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27 Jan

My Valentine’s Birthday Party with Jill Fortney Productions

On Valentine’s Day 46 years ago, my mom got the best gift imaginable: ME! That’s right – Valentine’s Day is my birthday. This year, I would love nothing more than to celebrate in a big way, with all my girlfriends, glasses overflowing with Champagne and a yummy vegan meal. Or maybe we skip the meal and go directly to dessert. It doesn’t really matter — Covid has put a damper on the party scene, so for the moment, being safe is more important than celebrating big.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the chance to reminisce about past parties that brought joy to my heart and a smile to my face. It’s even helped me get into the party spirit to plan SOMETHING, even if it’s not the soirees. (Here’s looking at you, 2022!) So as I sit here coming up with party ideas that pair well with social distancing, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite memories for my 40th birthday bash, which was an amazing Parisian-themed party de résistance.

About a year before I turned 40. I mentioned to my parents that it was time for them to throw another fab blowout party in honor of me officially turning old. At first, I got the rolling stink-eye of “you’re joking, right?!” But it only took a millisecond after that for my mom to jump all over the idea and start proposing fun ideas for an unforgettable event. Besides, my mom’s love language is entertaining, and it’s hard for that woman to say no when it comes to cutting checks in the name of fun!

My parents asked me what I had in mind, and all I could think about was something big. It had been quite some time since I had a blowout celebration, like when I made my debut in 1996 and 1997 or when I married Jason in 2000. I was dreaming of another fabulous event to drown my wrinkled sorrows away.

First things first, I knew it had to be special enough to hire an event planner. In true Cowtown fashion, we decided to keep it local and go with none other than the ultra-talented luxury event planner, Jill Fortney, of Jill Fortney Productions. If you have never attended a Jill Fortney Production event, then you are in for a real treat — including plenty of eye candy-filled photos below.

Jill was not only the planner who made my Big 4-Oh so special, she’s also a friend. So I reached out to her for her thoughts on what takes an event — any kind of event, from a family affair to a birthday bash — to that next level. She was gracious enough to share her strategies  — I hope they inspire you to start planning your own amazing party!

Jill Fortney’s Top 6 Tips – Expect the Unexpected

1. The Invitation

A dazzling invitation creates a sense of anticipation. It sets the reason for the celebration as well as the tone of the event. A flat piece of paper with typestyles, ink colors, paper textures and shapes, pictures, and ribbons can transform your imagination of the event. By letting the guest know with a spectacular invite, “ This is going to be a party I do not want to miss.”  Tell your hubby I am going to a girl’s party, and I will not be home for dinner.

2. Select a Theme

Make sure the theme fits the occasion … formal, fancy, fun. Take a formal idea and make it fun. Carry out the color scheme throughout the evening with drinks, napkins, party favors, food presentation, entertainment, flowers, and décor. Give all the areas a new twist … create eye candy for the guests. Show them something they have never seen or experienced.

3. Create excitement throughout the event

Introduce something new at least every hour. Offer different appetizers and do not keep passing the same ones all evening. Do not pile food on the tray; use smaller trays, use different vessels and refill often. Make the presentation of the tray connect to the item served. That is, if serving crab cakes, put a whole crab on top of a mound of seaweed on the side of the tray.

 

Entertaining is an expression of love for your friends. Make each experience memorable. Nothing says festive like polished silver. Use lots of silver everywhere … from candelabras to cups for cocktails to silver objects at the bar.

4. The Food

Entertaining is not about the food, but the fellowship! Always lean on the classics; cocktails, satisfying starters, filling main courses of familiar food and decadent desserts. Make sure the food is presented in an artful, beautiful way. Add delicious garnishes that enhance the presentation. An example, if you are serving a roasted vegetable soup, roast plum tomatoes, slice matchstick thin and sprinkle in the middle of the bowl as it goes out of the kitchen.

 

Another idea is to toast flavored croutons (homemade) with a little parmesan cheese or garlic and sprinkle in the bowl or pass tableside. Try to master one food item you are known for so guests will look forward to one of your food offerings.

5. The Details

Keep the focus on your selected theme in front of guests during the evening. If “pink” is your theme, remove your entry hall rug and replace it with pink inexpensive carpet. Have waiters wear pink bowties, serve a pink drink, use pink ice or ice cubes with pink flowers with the first drink, put a miniature picture of the guest of honor on top of the pink dessert, mail in advance to guests your favorite pink lipstick and nail polish, car parkers with pink uniforms, dye your dog pink, all the flowers in shades of pink, rent pink glasses for drinks, serve pink champagne or rose wine, and of course, wear a pink dress. If the affair is formal, pin a pink boutonniere on the male guests and give the women a pink wrist corsage.

