December 2008

i'll take your vodka and raise you a rum

December 17, 2008

martini with a twist of peppermint, please

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You don't have to drink the alcohol in order for it to liven up a party. I once attended a Yankee Swap-esque bottle exchange where everyone brought a bottle of liquor at the $30 mark. The evening was super festive without even opening the bottles.

Same rules apply as a Yankee Swap, but instead of a wrapped something-or-other, you bring a wrapped bottle of liquor. Best bets for the prized possessions? Cool bottles and unusual alcohol. Here are the top five picks at the exchange I went to:

  • St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur (It comes in a little woven basket-bottle!)
  • Pimm's, an herbal gin
  • Port with an accompanying cake (A regular wine probably wouldn't have been as prized, but a dessert wine paired with a dessert is a totally different matter.)
  • Matrioshka Vodka, which comes in a Babushka doll

Less popular? Flavored vodka. Or maybe that's just less popular with me.

question of the week: holiday foods

December 16, 2008

qwestyuns. I haz dem.

The scent of cinnamon, nutmeg sprinkled over eggnog piled high with pillowy whipped cream, platters overflowing with latkes, cookies, doughnuts.... Hey, where did that drool on my keyboard come from?

The sight or smell of certain holiday treats are one of the quickest ways of getting us into the spirit.

Let us know what floats your holiday boat. Feel free to add more in the comments.

thieves among us

December 15, 2008

give it! giveitgiveitgiveitgiveit.

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Why give when you can take? December is Yankee Swap/White Elephant season, and few things get me into the holiday spirit like stealing my friends' gifts.

While some people are all about bringing the most completely unstealable dud of a gift to the party, I'm at the other end of the spectrum. Choosing a coveted item makes me feel super-validated and awesome. For those who fall in my gift-selecting camp, here are some suggestions for picking out a winner.

In my experience, the gifts that get swiped tend to be novel or retro (or novel and retro). In both instances, these are items people would rarely purchase for themselves, yet they will ruthlessly pull those same items out of their friends' hands in a Yankee Swap situation. A grouping of themed gifts often does well too. 

Here's what I've seen cause a stealing frenzy, all roughly around the $20 mark: 

  • Bonsai tree
  • Connect Four board game
  • 20Q, an electronic game version of Twenty Questions
  • Hello Kitty Waffle Maker
  • Mr. P Tape Dispenser
  • Taco Bell coupons paired with tiny bottles of Jose Cuervo
  • Jakks Atari Classics 10 In 1 TV Games, a “smart” joystick that comes programmed with such classic games as Centipede and Asteroids.
  • A real live beta fish (The fish was hiding in a back room; the fish’s home etc., was what was wrapped.)
  • DVDs of seasons one, two and three of Full House (I cannot explain why this was so popular.)
  • A homemade apple cake in a cake carrier
  • A small Crockpot
  • A Yuppie Survival Kit—it included a bottle of organic wine, a politically themed pin, some dark chocolate, a $10 Starbucks gift card, an NPR mug (the logo was drawn on a plain white mug in this case) and a burned CD of Feist (naturally, you can burn whatever is your preference); all placed in a reusable shopping bag.

a new spin-sation

December 12, 2008

you spin me right round, baby, right round

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Looking for something to do at your Hanukkah party once you've eaten all the latkes? We have three words for you: dreidel, dreidel, dreidel!

If you're a beginner or it's been a while since you've played the dreidel game, check out this how-to video from Hulu for the basics. Make sure you have plenty of gelt on hand to go around, including some for snacking. (No, the empty foil doesn't count for dreidel tender once the game gets going.)

Once you've mastered the basics, have a spinning tournament. Instead of how your dreidel lands, this is all about the spin itself. For some inspiration, go to Major League Dreidel — they host a tournament every Hanukkah and have a complete set of rules that you can use for your own spin-off. Also check out the Spinology section on their site where they explain different techniques and have an entire spinning glossary. You'll need a table and a little prep time to create a spinagogue for all the action to take place, so get this set up before the party gets going.

To amp up the festivities, spring for the No Limit Texas Dreidel game. Like Texas Hold 'Em poker, players combine their dreidel spins with the house dreidel spins to get the best hand. If your group is the wagering kind, bet with actual money instead of gelt to really up the ante.

