Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies

When I saw this Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookie recipe on Celebrations at Home, I knew these cookies were going to make the "To-Eat" List on my diet cheat day. My husband and I are on a slow-carb diet from the 4-Hour Body book, but on Saturdays we can eat anything we want....have I mentioned how much I LOVE Saturdays???  Anyway, the thought of these cookies got me out of bed bright an early on Saturday, so I could bake them before going out of town.  They were so worth it, too!

Valentine's Day Cookies

Mine didn't turn out nearly as cute as those in the photos on Celebration at Home (maybe they sprinkled some extra chocolate chips and coconut on top of their dough balls before baking), but I did think they looked super cute on my new two-tier Valentine's Day tray from Target. 

Before bed time on Saturday, I decided I would sneak into the kitchen and eat just one more cookie while it was still cheat day.  I ate THREE!!!  Needless to say, these cookies had to leave the house, so this is how cute they looked on Sunday when they made their grand exit!

Cookie Bags with Handmade Gift Tag

I hand stamped the "A Little Yummy for Your Tummy" tag and mounted it on sparkly background paper.  The two things that really set it off, though, were the dimensional flower and the cute red and white baker's twine from The Twinery.  I've really been enjoying my Twinery twine so much that I placed an order for additional colors this week.

Cookies Gift with Handmade Gift Tag

Unfortunately, the recipients of the cookies were also on diets. Whoops! Sorry, guys!

Be sure to check out the Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies recipe on Celebrations at Home!

Monday, January 24, 2011

21st Birthday Ideas: A Dinner with Family
That's Not Too Embarassing

My brother David had his 21st birthday a week before Christmas, and my mom and I wanted to plan a little celebration. When thinking of 21st ideas, I tried to keep two things in mind for a guy's 21st Birthday Party:
#1) don't embarrass him and
#2) he's probably got more fun things to do that night...Hello? He'll be 21!!

21 Birthday Party

We decided on an early dinner at David's favorite Japanese steak house, Samurai in Andalusia, Alabama, with just immediate family, so David could go hang out with his friends for the rest of the night.

21st Party Decorations

I wanted to do something special for decorations, while keeping rule #1 (don't embarrass) in mind. I came up with these little double-sided table flags, and they were perfect! I picked up these jars and beads at Dollar Tree and embellished the jar with a little brown ribbon. I made three to place around the hibachi, and because they were so low, only the people at the next two tables over could see them (minimizes embarrassment). Since they were pretty small, they were easy to transport, too.

21st Party Decorations

Having David's name on the flags allowed our Samurai chef to really personalize our dinner experience, too...making for an extra fun night! He called David by name all throughout the meal, and the rest of us got called by name, too...well, sort of. We were "David's Mommy", "David's Sister", "David's Brother-in-Law", "David's Daddy", and my Dad's girlfriend Debbie was "David's Daddy's Friend". His persistence in calling us all by name was really funny, as they became quite a mouthful for him at times!

21 Birthday Ideas

Clearly, I forgot to tell Samurai about about Rule #1.  They made things even more festive with balloons, drums, and a delicious pineapple boat. Well, I guess you can't get out of a family gathering without a little embarrassment...right?!

21st Birthday Gifts

For David's 21st birthday presents, I came up with the idea for a "Find Your Favorite Beer Tasting Kit".  Over Thanksgiving, David had been asking me what beers I liked to drink, probably in prep for his birthday, so I thought he would enjoy doing a taste test to find his favorite.

21 Birthday Presents

The Fresh Market has these really neat looking six-pack containers for mix and matching beer to create a custom six pack.  Unfortunately, their beers were a little too gourmet for this project, as I was looking for the basics, but they kindly gave me the box with my grocery purchase.  I was able to find the single beers I needed at a gas station.  I filled the pack with a Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light, Corona Light, Heineken (in case he has more refined tastes), and a Blue Moon (one of my favorites).

My husband and I gave him something a little more substantial, too, and of course, the wrapping had to match the rest of the party decorations!

Gift Ideas 21st Birthday

21st Birthday Cake

David also loves Sugar Rush Bakery in Andalusia, so my mom picked up a variety of mini plain cheesecakes, mini turtle cheesecakes, and chocolate cupcakes.

21st Birthday Cakes Sugar Rush Bakery

So yummy!  It was wonderful because everyone could pick what they liked.

 21st Birthday Cake Sugar Rush Bakery

I found these cute plates and napkins to match everything else at Party City.  The plates are actually a hard plastic, so you could reuse them if you wanted.  For convenience, we just left them behind at the restaurant, though.

21st Birthday Supplies

I think David had a good time at his 21st Birthday Party!  Samurai Japanese Steak House even surprised him with a porcelain samurai figure, too, which was so thoughtful.  (David must eat there a lot!!!)

Party Ideas 21st Birthday

Do you have any 21st birthday ideas?
What fun things have your done to celebrate?

21st Present Ideas

Featured Handmade Items by Belly Feathers
Pennant Table Flags
"Find Your Favorite Beer" Tasting Kit Sign
Hand-stamped Birthday Gift Tag

Friday, January 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Cupcakes

Today is one month away from Valentine's Day, and I have a special treat for you. These Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes would be perfect to make for your special someone!

Valentine's Day Cupcakes

Chocolate cake filled and coated with chocolate peppermint ganache and then topped with peppermint cream cheese frosting and crushed peppermint candy - YUM!!!

I'll admit two layers of frosting is a bit decadent, but I promise it is worth the effort for a special occasion like Valentine's Day. For stress-free prep, it helps to make the chocolate cupcakes one night, and then do the ganache and frosting the next day. The cupcakes would be delicious with either the ganache or frosting alone, though (just skip the filling if you want to do ganache only to get a pretty finish).