6. Above all else, be a gracious hostess!

Be the first person to greet your guests; be the last person they see as they exit. Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks as well as alcoholic drinks available throughout the venue. For larger events (will we ever again??), remember lines are for Luby’s. Have one bar for every 50 guests and offer a variety of choices. Mix and match groups of friends and introduce people to each other that you think they might share something in common. Do not be so exhausted by cleaning the baseboards that you can not enjoy the party. If people are scoping out your baseboards … they are bored and need to go home! A good rule is 8 guests can seat themselves, after that use place cards … formal or casual.

 

Be a good listener and ask questions of your guests to get the conversation going. Be aware of certain dietary restrictions of guests and have an alternative in the kitchen. Do not try out a new recipe for your guests unless it is for two people on a Sunday night and casual! Use failsafe recipes you prepare or prepared by a caterer.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Rhilee Photography

Thank you for strolling down memory lane with me. No matter the occasion, grand or intimate, every Valentine’s Day should be a special one to celebrate. This year won’t be near as grand, which is totally fine with me, but I think I’ll get to work on what a teeny tiny socially distanced patio party might look like to ring in the big four-six. Stay tuned to my Instastories to peek behind the scenes of the process!

 

Special Credit to the following companies/vendors for my 40th birthday party!

  • FOOD: Grace Restaurant & Marky’s Caviar
  • FLORAL: Flowers on the Square
  • MUSIC TRIO: Debbie Brooks Group
  • DJ: Randal Stout
  • EVENT STAFFING: Dalan Sharpe
  • VALET: Rent A Frog
13 Apr

Celebrating a Birthday, Quarantine Style

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Every year, we plan big birthday celebrations for both of our boys. It’s been my thing since they were born, and it brings me great joy to make these occasions unique and special. We’ve done everything from hosting snake shows in our back yard to taking groups to Medieval Times, iFly and Hurricane Harbor.

When the kids were younger, we used to include the whole grade so that no one would get their feelings hurt from being excluded. Now that they’re older, they’ve formed close-knit connections with terrific bunches of boys, which has made our celebrations much smaller. Lately, our party playbook involves dinner at an entertaining restaurant like Japanese Palace or Simply Fondue and a sleepover, or a weekend of water sports and fishing at the lake.

We were skiing in Utah over spring break when COVID-19 started to mushroom across the US. Like everyone, my first concerns and strongest prayers were for my family, friends, medical workers and all the hard-working people who keep our home – and our community – humming. But I did wonder about the plans for my soon-to-be 15 year old’s birthday party.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy for me to deal with all of the government recommended changes at first, but I know my children are watching my reactions right now more than ever, and it’s critical that I stay strong and keep up our family’s morale by maintaining our connections, our faith and yes, our fun. 

I had to think outside the box (or in my case, inside our property) to craft an amazing celebration that he would forever remember. Luckily, my party planning skills started to come out like the little munchkins from their homes after the Wicked Witch of the East was killed by Dorothy on the Wizard of Oz.

After much thought (and some great suggestions from readers! Thank you!), I devised the perfect plan: A Birthday Party Car Parade! It hit all the feels: It was unique, it was fun, it involved his friends, family and even his teachers from elementary school. But most of all – everyone could participate while maintaining a safe six-feet distance!

      Here’s how I did it:

THE INVITATION

I designed a quick digital invitation on PunchBowl.com. They have a section of online invitations specifically designed for virtual get-togethers! We sent it to our inner circle of family and friends and special teachers from school, including the lower school principal.

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In the invitations, I made a series of outrageous – but hilarious – requests: 

  1. Dress in a Halloween costume, a wig, face paint, crazy hair or whatever silly get-up you want.
  2. Decorate your car however you want. Simple or extravagant or not at all! It’s up to you. 
  3. Make a sign and hold it up through your sunroof or tape it to your PASSENGER-SIDE doors. 

Then, I gave our guests their marching orders: At noon, everyone would start driving down our street honking the car horns the whole way. Then, they were to pull into our driveway to wave at the birthday boy and get a delicious to-go treat! 

THE DECORATIONS

I reached out to Fort Worth Yard Cards to safely set the mood for our festivities. They planted a hilarious sign in the yard, which really set the stage for our crazy celebration. 

I also reached out to Steve, the owner of Party Warehouse to see if he was doing no-contact balloon delivery, and sure enough, he was! I ordered a balloon column and 150 balloons. We floated 100 of the balloons on the ceiling of our front porch and tied 50 balloons to a few railings at the nearby country club parking lot for our guests to attach to their cars. 

