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My hope is to inspire you to be fearless in the kitchen, to try new things, to take the time to make things the homemade way and most importantly, to have fun doing it!

happy everything {holiday party 2016}

While I fully agree with the popular assessment of 2016 as the worst dumpster fire (so far), I was determined to help end the year on a high note. Or at least, create a high blip registered amidst the readings of an otherwise dismally negative year. To be honest, I have been so down about the state of the world that I considered not hosting a party this year. I waited waaay longer than I should have to send out invites. But ultimately I realized that this was a tradition I could not let pass by.  I’ve learned again and again over the years that when times are tough, friends often prove to be the family you never asked for but definitely needed. This past weekend, when my house was filled with the voices and laughter of so many truly dear friends from so many different parts of my life, my heart was positively overflowing. Though much remains uncertain, one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that my life is filled with more truly wonderful people than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. That may sound like hyperbole but I promise, it is entirely accurate. It makes me feel loved and supported and even a little bit hopeful. There are so very many good people.

I wanted to give my friends the amazingly fun time I felt we all deserved, and that ultimately translated into three main actions. 1. Excellent food, 2. Plenty of alcohol, and 3. Lip sync battle! Food wise – no doubt, this has been the year of the Milk Bar cake in my kitchen. This method has me completely enamored with layer cake-ing, and I’m constantly dreaming up new flavor combinations to make in this style. Believe it or not, there were far more flavors on my original brainstorm list but I finally narrowed it down to these five with the help of some trusted friends. I ended up making spiked eggnog, peppermint mocha, apple pie, gingerbread latte, and cranberry champagne with rosemary. All except the apple pie were my own creations and I’m very pleased to say all were a hit! Everyone seemed to choose a different cake as a favorite which I loved, because it meant that they were all good and there wasn’t a single one that outshone all the others. (For the record, my personal favorite was the spiked eggnog and sadly, the only one I did not get an individual picture of!) I plan to share the peppermint mocha cake recipe in the next couple of days but could be persuaded otherwise if there is something you are dying to see even more.

I just had to share a couple of favorite decor details. These sparkly acrylic letters for customized garland are, well, EVERYTHING. These were perfectly fitting with the simple aesthetic I had in mind. Also, have I ever shown you guys my amazing test tube light fixture?! I have had it since we moved into the house a couple of years ago and I love it so much. The biology major (and one class short chemistry minor) in me simply couldn’t resist this. Not only is it a nod to my roots in science, but it is perfectly adaptable for any occasion with different flowers, colored water, etc etc. I just grabbed random items from the floral area of the grocery store that seemed like they might work and ended up loving the overall look!

In the past couple of years, I have started to simplify the food spread for my parties. This in large part due to the bad ass cheese and charcuterie offerings of a favorite local shop Goose the Market. They offer “The Tour”, a variety cheese and meat plate that you can order per number of guests and based on what they have available at the time. It is always excellent, always demolished, and always makes my life remarkably easier. If you have access to something like this in your area, I urge you to consider it! Support good local business and have more time to focus on other things (read: ALL THE CAKE.)

I did make a few extra appetizers, but I kept them very simple. Deviled eggs, because I live for them (although admittedly it pains me to share them with anyone ever), these incredibly simple yet totally addictive bar nuts from Smitten Kitchen, and caramelized beet and avocado crostini. Even though I just cannot get on board with beets, my yoga teacher Todd loves them and I had to make something special for him!  Also, not pictured but very much enjoyed and raved about was the very verde dip from A Couple Cooks, who also came to party with us!

Can I tell you my other super secret but crucially important party planning tip?! If something on your list doesn’t get done because you run out of time due to vacuuming or straightening your hair or whatever, IT IS OKAY. Your guests will be none the wiser unless you tell them – so don’t! I had planned a specialty cocktail for the evening but didn’t have time to make it happen. Instead of stressing, I just set out the many bottles of liquor + mix ins, wine, champagne and beer that we had instead and let it go. Let’s be real – has anyone ever thought cake and champagne was a bad idea? NO.

