Buffet ANT-ics

Here in lies the woeful tale of two hostesses. The one I aspire to be and the one I really am.

A little melodramatic – but accurate.

I am so dedicated to the art of detail that more than once I have planned an event a year in advance. Attention to detail is the military mantra that we live by (and we like it that way). But, the truth is, when entertaining one can never truly prepare for everything.

Case in point – each duty station we move to is known for things. Those things can be good or bad. Things that are pretty and ugly. Things that frankly,  you don’t know about until you get there and experience it firsthand.

Enter stage right – sunny Southern California, an American paradise.

One finds the happy locals in their athleisure wear, strolling from Starbucks, yoga mat in hand. There is sea, surf, blue skies… and ants.

Wait, what?

Now, not all of my homes in SoCal had an ant problem, but one in particular did. And when I say problem – think full-scale ant invasion.

I noticed right away that a speck of cheese or a crumb of cookie would bring on the following morning an army of indescribable proportions. My dining room looked like an arthropod convention on the Discovery Channel. I addressed the problem immediately (borax, Raid, napalm) and thought nothing else of it.

Time to plan the next party, and plan I did.

Our Marines were on deployment. In true military spouse fashion; our squadron wives were hosting a Pity Party for the squadron wives whose Marines were replacing ours. Side note – a Pity Party is an opportunity to basically say, “ha ha we are done, and now you it is your turn to suffer. Enjoy”. We also eat our young in case you were wondering…

The invites were launched, the house was ready, and the spouses brought an amazing array of potluck items including the piece de resistance: a delicious ham. Spiral cut, studded with cloves and dripping with a sugary glaze. If it weren’t early May I would have guessed it to be December 25.

With the evening well under way, I poured a cocktail with an air of smug satisfaction. “Yes” I thought, “another successful event.”

In an unguarded moment, I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see one of our go to spouses (you know the one – she can be counted on for anything and everything) with a look of fear on her face.  I immediately stood up. She leaned forward and quietly whispered, “We have a code red meat emergency.”

Like any good senior leader’s spouse I confidently said, “Take me to the meat.”

As a host or hostess, we should never allow our guests to see us ruffled. In the worst situations, we remain calm, polite and patient. As my husband says, “never let them see you sweat.” But, I must say, what I saw next almost put me over the edge.

My ever vigilant friend had her arm outstretched with a pointed finger much like the ghost of Christmas future as he eerily points to Scrooge’s tombstone. I followed the length of her arm and my eyes landed on the ham.

Is the glaze moving?

ANTS. ANTS EVERYWHERE.

Is that one carrying a clove on his back? Why ants? Does the Ritz get ants? Does Ina Garten invite ants to dinner with Jeffrey? This isn’t supposed to happen – I did not plan for ants!

 I like to think I am cool under pressure, but I am not. I immediately grabbed the ham and ran like a wide receiver crossing the goal line quickly spiking the ham into the kitchen trashcan.  In a flash, amazing spouses were scurrying for any remnant of insect. It was an ant-killing Seal Team 6.

The determination was made that the ants were meat eaters and had confined themselves only to the gammon. Thankfully, the food service had been going for a while and it appeared that we had simply removed a few things. The buffet was spotless and open for business.

I stood there for a moment and became rather frustrated. What made me think the ants were going to self-relegate? Why did I assume that they had come together prior to my event and agreed to not transgress the buffet table? The ants were truly an ongoing problem and I should have planned the placement of my food better.

Let’s put a bow on this sad tale with some entertaining tie-ins.

  1. Know the problem areas in your house whether it is in military quarters or a rental.
  2. Don’t fight the issues, just adjust accordingly.
  3. Always have your power team of spouses. The ones you can rely on to help. In turn make sure you are there for them as well when they host an event.
  4. Don’t become emotional or excited in front of your guests and if something is amiss with your food simply remove it.  Due to the fact that there were so many wonderful offerings on the buffet, the removal of the ham was not a huge issue.
  5. Be in the habit of having a few easily prepared items in your freezer just in case of a culinary emergency. It is always a wonderful thing when we can prepare a fresh, homemade menu but sometimes you need a little back up.

But always, always remember: you can fix any situation – even arthropod WWIII.

Entertainingly yours,

Cassie

Pop-Up Shop!

I love military spouses.

I love how they persevere through moves. I love how they laugh in the face of job losses. I love how they can take deployments and major life changes with grace and poise, keeping it together for their family and their nation.

