Love and Celebrations

My sister got married the first weekend in August. So, June and July were filled with planning and celebrating, cooking and decorating for all of the wedding festivities (hence the long gap in between my blog posts). It was a LOT of work and a LOT of fun, all fueled by love for my sister and the desire to send her into this new life season with all the celebration fun we could muster. I really enjoyed the creative process involved in the parties because it involved preparing yummy food, making spaces beautiful and was motivated by the desire to make my sister feel special and loved.

We discovered that my mom and I make a great team—my creativity and systematic planning filling in the gaps between my mom’s visionary ideas and her detail-oriented thinking. The two of us pulled off a beautiful bridal shower and I, as the Maid of Honor (and only bridesmaid), hosted a fun bachelorette party weekend. Then, the wedding… Even with all of the crazy-long list of things to get done, the threat of thunderstorms and high relational tension in the air, it was a magical evening! My sister and her new husband felt wholly loved, the guests enjoyed themselves and it all kind of looked (and felt) like a fairy tale. And, best of all, we all still like each other!


* * * The Bridal Shower * * *

After an intense week of planning and cooking and decorating, the day finally came! My mom and I welcomed guests into the adult Sunday School room at our church that we had transformed into an elegant celebration venue. White lights twinkled from the ceiling and food tables. Purple and teal paper lanterns lit up the guest tables and brightly colored gifts were soon piled high in the corner. While women arrived and mingled, they could put in their best guess for the number of magnet wedding favors in the jar in hopes of winning a prize. After everyone settled, we invited them table-by-table to help themselves to the heaping bowls and platters of food.








For lunch, we offered chicken salad and egg salad served with croissants. We also prepared broccoli salad, veggies with ranch dip and hummus and fruit skewers. We had the traditionally-required punch, along with lemon water and strawberry water. Crazy cake cupcakes with buttercream frosting and sugar sprinkles in my sister’s wedding colors made a sweet and colorful end to the meal. (Recipes and links below.)

As my sister later opened her gifts, the guests played Bride Bingo and won prizes. The time of gift opening was also really special and the highlight of the shower for me. Because the guests came from many different seasons and circles of my sister’s life, as each gift was being opened, the giver introduced herself and how they knew Clarissa. We enjoyed digging out memories from childhood camping trips, small group Bible studies, college times, first jobs, and road trips. Each person had poured into my sister’s life and shaped her character and faith in such unique and beautiful ways. We all got to see a glimpse of the beauty of God’s workmanship in my sister and His guidance in each step of her journey.

Each guest left the special event with a full heart and a bottle of hand soap (my mom insisted that the shower favors be useful and pretty-smelling!). And, my sister felt spoiled and loved.


* * * The Bachelorette Party * * *

My sister is an Art Therapist. And, she has drawn and painted and sewn and collaged for as long as I can remember. With this in mind, I threw her an Art Gala themed Bachelorette party. It was such fun to plan and prepare! I designed elegant teal and gold invitations, inviting the ten guests to a semi-formal event at my parents’ home. I asked them to bring a piece of art they created that was inspired by my sister, her fiancé and their upcoming wedding. Each guest also brought a “decoration” for the lingerie tree.

Each woman arrived dressed in her favorite cocktail dress, arms laden with art pieces and sleeping bags. We set up each piece of art in the gallery (aka dining room), labelled with number cards. When everyone arrived, we took a group photo and I ducked out to the kitchen to prepare the hot food. While I baked brie and stuffed mushrooms, the guests took photos with the “photo booth” props I prepared.

When the food was ready, the Art Gala officially begun. The ladies enjoyed cocktail meatballs, hummus filled veggies, tortilla pinwheels, shrimp cocktail, savory dips and herbed goat cheese with crackers along with the baked brie and stuffed mushrooms all adorning gold plates. We also had fresh peach and strawberry bellinis (made with seltzer water for those who were breastfeeding or pregnant) and New York State wine as we wandered among the contributions in the love-themed gallery. My art piece was a series of decorated “J”s to correspond to the “C”s (the first letters in my sister’s and her fiancee’s names) my sister already had made and hang on her wall while she was single. As we munched our appetizers, we filled out cards, granting points to each piece for continuity with the theme, creativity, originality, use of medium and visual-emotional appeal. Later, several won Lindt chocolate bar prizes.

Throughout the remainder of the evening, we laughed at bachelorette party Mad Libs, played “guess who brought which piece of lingerie”, dipped Rice Krispie Treats and marshmallows in decadent chocolate fondue and painted wine glasses.

Several guests spent the night and we enjoyed a slow morning swapping memories and re-reading Mad Libs from the night before while eating a leisurely breakfast of broccoli cheese quiche, banana chocolate chip muffins and made-to-order fruit smoothies. (Recipes and links below.)


We all had a lot of fun celebrating! But, especially sweet for me was watching my sister revel in the presence of her friends and seeing them delight in and lavish love on her in return. I am so grateful that I was able to be a part of creating an environment that made those special moments possible.


Links and recipes for the Bridal Shower:

Chicken Salad—boneless chicken breasts lightly seasoned with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning oven-baked then diced; minced red onion; minced celery; Craisins; a generous amount of mayonnaise; salt, pepper and poultry seasoning to taste; a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar to add some brightness to the flavor.

