Monday, June 25, 2012

Throw Down: 90's Prom

TheBashionista on prom night, 1994.

Let's take a trip back to a time when Seattle was grunging up the airwaves, you were lucky to have a dial-up internet connection, and rocking baby doll dresses or Converse All-Stars at the local coffee shop was your new favorite hobby.  Whether you're nostalgic for the '90s or you never outgrew your teenage angst, this party is for you. Have friends who stress out about coming up with clever costume ideas - or friends who could barely tie their shoes in the '90s? This party is also for them - they can throw on their fanciest outfits and they'll be all set for prom. Done and done!
From tricking out your party space, to feeding your guests, to inspiring them to bust a move, we have got you covered. Click here for a '90s dance party playlist, and click here for a photo gallery of costume ideas.
Now, there's nothing wrong with throwing a 90's party in the comfort of your own home. But to make it feel like a prom, you're probably going to need a bigger space. I threw this party for my 30th birthday, and I knew I'd be drawing a crowd. So I rented a venue -  as I did for my Summer of Sam and my Flashdance Electric Boogaloo parties. It's not as crazy as it seems! I asked for a $5 donation at the door, which covered the cost of the hall, and then I provided all the food and drink. If this still sounds way too spendy, consider having a combined birthday party with a few friends where you split the cost of food and drink. It'll be a party for the books.

Working the Door

Guests mingle in the entrance hall.

In my article here I talk about how to give your guests a stellar first impression and make them feel instantly welcome - including the instant camera I recommend you use. For this party, I asked friends in groups of three to work the door for me for one half hour spell during the night. One person greeted and hung coats, one person collected the cash, and one person snapped polaroid pictures. The polaroids went into the Guestbook ("Prom Yearbook") - and each guest was asked to write where they were on Prom Night, 1994 - since the answers ranged from getting home from preschool to hanging out in their actual grown-up apartment, it made for a great conversation piece.

The Party Room
The party took place in a big square room. The dance floor was in the center, loosely marked off by the four main support columns in the building, which were strung up with colored fairy lights. Guests entered the hall from the bottom center of the square.

To the right of the entrance, we set up two long tables and chairs with white fairy lights above for better illumination.

To the left of the entrance, we built a movie pod. Luckily, I know someone who let me borrow his projector - those things are crazy expensive! We projected movies silently onto a white sheet, which was strung up about four feet from the back wall. The cool thing about the projection is that you can see it on either side of the sheet - you can dance along with the prom kids in She's All That, or you can sit behind the screen on one of the couches and make up your own dialogue.
Inside the pod, we set up living room furniture, favorite 90's games like Jenga, Girl Talk, and '90s Trivial Pursuit, and I borrowed a tv for screening episodes of My So-Called Life, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld.
Throughout the night we screened movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Clueless, Empire Records and Reality Bites. And my amazing friend Rachel Moliere edited together a montage of scenes from '90s dance movies. We placed the projector on a pedestal and surrounded it with the food tables, so there'd be no risk of anyone knocking it over.
In the back left corner of the room, we set up the bar, and a table with wine and premade cocktails was on the wall opposite the entrance - just to keep traffic jams at the bar to a minimum.

Sample Menu
My cousin Lauren and sister Susan helped me cater this party, and we served up a menu inspired by prom fare, but a little more manageable. We made several trays of lasagna, a big vat of garlicky green beans, and salad, and then we served favorite snack foods of the '90s - Doritos and Sun Chips, for example. We also made garlic-lover's hummus, and Susan's famous Peanut Butter Popcorn. And then my sweet cousin baked me a fancy cake.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Drank Beer So You Don't Have to

The Lizzes take on the Beer Festival!
 A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of roaming around the American Craft Beer Festival in South Boston, sampling way too much and then writing increasingly incoherent capsule reviews of each one. I skipped the beers I had sampled two years earlier this time around, but here for your enjoyment and edification I give you: The Bashionista's Adventures in Beer! where I will combine the highlights of the past two years of my scholarly research.