But one type of spouse that I love most (and who never ceases to amaze me) is the entrepreneur. You know – the self-starter! The one who creates or manages a booming home industry, even while stationed half-way around the world! Amazing!

Some spouses like this are working for a little extra pocket money, some just want to supplement their retail therapy and many just want to increase the family income (and actually end up making more than the active duty spouse!).

I personally have never started a business, or been part of an in-home sales company, but boy do I support them. I have offered my house as a party venue, and have attended nearly every one I received an invite to. I have such respect for those of you willing to get up in front of customers (who are also usually your peers) and engage them in your product.

A few years back, I was living on an installation with an inordinate amount of consultants in housing. There was a salesperson on every corner! Whatever you wanted, it was right there!

 Also down the street I had a dear friend that was very involved in fundraising efforts for wounded active duty. One day she mentioned she was trying to organize a new fundraising event, but couldn’t quite come up with a theme. Well, two heads are better than one, so we sat down and brainstormed. It was then that we came up with an in-home pop-up shop idea! We felt this would be a great opportunity to support military spouses who were making the effort to better themselves and at the same time, support our wounded war heroes!

You have probably been to one on base and heard them referred to as a ‘vendor blender.’ The clubs, base gyms, or other large facilities open up for vendors to sell their goods. We copied the same concept but decided to hold it in my home!

We privately invited fifteen consultants of various products to participate in our fundraising event. However, in order to participate, the vendor would need to donate a certain amount of proceeds to our military charity. Now you might be wondering, what is the benefit to the vendor? Why would they want to come, just to give money away? Good questions!

When asking a favor like this of vendors, I kept in mind that they were looking for how this would  benefit them too. Though my vendors were lovely, wonderful people, when it came to their merchandise – they were all about the business.

But how can a vendor generate business without new clients? That there was our selling point!

By putting together an environment with multiple pop-up shops, we could draw a crowd with many different tastes and preferences. This would provide immediate access to new clients for all the vendors! Many attendees had never heard of certain merchandise, and how wonderful for the vendor that they were right there with their product, ready to sell!

Boom. The vendor sign-up was full.

The next step was promoting our event. Approximately one month out from the fundraiser we started a social media blitz – utilizing neighborhood Facebook pages, email, and even old-school fliers. We had nearly 500 ‘looks’ on our Facebook event, and then the RSVPs starting coming in. That’s a pretty substantial amount for base housing!

A week before the event each consultant came to my home to choose where she would set up her stock and get the lay of the house. Some measured out their spaces and photographed the area they would be in. (It’s vitally important you meet the needs of your vendors in a situation like this. Remember – their business may be their livelihood, or a significant part of it!)

We planned on an all-day event from 9 am to 3 pm, with set-up the night before. The event was scheduled for a weekday, knowing kids would be in school and Moms would be free to shop (but we still welcomed children and home schooled friends as well).

We wanted our guests to have the full experience, so I created a breakfast buffet menu consisting of bagels, assorted cheeses, pastries and fresh fruit.  In the kitchen I arranged a self-serve coffee station, along with juices and tea. Breakfast service was from 9 am to 11 am.

I then created a light lunch menu consisting of cold meats, French bread, and assorted salads. Lunch service was from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. After lunch I pulled all the remaining food and continued to serve beverages, both cold and hot.

When entertaining, it is critical that you prep as much as you can in advance. I displayed and tightly wrapped all non-perishables the night before. The bagels, the French breads and the butter can all be placed on your buffet the evening prior to your event. Also the meat and cheese trays I prepped the morning before, tightly sealing and storing them in my refrigerator.

The day prior, we moved almost every stick of furniture from all public spaces of the house. But it didn’t leave the house! The garage, the bedrooms, outback – all places to store furniture!

As soon as we were done, the consultants arrived (at an agreed upon time) and set up their stations. It was really fantastic to see the entire lower-level of my home filled with goods.

 The day of the event, the vendors arrived early and were ready to go as the doors opened at 9 am sharp. As guests arrived, they were greeted outside by a mimosa bar under decorative umbrellas and then invited in to begin shopping.

The Base Pop-Up Shop was a great success! The attendance was fantastic! Polite conversation flowed throughout the morning as bargain hunters scored some great deals. But most importantly, the goal of a very generous donation made to our wounded warriors was achieved, and vendors walked away with profits and connections!

So what’s the main point of all this?