And yes, lip sync battle…I don’t know that I have officially talked about this on the blog before but I have mentioned it many times on Instagram. Last year on a bit of a whim, I decided to introduce the idea of a lip sync battle as part of my holiday party. It isn’t mandatory but just optional participation for anyone interested. It is ALWAYS AMAZING. This year I almost skipped it because I was worried people might be tired of it (we did another mid-year) but popular demand made it happen and it was as wonderful as always. My BFF since kindergarten Amanda took home first place with a stellar rendition of Proud Mary, complete with sequined show choir dress borrowed from the high school where she teaches. Get it girl! And I was very thrilled to introduce my yoga studio friends to the lip sync this year. This crew was unbelievable and I’m already dying with anticipation to see what they will do for Lip Synco de Mayo!

I’m so incredibly happy to have hosted another joyful holiday party. Thanks to those of you who encouraged me to post about it this year! If you have specific questions about other details from this brief overview, please let me know! I would be happy to answer them.

  • Victoria Forsyth

    Thanks, Annie. You’re such a delight!

  • Emily

    Please post both the peppermint mocha and gingerbread latte recipes! The cakes look amazing and I am obsessed with gingerbread cake this year!

  • Amy Kaufman Hill

    The cranberry and champagne one sounds amazing. Amazing looking cakes!

  • Shanna

    Happy holidays to you and your family! Looks like such a fun party. I am Milk Bar Obsessed also. I read this when you posted last night. I have not stopped thinking about the Cranberry Champagne.Even if you will not share the recipie Will you share the components? I have to have champagne cranberry cake in my life. Thank thank you.

  • Callie

    This is such a fun party idea! Where did you get your table from? The wood is beautiful!

  • Erika Robinson

    Can you share the logistics behind the lip sync battle? I want to torture my boyfriend for his birthday with a lip sync battle party. But I’m not sure how to pull it together. Sounds soooo fun and I would finally be able to put all my car jam sessions to good use.

  • Annie

    It is from West Elm. I love it!

  • Annie

    Thank you dear! You are so very sweet. Happy holidays to you as well!

  • Heidi C

    Excuse me… did you say Spiked Eggnog Cake?! Could you perhaps give a blueprint for how you did that? Eggnog in the frosting layer, what kind of “crumbs”? Oooh, maybe an eggnog soak?

    Beautiful looking party, glad you were able to pull through and fill yourself with love and a tiny bit of hope. :) Happy Holidays!

  • Jennifer Chiddenton

    I would LOVE to see all the cake recipes but the spiked eggnog one would be perfect for a holiday party! I have made a few of the milk bar cakes and love them so much!!!

  • Melissa Brooker

    This party looks so fun!! I’m a hardcore beet lover, I wouldn’t mind knowing some more about those crostinis! Also I feel ya on the devilled eggs, I don’t like sharing them either! My aunt makes them for every get together and literally the minute they come out everyone rushes to grab a couple!

  • Cara

    Love that test tube light fixture! And those cakes are impressive- the spiked eggnog in particular sounds delicious. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  • Erin

    Do you ever ask your guests to bring something? Like bring a salad, appetizer or do you do it all? You’ve never mentioned guests bringing anything which just seems so overwhelming – if its a ton of people! I love your idea of the Lip Sync!! I am sure that is easier for the shy folks to do than kareokiee!!

  • Laura Dembowski

    Those cakes are beyond amazing. Do you have recipes you can share for the cranberry and gingerbread ones???? I want to make one for Christmas.

  • Annie

    No, I don’t really like to have guests bring food. I like to be able to make sure the amount of food and types of food are correct, balanced, etc. For me it is much more overwhelming to not just take care of it myself.

