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

 

 

 

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