It’s to encourage you to always take your events to the next level. Think creatively and use your know-how to recreate and reinvent the traditions we so enjoy. Not to mention, it is so very important that we support one another, whether in business or friendship, as we navigate this thing called military life!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Going Once, Going Twice… SOLD!

Have you ever attended an auction? Held that funny paddle in your hand? Fought it out with someone across the room for that fabulous antique dresser and won?

Well I am here to let you in on a little secret. Your closest base has an auction for you to attend, compliments of the U.S. government.

Just when you thought you had memorized all the acronyms out there, allow me to share one more: DRMO.

DRMO is the abbreviation for the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office. I have included the link for the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Services (DRMS), which is a broader scoping explanation of what surplus auctions are all about.

As far as I could find, there are twelve different versions of this description (some use redistribution rather than reutilization, etc.) but what it really comes down to is that bases all around the country must unload their old or unwanted surplus and you, my friend, are the beneficiary.

Simply search the abbreviation DRMO and then your installation name. Information should pop right up.

The auctions are held annually or bi-annually in warehouses, hangars, storage facilities and sometimes in parking lots both on base and off.

There are traditional auctions where one registers and purchases a paddle with a number. There are also first-come, first-served with lines wrapping around the event hours before the doors open!

All auctions have some sort of preview prior to the event. Whether it is a walk-thru the day before, a walk thru the morning of, or a glossary of items being auctioned in an online catalogue on the installation website, you will know what’s being sold so you can formulate your game-plan.

But whatever the case, show up early and have plenty of cash.

My experience with the DRMO auctions are somewhat extensive…my first was a live bid auction. I watched with anxious anticipation as a beautiful cherry desk came across the stage. The auctioneer began to call the cadence that only an auctioneer can and before I knew it I was the proud owner of a solid cherry desk purchased for $45.00!

You must have the ability to pick up your newly acquired goods immediately so I pulled my minivan around to the loading dock for pickup. As I turned the corner I saw six identical cherry desks. How fun I naively thought. I handed the gentleman my receipt and he politely let me know that I better move fast if I wanted to get all six desks out by the end of the day.

Mama say what?

You see friends, I had failed to do the walk-thru and missed that the desks were sold as a pallet of desks, meaning a group. I purchased six gorgeous desks for $45.00! A steal in its own right but what a nightmare getting them home and storing them. I subsequently sold all six and learned a valuable lesson of auction etiquette. Make every effort to research what you are purchasing and by all means do the walk thru.

Over the years I have seen camping equipment, old bowling alley pins, daycare supplies and furniture, old hotdog and cotton candy machines from the recreation checkout and more military equipment than one could imagine.

My favorite however, is when the base needs to unload their old glassware, serving pieces and pub furniture from the different social clubs on base. My biggest score ever was a pallet of 180 wine glasses for $22.00! This particular auction was at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska and the auction was a walk thru style set up. A huge hangar was filled with old and surplus items that needed to be unloaded in order to make room for the new items. The wine glasses were in piles on the floor. I grabbed as many as I could and made an offer.

The collection has been a wonderful addition to my entertaining cache. I have used them at weddings, Christmas parties, brunches, and large scale neighborhood events. Remember though, we are all on weight limits for our household goods so I encourage you to be very selective about what you bring on board. Check out my post, “So were you overweight when you got here?”  to better understand weight guidelines and consequences.

Do your research and go with a group, make it a unit outing. Be forewarned, auctions can be very addictive so pace yourself.

Have you attended a DRMO auction? Share with us your experiences, your finds and that big score!

Entertainingly yours,

Cassie

Sweet and Savory, Bad Behaviory

“Is there anything on this buffet that is gluten free, anything at all!?”

I paused for a moment as a chill ran down my spine.

I had forgotten to provide a gluten free alternative and now my militant guest was calling me out with shrill, Verruca Salt-like attitude. I scrambled for a box of gluten free crackers, uncontaminated fruit, rock candy (maybe a little past the expiration date, but rock candy doesn’t go bad right?!). I looked for anything, ANYTHING, that would suffice in this entertaining emergency. How did I miss this? I finally found something and quickly prepared a small plate for my guest.

But I’ll be honest, after catching my breath I became slightly irritated.

Allergies can be deadly, so as a host or hostess we want to be made aware of all dietary restrictions and my guest seemed to have forgotten to inform me of her condition. The goal of any good host or hostess is to provide and cater to their guest’s every need. However, sometimes people take their guest status a little too far. Instead of taking offense, take note – and learn from it!

