Decades Dinner Party

In our family, when it comes to birthdays, I usually do my best to make the day special for whichever kid we’re celebrating. The many birthday parties of the last few years have included a Butterfly Tea Party for my daughter, a Star Wars party for my middle son, and a Pokemon-themed party for both my boys. But sometimes…I want a party for me.

To ring in my 36th year, my husband and I invited a group of fun friends to a Decades Dinner Party. Everyone was asked dress in the theme of a decade of their choice and bring a shareable dish from their era. (We promised to be the 1920s.) After dinner, we would have an evening of dancing in the backyard studio my husband recently built to house his musical projects.

I knew it would be an enjoyable time, but I had no idea just how memorable it would turn out to be! Our friends BROUGHT IT. From incredibly creative costumes to spot-on potluck sides, I was thoroughly impressed with their efforts.

So here’s the lowdown on this themed party, with food and decor suggestions for throwing your own Decades Dinner Party!

The Decor

1920s dining room

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the glitz and glam of the 1920s, I don’t own a whole lot of household items that look like they came from a hundred years ago. I condensed everything I could find around the dessert table in my kitchen dining room. In addition to a Tiffany-style lamp and art nouveau print I happen to have, I went for a gold-and-black theme with table decor, plus some candlesticks. Then I tacked pages of 1920s-era posters torn out of an art book on the wall.

1940s bathroom

Much like my lack of flapper-era materials, I don’t own much (if anything) that screams 1940s. Not to worry, however! I deemed my bathroom the World War II zone–don’t think too hard about that–by printing off some funny old propaganda posters that seemed bathroom-appropriate.

1960s living room

The ’60s were a bit more doable for me, since we still have our trusty Yellow Submarine head-in-the-hole board leftover from our Beatles Singalong Party. (It’s not the kind of thing you let go of too easily.) This prop conveniently set the scene, with pictures my kids drew of the Beatles in its windows. From there, a tie-dye table runner seemed only natural. A ’60s centerpiece was a bit more difficult to come up with, but I ended up with this trippy ‘shroom house, a pink cake pedestal, and chunky colorful flower stickers all found at Michael’s.

To complete the look, I made a “Groovy” banner and scattered retro records around the room. (I knew hanging on to my mom’s old record collection would come in handy someday!)

1980s family room

Nothing says ’80s like bits of pop culture like Troll dolls and Rubik’s cubes. These toys graced the mantle in the family room, along with some throwback posters. Instant ’80s!

The food

Okay, I’ll admit I was enjoying the party a bit too much to get food photos. Nevertheless, as 1920s hosts, we provided:

Al Capone’s Secret Recipe Pizza–just pizza with a themed name–an easy main dish!

Waldorf Salad–a concoction from the Waldorf Hotel of apples, grapes, celery, walnuts, and a creamy dressing

Shrimp Cocktail–very popular in the 1920s, according to the Internet

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake–also popular in the early 20th century as commercial canning made “exotic” fruits like pineapple readily available

Of course, with the theme of the ’20s, we couldn’t do without some bootleg booze. To let everyone make their own gin cocktail, I provided some mixology instructions and a variety of ingredients.

Though I was expecting mountains of Jell-O as potluck sides, our friends thought way outside that box, bringing sloppy joes from the ’70s, broccoli salad from the ’80s, and apple pie from the ’50s.

The photo booth (and costumes!)

Who doesn’t love a photo booth? We set up a backdrop and photo station so guests could capture their amazing costumes. And they did not disappoint!

Some of the guys

Early ’90s perfection

Ultimate groovy ’60s

Some sweet ’70s

Spot-on ’60s

A ’50s Pink Lady and her favorite Greaser

So many kudos to these friends who came from THE FUTURE!! (The Zombie apocalypse-era is looking gooooood.)

…and your hosts, rocking our ’20s attire

Last but not least, group photo!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the not one but TWO couples who got super creative and showed up from the past (the cave people in front) and the future.

The dancing!

What can I say? To me, dancing makes a party. It was so fun to jam out to a playlist of songs from every decade from the 1920s through the ’90s.

I’d say the blurriness captures the ’60s vibe, amirite?

Apparently my dancing is 90% arms.

Obligatory ladies’ dance circle

My husband and me working on our 1920s moves.

After this party, I really don’t know what I’ll do to top it on my next happy birthday. Thanks again to the dear friends who made it so much fun!

Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce

In the past, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid using tahini. It’s just so expensive, I thought, and what on earth would I do with an entire jar of sesame paste? Sure, I like hummus like any red-blooded Millennial, but I just couldn’t see making that much of it from scratch.

