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By Chayil 12/31/2008
Paris is known for food, wines, fashion, art, architecture, and lovers. Focus on a couple of these ideas.
Art & Architecture:
Try going to miniature Paris. Find largish map of Paris and maybe a few pictures of Paris (skyline, famous buildings/monuments, well-known streets or restaurants with couples kissing for the "lovers" touch), and a white square or rectangular tablecloth for each one, and take them down to Kinko's. They'll print the map onto the tablecloth for you, and you can use that as a table decoration on top of another tablecloth, say, a dark wine-red if you've got one. Stick an Eiffel Tower figurine on top (from eBay, for instance), right in the middle of the map tablecloth, as a centerpiece. Then sparsely spread your bowls of chips and dip, or drinks. The other tablecloths can go on other tables, or they can be hung on walls. The printing will cost a bit, but the tablecloths themselves can be cheap if you get them at a Goodwill; even cheaper if the "tablecloths" you buy are really plain white sheets instead. If you're feeling spunky, make a sign that welcomes people in French to your daughter's quincean~era (of course, that word will be in Spanish, but you could also write "fifteenth birthday celebration") -- get a local French teacher to help you, if you and your daughter aren't fluent. Encourage people to speak French if anyone does, or at least to put on a fake French accent, for the sake of fun.
Think about Paris. You're thinking about people with thin moustaches, wearing berets, aren't you? Maybe buy or make some really inexpensive berets for people to wear, or encourage them to get one for themselves. If you provide them, buy them all in different colors, and make them a gift for your daughter. She'll get to wear them and remember what fun she had at her party, and everyone else will remember it, too, and think it's cool. Look at fashion magazines from Paris (online -- free!) and figure out what people are wearing, then encourage your daughter to pick out an outfit that will look sophisticated and European.
Look up some easy recipes for French food, which isn't actually all that hard to make (but boy, the hype surrounding it is amazing, isn't it?). Crepes are supposed to be hard, but they're really not -- they're just thin, eggy pancakes. Get Alton Brown's recipe for crepes, because he explains it very simply. Fillings can be fruit pie fillings, cream cheese with ricotta and a little powdered sugar and cinnamon, ham and cheese, spinach and mushrooms -- anything you'd put in an omelette OR anything you'd put on top of pancakes. I saw a lot of folks eating crepes with Nutella. The good part about crepes is that you can make the batter the morning of the party, then cook them "to order" once the guests arrive. Make the crepes station your special purview. Get a couple of hot plates and a couple of big wide skillets. Pour your crepe batter into a pitcher or bucket with a SMALL ladle, and get into a rhythm that involves pouring one crepe while the other is 'resting', flipping the second while the first is 'resting', and filling. Put up a fillings menu in French and English, so people know what's available. Put on a white shirt, suit coat, black pants or skirt, and tie a white tablecloth around your waist as an apron. I never saw any food server in France wearing anything but this, and it looked amazingly crisp and clean and French. If you've got the means to buy or rent tables, or if you've got a bunch of card tables in the basement, set them up with two to three chairs each, and call it a street cafe. Each table gets a colored cloth at the bottom, and a sheet of butcher paper or a white cloth to cover the table top; a pretty paper napkin or two for each guest (bonus points for folding them in a pretty way); and a fresh or paper flower (more bonus points for origami) in a plastic champagne flute or other thin vase. Maybe an LED tea light (flameless candle) in a pretty holder too, and if you do that, dim the lighting in the room.
Paris is famous for wines, which isn't really appropriate for a quincean~era, but you can buy grape juice for wine, sparkling apple cider for champagne. For cocktails, offer Sprite or seltzer, colored with Torani soda flavorings or sno-cone flavors. Garnish, of course, with cherries, lime wedges, lemon slices, or celery sticks). Bloody Mary mix and a celery stick can be mixed with lemon or lime seltzer, unsweetened but slightly flat, for a less sweet/candylike and more adult taste. For an added bonus, pre-freeze fruit juice or Kool-Aid type mix into ice cubes. Drop a red ice cube into a yellow or clear drink, a purple cube into a red drink, a yellow cube into a green or blue drink. As it melts, not only will it produce more pretty colors, but it will also not water down the flavors of the "cocktails."
See if you can download some French music -- modern pop/rock, old-school jazz, and some classical pieces. Remember that a LOT of the music you hear on the streets in Paris is accordion music, and some will also be violin or guitar. Play the music a couple of times all the way through, and arrange it so that it's background while you're doing housework or something, and figure out which pieces are good to have at which times. Some music will be calm, sedate, perfect for calm conversations as the party first begins or winds down at the end, while other music will be good for dancing and getting rowdy. Arrange a thoughtful playlist, maybe five or six hours of music in all. You probably won't need all of it, by a long shot, but it's still good to be prepared.
Carry the mood right into all the rooms where partygoers will be welcome, including the bathroom. Put out paper guest towels that match the color scheme of the party, maybe a couple of pretty soaps. On the countertop, place a flower in a thin vase or champagne flute just like on the 'cafe' tables, and another smokeless tea light. Or, well, it's a bathroom, so it would probably be appropriate to have an actual, fragrant candle lit in there, to save people with upset stomachs from embarrassment. Supply LOTS of toilet tissue, because people will have to go, and it'll be awful if there's not enough. Don't worry if you still have a pile of unused rolls when it's all over, because you know you'll use it all eventually.
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