I make sure I always take into stock comments I hear during the event. Then after all the guests leave, I do what the military calls a “hot wash,” or an ”after-action report.” I mentally go over the good and the bad, the successful and unsuccessful. You understand! It’s a great way to make sure at your next event you don’t find yourself in a hard place between a gluten-free guest and a gluten-full table.

“I hate meatloaf but this is actually good.”

“How long do we have to stay?”

“Does she actually drink wine out of this?”

Think I’m kidding? Even the most refined officer and polished lady of state can accidentally leave their mental filter at home.

“I hate this champagne, it is ca-ca.”

“Oh nothing for me, we leave for Hawaii in a week and I am dieting.”

“I don’t eat vegetables in my dessert.”

That last one? Foreign military – bet you never thought of that!

“Doesn’t she have any wine glasses that are bigger?”

“I know I said I couldn’t make it but surprise, I’m here!”

“I used the cream in your fridge.”

It was breast milk for the baby.

I brought the baby because I knew you would want to hold her.”

“You wouldn’t be able to mix up a few martinis would you?”

“Those directions were terrible, who wrote them?”

“I hate the colors red and green.”

At a Christmas party!

“I don’t eat off of buffets, I am afraid people have touched all the food.”

“I drank the last of the Jack…”

“I hate Mexican food.”

Guess what was being served?

“I think my boyfriend is drunk…”

“Can I turn the game on?”

“Oh, when are you due?”

Well the only thing due that night was the electrical bill, so unless you’re at her baby shower, do not ask a lady when she is due…

Too, too funny but all true.

I listen to the polite complaints, I watch for food left on plates. It all holds value as a visual after-action.

The truth is my wine glasses were too small and the champagne may very well have been cheap. Lesson learned.

I also take into consideration how people were raised.

My first generation, immigrant mother has often used the word “obbondanza” which is Italian for abundant. Everything must be abundant, mounded butter, mounded salad, mounded pasta, eat, eat, and eat! I once attended a dinner where the hostess prepared an absolutely delicious meal. She served each guest one portion then removed all of the food back to the kitchen. Waaaaiiittt I thought… I am a third-helping type of girl.

Rude perhaps, but as I got to know her it became evident she had been raised in a home where they were on a very tight budget and was now running her home the same way.

Another example is when (in an effort to be fancy) I started using cloth napkins. They are chic and classic, yet I failed to consider the fact that if my guest didn’t care for whatever they were eating it was going in the cloth napkin! Needless to say, I have thrown away a few good cloth napkins.

Don’t overestimate (notice I did not say underestimate) your guest’s desire to try new things. I once served liver pâté and ended up placing a small trash can next to the buffet because so many people spit it out (into my good cloth napkins)! Hysterical.

Whatever happens at your event, just remember your guests came because they like you and want to get to know you better.

Be patient and gracious and like they say in the movies, “smile and wave boys, smile and wave.”

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

The Help

For a military spouse, the luxury of hiring chefs, gardeners, florists and house-cleaners is just that- a luxury. As we progress alongside our active duty member, the opportunities to entertain become more plentiful. We all know the effort it takes to prepare for a BBQ, let alone a unit holiday party for six hundred (you know who you are…). Help is essential – without it the event cannot happen!

I don’t mean the volunteers within the unit either (that’s called servitude – google it, just don’t engage in it). I’m talking about your own personal events. The events we host in an effort to continue our valued traditions of fellowship and camaraderie. Once in a while one of my civilian friends will ask, “Is it really like what we see on TV?” No, not really, but it’s fun to dream…
Some of us love to entertain, while others cringe at the very thought, and that’s okay. If you fall in the latter, you simply must be more creative on how you approach the situation. The people in your unit expect socializing. They look forward to it and it is a letdown when gatherings don’t happen. While entertaining is never mandatory, if you are not up to the challenge then pass the torch to someone else in the unit. It’s how the younger generations learn as well!

While stationed in North Carolina, I saw an amazing thing – within our neighborhood on base, if a wife hosted an event, she would put out an ‘all call’ for side dishes or desserts according to her theme. The spouses that were available provided a dish and the hostess would hopefully return the favor at a later date. The same logic applies with cooking, prep and housecleaning. I had a friend not affiliated with our unit come over and bake off all my appetizers while I welcomed guests at my front door. I returned the kindness later by vacuuming and dusting for her event while she was in the shower. You know what I am talking about – you have probably done it many times over. Most entertaining in the military world is on-the-job training.

