A 1960s Cocktail Party

sixties themed cocktail partyLast week, while the snow fell wildly in New York, we turned back the clocks inside and celebrated Christmas like we imagined some might have decades ago.

Inspired by a few of my recent vintage cookbook acquisitions and the season finale of Mad Men, I decided to throw a Christmas party that takes place just after the show left us: in December 1963.

Alejandra Ramos and Eugene SmolenskiyFor four weeks straight I dog-eared recipes for clam dip and molded salads, and scoured eBay for mid-century serving pieces (including an awesome deviled egg plate!). I bid (and mostly won) nearly every single magazine I could find from December 1963, amassing a brilliant collection with the intention of leaving them scattered about my apartment; the perfect set dressing to better help guests get into the mood.

Along with the Better Homes & Gardens and Good Housekeeping I left in plain view on our bed (where guests would be leaving their coats), I placed a Life (featuring our brand new President Johnson on the cover) near the bar, a few Gourmets in the kitchen, and a second Look and Saturday Evening Post on one of the chairs in the living room. And, for the boys, I left the 1963 Playboy Christmas special conspicuously displayed in the bathroom. (That's Eugene's brother down there sneaking a peek!)


The playlist was a carefully researched list of popular hits from 1963, along with a few classics from early years (and, I admit, a couple Mancini tunes from the mid-60s that were just too awesome to not include but which absolutely captured the right spirit). I created the whole list via Grooveshark so you can actually check out the playlist or even used it at your own retro cocktail party without having to download or buy anything. It's a wonderful collection of pop hits, bossanova, mambo, bugaloo, and pachanga. (Click here for the retro 1960s playlist)

Poor Eugene has been subjected to it so many times that he actually has a favorite song on it: "The Bossa Nova Hand Dance" by Connie Francis; I'm partial to Ann-Margret's "Thirteen Men" which tells the story of how the H-bomb blew up the world and eliminated everyone except her and thirteen men. Simply the limit!

Party Favors & Goodie Bags

sixties themed party favorsFrom the very start, I knew I wanted to hand out goodie bags to all the guests who attended and while looking for ideas to fill the bags, I came across a great site called "For Your Party" that offered pretty reasonably-priced personalization. I ended up ordering personalized matchboxes, cocktail napkins, and goodie bags that said "Merry Christmas 1963 at Eugene & Alejandra's" in a retro red lettering with cute starburst detail on white backgrounds.

I filled the goodie bags with the matchboxes, a package of vintage gum, jingle bells, Hershey Kisses, Tootsie Rolls & Peanut Butter Cups and some pretty bright red tissue paper to match the lettering on the bags.

Alejandra Ramos
Smoking was still cool in the sixties, but friends don't let friends smoke real cigarettes in 2009, so I ordered a big box of vintage bubblegum cigarettes to offer guests as party favors when they arrived. This way everyone could look just as cool as Don and Betty...without the risk of lung cancer!

The Booze

I wanted the bar to have a mock-polynesian "Tiki" look, so I decorated it with a bamboo runner and a real pineapple. I ordered tropical themed swizzle sticks and cocktail umbrellas which I poked into just about everything!

Eugene arranged Christmas twinkle lights on the back of the bar and I put vintage milk bottles filled with fresh lemon juice, lime juice, and homemade simple syrup. I got two kinds of olives for the martinis, a big vintage milk glass bowl of maraschino cherries, and had Eugene cut up lots of lime and lemon wedges. (note that the above photo was taken after it had already been a bit ransacked)

My collection of bar glasses was set up just to the side. My friend and vintage rockstar extraordinaire Sammy of Sammy Davis Vintage let me borrow her big chrome ice bucket which her parents had received as a wedding present back in the 70s (a big anachronistic, but really perfect!). That's her up there on the left next to my coworker Matthew. (You can read Sammy's own recap of my retro cocktail party here.)

And because no retro cocktail party is complete without a punch bowl, I also mixed up a big bowl of pink Sparkling Gin Punch in a big vintage grape leaf punch bowl.

Along with the vintage magazine, I set out a few bowls of homemade peppermint bark and cocktail books to add to the scene. We made a trip out to BJs the weekend before and stocked up on the booze, mixers, and bitters so we could offer our guests a full bar.

My friend Matt Looney played bartender masterfully, bringing along his full set of bar tools and shakers, and serving up an Old Fashioned that would have made Don Draper drool! Eugene thought he did such a fine job that he set out a tip cup for him and tossed in a few bills.