Little did I know that tahini can be used for other things besides hummus.

A few weeks ago I came across this helpful post on Babble that set me straight. Twenty-eight ways to use tahini that AREN’T hummus? The mystery! The intrigue! Turns out the sesame flavor and smooth texture of tahini lends itself to salad dressings, pestos, and even…brownies? While that particular suggestion may be going a bit too far for my tastes, the idea did broaden my horizons. When I ended up buying a jar at Trader Joe’s (for only around $3–far cheaper than I expected) it was with plenty of options on my radar.

This amazing all-purpose tahini sauce started its life as a dressing for a to-die-for roasted cauliflower salad over at Budget Bytes, but in my house, it’s turned into so much more. This week I put it on baked salmon, dipped pita in it, and have been seriously considering its possibilities as a sandwich spread. (With a bit of deli turkey, sprouts, and cucumber, it sounds like Mediterranean perfection.) I could see it working well on grilled chicken, as a veggie dip, or on falafel.

And, if you’re really adventurous, I suppose you could even use it in brownies.

Print Recipe
Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce
A tangy sauce that works perfectly on fish, chicken, or just for dipping!
(makes about 1 cup)
(makes about 1 cup)
  1. In a measuring cup, mix all ingredients until well combined. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Budget Bytes.

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Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites

Energy bites are one of those trendy foods that seem to be popping up everywhere. These golf ball-sized snacks with vaguely nutritious connotations have appeared at bakeries near my house, and my husband and I saw several varieties on display at a cafe on our vacation in England a couple weeks ago. As a bit of a food traditionalist, I tend to shy away from anything that strikes me as super hip (see also: kombucha, golden milk lattes, anything with matcha). So until recently, I definitely had not jumped on the energy bites bandwagon.

Then again, I never realized how ridiculously easy they are to make, or that they don’t even require turning on the oven–two factors that pretty much seal the deal for a snack-slash-breakfast item to add to my repertoire.

This particular Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites recipe was inspired by a mailer I received from my grocery store. Anyone else feel like grocery stores are seriously stepping up their marketing game these days? We’ve long since left the territory of mere boring newsprint circulars. My local store now sends me books of custom-curated coupons that include glossy, colorful sheets of recipes. Though I don’t generally pay much attention to the recipes in these mailers (I tend to gravitate immediately to the 50 cents off of cream cheese, thank you) this one caught my eye. Something about the small size and roundness of these bites made them seem so delightfully poppable, like donut holes, but healthier. Inspired, I even went out and bought flax seed meal just so I could try these. (Ironically, however, I went to a different store than the one that sent me the recipe. Ha.)

Once mixed and molded–with some ingredient adjustments based on my preferences–these energy bites turned out remarkably tasty with a texture I could eat all day–smooth and chewy for the most part, but with snappy crunches of chopped pecan. Everyone in my family was a bit surprised by how they were a bit sticky to handle, but that didn’t stop us from finishing these off in 24 hours. I’ll definitely be making them again for a nutrient-packed after-school snack for my kids (and myself). And maybe from now on I’ll keep my eyes open for more successful recipes on grocery store mailers.

Where do you get new recipes from? Tell me in the comments!

Print Recipe
Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites
A tasty mix of chewy and crunchy gives these apple cinnamon bites their appealing texture. And did I mention they're no-bake?
  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients from oats through cinnamon. Using a box grater, grate green apple (complete with peel) directly into the bowl and mix.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Using your hands, form mixture into 1.5-inch balls. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe, inspired by a Fry's Foods mailer.

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Kids’ Mystery Dinner

Having attended summer church camp every year from third through eighth grade, I have a wealth of wonderful memories. Now that I’m a parent myself, thinking back on all the goofy stuff I used to do at “Teepee Village” in the forest near Prescott, AZ provides a surprising treasure trove of creative activities to do with my own kids. Over this past summer, when downtime hit, I’d reach into my camp memories to give my kids something to do–like drawing eyes and noses on their chins for ridiculous upside-down faces, for example:

And last night, with my husband out of town on business, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally recreate another favorite camp memory: the Mystery Dinner.

This is something I’ve always thought of fondly, with memories of teenaged camp counselors taking campers’ orders from sheets full of mysterious symbols, then rushing around to create haphazard, randomly chosen menus. I think I once ended up with a cup of spaghetti with a straw. Sound a bit bizarre? That’s because it is! If there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they love totally off-the-wall stuff–and, as a church camper, I was no exception. I was pretty sure my kids would get a major kick out of a Mystery Dinner, too.