I have seen spouses host events and singularly preform all the duties that a full staff would normally be hired to do. This calls for self-sufficiency.  Seek out the local or base garden clubs for lessons, a nursery that offers wreath making classes; or better yet, sign up with some friends and take the Williams-Sonoma culinary demonstrations offered in the actual storefronts! Swap your skill of baking for another’s mad skills at setting up a small scale bar. I am constantly amazed at how many self-starters we have right in base housing! Fabulous bakers, designers and decorators are right at one’s finger-tips. Most of us had a profession before we married and would love to swap (or make a few extra dollars) while keeping our skills sharp.

Now for the transparency part of my post: I use my children whenever possible. They live the life, understand the needs, and get the mission. Draw googly eyes on a sock, place it on your three year old’s hand, and tell them the puppet wants to slide on the floor moldings. Dusting is done. I pay them well in Starbucks, shoes and In-N-Out burgers. It’s a great opportunity for bonding over a shared goal and really a lot of fun. Remember though, you get what you pay for and if a better offer comes along (day trip to the beach), I get ditched and I need to be prepared for that!

The bottom line is, we all have certain things we are willing to pay hard cash for. If catering or housecleaning is on your list, then go for it. Get references from friends and work it out.

I will warn you, sometimes wires get crossed and “the help” shows up late or not at all. If you don’t like them, don’t hire them a second time. If you do like them but they were late, provide them their own personal arrival time (two hours before your guest’s arrival time) and give them many courtesy reminder calls.

You know what you are capable of and what you need assistance with. Go for it!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

 

 

 

I’m with the Band

Whether it is a change of command, retirement ceremony, post and relief or military ball, there is nothing more engaging than live entertainment. Unfortunately, there is nothing more expensive either. Not to worry! With a little thought and some prior planning, your fete will be memorable with the addition of musicians, vocalist or dancers.

The military ensembles that we see playing at almost all ceremonies are steeped in tradition and the customs of our respective branches. Who doesn’t love entering an event hearing the sound of a brass band playing an American tune? Music can be patriotic, moving, motivating and exciting. To sit and enjoy a band of active duty military in uniform can be quite an emotional experience for our civilian guests – just ask them.

If your spouse is in command, he or she may “rate the band” for a command function, meaning they can submit a formal request for music at the official command event. You, as the spouse, have nothing to do with this process. As my husband has been known to say to me, “Don’t make requests of the active duty – they don’t work for you.”

*Record scratch*

Your birthday, baby shower, anniversary and going away are absolutely not events that rate a band request. Surprised? Don’t be.

The installation musicians support many different commands, and your spouse must make the request months in advance. String ensembles, brass quartets, full marching bands and vocalists are some of the possibilities offered.

The beauty of these active duty warrior-musicians is that they show up, ready to perform. No dressing rooms, no glass of green M&Ms – no absurd special requests. They are always excellent and after the ceremony *poof* they are gone! Keep in mind, most (if not all) active duty musicians are not only trained professional military, but also hold undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in their respective fields of music. They should be treated as the consummate professionals they are. Always offer the band members a full brunch, lunch, or dinner (add them to your RSVP count) as well as water bottles (especially if the event is held outdoors).

Always remember that located just outside the walls of every duty station is the culture that surrounds it. For example, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton sits on what was once a thriving Ranchero. The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores (the original ranch house) is a stunning venue for ceremonies of all types. Why not invite the local Ballet Folklorico to preform? There is nothing more beautiful than the men, women and children of the troop, in full regalia dancing with the Ranchero as their backdrop. You offer them a private monetary donation for their school of dance, agreed upon prior to your event and invite them to stay for lunch or dinner (add them to your RSVP count). You should also give them a professional introduction to your guests. This is an absolute win-win for all involved. As military families, we must be continuously reaching out to our surrounding cities in what is essentially good public relations. Our civilian families in turn, have the opportunity to get to know their local military which they love!

I have seen everything from Miss USO singing the National Anthem at a birthday ball to hearing the haunting sounds of bagpipes magnified in the spaces of a Marine F-18 hangar.

Remember, anything you and your spouse choose to do, is financially your responsibility. If in doubt, always consult the command legal team.