The Decoration

In the interest of space and authenticity, I decided to trade my usual big green Christmas tree for a retro tabletop aluminum one just like they had in the sixties. I was vying for a real vintage beauty on eBay but fell victim to my ADD just seconds before the bidding closed and lost out. Fortunately, I came across a perfect version on the West Elm website and called a nearby store to see if they had any in stock. The salesgirl told me they only had a floor model so, like a good thrifty 60s hostess, I negotiated and was able to bring it home for less than half the original price!

The rest of the apartment was decorated with plenty of twinkle lights, dangling icicles, and baskets of glittery Christmas ornaments. I lit candles all over the place (although far away from the flammable aluminum Christmas tree) and placed candy dishes filled with Hershey kisses and starlight mints all over the rooms.

The Menu

Food is key when planning any kind a party, and nevermore-so with such a specific retro theme. I relied heavily on my collection of vintage cookbooks including The Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook, Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook, Cosmo Cookery, and Thoughts for Buffets. There were so many incredible (and somewhat quirky) recipes, that I had to stop myself from making them ALL. To be honest, I just spent most of the time wishing I could open up a retro bed and breakfast that would be all vintage ALL THE TIME! Wouldn't that be amazing?

I'm also thinking that I may need to do a "vintage food for modern living" cookbook someday in the future because there is just too much good stuff out there that really shouldn't be lost (and which I know would appeal to all the retro fans out there. Consider it officially added to my list of life goals!

After hearing me talk about it for weeks, I know that some of my friends were a little freaked about the food that I would be serving, but when the time came, many of them were shocked by how good it actually was. I'll never forget my friend and coworker Aryanna's face when she took her first bite of my special Lime, Cucumber, Pineapple, and Cilantro Jell-O salad and exclaimed

"Miss Ramos! This is SO good! Why is this good?!" before helping herself to a second slice.

The truth is it WAS good. Refreshing and fruity; I definitely plan on serving it again come summertime...and I will absolutely be experimenting with more Jell-O salads. They're delightful!

I also really enjoyed being able to play with the presentation and decoration of all the food; it was a chance to really let go and just have fun with it all. My rule for sixties style food plating was basically "do a lot. then add three things." Hence the porcupine-shaped cheese ball (we named him "Delicious"), the salmon-shaped salmon mousse, and the copious umbrellas and skewers. Oh and when in doubt, ALWAYS add a sprinkle of paprika! Or a cherry! Or a cocktail umbrella!

Here is my complete party menu. (The recipes are being slowly posted and linked below in the menu.)

The Always Order Dessert 1960s Cocktail Party Menu

Buffet Table
Clam Dip
(Adapted from Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook, 1969)

Homemade French Onion Dip
(original recipe based on the classic Lipton dip)

Molded Salmon Mousse with dill and crackers, served on a bed of watercress

Shrimp Cocktail

Lime, Cucumber, Pineapple & Cilantro Jell-O Salad
(adapted from Thoughts for Buffets, 1958)

Mock-Rumaki with Scallops in Oriental Sauce
(adapted from the Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook, 1965)

Chafing Dish Cocktail Sausages
(Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook, 1965)

Swedish Meatballs
(adapted from Thoughts for Buffets, 1958 and the Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook, 1965)

Porcupine Cheese Ball
(adapted from an olive ad in Better Homes and Gardens, December 1963)

Deviled Ham Paste Sandwiches
(family recipe)

Deviled Eggs
(Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook, 1965)

Pineapple and Brown Sugar glazed Spiral Ham
(adapted from Thoughts for Buffets, 1958)

(Eugene's recipe)


Utz Potato Chips
(courtesy of Sterling Cooper)

Ambrosia Fruit Salad
(adapted from ErinCooks.com)

Sugar Cookies
(adapted from the Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook, 1965)

Rice Krispie Treats
(classic Kellogg's recipe)


Sparkling Gin Punch
(Gourmet Magazine, June 1967)

Old Fashioned

French 75
(my personal favorite)

Bitter Orange Kindler
(Gourmet Magazine, December 1965)

Ward 8 Cocktail
(Gourmet Magazine, October 1962)

Bloody Mary

Full Bar

Even though there was a blizzard raging outside, nearly everyone who intended to come still made it out to the party. Guests came in from New Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, and all over the city. Even my little brother, Gabriel, who NEVER comes to any of my parties, drove in from Jersey with his good friend, Dan, and (reportedly) had a great time (that's Gab in the swanky hat)!

Alejandra Ramos
I asked that the guests come dressed for the era with skinny ties and vintage glam and everyone looked wonderful. We had a fantastic time and I look forward to another great party next year!!!

To see the rest of the pictures from the part, you can visit my Flickr or Facebook albums. And be sure to let me know in the comments how you all celebrated your own Christmas and New Year's parties!!