Egg Salad—chopped hard boiled eggs, Miracle Whip (this is the secret to extra yumminess!), yellow salad mustard, onion powder, salt and pepper

Broccoli Salad—We roughly used Paula Deen’s recipe on Food Network, but added much less mayo, cheese and sugar and a little bit less red onion and raisins. We used golden raisins and cut up the broccoli in small bite-sized pieces. We actually forgot the tomatoes altogether. Oops! It still tasted amazing!

Fruit Punch—We, again, used Paula Deen’s recipe on Food Network (Thanks, Paula for the yumminess!), but added much less sugar. It was strong and tart, but really good (and I don’t usually care for punch).

Strawberry Water—Just add fresh for frozen sliced strawberries to tap or filtered water and let it set for an hour or two. The water turns light pink with a hint of strawberry sweetness. And, it’s so pretty! (You can use blueberries or raspberries for more fruity colors and flavors).

Crazy Cake Cupcakes— Dry whisk together 3 Cups all purpose flour, 2/3 Cup cocoa, 2 Cups sugar, 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp baking soda. Slowly add the wet ingredients and beat with a whisk or electric mixer just until fully combined: 2 Cups hot water, 2/3 Cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp white vinegar and 2 tsp vanilla. Pour into 24 cupcake liners (or a lightly greased 13×9” pan) and bake at 350o until a toothpick to the center comes out clean.

Buttercream Frosting—This delightful frosting came from Danielle at Live Well Bake Often and we piped it on the cupcakes with a star pastry tip.


Links and recipes for the Bachelorette Party:

Mini Cocktail Meatballs—After reading a lot of recipes and reviews, I decided to make Crowd Pleasing Party Meatballs from Taste of Home and the meatball baking method and sauce from Once Upon a Chef. I pre-cooked the meatballs the night before, then placed them in a foil-lined pan. I also made the sauce the night before, poured it over the pan, stirred a bit and stuck the whole pan in the fridge overnight. The next evening, while the guests were taking photos, I put the pan in the oven to warm them through and thicken the sauce. Everyone loved them!

Spinach Artichoke Dip—Maybe it’s a little outdated for a party, but cheesy spinach artichoke dip with whole grain crackers is by far one of my favorite special-occasion snacks. And, I knew my sister enjoyed it too, so I was willing to forget party trends and go for it. I always trust the amazing recipes that come out of Ree Drummond’s kitchen, so I (mostly) followed the Pioneer Woman recipe. I realized halfway into the preparation the afternoon of the party that I hadn’t bought enough cream cheese for this recipe! I substituted sour cream for half and it turned out just fine.

Party Pinwheels—These are really easy to prepare and can be made ahead. Ingredients can be adjusted to your taste once you have the creamy base. I left out the celery and black olives and added red and yellow peppers instead. I stirred the peppers right into the cream cheese base and wrapped them up in spinach tortillas.

Baked Brie—Just removed from the package and baked until warm and gooey. I served it with sliced pear, grapes and French baguette slices.

Roasted Garlic, Onion and Red Bell Pepper Dip—I love this dip from Epicurious, partially because everything gets roasted and then thrown into the food processor. It tastes amazing with baby carrots.

Stuffed Mushrooms—Sorry, I have no recipe because I just throw ingredients in until it tastes good and has the right texture. This time, I removed the stems from the mushrooms and carved a little bit further down with a spoon so I could add more filling. I minced then sautéed the mushroom pieces with minced white onion and minced garlic in butter with a bit of Italian seasoning. I added bread crumbs, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a bit more melted butter until it held together when pressed with the back of a spoon. I added a pinch of salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic and onion powder as needed. I stuff them as full as I can, sprinkle them with some freshly grated asiago cheese and bake them at 350o until the cheese melts (about 15-20 minutes).

Fresh Fruit Bellinis—I pureed fresh strawberries and fresh peaches, separately, with a touch of lemon juice and just enough sugar to enhance the flavor. I put the orange and pink fruit purees in little glass pitchers and let the guests add as much as they wanted to their champagne, Prosecco or seltzer water.

New York State wine—The Finger Lakes region in the middle of the state is sprinkled with wineries, offering a myriad of whites, reds and roses to suit any palate. Driving along the lakeshore and stopping for tastings and a picnic with a beautiful view is such a great way to spend the day. My favorite wineries are Americana Vineyards and Glenora Wine Cellars.

Chocolate Fondue—By the time dessert came around, I was a little tired. I decided to go really simple with the recipe. Dark chocolate bars (I think Dove is the best!) broken up into small chunks went in a small glass bowl with a pat of butter and a few splashes of heavy cream. I microwaved it on medium heat for several minutes, stirring a few times in the process. I served it with pound cake squares, Rice Krispie Treats, strawberries, marshmallows, banana slices and pretzel rods.

Banana Muffins—This recipe from my friend Lisa is amazingly versatile. I usually make it with bananas, but it also works with peaches, apples and mangoes. Mix together 1 ¾ cups flour, ½ cup sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix together ½ cup oil, 1 egg, ½ cup milk, ½ tsp vanilla and 1 cup mashed banana (or other fruit, either mashed or in chunks). Combine the wet and dry ingredients and add chocolate chips or nuts as desired. Pour into cupcake papers (makes 12-15) or a lightly greased and floured 10” cake pan. Bake at 350o for 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Crustless Quiche—Sprinkle bacon bits, small pieces of steamed broccoli, and a generous amount of cheddar cheese into a greased pie pan. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk (I used about 10 eggs with ½ cup of milk), salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Pour the egg mixture over the goodies in the pie pan and bake at 350o until the top turns golden brown (about 40 minutes).

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