Vintage – a pretentious word for antique? A fussy way to say “old but well-preserved?” A euphemism for middle age co-opted from oenology? The definition I prefer is “representing the high quality of a past time,” and one reason I chose the theme for my most recent birthday, wherein I danced past the half-century mark in a 60’s cocktail dress, a vintage martini glass in hand.
Since I was launched into the world during the “Mad Men” (Season 1) era, I decided my milestone celebration would be a 1963 cocktail party. Cocktails invite the potential for mingling, merriment, and sometimes misbehavior, though I did stop short of offering a key bowl. I decided I would serve cheesy canapes and classy drinks — lots of parsley and processed cheese, martinis and champagne punch. While it was not technically a “Mad Men” party, Don and Betty (pre Megan and Henry) would have felt at home. Though Don likely would have misbehaved in the back bedroom.
My mother pulled out her vintage (well, not to her) cookbooks, which I had read like storybooks as a child. Helping Mum glaze Ritz Crackers with Cheez-Whiz, skewer cubes of salami and Swiss with frilly picks, and layer vanilla ice cream and Creme de Menthe into frozen parfaits all spurred my love of entertaining.
Who needed Martha Stewart when you had Mary Margaret McBride?
It’s not a party without cold balls on picks.
I wanted to keep costs down, so I planned on making a lot of the menu myself, but I also wanted to enjoy my party, so I hired a knockout caterer (Anne Apra of Anne Apra Events) and bartender (Shawn Thomas).
Anne helped me winnow down my menu items to a somewhat manageable list that included classics like deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, hot crab dip, stuffed mushrooms, Jell-o salad, and the centerpiece — a pineapple studded with salami, ham, cheese, pickles, olives and cocktail onions. Anne and her server, Colleen, played their parts perfectly, down to their aprons, and allowed me to fully enjoy my party.
Anne and Colleen, strutting their stuff!
Shawn Thomas, who should win most adorable bartender of the year, was not only my gift to my female guests, he developed a period cocktails menu that included a honeyed champagne punch with a kick of gin and the best martinis to ever drown an olive. Besides running the perfect bar, he put on a show the way only an LA mixologist can. Check out his series “The Mix” on Esquire TV and hire him for your next party!
Shawn, stirring, not shaking….
My sister-in-law, Jane, offered to create table linens for me, so I searched locally and online for the perfect fabric. To be honest, this was my first choice…
…but I’m very happily in a relationship, so I went with a graphic print and its reverse that I found on fabric.com.
Jane rocked the boxy print with beautifully constructed runners and table squares that I layered over black and white tablecloths. She also created perfectly period arrangements of Gerber Daisies (acquired from the LA Flower Market), which I intermingled with white taper candles in my collection of white mid-century pottery candleholders.
I stocked the bar with my too-rarely used VINTAGE Noritake Bamboo martini, pilsner and Collins glasses, and served the champagne punch in my mother’s green Depression punch bowl (that somehow survived many a party unscathed). For tableware, I used my collection of colorful and mostly original Fiestaware and vintage “bamboo” aluminum.
Fiestaware, living up to its name.
The black and white theme had been inspired by the picture of a cake Jane had found, so of course, I had to have that cake. I happen to play tennis with a masterful pastry chef, Esti Rothstein of Crumb Fairy Bakery, who often brings leftover banana bread to cardio tennis, offsetting the whole practice. Esti assured me she could duplicate the three-tiered beauty, so I arranged lunchtime cake testing.
I chose layers of chocolate cake/chocolate filling, red velvet cake/cream cheese filling, and champagne cake with strawberries and cream. The final cake was a showpiece, but of course, its consumption is always the signal that the party is winding down….
One of the trickiest decisions I had was what I would use for party favors. I wanted something fun and “cocktail,” but which could also be enjoyed sans alcohol. After much, much, much searching, favorsdepot.com yielded the best results. I stuffed black and white gift bags with playing cards and clear cocktail shakers filled with that colorful, classic party candy, Jordan Almonds (the ones from Ohnuts.com come in an incredible selection of colors and are actually fresh and delicious).
A Pandora playlist of Bobby Darin, Beach Boys and Ventures was the perfect backdrop for a truly perfect event. Celebrating my milestone surrounded by special family and friends — all of whom were willing to play dress-up — created a moment that, for me, represented the very best quality of the present time.
And now I can’t wait to throw an 80’s party – I have some Flock of Seagulls tracks that need dusting off…
1963 COCKTAIL PARTY MENU
Oyster cracker mix
Veggies with Green Goddess dressing dip
Cheese ball with Ritz crackers & red & green grapes
Pineapple with cheese cubes, salami, ham, turkey, cocktail onions, black & green olives, baby dills & cornichon, cherry tomatoes
Deviled ham and Melba toast
Chicken salad and tuna salad cups
Swedish meatballs & cream gravy with lingonberry preserves
Hot Crab dip with bread cubes
Bacon-wrapped dates & olives
Pastry-wrapped cocktail weenies
After-dinner pillow mints
Layered jello salad
VINTAGE BAR MENU
Bee’s Knees Champagne Punch (Gin, Honey, Lemon, Bubbles)
Martinis (Gin or Vodka, Dry or Dirty)
Mules (Ginger, Lime, Spirit of choice)
Gin & Tonic
Cuba Libre (Rum, Coke, Lime)
Mojito (Rum, Mint, Lime)
Scotch & Soda
Buster Brown (Whiskey, Lemon, Honey, Bitters)
Horse’s Neck (Whiskey, Ginger, Lemon)
Manhattan (Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters)
Old Fashioned (Rye, Suger, Bitters)
HIDDEN VALLEY OYSTER CRACKERS
12-16 oz. oyster crackers
1 Pkg. Hidden Valley Buttermilk Original Salad Dressing mix
1/4 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2-1 tsp. dill weed
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3/4-1 cup salad oil
Combine dressing mix & oil. Add dill weed, garlic powder & lemon pepper. Pour over crackers, stir to coat. Spread on a rimmed baking pan and place in a warm oven (300°) for 15-20 minutes.
MUM’S TOAST CUPS
(Adapted from the Mary Margaret McBride Encyclopedia of Cooking)
My mother has brought these to just about every pot luck or picnic for the past 50 years, and they are always delicious and always a hit. She’s sick of making them, but did it one more time for me….
Trim crusts from slices of enriched white bread (square sandwich sliced bread like Pepperidge Farm works best.)
Butter one side of bread slice with softened butter
Press each slice into a muffin cup, butter side in, so that corners turn up.
Toast in moderate oven (375°) until golden brown.
Let cool and store airtight until use.
Fill just before serving with tuna and chicken salad and serve on a large platter garnished with lettuce leaves