Allagash Brewing Co. (ME)

Allagash Blonde (6.86%): Smooth and sophisticated, effervescent. The party girl you idolize.
Allagash Curieux (Bourbon Barrel-Aged Triple 11%): OMG OMG OMG. This would annihilate me and I would love every minute of it. Maine's answer to Fin du Monde.
Allagash Victor (Belgian Strong Ale with grapes & wine yeast 9%): Aroma is misleading. An Allagash White playing dress-up in a winery.

Backlash Beer Co. (MA)

Groundswell (Belgian Strong Pale Ale 6.4%): Fun and uncomplicated.

Brewery Ommegang (NY)

Tripel Perfection (Tripel 8.9%): Great taste but the bubbles got in the way. The whole time I'm like, shut up, bubbles, I'm trying to read.

Cambridge Brewing Co. (MA)

Mass Appeal: Bright with a little tang. This beer is doing jumping jacks on my tongue. It's sporty. I'm not in love, but in like.

Cape Ann (MA)

Sunrise Saison (6.5): Like bubbly pez.
Wit: Refreshing, comforting. Good sturdy wheat beer. Aftertaste is slightly hoppy.

Haverhill Brewery (MA)

Beerstand (Berlinerweiss 3%): Bleahhhhh. SO SOUR IT HURTS. Hitler came from Germany for a reason.
Gose the Gozerian (Gose 4%): Woah. Salty delicious. I feel like I'm drinking a beer on the beach and making out with someone who's been sucking on limes.
Seventh Seal (Quad 10.1%): YUM! Bright, then velvety with a coffee finish.

High & Mighty Beer Co. (MA)

Fumata Habanera: It tastes like I'm licking a fire pit, says Liz Laneri, and I say yes, one that someone barbecued in 8 hours ago.
Pas de Dieux (Saison 5%): Tre French. Sophisticated and hoppy. A "fuck you" to my prole palette.
Two-Headed Beast (Belgian Chocolate Stout 4.5%): Shit yeah. Like being punched in the face by a chocolate square.

Jack's Abby Brewing (MA)

Leisure Time: Sunny, friendly, mellow. The loveable stoner of beers.

Kona Brewing Co. (HI)

Koko Brown (American Brown Ale 5.5%): Subtle coconut. I am in a hammock and my feet are tan. Just my feet. Paradise.

Lawson's Finest Liquids (VT)

Maple Triple: I write "Ok, I may be drunk, but I feel like this sweet beer is caressing my face. I think I need a moment." At this point my handwriting is almost completely unintelligible and I recall shouting "3 more beers and I will motorboat someone's pretzel necklace!"

New Century Brewing Co. (MA)

Edison Light (All Malt Pilsner 4%): Surprisingly good! Light beer with taste.
Moonshot (All Malt Pilsner with Caffeine 5%): Functional. Ok but not delicious. The Jolt of beers.

OPA-OPA Steakhouse & Brewery (MA)

Red Rock Amber Ale: Meh. Ok, but watery. An honor student with no personality.
Opa Opa Watermelon Ale: Like a jolly rancher sucker punched you and tried to steal your wallet. Sweet, then tart, leaving you perplexed and vulnerable.

The People's Pint (MA)

Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (10.5%):Velvety sweet, just the right amount of body.

Portico Brewing*
*Ok, I can't actually find this brewery listed on the website. Did I dream this?
Chocolate Thunder Porter: YOU BASTARDS BURNED MY CHOCOLATE. Oh God, ash in my mouth. Nuclearwinterchocolatebar.

Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project (MA)

Baby Tree (Quadrupel 9%): Really tasty, sweet Belgian. (Incidentally, I have ordered at least three of these in the past three weeks. It is becoming my go-to beer of late spring!)

Prodigal Brewing Co. (NH)

Effinghamburgherbrau (Munich Golden Lager 5.1%): Tart middle note that I found a little disturbing. It was like a mid-sip wet willy.

Rapscallion (MA)

Rapscallion Honey (Extra Pale Ale 4.5%): I was hoping the honey would come to the rescue, but it was soundly trounced by the hops.
Rapscallion Lager (American Pale Lager 4.5%): Ooh, new favorite lager! It has an almost nutty aftertaste.

Rogue Ales (OR)

Double Dead Guy Ale (American Strong Ale 9%): Naaaaasty. Weird vegetable aftertaste.

