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Gee March, you sure look like February


I'm sure some of you, in some parts of this very same country, are enjoying sunshine and warm breezes.  We in Chicago are not.  It's one of those late winter days when all you want to do is crawl back to bed and stay there until MLB Opening Day.

I like to drink my way through the cold.  Pictured above (in a too-cute mug by Intelligentsia) is Green & Black's Hot Chocolate Drink.  I'm partial though, to local chocolatier Vosges' drinking chocolates (especially the Aztec Elixir).  Both are available nationally.  If you're in Chicago and feel like braving the elements, go to Hot Chocolate on Damen or Coco Rouge on Division.  Both make a heavenly drink, and the latter sells their own hot chocolate truffles that are fab.

Yes, these are all a little pricier than a box o' Swiss Miss from Jewel.  But what price happiness on a day like today?  If you insist on the watered down stuff, remember they'll have it at the concession stands during those early-season Cubs/Sox games.

Yeah, it'll still be cold on Opening Day...better stay in bed until the Taste.


Planning for large-scale decorations

Recently, I helped style an event that was held in a gorgeous rented hall. I hadn't been there in ages and was immediately taken by the beauty of the space, and looked forward to gilding the lily.

According to my collegue, our client had a rough idea of what she wanted, and asked us to come up with the final design on the spot, using a selection of raw materials. While I actually enjoyed the design challenge and the finished product looked very nice, we probably could have done an even better job with some advance planning and proper tools (honestly, there were a few times when I wondered if I was on some sort of reality show..."Can Team A pull this event together in just three hours with nothing but fishing line and packing tape?")

The lesson here is this - overcommunicate your vision to anyone who will be helping you AND plan ahead! Take into account the architecture of the space. If you want things hung up, consider ceiling height and if you'll need to do any installations (3M Command hooks are a godsend!). Make sure sturdy ladders are available. If you're doing any sort of draping, remember that you're dealing with gravity, which has an exponential effect when a piece of fabric or other material has to cover a wide distance, such as the example here:

Studio in a School dinner by Van Wyck & Van Wyck, New York. Photo by Mary Hilliard

If at all possible, set up the day before. This will do two things - 1) give your decorators enough time to account for any unforeseen issues and 2) if the decorations are strong enough to withstand the night, you know there's no danger of them drooping during your party. I know getting early access isn't always possible, but if you have that luxury, by all means take advantage of it!


For Labor Day - fireworks in your mouth

Normally I pride myself on being slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to trends and such.  However, pop rocks martinis seems to be one that I missed.  Yes, Pop Rocks.  The exploding candy that you're not supposed to mix with soda (I never did that, but I did give some to my dog when I was about 7...hey, I figured if enjoyed them, she would too!  She didn't.)

But apparently it's not just me.   At last week's BizBash conference, I attended a seminar called "45 trends in 45 minutes" which featured some great event ideas from around the country, including the aforementined martini.  When that photo came on the screen, everyone oohed and ahhed.  So, if some of the best event planners in the city are new to it, I must be in good company.  Here are two recipies:

Red, blue, and explosive - just in time for Labor Day!  photo source

Boston Pops Martini (pictured above)
lime wedge
package cherry Pop Rocks
2 1/2 oz. cranberry vodka
1/2 oz. Blue Curacao
1. Start with a chilled cocktail glass and rub the rim with a lime wedge
2. Open a pack of cherry flavored Pop Rocks candy and spread on a small plate or napkin. Press rim of the glass into the candy to coat rim.
3. In a shaker filled with ice, add cranberry vodka, shake and strain into prepared glass.
4. Slowly and carefully pour blue curacao in the middle of the glass, allowing it to settle in the glass. You should have two distinct layers
5. Add a small splash of lemon/lime soda.
By Joe Perdicaro at Zebra Bistro and Wine Bar, Medfield, Ma.

