So, Saayeh recently had a birthday. And we (Jenny, Becky, and I) threw her a sweet-a surprise party. We told her to come over to Jenny’s for a small birthday dinner and when she got there we were all “oh happy birthday I guess, there aren’t any decorations, it’s just us and no one is too into this dinner situation…” and she was all “thank you so much, you guys are so nice” and then SURPRISE! Everyone was outside with old-timey music, classic cocktails, fancy snacks, and the most impressive cake I’ve ever made. Saayeh’s response: “You idiots.”
|Becky and Saayeh, looking great.|
Jenny, Becky, and I had been emailing about this surprise party for awhile because Saayeh needed a surprise party. Saayeh is someone who is shocked and uncomfortable when people go even slightly out of their way for her, yet is constantly going out of her way for other people. As you may remember, half my possessions are currently crowding her apartment. And she doesn’t even care. When you’re friends with Saayeh, what’s hers is yours and we wanted to return the favor. So, we had a very professional planning meeting (with notebooks!) over drinks the week before. Of course we decided very little at that time and everything came together day-of. Jenny and Becky are clearly party wizards (PS, all photos are stolen from jdoughweddings.com—get Jenny to photog your next wedding, children’s party, etc. if you want photos as good as these ones. Side note: she prefers outdoor sessions with natural light and an emphasis on candid shots).
One of my very favorite things about Waco is that people here make their own night-life. There are a couple pubs and some good restaurants, but for special occasions Waco is a house party town. This might sound lame, but that’s just because you haven’t been to one. People here (or my friends anyway) know how to entertain. I have had countless Austin-worthy meals and drinks with often better atmosphere in Waco homes and backyards. I enjoy going out in Austin and Chicago and Dallas and wherever, but if I’m going to spend money on a fun evening I am more than content to buy better wine than I would order in a restaurant, especially good food, and treat my friends. That way I’m not just buying fancy things for myself, but for people I care about as well. They return the favor often. Sometimes with dancing.
For Saayeh’s party we wanted a pre-prohibition feel with classic cocktails and just as much class as possible. I was researching old drinks forever—most of which involved egg whites and brandy and stress and complications and expensive, ancient, European booze nobody knows about anymore. That weekend was crazy with 800 other obligations, so I decided to calm down and just focus on Saayeh’s special love (bourbon) with as little fuss as possible. So: bourbon manhattans and my own muddle-free version of mint juleps (keeping with the no-fuss theme). Jenny made classic gin and tonics with cucumber and I also threw together a pitcher of (invented-that-day-against-the-spirit-of-pre-prohibition) rosemary greyhounds. See drink recipes below. Food and drink can be decoration enough when everyone is dressed up outside on a beautiful night at a giant wood table. Our light came from lamps plugged into extension cords and all the candles we already owned. I bought a couple brass urn things from Goodwill in which to chill our alcohol, Becky made a few cute drink signs, and Jenny put out a beautiful photograph of Saayeh she took at my birthday party earlier this year: easy. Yet…fabulous.
- Two shots ofbourbon (I prefer Bulleit)
- One shot of vermouth
- A few dashes of bitters
- Finish with a cherry
Shake with ice, strain, and serve in a highball or martini glass. I forgot the cherries at home like an idiot, so we didn’t have any. Nobody missed ’em.
Heather Hughes Mint Julep
- Two shots of bourbon
- A splash of mint-lemon thyme simple syrup (as much as you like)
- Finish with a sprig of mint
Serve in a glass (who has those silver things?) with ice. Real mint juleps sound like a hassle. Muddling sugar and mint is for sissies and mojito-drinkers. (Full disclosure, I love mojitos). But seriously, when you’re in charge of drinks you turn into the bartender which is no fun when drinks require any sort of involved process. Get the annoying part done ahead of time. All you do is boil equal parts sugar and water with a ton of clean, fresh mint and lemon thyme until the sugar is dissolved, let the stuff cool, remove the herbs, and pour into a pretty bottle. I save molasses bottles (after washing them several times) because I love the shape. So, do that. Also, strictly speaking, lemon thyme has nothing to do with traditional mint juleps; I was just growing some so I threw it in and have never regretted my decision.
- Grapefruit juice
- Fresh rosemary
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t measure this at all. I just muddled (read: smashed around with my hand) a fresh sprig of rosemary in a pitcher, poured in a bunch of vodka, and then poured in about three times that amount of grapefruit juice. In the future, I would like to try infusing some vodka with rosemary and making rosemary salty dogs (greyhounds with a salt-rimmed glass). Summer!
|Please ignore the creepy smile.|
Now, about that cake…Raspberry Red Wine Chocolate Cake, to be exact. I got the recipe from Love and Olive Oil, which has some fancy cakes. I went with raspberry instead of blackberry, and it was terrifyingly good. Things I recommend:
- Do not start baking late at night when you only have two round cake pans and it’s a triple layer cake.
- Do make the three layers early and freeze them. This saved me much stress when I got back in town the afternoon of Saayeh’s party, exhausted and barely capable of buttercream, let alone triple layer red wine cake making.
- Do take different pan sizes into account. The recipe calls for 8-inch pans and I have 9-inch pans. This means that I had a shorter, wider cake and more surface area to cover with delicious buttercream frosting (physics!). I almost ran out. I might make more frosting than the recipe calls for in the future either way. I’m not much of a frosting person, but I thought this was skimpy–even taking physics into account.
- Do eat as much of this cake as possible. The dark chocolate glaze is a dream. Just look at Saayeh:
So, basically, we had a really great night. Saayeh has assured me that it was in fact a successful party.