Samuel Adams (MA)

Verloren (Gose 6%): Oh man. This is a really nice beer. This gose will hold the door open and ask if it can kiss you goodnight. Compare to the Haverhill gose (above), which makes you want to rip your top off.

Shipyard Brewing Co. (ME)

Sea Dog Blue Paw Wheat Ale (Blueberry Wheat Ale): Shipyard knows what the fuck they're doing with fruit! Not at all like an annoying houseguest! [This was following a discussion about Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, where I likened the cherries to a friend you're initially happy to see, but with every sip, you're like, oh, you're still here? until you begin to feel a rising panic at the thought that they may never leave.]
Sea Dog Blueberry (4.7%): Good LORD, how did they turn your favorite pie into a liquid??
Summer Ale (American Pale Ale): Summer is not their season, though.

Sixpoint (NY)

Righteous Ale (Rye 6.5%): Hella nasty.
Sweet Action (American Blonde/Cream Ale 5.5%): The smell is better than the taste, which is so faint it's like someone whispering down a long hall. Made me long for a Genny cream.

Stoudts Brewing Co. (PA)

Karnival Kolsch (4.8%): Bleahgh!
Heffer-in-Wheat (Hefeweizen 5%): Yum! Simple, refreshing.

Three Heads Brewing (NY)

Cobbs Hill: Bleh. Ashy coffee taste. The black coffee of lagers? Liz Laneri likes it and says it reminds her of high school.

21st Amendment Brewery (CA)

Hell or High Watermelon (Wheat Beer 4.9%): High hopes not met.

Uinta Brewing Co. (UT)

Cockeyed Cooper (Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine 11.1%): Ok. Prolly better warm.
Labyrinth (Oak-aged Black Ale 13.2%): Complex. Good, but I can't commit to a whole bottle.

Victory Brewing Co. (PA)

Braumeister Pils (German Pilsener 5.3%): Clean and refreshing. It does the job like a good boy scout.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cara's Death by Chocolate Cake

image via TheSmirkingCat.blogspot
 This post is a follow-up to Cara Valla's menu inspired by her recent skydiving expedition in New Orleans. Click here if you'd like to feast on Penne with Skyy-Vodka sauce and Cajun Airline Chicken before you dive into this heavenly dessert:

Death by Chocolate (not by skydiving!)

For the Cake:
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped into small peices
4 oz. butter
2/3 cup milk
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sour cream
2 cup self rising flour
1 tsp. baking powder
4 Tbsp raspberry jam

For the Filling:
4 Tbsp brandy
14 oz dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup butter

For the Ganache:
1 cup whipped cream
8 oz. semi sweet chocolate
To make the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Grease a 9 inch springform pan.
3. Warm chocolate, butter and milk in a sauce pan and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and add brown sugar and vanilla. Stir until incorporated and allow to cool.
4. Beat egg yolks and sour cream until smooth and light yellow, then beat in the chocolate mixture.
5. Sift dry ingredients and fold into egg and chocolate mixture.
6. Whip egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold into the batter.
7. Bake in prepared pan for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and it is firm to the touch.
8. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and finish cooling.
9. Gently warm the raspberry jam with 1 Tbsp of brandy.
9. Slice cake into 3 even layers and brush each layer with the jam and brandy mixture.

To make the filling:
10. Heat the remaining 3 Tbsp. brandy with the dark chocolate and butter, and stir until smooth.
11. Let cool to thicken.
12. When mixture is thickened, spread of the first two layers of the cake and assemble the three layers together.

To make the ganache:
13. Simply heat whipping cream until just before it boils and add in chocolate, then whisk until chocolate is melted.
14. Decorate outside of cake with chocolate ganache and any other decorations you desire such as chocolate work, coco powder, flowers, or fresh fruit.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Penne with Skyy Vodka Sauce and Cajun Airline Chicken


image via
 This past weekend I attended my cousin Anthony's wedding in the great city of New Orleans. I saw hundreds of family members, paraded through the streets of The Big Easy in a second line with an incredible marching brass band...aaand I also jumped out of an airplane with my sister. In celebration of jumping out of a plane and living to tell about it, I give you this Mile High Menu, perfect for feasting with friends - click here for dessert; Death by Chocolate.

