Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Teacher Appreciation Celebration

The first week of May is national Teacher Appreciation Week, and so many of my close friends are teachers, I decided to make this the theme for my May monthly dinner.  Unlike elementary school teachers, it is fairly rare for us high school teachers to receive appreciation gifts or cards, but it means so much when students do recognize our efforts.  I wanted to recognize my friends because I know they are some of the best teachers out there!

Invite:  I designed the invitation on Photoshop.  The fonts I used were KG Broken Vessels Sketch, Simple Kind of Girl, and High School USA Sans.

Entry Decor:  I made this foam board sign with a quote about teachers opening doors.  I didn't love the quotes I found online, so I just made this one up, but I do believe this is true.  I cut the letters using my Cricut machine. I made an apple out of a balloon and placed it on the table with some school supplies.

Inside Decor:  I made apple balloons for inside as well.  I used heart-shaped red balloons and only blew them up enough so they had a slight indention at the top.  I then cut out a stem and a leaf from scrapbook paper.  Tip: You may want to use typing paper or make your leaf smaller.  I think mine were too heavy as after a while, they started to dip with the weight of the paper on top.

For my table, I used a red tablecloth and made a giant pencil out of wood for the centerpiece.  Check out my tutorial on how to make it, here.

As a table runner, I taped 5 pieces of chipboard cardstock together and drew lines/numbers on it to look like a ruler.

I folded my napkins and used colored paper clips as napkin rings to stick with the school theme.

Check out my DIY place cards!  I have seen books cut into the shape of letters in stores, and  I have always wanted one of these, but they were too expensive for me to justify.  I decided instead, to make them myself as place cards.

I went to the used book store and searched around for hardback books that were two-toned and roughly the same size.  The books I found were $1 or $2 each.  I made a pattern of each letter the size of the book and taped it on the front.  Then, my brother helped me to cut them according to the patterns.  We used a band saw to do the cuts for most of the letters.  Those with an inside hole (like the D or the R) were harder.

All the letters didn't come out perfect, but pretty close! So grateful to my brother for helping me with this project as they were a big hit with the girls.  I now have mine on my desk at work, and I love it!

Another look at the table with all of the books.

I made wine bottle labels to match the design of the invitation, but tried to play with some funny sayings.  If you are a teacher, (especially a high school English teacher like I am), you may know that a glass of wine makes grading those stacks of essays a bit easier!  Hence, the white wine is "your evening teacher's assistant" and red wine is one of the necessary "(after) school supplies"!

For wine charms, I found these cute mini apples in the sticker section of Michaels. I backed each one on cardstock and tied them to the wine glass stems.

Menu: As is typical with my parties, I wanted my food to fit with the theme as well.  I made menu labels for each item to match the invitation again using PhotoShop.  I started with an olive appetizer.  These are super easy.  Just marinated mozzarella cheese balls cut in half, salami folded, kalamata and green olives all on a small skewer. 

Next, I served guests a green salad with feta cheese, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and slivered/toasted almonds.  I served it with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

For the main dish, I made a pasta because my guests are "PASTA-tively" wonderful teachers.  This is the first time I have every made this pasta, and it was very tasty.  If you like feta in rich, flavorful sauce, definitely try this one out.

 Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper-Feta Sauce 

2 tbl. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
One 16-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 pound whole-wheat fettuccine
Salt & Pepper
2 tbl. chopped fresh parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute onion and garlic until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add roasted red peppers and saute until heated through.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Place mixture in a bowl of a food processor with stock and all but 2 tablespoons of the feta.  Process (or use a hand blender) until combined and smooth, about 30 seconds.  Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.  Toss pasta with sauce, adding pasta water by the tablespoon if needed.  Sauce should cling nicely to pasta.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Divide among bowls. Sprinkle with parsley and remaining feta cheese.

I bought ready-to-bake breadsticks from Ralphs, and they were delicious and easy.  The saying played with some bread stick related words.

For dessert, I made a delicious lemon bundt cake and served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  This cake was very good and definitely something I will make again.