Valentine's Day Cakes

Also, add the crushed peppermint candy shortly before serving because it will bleed into the cream cheese frosting after a few hours. I just used crushed up candy canes off my Christmas tree for this.

This peppermint cream cheese frosting makes a FABULOUS pretzel dip, too. In the future, I think I'll make some of this just for this purpose...that's how good it was! If you do a small dollop of frosting on top of your cupcakes like I did, you'll have a lot left over for pretzel dipping. 

Head over to Your Homebased Mom for these wonderful recipes and how-to instructions.

Do you have any special Valentine's Day traditions?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: The Reluctant Entertainer

Do you entertain as often as you'd like?  Do you feel inadequate at it?   To be honest, we don't have company over very often at our house (hello...I'm a party blogger!), and when we do, I kind of feel like I wasn't very good at it. My husband and I always find an excuse to push an invitation back, which many times turns into never. And of course, we're the ones who miss out and lose by doing this.

The Reluctant Entertainer Book Review

Therefore, I'm setting a new year's resolution to do better, and I've found The Reluctant Entertainer by Sandy Coughlin tremendously helpful in finding the encouragement to do so. This book has a lot of practical wisdom and real-world examples. Best of all, it's a super fast and easy read. I finished it in a week!

The book does a great job of addressing a variety of issues that keep us from having friends and loved ones over to our house, so we can overcome them. It helped me see that my biggest pitfall is perfectionism. When I can't make things perfect for whatever reason, I'd rather not entertain at all. This section from the book hit me like a ton of bricks:
"[My husband] told me, 'Perfectionism is a jail cell locked from inside, creating your own misery.' He explained that there is a huge difference between trying to be excellent at what you do and trying to be perfect at something. Excellence is working toward an attainable goal that benefits everyone, while perfection comes from a place of great need--usually the need to avoid criticism and gain praise and approval from others."
This was really an epiphany for me--the need to be perfect holds me back more than anything else.  It made me feel really sad to realize how vain I am, but at the same time, I feel like it is 100% so true. Sometimes you need a little tough love to help you move forward, and that's what the the chapter on perfectionism was for me!

My husband and I are now affectionately referring to this as the "Perfectionist Monster" and have discussed ways in which it prevents us from entertaining.  Last year, I really wanted to have a Cinco de Mayo party, but my full-time employer temporarily laid everyone off in April.  I got really depressed and dumped the party, when I probably could have used the distraction and company the most.  My loss!  I can think of a lot of examples from my life when I got scared by the Perfectionist Monster (my house wasn't spotless, no time to make a cutesy craft decoration, etc.), but I just didn't know that was the reason.

What's really great about the book is that you'll realize you naturally have strengths in some entertaining areas that are more difficult for others. I found this really encouraging! Sandy lays these out in her "Ten Commandments of Hospitality" and delves deeper into each one in chapters. I'm naturally strong at Commandments 2, 6, and 7, and while not a natural strength, I have always understood the importance of Commandment 1 and try to improve on this whenever I can.
Commandment 1
Hospitality is not about you. It's about making others feel warm and welcome.

Commandment 2
Plan ahead, be organized, and know your recipe. Learn to delegate.

Commandment 3
Set the mood. Keep ambiance and the five senses in mind.

Commandment 4
Avoid perfectionism. Put fear aside--it's a robber of anything good.

Commandment 5
Share conversation. Foster friendships by keeping things real.

Commandment 6
Demonstrate thriftiness. Buying things at cost or learning to pinch pennies makes entertaining attainable on a budget.

Commandment 7
Don't apologize. It's okay to make mistakes. Learn to not bring them to light in front of your guests; it robs your guests of relaxation.

Commandment 8
Be creative. Use what you have. Keeps things simple.

Commandment 9
Learn from others. Find mentors and learn to find a healthy balance and keep things real.

Commandment 10
Life impact is everything. Experience intimacy and meaning in sharing a meal and gleaning from others' lives.
If you're looking for ways in which you can break out of your reluctant entertainer shell, I highly recommend this book!  It's got a lot of great party ideas and recipes as a bonus, too. Sandy Coughlin also has a blog called Reluctant Entertainer.

Do you know what your entertaining strengths and weaknesses are? Let's talk in the comments here or on Facebook.

Related Blog Posts

Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas Cookie Baking at Last

On "New Year's Eve" eve, I finally got to do some Christmas cookie baking!  This year, we were out of town every weekend from Thanksgiving up until Christmas, so our busy holiday season kept me from my baking.  Boy, did I make up for lost time, too! 

Christmas Cookies Ideas

We celebrated a late Christmas with some out-of-town family on New Year's Eve, and I jumped at the opportunity to bring cookies.

Here's what I baked (clockwise from top):

I was super surprised at how good these Holiday Pretzel Kisses were!  I wanted to make them because they looked so cute, but I honestly expected them not be not so good.  They were very's a shame that they don't sell Candy Cane Kisses all year, so I could make them for different occasions throughout the year with different colored M&Ms on top.

Candy Cane Kisses Pretzels Cookies

I came up with a baking innovation this weekend, too!  I got this utility cart for Christmas from my husband, and it has been so handy to have over the last couple of weeks.  It made an awesome cooking rack for my millions of cookies.  I used up all of my cookie sheets in this baking session (and I have a lot), so I don't know where I could have put them all to cool without this rack.

Industrial Cooling Rack

Do you have any good cookie recipes I should put on my To-Bake List?

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Happy New Year!

    Happy New Year 2011

    Wishing you a 2011 rich in blessings!

    Thanks for making Belly Feathers' 2010 so wonderful! Looking forward to another great year of sharing fun party ideas and entertaining tips with you.

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