There will be plenty of vodka left over for cocktail-making. Put out an additional bottle of bourbon, take away everyone's car keys, and prepare for takeoff.

Penne alla Vodka (featuring Skyy Vodka)
One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (use the whole can, liquid included!!)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 shallot, minced
salt, to taste
Crushed hot red pepper
1/2 cup Skyy vodka
1/4 -1/2 cup heavy cream
1 lb. penne pasta
freshly cut basil
grated Parmesan

-Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
-If you have a food processor, process the tomatoes just slightly to break up the tomatoes into a rough sauce-like consistency. If you don't have a processor its all the more fun for you..roll up your sleeves and squeeze the tomatoes in your fists to break them up. For the sake of your guests..please wash your hands!
(If you are using dried penne that takes about 10 minutes to cook you can add it to the water now and your sauce will be ready when the pasta is! But if you would rather not risk it, you can finish your sauce and then cook your pasta!)
-Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Smash the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and add them to the hot oil.
- Cook until the garlic is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
- Add in shallot and cook until translucent.
- Add in your tomatoes, making sure not to splatter yourself.
- Heat till sauce is lightly simmering and season with salt and crushed red pepper. Continue to cook for a few minutes so sauce has time to meld all the flavors.
- Add in the vodka, lower heat to a simmer and cook until the alcohol taste is not abbrasive (a few minutes).
-Right before the pasta is finished cooking scoop out the garlic cloves and add in your cream.
- Add your pasta to the sauce and cook for a few minutes so the pasta can absorb the flavor a little.
- If you have good olive oil, drizzle a little over the top with freshly cut basil and a sprinkle (or a shower, depending on your affinity for cheese and weather-related references) of Parmesan cheese.

Cajun Style Airline Chicken

image via
Airline-cut chicken simply refers to breast still attached to a portion of the wing. You can make this recipe with any cut of chicken just remember that when chicken is on the bone, it takes longer to cook!

2 lbs. Chicken breasts (skin on)

1/3 cup oil
3 Tablespoons vinegar (your preference, but I recommend champagne, white balsamic or apple cider)1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-2 Tablespoons Cajun seasoning (You can buy very nice blends of cajun seasoning or you can make your own. Below is a recipe I found that I really like.)

Cajun Seasoning:
3 Tablespoons paprika
2 Tablespoons salt
2 Tablespoons garlic powder
1 Tablespoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon dried thyme

- Combine all of your ingredients in a large plastic bag, incorporate and add your chicken breasts.
- Let marinate for 1- 3 hours.
- Fire up your grill or you can bake in a 375F oven for 30 minutes if you prefer.
This is a super-simple recipe that allows time for conversation while you cook!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Five Tips for the Best Wedding Speech Ever

All aboard the weddin' train!

Recently, I gave a wedding toast that went well. But while I got lots of compliments from people who thought it was an effortless triumph -- "it's so hard to do these things, and you rocked it" -- the truth is, I was absolutely, utterly, completely, shaking-in-my-dress-shoes terrified, to the point where I was having debilitating nightmares the week before and might have passed out from fear had it not been for several Scotches during the cocktail hour.

Which I guess makes me an expert on these things now.

And so The Bashionista, of whom I am a generous patron (and who shared a hotel room with me at said wedding), has asked me to provide a sort of primer on how to write a wedding speech. I suggest you ignore everything I say, especially since my own speech's success was more dumb luck than proper planning, but here goes anyway:

1. Keep it Simple, Stupid.

So this is where I would have failed hard, had it not been for an 11th-hour assist from Mama Marrone.

I decided, to my peril, that Geoff (the groom) had asked me to give the speech primarily because he wanted it to be the Most Epic Toast Ever Given In The History Of Mankind. The sort of speech that would end up on YouTube, go viral, and set the standard not only for wedding toasts to come, but for graduation speeches by luminaries at the finest institutions, the inaugural addresses of future presidents and perhaps the opening lines uttered by a human being to the first alien visitors to land on planet Earth.

Plus, he only asked me to give the speech two weeks before the wedding, during his bachelor party in New Orleans, so the pressure essentially turned me into an OCD madman.

Oh, and did I mention I can't handle anxiety?