Super Lemon Bundt Cake

                              Cake                                                                            Lemon Glaze
               2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour                                                 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
               2 1/4 tsp baking powder                                                       3-5 tbs lemon juice
               1/2 tsp salt
               4 eggs                                                                                  Lemon Sugar Topping
               2 cups sugar                                                                          1 tbs. lemon zest
               1 tsp vanilla extract                                                               1 tbs. granulated sugar
               2 tbs lemon zest
               2 tbs + 2 tsp lemon juice
               1 1/4 cups whole milk
               10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bundt pan very well making sure to really get into the crevices then lightly flour pan. Set aside.  Lightly whisk flour, baking poweder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.  In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat eggs on low until they are thickened and very pale yellow in color.  Turn mixer to low and slowly add sugar to running mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Stir in vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Slowly pour in dry ingredients on low speed until combined.  In a small saucepan, heat milk until very hot and butter is just melted.  Do not boil and which the mixture to help the butter along.  Pour into the batter and mix until smooth.  Batter will be very thin.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for 27-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Once done, remove cake from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes in pan.  Release the sides with a butter knife to ensure it isn't going to stick.  Then turn cake into your desire pan.

While the cake is cooling, prepare lemon sugar and glaze.  For the sugar, mix the lemon zest and sugar together and let it sit for 5 minutes.  For the glaze, which powdered sugar and lemon juice, using more or less lemon juice to get your desired consistency.  Once cake is cooled down slightly, drizzle glaze over warm cake.  Sprinkle with lemon sugar on top.

Favor: As a take home gift, each guest took home their book letter, but I also wanted to send them with something else small. I made these post-it note desk pads out of 4x6 plastic frames I found at the dollar store.  I used the same scrapbook apples that I used for the wine charms as well as some other teacher-related scrapbook stickers.

Thank you to everyone of you that is a teacher out there.  I hope you feel appreciated all year long, and not just during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Giant Pencil Tutorial

For my Teacher Appreciation Week themed monthly dinner, I decided to make a DIY giant pencil for my centerpiece.  It turned out really cute, and I've had quite of few people ask me to post about how to make it. I think a bit smaller version of it would make an excellent teacher appreciation gift for an elementary teacher at the beginning or end of the school year. You can even drill holes in the top that can fit colored pencils or markers if you want it have functionality instead of just being cute decor.

Step 1: Purchase a 4x4 block of wood.  I purchased mine at Home Depot.  Now, the entire 8' block will run you just under $10, but since I only needed about 4 feet, I looked through the Home Depot stack for a block with half of it damaged. Home Depot gave me a 70% discount since the majority of the wood was unusable for most projects.  For me, it was perfect.  I paid just over $3 for the wood and then just cut off the damaged portion. 

Step 2 and 3:  Use power tools to shape the wood to look like a pencil.  My husband did this for me using a reciprocating saw and a belt sander. I forgot to take photos as he did it, but you can imagine the cutting needed to make the block pencil shaped.  Next, I painted the wood a golden color. I used paint I already had and mixed yellow with orange until I matched the designed pencil color.

Step 4:  I used pink to paint the eraser part of the pencil.  Don't worry about painting all the way to the yellow because that part will be covered.

Step 5:  I used my Cricut machine to create a stencil with blue painter's tape for the #2  portion.

Then I painted it black.  Once it dried slightly, I pealed the painter's tape off and then touched up any areas.

Step 6:  Paint the tip of the pencil black.  I left the wood part unpainted to keep the wood look.

Step 7:  Use foil tape (a Home Depot purchase) to wrap around the pencil under the eraser to match the metal look of a real No. 2 pencil.

That's it! I put the the finished pencil on my table with a ruler table runner I made out of cardstock.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Escape Room Dinner!

Escape Rooms are a huge trend right now, and they are popping up all over the place with good reason.  I have been to two different escape rooms this year, and they are SO much fun!  What are they you ask?  They are interactive adventure games where typically participants are locked in a room, and they must work together to solve fun and challenging puzzles before time runs out.  I wanted to create an escape room in my own home for the monthly dinner this month. This is a daunting task to write it all yourself, but lucky for me, Juliana & Ariel came to the rescue! These two ladies are the co-creators of a new table top game, Escape Room In A Box.  They contacted me about putting together a party planner to be included in their game, and I can't wait to share with you (and them) what I came up with!