Le Pops Rocks Martini
3/4 ounce Skyy berry vodka
3/4 ounce Skyy citrus vodka
1 ounce Mango Fruja liqueur
1/4 ounce cranberry juice
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass rimmed with honey and Pop Rocks.
By Payman Khania at Bistro 111, Chicago

Coating the rim with honey seems to make more sense, as I think the lime would make the Rocks dissolve more quickly, thus taking away from the explosive enjoyment.  Either way, both sound delicious.


GiveForward Launch Party

Last Thursday was the launch of a new giving web site, GiveForward.org. I was fortunate to be part of the team that planned the launch party, held at NV Penthouse Lounge on Hubbard. We had about 200 in attendance, and NV's space was just right for that number. Remember the Party Killers? You don't want people too spread out, or too cramped.

So what is GiveForward? It's a new approach to micro-financing, similar to Kiva. Basically, it enables people to set up a fundraising page, but unlike other fundraising sites, GiveForward encourages users to donate to other causes using the site. In fact, before you can set up your own page, you must donate at least $1 to 3 other causes. Cool!

Speaking of cool, you'll be able to watch scenes from the party on Bravo's Tim Gunn's Guide to Style. No, Tim wasn't there, but we were able to celebrate a GiveForward family member's "coming out" party with her smashing new look! I believe it'll air in October. If you can't wait until then, here are some party pics from Chicago-Scene:

Just the right mix of space and light...no party killers here!

Delicious gazpacho shots from Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. You lick your hand, sprinkle some seasoned salt onto the licked spot, do the shot, and follow with a lime. It's the ritual of a tequila shot without the hangover!

BEYOND FABULOUS Chocolate-Caramel pastries from Blue Water Grill! They were just the right combo of sweet and salty. Note that they are bite sized...you never want to force your guests to juggle utensils and cocktails. 


When to hire help

Manicurists, hairstylists, accountants, personal trainers, housecleaners...chances are you have at least one professional on your bankroll. But how do you know when to call for reinforcements from the party professionals?

There are three factors to consider - time, money, and talent. Namely, how much of all three you have. Unsurprisingly, money is the primary factor. If you're short on cash, you'll need to spend more hours and your (or your friends') skills in executing the perfect party.

Time and talent are tied for second. If you've got a little more in the bank, are taking a week off before the party BUT are the world's worst cook, you should probably call a caterer. Likewise, if you're a whiz in the kitchen but will be putting in a 60 hour work week, do you yourself a favor and leave it to the pros. It's all about reducing stress!

Let's look at the various options in detail:

Can't cook? Don't want to spend hours in the kitchen? Want unique offerings that aren't obviously from the frozen-food section of your local warehouse store? Then hire a caterer! Know your limits. I know I can provide appetizers for a party of 25. Any more than that, and I get stressed out. Your threshold may be different. Depending on the food, expect to pay a bare minimum of $10 per person for a cocktail party with light appetizers. Most parties will cost more than that.

Party Staff
Ah, it's SO freeing to have someone else do all the little things during your party. You know, collecting discarded plates and glasses, emptying garbage cans, refilling the ice, clearing empty hors d'oeuvre trays, tending bar...you can truly be a guest at your own party if you hire someone to take care of these tasks. And really, who wants to handle trash when you're all gussied up? Not me! Average cost is about $30/hour. For a party with under 50 guests, you'll need two people if you want one to be a bartender. Otherwise, one person can handle it.

"Day of" event coordinator
This is for a bigger event with a lot of little details to cover, for instance, a charity fundraiser or a wedding. If you don't want to be the point person for all the vendors ("Flowers over here?" "What time should the band start?" "Um, the police are outside...something about the elephant getting loose?") then hire a DOC. You'll probably meet with them once or twice to cover all the details, and from there, you can concentrate on mingling with your guests! Cost varies widely, but is typically under $1,000.

Event planner
Time to call in the big guns! If you want all the assistance of a DOC plus professional guidance on vendors, etiquette, trends, design, etc., hire an event planner. Again, costs vary widely but even the cheapest will be upwards of $1,000. Note that some event planners don't do design, and some event designers don't do logistical planning. Be aware of what you can expect from your event planner.

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