To replicate the experience, I created menu sheets for each child–but not regular menus, mind you. These menus are made up of symbols, each of which stands for an unknown-to-the-kids food item, utensil, serving dish, or drink. I made sure to have a meal of three courses (chili, cornbread, and cake for dessert), with three utensils (fork, knife, spoon), three serving dishes (bowl, salad plate, dinner plate), and three drinks (milk, water, and juice).

I of course had a cheat sheet, ’cause there’s no way I was going to remember all 12 symbols.

To start the Mystery Dinner, each child got to circle one symbol from each category for their first course.

I then served them with the corresponding food, utensil, serving dish, and drink. This meant that my daughter, much to her delight, began her meal with a slice of cake…in a bowl…with a spoon. (I bit my tongue to overcome my nutritionist horror at feeding my child cake before dinner. It’s only one night, right?)

Once the first course was completed, each child got to use a different colored pen to circle his or her selections for the next course. (No repeating anything previously chosen.) My middle child got chili…on a salad plate…with a fork.

And my oldest enjoyed his cornbread…on a dinner plate…with a knife. (This is starting to sound like accusations in the board game Clue.)

When all was said and done, our Mystery Dinner was an absolute hit–even for those who had to eat cake with a knife and chili from a plate. My kids asked if we could have Mystery Dinner every week. (Um, no.)

To me, though, having Mystery Dinner on a Wednesday night–just because–added a jolt of fun and spontaneity to our week. Of course you could use this idea for a birthday party, sleepover, or even a whimsical dinner party for adults, but squeezing it in mid-week reminded me that we don’t need a special occasion to be creative–and we don’t even need to go to camp. 🙂

Chocolate Mint Layer Cake

Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m a cake-aholic.

And I am also a nutritionist.

Do we have a problem here? Not necessarily. I mean, while I absolutely love cake, I don’t eat it every day, I maintain a healthy weight, and my diet is generally (I’d like to think) pretty healthy. In fact, I’m a big fan of the 80/20 principle when it comes to eating: stay on course nutritionally about 80% of the time, do what you like–within reason–the other 20% or so. (I even wrote an article about it here.) So do I feel bad posting a totally indulgent, party-perfect Chocolate Mint Layer Cake on the blog today?

No, I actually don’t. Especially because today is my birthday.

This cake isn’t actually for my birthday (mine will be a Neapolitan Strawberry-Vanilla-Chocolate sugar bomb I intend to make this afternoon), but rather, for my mom’s a few weeks ago. My mom and I have a little arrangement where, because I love making cakes and we both love eating them, I get to make her a cake of my choosing every year. Usually with chocolate.

This year mint chocolate was calling to me, and this recipe, modified from Lindsay over at Life, Love, and Sugar was exactly what I was looking for–except that with our family size, I didn’t actually need THREE layers. (Though I may have wanted them.) The cake came out fluffy and moist and kept well in the fridge, where it shockingly actually lasted a week. And though, with mint frosting, it can be tough to strike the right non-toothpaste-y, yet not-too-mild note, this stuff does so beautifully.

I’m no cake decorating expert–I’ve taken one single class at my local Michael’s with an instructor who was oddly enthusiastic about using Snickers to garnish cakes–but I have to say, I think this, with its pretty green color and tempting Andes mint pieces, turned out looking particularly appealing. And tasted amazing. What more does a birthday cake need?

P.S. I’m not including nutrition info for this one. It’s my birthday and I DON’T WANNA KNOW!

Print Recipe
Chocolate Mint Layer Cake
Minty, chocolatey, and totally indulgent, this cake makes the perfect choice for a birthday or other special occasion!
Course Dessert
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Course Dessert
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Make the chocolate cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and grease two 9-inch cake pans well. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour through salt). Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and add egg, egg white, milk, and vegetable oil. Mix to combine. Add vanilla and boiling water and mix until well incorporated.
  2. Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.
Make the mint frosting:
  1. While the cakes cool, mix softened butter, shortening, and powdered sugar until smooth. Add water or milk, vanilla, and peppermint extract and mix again. Slowly add food coloring to your liking (I'd say go with about 2/3 green and 1/3 yellow) and mix until color is even.
  2. Place one layer of the cake on a platter and frost the top. Top with second layer of cake and frost the entire cake, reserving about 1 1/2 c. for extra frosting garnishes.
  3. To get the look pictured, use a cake decorating tip like Wilton 1M to pipe swirls around the outer edge of the cake's surface. Insert whole Andes mints into the swirls, press them into the base of the cake, or garnish however you like!
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Life, Love, and Sugar.

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