Because I was scared to death, combined with all my misconceptions about Geoff's motives (and adulthood in general), I decided a two-person skit -- complete with hilarious banter and virtuoso-level back-and-forth riffing -- was the only way to approach this. Having another person up there with me would take a lot of the pressure off, plus said person could catch me when I keeled over halfway through from the terror and/or the crushing silence of the audience.

Not only that, but it would allow me to tell certain stories using a second voice -- in some cases Geoff's -- in order to really drive home the punch lines and turn a run-of-the-mill speech into an unforgettable farce.

Instead, what I ended up with -- after multiple edits and even a rehearsal session -- was an unmitigated disaster, which at the time I thought was artfully conceptual and brilliantly hilarious.

Then I read it to my mom, and all of the subconscious fears I had about it were suddenly realized. She put into words exactly why I was so afraid of giving it -- it was too long, not geared to the audience outside of Geoff, too much about me and not enough about them ... and way too effing complicated.

So I rewrote it the night before I left for the wedding, and to my astonishment, much, though not all, of my nervousness dissipated. I told quick, easily digestible stories -- a tongue-in-cheek list of reasons I can't stand Geoff, building up to the reasons I love him -- and kept it super short. Bingo!

I suggest you do the same. I know you've seen awesome dance numbers on the Internets, but unless you're a professional choreographer and the wedding party are all Alvin Ailey alumni, just say a few words and give the couple Broadway tickets as a wedding gift.

2. Keep It Clean, Asshole.

One of the byproducts of being asked to write the speech halfway through the bachelor party was that the first draft was so raunchy it would have made The Aristocrats blush.

It got toned down considerably in the editing process, but when I rewrote the damn thing at the last minute, I took nearly every off-color story out.

Thank God I did.

Not only would it have been entirely unpleasant for everyone involved, but any doubt that it might have been a destructive force was removed when Geoff's dad, who was so gracious and flattering to me in the days afterward, specifically thanked me for not going blue.

The jokes would have been perfect in New Orleans. They would have been tragic in Connecticut.

Leave them out. As much as you want to be edgy, a wedding speech isn't the time. (If you're Ron Jeremy's best man, all bets are off.)

3. Don't Ignore the Bride.

Or the groom, as the case may be, though the bride is even more crucial. I started my speech as if I were speaking directly to the bride, and I addressed her specifically throughout.

It helped, of course, that Brianna has become a friend of mine as well, but that's only an added bonus in my case. And, please, don't just mention the other spouse -- bring them and their relationship into it. Wish them well, tell the crowd why they're such a great couple, yadda yadda yadda.

It helps if you believe it, but that's not essential.

Marriages need a few white lies now and again. So do wedding speeches.

4. Have a Friend Like Geoff.

Obviously, this part is a bit out of your control. But the point is, Geoff and I have essentially been writing this speech together for 16 years. I tried to make it into a grand production, but reading my final speech to a room full of explosive laughter made me realize for certain that all I needed to do was share the stories, boiled down to just their inherent humor -- without any added bells and whistles.

Most likely, if you're in this spot, you have at least one or two good stories to tell. My speech was a list -- we were college roommates and have been friends ever since, so I had to leave a million stories on the cutting room floor -- but yours can just be one signature story, or even two shorter ones.

And if you're a girl and it's your sister instead of your college roommate, make 'em nice and emotional and chick-flicky. It's a wedding -- you can get away with being schmaltzy for once in your hipster existence.

And real tears? Even the cool kids will blush.

5. Brevity is the Soul of Wit.

And wedding speeches. This is very much related to Tip 1, but different enough to merit its own place.

And it's probably the most important suggestion I can make, too.

Leave them wanting more, or at least not wanting less.

My first speech was so long I'm embarrassed to describe it, full of peaks and valleys and wordy clauses that look great on paper but weren't worth the time or effort needed to choke them out in front of a big group.

Suffice it to say my final speech was probably still a bit too lengthy -- but it was at least two-thirds shorter than the original.

The bottom line? People want to hear a nice, funny, touching speech -- but they also really want to start boozing it up and boogying down.

So don't be John Lithgow. Let the kids dance already!

Matt Marrone, an editor at, also writes a bi-weekly column for the geek gaming site You can follow him on Twitter!/thebigm