The game is about an evil mad scientist werewolf who is trying to turn you into a werewolf too.  You will see that werewolf aspects, science/medical tools, locks, and chains were incorporated into much of my decor and food.

Invite:  My guests encountered an initial puzzle when they first received their invitation.  At this point, they did not know the theme or anything yet.  I just included this for fun with the intention of making the puzzle pretty easy to decipher. (I'm sure you figured it out, but if you use the red letters only, they form a message.)

I designed the invitation using PhotoShop. I wanted to include the Escape Room in a Box phrase of 19 Puzzles. 3 Locks. 1 Hour, because it lets guests know a little bit about what to expect.

Entry:  As guests approached my door, they were met with their first puzzle.  I used poster board to make a sign with a large gold key and a decoder wheel.  In order to get in the front door, they had to solve the puzzle, use the puzzle's solution to open the combination lock, and inside the box was the key to my front door! I used a combination lock I already owned, so I just matched the code to the existing combination.

Inside Decor:  I kept with a color scheme of black, grey, cream, and red to match the invitations.  Throughout the party areas, I placed science beakers that I borrowed from a teacher at my school. I filled them with water and food coloring. You could add dry ice to give them even more pizazz.  I used pieces from some of my Premier Designs necklaces to wrap around each beaker to look like chains.  I added locks I found at a thrift store for $1 to each chain.

I also placed chains along the table and some medical viles I borrowed for a nursing friend of mine.

For the centerpiece, I used the Escape Room in a Box game, and this super cool sphere made of keys!  I randomly found this piece on clearance for $4 at Marshall's the week before my party!  SCORE!

My nursing friend also gave me some biohazard bags that I decided to use to hold the napkin and utensils. You can purchase these on Amazon if you don't have a source who can get them for you.

I always do place cards for my dinner parties, but I wanted this one to incorporate a puzzle.  I decided to make these little lock boxes. I bought the boxes for $1 a piece at Michaels, removed the clasp, drilled bigger holes, and painted them black.  I printed off various science-related warning signs and glued one to the top of each box.  I then knotted red cording through and placed a combination lock on it.  I wasn't able to find this kind of lock at the thrift store, so I purchased them on Amazon here.

When it was time for guests to find their seat, they were each given a puzzle card with their name on it.  I created these on the computer and personalized them for each guest.
When they solved the puzzle, it revealed to them a 3-digit code.  Each guest then had to test their code on all the place card boxes to find which box/lock was opened with their particular code! fun!

Once open, the guest's place card was inside. I made the place cards using Photoshop.  Each one was different.

For wine charms, I bought small little keys in the jewelry-making section of Michaels.  I tied them around the stem of each glass with ribbon.

I created the wine bottle labels using images from Escape Room in a Box so they matched the rest of my decor.

Menu:  If you are regular follower of my blog, you know that I like my food to match the party theme. This party is no exception.  I started the evening with a green salad, but served the salad dressing in large syringes to keep the medical/science theme of the game.  These were large syringes from Party City that are normally used for "shots". (I used these same syringes for spaghetti sauce at my Fake an Injury Party in 2012.)

For the main dish, I served Werewolf Sliders.  These were made to look like werewolf claws.  Here is the recipe for this yummy dish.