The Saveur 100

The 2010 Saveur 100 list was announced today featuring 100 of the best, most inspiring food-related things of the year. Saveur releases this round-up of foodie awesomeness every January, but this year they decided to mix things up by having their readers decide what makes the list. I decided to join the fray and submitted two ideas back in the summer (I distinctly remember doing it while sitting on my bed just before going to sleep), then promptly forgot about it.

A couple months ago, I started getting phone calls and emails from various Saveur editors letting me know that not just one, but BOTH of my ideas were going to be featured in the issue. I was stunned! They received 1,348 entries, which they had to narrow down to 100, and still ended up choosing two of mine! That, as Eugene so poignantly noted that the time, is "friggin' awesome." A few emails went back and forth while the editors had me refine my little articles, and then I sat back and not-so-patiently waited for the issue to be released. (I even went so far as to look up a copy of the 2010 Saveur editorial calendar in order to see the exact on-sale date!)

This morning I woke up to a couple very effusive thank you tweets from Sarah of Tastespotting.com, the amazing visual potluck of a website that was one of my entries and #11 on the Saveur 100. I quickly hopped out of bed to check out the rest of the list and saw that my second entry, wonton wrappers, was #45 (with a gorgeous 3/4 page layout at that!).

Congratulations to everyone who made the list, whether as a contributor or as one of the listed. It's a fantastic way to start the year, and I'm stating now that it is officially one of my goals to actually BE one of the Saveur 100 within the next few years; whether it's my blog, my self, or one of my future books, I don't know yet, but it's definitely going to happen.

(Oh and needless to say, I cannot wait until I finally get my copy of the magazine so that I can read all the other amazing entries in detail. And, I admit, so that I can stare at my name printed in one of my favorite magazines.) Visit Saveur's website to check out the rest of the list or click here for an easy and simple pesto ravioli recipe featuring wonton wrappers (gyoza, actually, but it's the same idea), and feel free to brag in the comments if any of your entries also made it!


5 Great Holiday Dessert Recipes

As you know, I’ve been busily plotting and planning for my Christmas party this coming Saturday, and am guessing that many of you are doing the same. I thought I’d feature a few great desserts that you might like to try for your guests. As always, there are many more ideas listed in my recipe index, and I’m always happy to help or answer any specific questions you may have about my recipes. Just send me an e-mail!

1. Chardonnay Cake with an Almond-Sugar Crust

This is a quick and easy cake that will look drop-dead gorgeous on your holiday table, but no one will suspect that it took less than an hour to make. A glass of chardonnay is the secret ingredient that makes this cake ultra-moist, while adding a nice hint of boozy flavor, all topped off with a crunchy crust of sliced almonds and sparkling raw sugar. Get the recipe here.


On Jell-O Salads

Lime Cheese Salad, originally uploaded by larry&flo.
This isn't the exact Jell-O salad I will be serving at the party next weekend, but it's pretty close. I'm a little terrified that my gelatin dishes won't un-mold properly. I'm guessing many 60s hostesses also dealt with the same anxiety.

While the combination of lime, pineapple, and cucumber might seem a little bit odd, I'm reassured by the fact that my absolute favorite cocktail includes these very same ingredients. Maybe I should just add a little gin to the recipe and make it a Jell-O salad-shot...

Another Party Update

Well, hello! As I'm sure you noticed, I gave myself a little bit of a break this past week these past 12 days. It's been a blur of activity and planning for the 1963-themed Christmas cocktail party, though. I have finally found an outfit to wear, although it took several shopping trips and I confess that I somehow ended up with, um, eight new dresses in the process. I actually haven't made my final decision about which I'll end up wearing, but I'm definitely ready.

I am a little hesitant to divulge all the extra touches I prepared to heighten the authenticity of the party as I want them to be surprises for the guests. But then again, I also want to share some of these tips in case any of you are planning similarly themed events. I hope you'll be patient and wait until next week, but if you are super curious or looking for ideas for your own Mad Men or 1960s cocktail party, just email me at nanditablogs@gmail.com and I'll fill you in on all the fun details.

We have a great crowd confirmed to come, although there are still eight (8!!!) people who have refused to answer my multiple requests for RSVPs. Today is the deadline and I'm seriously considering uninviting all eight of them if I don't hear from them by 11:59pm today.

In a little while, Eugene and I will be heading out to my parent's house in New Jersey to pick up my Christmas decorations (I store them at their house since we don't have the room here) and then over to BJs in East Rutherford to stock up the bar. Fresh Direct will be delivering the final groceries on Thursday evening, and Friday will be spent decorating, rearranging the furniture, and doing every bit of early preparation that I can possibly do so that Saturday can be all about finishing touches and teasing my hair.
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