  • Annie

    Thanks Cara :)

  • Annie

    I’ll definitely post about them on their own, though it won’t be before Christmas. Likely early in the new year! Glad to know you are also a deviled egg fiend :)

  • Annie

    I can give you the blueprint and if you have the Milk Bar cookbook, you can recreate! I will blog it eventually but probably not till next year because once Christmas is over, nobody will care about eggnog cake in the blogosphere.

    I did the barely brown butter cake but used eggnog for the liquid instead of buttermilk (or milk – I forget off the top) and used a dark rum soak (that was the “spiked” part.) I layered with eggnog pastry cream (used a basic vanilla pastry cream but used less egg yolks and subbed only eggnog for all the liquid in the recipe. I used two crumb components. One was the milk crumb as written from the cookbook, and the other was the hazelnut crunch which I have made before and love so much – it is the stuff dreams are made of! The very top was an eggnog frosting. And there you have it!

  • Elizabeth

    “I’ve learned again and again over the years that when times are tough,
    friends often prove to be the family you never asked for but definitely
    needed.”
    This statement could not be more true, especially this year (I think for everyone, but definitely for me personally).

    I love your blog for the delicious recipes -vanilla and chai sables are currently in the freezer, waiting to be sliced and baked tonight!- but even if you stopped posting recipes and just put down your musings, I would still read. Thank you for your thoughtful posts – and glad you decided to host your friends! I’m sure everyone appreciated it for the same reasons you mentioned, and… because cake.

  • Heidi C

    I do indeed have the Milk Bar cookbook, so now I know exactly where to go with this. Thanks SO much Annie. :)

  • Annie

    Great! Oh, pretty sure I added a bit of grated nutmeg to the cake as well. Probably about 1/4 tsp. Also, if you have never made the hazelnut crunch before, just know you should make a bunch because you’ll want to put it on everything and also stuff it in your mouth each time you walk past the pantry!

  • joyce lacey

    Thank you for being a bright spot I could come to during this crazy year. I’ve been a fan of your blog for years, but never more so than now! All of those cakes look gorgeous and so yummy and I hope to someday have parties as beautiful as yours!

  • Stephanie Stella

    I was curious about this cake as well. Thank you!! Sounds absolutely devine.

  • Annie

    Thank you so very much Joyce!

  • Annie

    Thank you so, so much Elizabeth. I truly appreciate it!

  • Hana

    As a loyal reader for 7 or 8 years, your beautiful party doesn’t surprise me one bit. Thank you for your honesty about not feeling like it so much this year. I hope you can take comfort in knowing that beyond your house, so many others are sharing love and happiness over your food for special occasions or impromptu parties all year long. Thank you for continuing to take the time to share recipes with all of us. I love trying new ones as well and breaking out some of my favorites over the years. Here’s hoping there are more things to keep us sane in 2017 other than food, drinks and barre. :) With gratitude- Hana

  • Annie

    Thank you so much Hana. I truly appreciate it! Agreed, hoping for more sanity in 2017.

  • Annie

    Sure! Basically I let friends choose their songs and anything goes – some have costumes and/or choreography, some don’t, some go solo, some do duets or group acts, and it is always AMAZING. I usually do two rounds because many of us want to do more than one song. My painfully shy friends act as judges. I have little score sheets that they fill out for each act and then they tally them up at the end of the rounds to determine the winner. I give out gift cards to great restaurants as the prizes. I try to have people send me their song choices in advance to avoid duplicate songs, and I make a Spotify playlist to have everything ready to go smoothly. It is such a blast every time! You’ll love it.

  • Annie

    Sure! I actually baked the cake portion twice because I was not happy with the results the first time around. I had originally made a champagne cake but didn’t like the flavor or texture, so instead I made my vanilla bean cupcake recipe in a quarter sheet pan (there was batter left over) but omitted the vanilla bean and flavored with vanilla and almond extracts. I made a champagne reduction simmered with rosemary which served as the soak. I made a champagne pastry cream (just my normal pastry cream, left out the vanilla and added in very generous splashes of champagne right at the end of cooking). My normal cranberry sauce (recipe on the blog). The crumb component was the birthday cake crumb from Milk Bar, but I used butter instead of grapeseed oil, omitted the sprinkles and added a couple teaspoons of minced fresh rosemary. The frosting on top was just plain vanilla buttercream. It was a fantastic combination, and I loved the mild herbal note of the rosemary.