Upon arriving to your new duty station, dig deeply into the surrounding areas. What is it famous for? And what are its specialties? Keep your ear to the ground for any spouses who have musical talents. We have concert pianist, vocalists and professional harpists living right in housing. By hiring “in house” you are supporting fellow military families.

Remember, if we all had unlimited funds, my post would be unnecessary. This is about being financially creative yet still hosting the event of your dreams! Now go get your band!
Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

So, Were You Overweight When You Got Here?

After a few weeks of unpacking and figuring out our new duty station, my wonderful neighbor invited me over for coffee. I was ecstatic at the chance to actually get dressed, put on makeup, and enjoy some much needed conversation with a fellow Marine wife.

The coffee was delicious, the food delectable, and the conversation great. We talked about our children, the schools, the new job and as the conversation flowed the topic of the move came up. I took a sip of coffee, looked at my new friend and politely asked, “So, were you overweight when you got here?”

Now some of you know where I am going with this and some of you must think my question is off the charts hideous. In military life (I’m talking to you newbies here), we are bound by what I like to call the ‘rules of engagement;’ to include a language all our own that only a military spouse understands. As many of you know, the PCS (Permanent Change of Station) experience is a series of endless rules and regulations that, if not adhered to, can cause you much unneeded stress. As my husband often says, “life is hard and it’s harder if you’re stupid.” Harsh – maybe. True – absolutely.

Back to my friend…

I wish there was a way to blog facial expressions. I sat there waiting for her answer – nothing. “You know,” I emphatically exclaimed, “Were your household goods overweight?” “Oooh,” she replied, “I thought you were talking about me being overweight.” Nice. I was horrified and glad this sweet lady was as nice as she was. Back to the rules of engagement…..

It seemed from the time I walked down the aisle with my man in uniform, we were on an endless quest to accumulate what I simply call stuff. Furniture, dishes, electronics, clothes, books, professional manuals, baby furniture, workout gear and the list goes on. It never occurred to me to be considerate of our weight as a family and a household.

Each active duty member is allotted a certain amount of weight according to his or her personal rank. Exceed the allotted weight amount and you pay the government back. It gets better. An automatic withdrawal from your active duty spouse’s paycheck must be set up and the payments begin until the debt is reconciled. It goes without saying that exceeding your authorized weight can create a financial burden with potential disastrous effects on your livelihood, finances, ability to save and quality of life in general. I have included the move.mil link for weight guidelines.

It is a difficult task to maintain a level of discipline when it comes to accumulating stuff. Especially for you lucky ones that receive orders to Europe or Asia. Who can pass up that fabulous German wardrobe or the beautiful Japanese Tansu? I feel your pain… However, it is the financial kiss of death to convince yourself that you deserve something because, “he/she dragged me here and I deserve it.” As a dear aviator’s wife once asked me, “was he not in uniform when you married him?” Meaning, you probably had an idea of what you were in for.

Older wife lecture over- I digress.

The bottom line is, be in agreement with your spouse as to what you are willing and not willing to take a financial hit on. If you accumulate two households, that is on you just be ready to pay for it because the bill will be paid one way or another.

As PCS season approaches, I start going through the house. Room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer. Not. Lying. It is time consuming but well worth it. We have needlessly moved sparkly flip flops from San Diego to sub-zero Omaha. Snow boots from Rhode Island to Pensacola. Be mindful of what is easily replaced and what you can live without. Create three piles: keep, throw away and donate. Your local donation point on base is ready and waiting to accept your donations that will in turn directly benefit our active duty families in need. I am partial and most familiar with the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.

Possibly one of the best ideas I have ever seen was at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. A group of wives got together and scheduled a neighborhood swap in the park located inside housing. Families came with everything one might imagine. People left behind unwanted items, left with needed items and whatever was left at the end of the day was donated to the relief society on base. Utilize your neighborhood Facebook page to organize a “PCS Season Swap.”

What does this have to do with entertaining you might ask? I have found that dishes, stemware, serving dishes and the like are some of my heaviest items in the pack out. They require more packing, more space and are terribly heavy. Be careful as it adds up! Whatever you decide, have fun with your military experience and don’t overthink it. Just be smart about what you do and keep things simple!
Entertainingly Yours,
Cassie

Let Them Eat Cake

In my heart of hearts, I want to bake. I want to create magical masterpieces that light upon the taste buds. I have watched friends who seemingly create fantastical desserts merely by saying it is so. I grew up with a mother who would make croquembouche for Christmas dessert. I bought Bundt and spring form pans, thinking that by osmosis the ability to use them will come screaming to my frontal lobes. I have taken all the Wilton cake decorating courses. I have studied you tube videos only to produce wilting macaroons and chocolate chip cookies that only the dog would love. Sadly, nothing has taken! I have a few go-to desserts and have actually been known to bring out Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars on a footed silver platter passing them around as if they were Turkish Delight.