For more tips and ideas for planning your Hanukkah party, be sure to check out our Hanukkah party guide.

gingerbread in da house

December 11, 2008

walking in a ginger wonderland

When I was young, my mother and I made a gingerbread house together every year. And by "together," I mean that she had to mix, cut, bake, assemble and frost the house while I undertook the arduous tasks of putting M&Ms on the chimney, dusting the top with powdered sugar and taking all the credit.

I've always wanted to make one on my own, but the task seemed too daunting. This year, I decided to give it a go, Mom by my side. Read on for the making of the house shown above.

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an easy dessert to cobble together

December 10, 2008

cobble, cobble

I am not a pie person. If I’m going to have a fruit-based dessert, I’d much prefer a cobbler or a crumble or a crisp. Also, I have an aversion to the rolling pins that pie crusts require, so my taste buds totally work in my favor.

If you have similar pie feelings, serve this super-simple dessert at your holiday party. You pour canned fruit, juice and all, onto a thin mixture that cooks up over the fruit to make what my family has always referred to as cobbler, yet this crust has more of a buttery sponge-cake texture than a traditional, biscuity cobbler crust. Friends give it thumbs-up because it’s much lighter than a cobbler but just as delicious.

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holiday deal from plum party

December 09, 2008

christmas merri-mint

Happy holidays to you! Plum Party, an online superstore for party supplies and favors, is offering Evite users 25 percent off their goods through the end of the year. Just enter "Evite" in the coupon blank at checkout. So now's the time stock up on everything you need for your holiday or New Year's Eve parties.

Here's to having a little extra room in your party budget (perhaps for a few more holiday spirits), courtesy of your friends at Evite and Plum Party.

question of the week: fave christmas songs

December 08, 2008

qwestyuns. I haz dem.

Last year we asked you about the Christmas songs you wanted to run over with a reindeer, but this year we're feeling a bit more perky.

Did we miss some of your favorite songs? Probably. We struggled to get this list down to ten. As it turns out, Evite staffers have some pretty strong feelings about the best songs of the season.

Because my hands are on the keyboard, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and the Bowie-Bing "Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy" remain on the final list. But I agreed to drop The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," only because people might not know it by that name. (It's the one about the people who both forget the cranberry sauce; "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! But I think I'll miss this one this year." Is it in your head yet? Good!)

Please let us know your favorites in the comments!

holiday cookie kits

December 05, 2008

cookie by numbers, 1, 2, 3

During the hectic holiday season, I'm all about minimal effort with maximum results. Unfortunately holiday baking — something I really love — usually requires maximum effort just to get started. One store has a terrible selection of cookie cutters, the next doesn't have red food coloring, and so on. The crowds, the parking lots, the angry customers... is your head spinning yet?

The cookie kits from Chic Cookies could be the perfect solution for cutting some holiday-cookie corners. Each kit comes with everything you need to decorate your sugar cookies — cutters, frosting bags, decorating tips, the works. You even get five bottles of gel paste food coloring (we're talking the good stuff, not the watery drops) in the exact shades you need.

The kits also have a step-by-step guide to recreating the lovely decorations you see in the photos, bringing you that much closer to having festive sugar cookies that actually look like what they're supposed to be. (You know I'm particularly excited about this since I've already discussed my ineptitude in the cookie-decorating arena.)

Chic Cookies also has kits for just about every occasion and holiday you'd want to make cookies for, so the fun extends well beyond the holiday season. Happy decorating!

how to make an ice bowl

December 04, 2008

throw another shrimp on the bowlie, mate

My favorite appetizer trick is to thaw a bag of frozen shrimp and serve it with cocktail sauce. Let’s face it, whether it’s a small party or a holiday bash, you’ve got a lot to stress about: cleaning the house, picking out music, making sure the martinis are ready to roll when guests arrive. The last thing you need is to assemble a hundred bite-size morsels.

But presentation is key when trying to spruce up a blah bag of shrimp, and the holidays call for extra special treatment. This ice bowl rocks the house as far as I’m concerned.

It’s fabulous at parties because it’s so adaptable, easy to make, and did I mention free? Fill it up with shrimp or crudités, and it will keep everything fresh and cool the whole night. Well, not quite the whole night; it does melt. But you have at least an hour and a half before the plate underneath floods.

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