  • Shari

    Done and done! We have a milk bar here in D.C. (Cereal milk soft serve is amazing) I have the pumpkin cake in my freezer for xmas. You planning on visiting D.C.?

  • Looks like a fun party, as it does every year!! Your cakes look incredible! Happy Holidays to you and your family! :)

  • Lindsay

    Girl, this party looks like it was off the hook! I love that you were able to have fun and end 2016 on a positive note. That is what it’s all about, right? Finding light in the dimness. Those cakes look like they are to die for. I am a fairly avid baker and have made countless cupcakes (mostly thanks to your incredible recipes!), but have only ever made one cake, which seems like quite a shame. I may need to build up some cake-confidence before attempting a Milk Bar creation though.

    Editing because I forgot to add that your test tube chandelier is INCREDIBLE! I am also a biology major (a genetic counselor now) and am envisioning so many fun and seasonal variations you could pull off with that thing. Too bad my birthday is tomorrow and Christmas is in less than a week, this may need to be a splurge for myself or a year-long wish list love affair!

    P.S. – reading through the comments, I am genuinely impressed with how thoughtful your replies are. I enjoy reading the comments just as much as I enjoy the text of your posts! Thank you for being amazing.

  • I am OBSESSED with that test tube chandelier – thank you for sharing the source! I know exactly where I would put it in our house… now to convince my husband to get on board. It’s the perfect pairing to our lab equipment fish tank! (You can take the girl out of the lab — occasionally, on nights and weekends — but you can never take the lab out of the girl.)

  • Shanna

    Thank you! Made most of the components tonight. I cannot wait to assemble for Christmas Eve. Have a great Holiday!

  • Karen @ The Food Charlatan

    Annie that chandelier!!!! omg!!! Tell me more. I’m seriously considering getting one. Do you have the single or the double? Is there only one light bulb? Is it too dim to light my entire dining room? Where do you have yours placed? (I can’t really tell) I would love to put it over my kitchen table or maybe above my bed. Would the light be too direct over a bed do you think? I’m seriously clueless on design stuff. Can you remove the test tubes to clean them after you’ve put flowers or colored water in them? Thanks for any insight!!

  • Annie

    I have been to Milk Bar in NYC but not in DC. It is awesome!

  • Annie

    Thanks Chrissy! Happy holidays to you too.

  • Andrea ZV

    spiked eggnog!! spiked eggnog!! spiced eggnog!! recipe pretty pretty please?? I made your churro milk bar cake for my husbands 40th and it was a hit. I would love to do the eggnog version for christmas xoxo andrea

  • Andrea ZV

    found the info in this reply! there was some time between intending to post and actually posting- oops! when I intended there weren’t replies yet!!

  • Annie

    Thank you so much Lindsay! Yes, you definitely need to explore the cake world more and up your confidence. They are so fun to make! You can do it!

    So cool that you are a genetic counselor. That is a job I would have loved had I not gone into my chosen field! I taught many semesters of genetics as a teaching assistant throughout college and find genetics fascinating.

    If ever you end up purchasing this chandelier, hit me up for a few thoughts about the install process. The short version is, you’ll want to hire someone and make it their problem to install. Since it is European, it isn’t like our standard fixtures and therefore not straightforward as they usually are. I think I just needed to buy a minor part from Home Depot to make it work but ultimately making it someone else’s responsibility took a lot of the headache out of it for me.