Perhaps I am slightly exaggerating my lack of ability when it comes to baking, but I do know my limitations, and that is very important when entertaining. You must constantly self-assess, embracing what you can do and finding alternatives for what you cannot. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you must create every item on your menu personally. A famous chef once said, “your guests won’t like you more because you made all the food.”

But back to me not baking…

When I am planning an event that requires a large amount of cake (staff birthdays, small scale ball, wedding shower, combined unit baby shower, etc.) I head over to my big box store and place an order for a plain white sheet cake. I ask that the standard piping be done but nothing else. Upon receiving the cake, I decorate it with the colors or themes of the event. I often purchase a fresh bouquet of flowers cutting the stems down to a three inch length and simply recreate the bouquet on the cake. Place the stems in the cake the exact way you would arrange flowers in a vase. You can be symmetrical or asymmetrical either centering your bouquet or cornering it. Both will be beautiful. I have placed nonpareils (a decorative confectionery of tiny balls made with sugar and starch that come in many colors) at each peak on the piping, sprinkled the cake with coordinating colored sugars or for children added items that they desire like toys or figures. The fun is in as much or as little as you desire.

A traditional cake ordered form a professional baker is a wonderful thing but can run you upwards of fifty dollars for a nine-inch round layered. That could easily deplete your party budget and if you are in a two-year command, this is yet another item that will begin to add up. The big box store’s cake has excellent flavor, is always fresh and has a standard that is consistent. This is a full sheet cake, double layered, for $18.99! If you are staggering your purchases between pay periods, this cake and cupcakes as well will freeze nicely up to six months! Ready to give it a shot?

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie


Crepe Bar

In the insular world of military life, it can be very difficult to be creative, especially when entertaining. As ideas catch fire, a host or hostess must dig deeper in the area of creativity as not to be passé or overdone. As I was busy planning our battalion Christmas party, I racked my brain as to who in my life had a skill or talent that I could utilize at our big event. I immediately called my daughter Jackie and asked for her help. Being the savvy, young professional that she is, she calmly replied, “crepe bar mom, have a crepe bar for your guests, it’s really easy and everyone loves it.”

I was immediately hooked on the idea. Jackie happens to be a culinary genius and volunteered to work crepes all night on an as-needed basis. The night before our event she set up her station. We ran over the flow as guests would enter and determined that I would welcome individuals to enjoy a cocktail on the patio, or walk to the left and enjoy a freshly made crepe at the crepe bar (my kitchen counter).

Jackie then set up her station. We decided to keep the options simple. The dessert offerings for the evening would be a traditional sugar with butter or a Nutella filled crepe. I purchased extra-large piping bags located in the cake decorating section of my local craft store (you will not need to purchase tips), large jars of Nutella according to how many guests you expect and of course the necessary ingredients called for in the recipe.

Jackie knows the recipe by heart, but I chose this one for you. Remember: as the crepe is finished cooking you will fill the inside with Nutella and fold accordingly. We planned on crepes for one hundred having sent out one hundred and twenty-five invitations.

Jackie filled two large bags with Nutella and closed them off with a twist tie. She then laid out the two crepe pans I purchased (6.99 each at a local cooking supply store), a can of non-stick spray and a spatula. We also purchased one hundred clear plastic dessert dishes and forks, stacking them at the station. Approximately one hour before the event, she prepared one batch of the crepe batter (for freshest taste I recommend making the batter as close to party time as possible). She also clipped the end of one of the piping bags with a pair of kitchen scissors. She was ready to go!

I purchased red metallic frames (can also be used for Valentine’s Day, Independence Day events, Memorial Day, Homecomings and Birthdays) at IKEA and had them placed around the various food stations showing options and content. A few weeks prior to the event, I printed out menus for each food station to include the crepe bar choices.

As the evening got underway and I was able to catch my breath, I walked around to check on all the food and drink. Jackie, dressed in her white waist coat and chef’s hat, was busy creating at a rapid rate with no end in sight. The guest line for crepes wrapped around the kitchen bar and into the hallway. Success, I thought! Jackie took orders, prepared on request and I clocked her at five hours with very few breaks in between. It was brilliant and I feel comfortable saying that because I had nothing to do with it!