Werewolf Sliders
 2 Yellow onions, diced
 4 Garlic cloves, diced
1 cup Chicken stock
1 tablespoon Dark brown sugar packed
1 tablespoon Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 teaspoon Ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
5 pounds Pork shoulder or pork butt
2 cups KING'S HAWAIIAN Sweet Pineapple BBQ Sauce
1 pound Green Beans, cut approx. 2-inch long
12 Bread & butter pickles
12 KING'S HAWAIIAN Sweet Dinner Rolls 
1.  Place the diced onions and garlic in an even layer in the slow cooker and pour the chicken stock over the top.  
2.  Combine the sugar, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Rub the sugar and spice mixture over the pork and place the meat on top of the onions and garlic.  Place the lid on top of the slow cooker and cook until the pork is tender, about 6 to 8 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low. 
3.  Remove the pork from the slow cooker and place on a cutting board. Set a strainer over a medium sized bowl and pour the remaining contents of the onion mixture through the strainer and return the solids to the slow cooker.  Using 2 forks, shred the pork into bite-sized pieces. Return the shredded meat to the slow cooker and add the KING'S HAWAIIAN Original Sweet Pineapple BBQ Sauce. Mix the sauce and meat together. 
4.  Slice KING’S HAWAIIAN dinner rolls in half; separate top half from bottom half. With the open side facing up, place spoonful of BBQ pulled pork on top.
5.  Place a slice of bread & butter pickle onto center of pulled pork. 
6.  For the claws, place four of the 2 inch cut green beans onto each roll.

I also served a Smoked Bacon Tomato Soup that was absolutely AMAZING! I found the recipe on Pinterest and decided to try it out.   The ingredients are:

10 slices turkey bacon
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups fresh tomatoes, diced {skins on} or 5-6 cans of diced or stewed tomatoes
2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream {optional}
  1. In a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, turning once, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel; allow to cool and crumble the bacon into small pieces.
  2. Melt the butter into the bacon grease, and sauté the chopped onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, until slightly browned and softened.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes to the onion mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, allowing the tomato mixture to slightly cool.
  4. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, about 2 cups at a time. When pureeing in a blender, make sure you place a paper towel over the top, in place of the lid, and proceed in pureeing. This will eliminate any splatters.
  5. Return the pureed tomato mixture to the large frying pan; add paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Return the soup to a boil, then turn off the heat.
  6. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the soup in bowls, topped with the crumbled bacon {and sour cream}.
  7. Serves 6-8.

I also made petri dish jello.  Poured the jello in and waited until it had set up just a little bit before adding drops of food coloring.  I found the petri dishes on Amazon.

For dessert, I decided to make a Moon pie. The recipes I found online for moon pies were for individual pies, but I wanted something a bit easier.  I basically just invented this pie based on the same ingredients as the individual versions.  It was a graham cracker crust topped with chocolate fudge.  On top of that, I put marshmallow cream mixed with cool whip.  I used  red gel frosting to make the wolf slash marks on the top.  I melted chocolate and used a paper stencil of the same wolf's head from the game to make the chocolate pieces to place on top.

Activity:  After the meal, we put our thinking caps on and began to play Escape Room in a Box.  I won't show you photos of this (beyond this first one after opening the box) as I don't want to spoil your fun.  The great part about this game is not only that it is challenging and fun teamwork, but I personally loved that as the hostess, I could play too! I didn't know any of the answers or what to expect since Juliana & Ariel, the creators of Escape Room in a Box, did all the work for me!  I think it would be great to have about 5-6 people working together to solve this game.  I had a few guests that had to leave partway through, which made it even more challenging, but we powered through to the end! Lucky for us, we were able to use the included "hint book" to help us the couple of times we were stuck.

Favor: I decided to create two treats as my parting gifts.  A key to symbolize their escape and a werewolf finger to symbolize their lack of escape. I created this tag after coming up with the little rhyming phrase to make it fun.  To the make the keys, I bought a key mold from the local cake shop.  I melted white chocolate melts, and then when they were set, I sprayed the chocolate Wilton's gold candy spray. To make the werewolf fingers, I broke rod pretzels in half.  I melted soft caramel candies and dipped half of the pretzel in the caramel.  I shaped the caramel to be wide in sections to look like knuckles.  Once the caramel hardened, I dipped the caramel part in melted chocolate and placed a slivered almond to look like a fingernail.

Escape Room in a Box was a lot of fun, and I love the escape room theme.  If you are looking for a fun evening with friends, and you want to include challenge in your fun, then definitely try this theme.  Leave me a comment and let me know what some of your favorite details are from this party.  I love to hear from my readers!