  • Annie

    Hey Karen! Mine is the single layer one and I love it. There is only one bulb but actually it is quite bright and lights my entire dining room well. I don’t have additional lighting in there (though if it were necessary, I think you could install sconces to supplement and make that look awesome.) It is directly over the center of my dining table. You can easily remove the tubes and replace as needed. It comes with several extra as well.

    Importantly, see my reply to another commenter (not sure if it shows up above or below in the thread) about installation. Basically, I recommend professional installation. Normally I can install my own lights but with this, hiring someone will save you a headache.

  • Annie

    Awesome! Enjoy it! (Also be sure to see my reply to another commenter about hiring a professional to install this one. Worth it.)

  • Karen @ The Food Charlatan

    Awesome!! Thanks so much!

  • Ann Grismore

    What a truly phenomenal party and post! I have been following your blog for years and have commented here & there but this….! This is a masterpiece. You’ve summed up 2016 perfectly and still celebrated with amazing friends, food, and fun. You are my spirit animal. My niece’s 18th birthday is 12/25/16 and I have ordered a Milk Bar cake to celebrate. I wish I was as talented a baker as you are but I’m glad there is another option. I think our only really difference is that I am complete enamored with roasted beets! Not pickled but roasted. With goat cheese, pistachios, and a bit of balsamic dressing they can be oh, so delicious! Happiness, Peace, and Love to you and yours! xoxo -Ann (sorry, I’m only Annie to my nieces and nephews ;-) )

  • Annie

    Thank you so much Ann! Happy holidays to you as well!

  • Kat Moore

    Important life-changing question: how do you get a white rug and keep it looking white with animals that shed? Seriously?

  • Brittany Nickolay

    Annie, I have been reading you for years. Your recipes never fail and sometimes challenge my skills (which I love). I am dying to make the peppermint cake for Christmas Eve. It’s stunning. Any chance we could get a recipe soon?

  • Annie

    It will be up in just an hour or two!

  • Emily @ Life on Food

    This sounds like a marvelous time! Happy Everything!

  • Angela

    This inspired me to make the final part of this shitstorm year into something lovely. I’m very encouraged by your words and I wish to face-plant into those cakes. I am not appropriately embarrassed by that desire. Those cakes are the Aristotelian entelechy of cakeness.

  • Annie this party is to die for as always. Now that we actually have a house I’m dying to start hosting more parties- I just can’t with the kids being so small- maybe next year- you’ve inspired me! <3

  • Annie

    Thanks Audra! You’ll have so much fun with it!

  • Annie

    Thank you Angela :) We’ll stay strong together. Cake helps, for sure.

  • Annie

    I guess our animals don’t shed that much! At least not visible shedding. They’re just crazy little cats but we don’t have a lot of trouble with excess fur.

  • Lindsay

    Thank you for the tip! I showed the chandelier to my electrical engineer boyfriend who said, “That is AWESOME! I could totally install it.” Let the headache begin, I suppose. *insert eye roll here*

    I love genetic counseling. The field is evolving so rapidly; I just cannot imagine what we might be doing in 5 or 10 or 20 years. Over the years, my colleagues have definitely loved eating your cupcake recipes, so I think I might just give a cake a try. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Jen

    Wow, what a gorgeous party! Does your husband help with food preparation or do you do it all?

  • Jenn

    Any chance you will be sharing the cranberry champagne with rosemary recipe?

  • Annie

    No, I do all of the food. Usually he helps with cleaning and such but this time schedules were such that I had to do all of that as well. It was stressful!

  • Marcie

    I’m going to need you to post a recipe for that cranberry champagne with rosemary cake. Like now. Cause its everything.

  • gailwerner

    It was SO MUCH FUN and you guys, the cake was TO DIE FOR. I don’t know how I missed the eggnog version, but I fell so hard for the apple pie and peppermint mocha both! Best cakes I’ve ever tasted!

  • Annie

    Thank you again SO much for coming! It was wonderful to see the two of you. And glad you enjoyed the cake so much – a little consolation for the crappy drive home!