By Ruthanne Johnson
It’s fall, which happens to be the party season. In the span of four months, dozens of merrymaking opportunities exist, from Halloween and Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year’s. And there’s always football, hockey and the World Series.
But many celebrations cast a huge environmental footprint through disposable décor and tableware. In 2013 alone, Americans generated some 254 million tons of trash! So why not add sustainability to the mix?
“For me, a sustainable party is all about the food,” says Sacramento-based party guru Jerry James Stone, a food author who writes about eco-friendly victuals and drinks in his popular blog, CookingStoned.tv. “Food connects people, communities and everything else,” he says. “It defines our water use and energy consumption, and how we treat our land.”
Here are a few general do’s and don’ts when it comes to hosting a green party.
♦ Do plan ahead, suggests Nora Beelner of The Front Range Catering Company in Boulder. Decorate and prepare food ahead of time, and cook from scratch. “Prepared products have a lot of packaging, which creates a lot of unnecessary trash.” You could also buy compostable tableware sold at most natural grocers.
♦ Do send evites. They’re easy to set up and great for event management. Use an evite company, like evite.com, or make your own evite on a computer and paste it into an email you can send to everyone on your list.
♦ Don’t neglect special diets. If you serve meat, make it from humanely raised animals. Include a few vegan and vegetarian options and lighter dishes, like fresh fruit and veggies, dips, olives, and homemade hummus, as well as locally baked pastries, rolls or muffins with homemade jam. Source ingredients locally whenever possible.
♦ Do ask your trash company for compost bins; just make sure everything is compostable, including the trash liner. For events with bottled and canned drinks and non-compost-ables, use separate, clearly labeled recycle, trash and compost bins.
♦ Do serve a signature drink.
♦ Do go thrift shopping. It’s a fun way to find unique party décor, like big jars for holding signature drinks, trays for food displays and vases for seasonal flowers. “It’s repurposing things, which ties into sustainability,” Beelner says.
These things will make a football party more memorable.
♦ Do make sure all sitting places have good television viewing. And serve enough food, as football parties typically involve alcohol.
♦ Don’t serve standard fare like chicken wings. Try fun edibles like finger sandwiches on dark rye cut into football-helmet shapes or pigskin-shaped pizza pockets. Or try mini tacos and tofu-and-veggie kabobs (use extra-firm tofu marinated in barbecue sauce).
A favorite at Three Leaf Concepts is Buffalo cauliflower skewers with ranch dressing. “You just toss cauliflower florets in water, roll them in flour and seasonings, and oven-bake them. That gives them a really light crust,” marketing director Sara Morell says. “Then add your choice of hot sauce and roast them a little longer,” skewer and serve. Serve fresh fruit in a hollowed-out watermelon carved in the shape of a football helmet.
♦ Do use football-themed decorations, like green tablecloths with white tape to mimic yard lines on a football field. Draw football plays on a medium-sized blackboard and use it for tabletop décor. And ask everyone to wear a team jersey.
♦ SIGNATURE DRINK Beer, of course, but rent a keg and support sustainable local breweries like New Belgium and Odell, which both use wind power.
These tips will get your party “creep” on.
♦ Do go all out with carved orange and white pumpkins, black candles, gnarled branches, dead wreaths and imitation spider webs. “I saw a rubber mask in a jar filled with water to make it look like a preserved head,” Beelner says. “It was very creepy.”
♦ Do play muted horror movies like Frankenstein and Nightmare on Elm Street, and have an eccentric play-list with songs like “Werewolves of London,” “Monster Mash,” “Thriller” and “Ghostbusters.”
♦ Do serve spine-chilling fare, like deviled eggs with yolks streaked with red beet juice to resemble bloodshot eyes; graveyard muffins with candied hands and bones sticking out; and white-chocolate fondue stained red for dipping fresh fruit and marshmallows. Place bottled drinks in carved-out pumpkins filled with ice.
♦ SIGNATURE DRINK Stone’s bloody old-fashioned (the recipe is in his book, Holidazed) features blood orange juice, rye whiskey, brown sugar and orange bitters garnished with grated cinnamon. For a macabre nonalcoholic brew, freeze freshly squeezed lemon juice and peeled grapes in ice trays, then drop the fake “eyeballs” into water glasses.
Giving Thanks and Counting Blessings
Thanksgiving and Christmas are fun holidays. So much to do, so little time!
♦ Do get creative with décor. Rather than customary holiday colors, try ivory and green with glints of gold and purple. “It still says fall, but it’s not what you would normally think of,” Beelner says. At Christmas, “get glitzy with more gold and silver.”
Place mini pumpkins and gourds in big glass jars from thrift stores. At Christmas, opt for colorful bulb ornaments, and string up snowflake cutouts made from recycled paper.
♦ Don’t limit yourself to sit-down dinners. Minglers keep it informal. Stone has his guests bring a special photo with them. “Then we sit around and tell our stories about it, while sharing in good food. It’s a fun way to get to know people even better,” he says. For Christmas, put out a donation jar for a charity or have guests bring old blankets, toys, leashes and other supplies for the local animal shelter.
♦ Do serve seasonal foods. Beelner likes baba ghanoush with roasted fall vegetables and garlic-and-cucumber yogurt dip. Another seasonal veggie is acorn squash filled with blackberries, homemade corn-bread stuffing and pecans; it’s one of her company’s signature holiday dishes. After baking, cut into quarters and serve as a side dish.
To keep food warm, she suggests making a simple warming plate with a small granite piece for the top (sold at stone fabricators like Advantage Stone in Longmont) and brick supports. Place Sterno cans beneath the stone, making sure the flames don’t touch the stone. The warm granite makes a nice display, Beelner says, and the stone’s smooth surface is easy to clean.
♦ SIGNATURE DRINK Stone’s Holidazed sangria is made with white grape juice, a little sugar, pinot grigio, fresh cranberries and diced Granny Smith apples, garnished with candied rosemary sprigs.
When it’s cold outside, try Three Leaf’s popular hot party drink: a chai Russian, made with chai concentrate, milk (or coconut or almond milk), vodka and Kahlua. Keep it warm in a Crock-Pot and put out a decorative serving ladle.
Whatever party you host this season, try to cast a lighter environmental footprint and encourage a healthier scene. You may find it’s fun to inspire positive change!
Flea markets are a great source for party finds, like metal tubs for ice and beverages and wooden crates for display risers.
For décor, spray-paint fallen branches white and decorate them with string lights. Or fill glass jars with pine cones to use as centerpieces. Make serving platters by slicing a dead aspen tree trunk. “They’re great for displaying food, or you can use them as risers for other décor like fresh flowers,” Beelner says. When the party’s over, keep them for future functions or use them for firewood.
Collections are another decorative option. Sara Morell, of Three Leaf Concepts in Louisville, and her fiancé will use his collection of wooden boxes and her vintage cameras as centerpieces for their wedding. Just pair up your collection with the party’s theme, like old sports posters for football parties or funny childhood photos for Thanksgiving get-togethers.