb neighborhood bistro agreed to donate the wine and appetizers for the evening, and I focused on the decorations. Upon my banquet tables I laid, paisley patterned taupe cloths. Then I spread several strands of twinkle lights on top of the cloths. I placed blocks of wood, in a variety of sizes and heights, amongst the lights. I was careful to make sure the blocks were big enough to hold my serving dishes.

Next, I laid cream-colored cotton gauze-type fabric on top of the entire table, covering the blocks. The fabric was lightweight, but not entirely sheer. I set my serving dishes upon the blocks, and plugged in the lights. The effect was nearly breathtaking, especially at dusk.

Before the guests arrived, Sissy and I rushed around and lit all the floating candles that we’d placed in clear glass vases, half-filled with water, which we’d scattered about the gallery. A trio from the local music school provided live music on the porch, which was lit with the globe lights and additional candles.

A wine steward corked the wine and poured, while the guests helped themselves to the delicate morsels of delicious food. A fine time was had by all.

Another job, well done!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Queen Throws a Party

The world's most proper party planner can really throw a delightful shindig.

Tuscan Themed Dinner

Recently I had the pleasure of throwing together a themed soiree for one of my favorite caterers. He was asked to cook dinner for Ben Harper, his darling wife, Laura Dern, their adorable children, and their crew before a large concert. My caterer can certainly cook exquisite eggplant parmesan, but he needed help with the décor and the ambience. Of course he called me. He’s a very smart man, with excellent taste.

I can only imagine the trials and tribulations of traveling on tour with a young family. My guess is even the most talented and fortunate have seen their share of white tables, oversized coffee urns, chaffing dishes, and industrial strength dinnerware. I decided to create a Tuscan oasis in the middle of the performance tour desert as a special treat for the weary band of traveling minstrels.

Over the standard white linen cloths that covered the banquet serving tables and six-top dinner rounders, I spread out new lemon yellow, twin-sized bed sheets. They are economical, an easy way to add color, washable, and reusable. I buy the solid colors in bulk, they are quite versatile.

On the banquet tables, I spread a 22” wide, 6” long piece of burlap as a runner, on top of the yellow sheets. The easiest way to do this is to fold 54” burlap in half (it comes this way at the fabric store, if you buy a bolt) and cut along the fold. Voila. On the round tables, I put 24” squares of burlap on top of the yellow fabric sheets.

Next, I started adding the fun accessories to really make the room festive. I placed several sizes of terracotta pots on top of the tables, and filled them with lemons. I put some pots on their sides, with lemons spilling out of them. Lemons, lemons everywhere. I made quite a statement with the lemons. Really, one can never have too many lemons.

Inside the smallest pots, I placed adorable nosegays of mixed flowers (daisies especially.) The easiest way to do this is to buy small clear plastic cups in the picnic section of your local grocery store. Place your sweet little bunches of flowers inside the cups, add water, and put the cup into the pots. This creates a tidy, easy to clean bouquet, and no messy water will leak out onto your burlap, which would certainly spoil the mood.

To add floral height and interest in the middle of the tables, I purchased tall, 18” cylinder clear glass vases. I filled the bottom of the vases with shiny pebbles. I placed a lemon over the pebbles. I filled each vase 1/3 of the way full with fresh water. I then added a single long-stemmed sunflower to each vase. The lemon added visual interest to the glass vase, and held the sunflower in place. Quite clever, I must admit. Quite.

I then cut lengths of shimmering gold and green wired ribbons and loosely wove them through the pots, the stray lemons, and vases of sunflowers to add a bit more dimension and interest.

The real show stopper, or icing on the proverbial cake, came from the last layer I added to the banquet tables. I strung specialty grape vine lights, complete with velvet leaves and faux vines, along the banquet tables. The grape clusters, which are green and purple, cast a pleasing glow at dusk, and are much safer than using real candles against burlap. Fire trucks and sprinklers can ruin an enchanted April evening faster than over-cooked eggplant.

Apparently, Mr. Harper, Mrs. Dern, and the crew were quite pleased with the décor and the effort. Due to a previous engagement which involved volunteering my services as a chaperone for a children’s zoo adventure, I wasn’t able to use my backstage passes to witness the positive reactions to the Tuscan dinner décor. I was assured that appreciative oohs! and ahhs! were uttered by all.

Another job well done.