I highly recommend this idea for a few reasons. It is delicious, very inexpensive and it eliminates a dessert table for your party. It is different and your guests will love making their selection, watching it being created and of course the taste! You can do this for two or two hundred. Also, if you over purchase your ingredients, you simply have extra eggs, Nutella, sugar, flour and butter! I encourage you to find a friend or relative who enjoys cooking and can handle the task at hand so you, as the host or hostess, are not stuck at the stove all night. We actually had a dry run for the family a week prior (gorging ourselves on crepes with several different fillings) finally deciding on the sugar and Nutella. Remember, never, ever try anything for the first time the day of your event. It could prove disastrous!

Entertainingly yours,
Cassie

PME Breakfast

As entertainers, we are always trying to reinvent the party, to be trendier, more cutting edge yet still spend as little money as possible, successfully executing the event and having fun while doing it! Impossible? Absolutely not – you are a military spouse so let’s do this!

I have hosted countless events yet still was somewhat unprepared for how pricey entertaining within the realm of command started to become. I had a million amazing ideas I wanted to experiment with and found myself way out of budget within a short period of time after my husband took command. We all know every penny is spent by choice, so this is not a complaint. However, I know you all well enough to understand that we entertain out of a love for the people in our unit and the preservation of our customs and courtesies. Most importantly though is the bonding that comes with families who are always a moment’s notice away from sending our active-duty loved ones into harm’s way.

After a few months in command, I started to crunch the numbers somewhat disappointed that my extravagant meals and chic parties had gone by the wayside before ever getting off the ground. I tried to think of food items that were less expensive yet still a joy to cook with and something I would be proud to serve my guests. Breakfast is inexpensive but who would want to come to breakfast?

I approached my husband and he suggested we make it into a PME (Professional Military Education) breakfast. What is a PME you might ask? It is an opportunity to teach the active duty about all aspects of personal and professional development. I was on it!

We planned for a Friday and my husband sent out an invite via email. We set the limit to command and staff exclusively with an arrival time of 0630, yes that is 6:30am in the morning! We planned for and fed fourteen Marines a sit-down meal that day.
I created the menu with diet in mind. Our military is held to a strict standard of weight and I wanted to be respectful of that. Plus, it’s hard to eat a huge breakfast and then return to work and stay focused.

What I served:

  • Egg and Potato Strata – a layered casserole dish mainly used for brunches
  • Goldilox – scrambled egg with fresh salmon and cream cheese topped with fresh parsley
  • Fresh Fruit – mixed berries
  • Fresh buttermilk biscuits – made the night before and stored tightly in a Ziploc baggie
  • Homemade peach jam – from my sister’s West Virginia peach orchard
  • Butter – room temperature
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh coffee, tea and water – cream, sugar, artificial sweetener
  • Freshly squeezed orange juice – squeezed late the night before

Whenever I create a menu I always include everything down to the salt and pepper. Attention to detail is something to be emulated from our spouses. Leave nothing to chance!

The strata was very time-consuming in prep so I did it all the night before and actually created the dish the next morning. Remember to keep your sliced potatoes completely covered in water or they will turn brown within a short period of time.
The one thing I can always count on is that Marines are on time. Sure enough at 6:30am on the dot our guests were at the door! There is nothing more amazing to see uniformed men and women of all ranks walking up to your door to break bread.

The PME breakfast was a successful event in many ways. With a cost comparison between eggs (one dozen for 46 cents at a local chain or a prime filet of beef from the big box store averaging $80.00!) the breakfast is by far the less expensive choice. Also, this was an event where spouses were not invited thereby cutting the count in half. We incurred no cost for invitations with a professional email request being sent by the leadership and the event was done by 10am.




Unexpected:

I set up a coffee bar at all of my events. I sometimes use a 60 cup urn but for smaller gatherings that still require copious amounts of coffee I use my Keurig. My china cups and saucers were set up and ready to go. As the guests arrived and began getting their morning coffee, right away I sensed a commotion. I turned the corner only to see Marines holding 8 ounce china cups and selecting the 12 ounce coffee option. Coffee on the floor, bar and their shoes. I hadn’t thought the service all the way through. I immediately swapped all the china out for mugs. Disaster averted!

So when can I expect breakfast?

Entertainingly yours,

Cassie