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THE DELICIOUS TO-GO TREATS

Actually, the first phone call I made was to Karen Wade, owner of The Velvet Crumb. Her cookies are not only the yummiest cookies but by far the cutest. I have been thrilled with her work from several recent projects. There really isn’t anything she can’t do, IMO. So naturally, in theme with the times, I had her design toilet paper rolls and virus cookies. Hopefully, there will be a ray of light after this whole mess is over. Plus, she provided a no-contact delivery right to our door! 

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And finally, a party is not a party without Mama’s Pizza. I called Jordan, the owner (and my middle school boyfriend for 2.5 seconds) to see if his team could no-contact deliver 35 boxes of large cheese and pepperoni pizzas for our son’s surprise birthday car parade.  Sure enough, he personally showed up with the stacks of cheesy gooey pies! 

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THE BIG DAY!

I am proud to say my unorthodox party plan played out to perfection. With my younger son leading the way in his go-cart wearing rubber gloves and a mask, the parade began!  

We handed every car a whole box of pizza and three cookies. In return, we were pegged with beads, firecrackers, confetti eggs and more. 

I haven’t seen our oldest son smile this big in a long time.

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Everyone put so much effort into decorating their cars and really getting into the birthday spirit. They yelled and honked and laughed and cheered. 

celebrating a birthday, quarantine style

Let’s face it: Kids are dealing with so many disappointments right now, from canceled sports tournaments and rescheduled SATs to the fact that they can’t hang with their friends like usual. With the regular routine of school out the window, it was a warm welcome to see some of the amazing teachers who help guide our children on a daily basis to be the best humans they can be! Teachers deserve big props, and it was awesome to see their faces in person. (Sad we didn’t get a picture of the lower school principal, but she was there, wig on and all!)

I feel so blessed that on this day, for this milestone, we were able to make a memory for my son that was 100 percent about hope and happiness, for us and others!

Was this birthday over-the-top? Maybe, but I was so happy to be able to help so many local businesses. What we all will remember most is how many people in our community came out to make sure my son felt love on his birthday. 

To all the peeps who are celebrating special occasions and big milestones during these trying times, remember that joy is possible, and the easiest way to create it is by coming together. 

SoFortWorthIt GIVEAWAY!!!

And speaking of JOY, I know this quarantine cray has been a bit daunting, so I’m giving away a $50 gift certificate to Mama’s Pizza and one dozen cookies from The Velvet Crumb! Hopefully, these goodies will help you look forward to the good times ahead. 

Drawing the winner on Wednesday, April 22nd at NOON! Be sure to read the TERMS and CONDITIONS in the Rafflecopter link below. Good Luck!

6 Feb

Make Valentine’s Day Sparkle with Ruinart Champagne

Nothing says love quite like Champagne.

To commemorate Valentine’s Day, I am devoting my entire post to the best of the bubbly stuff. And y’all, when I say Champagne, I mean real Champagne. No Prosecco, Cava or “headache in a bottle” for this girl. It might bubble and fizz like a Champagne, but it’s only a Champagne if it’s from Champagne, France. And one of the shining jewels of Champagne is Ruinart.

A couple of months ago, Chester Cox reached out to me and asked if I was interested in learning more about Ruinart. You might recognize Chester from his five-year run as Fort Worth Magazine’s best wine expert, but he’s also the sommelier and retail wine specialist at Ellerbe Fine Foods. Chester invited me to bring a group of my most favorite peeps to experience a tresspecial, tresexclusive Ruinart Champagne tasting lunch.

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Let me just stop this story and give you some advice: If someone offers you and your crew an exclusive lunch featuring one of the world’s most exclusive wines, say yes.

So y’all, that’s exactly what I did! I said yes! So I am going to stop again and say, if this sounds like something you would love to do, you totally can. As you know, Ellerbe is owned by sommelier Richard King and executive chef Molly McCook, but Richard has teamed up with Chester on an amazing wine pairing event venture called White Gloves, Purple Teeth. Molly remains the mastermind behind the food and flavors in the kitchen, but Richard and Chester stand at the ready to direct a decadent evening of oenophilia for groups large and small.

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OK, now back to our wine lunch. Jason and I arrived at Ellerbe with eight of our most connoisseur-y friends. This group has literally seen it all, and our jaws all dropped when we saw our elegantly appointed table. Like, Carol, queen of tablescapes,  would have been proud.

One more thing I know y’all want to know – how do you pronounce Ruinart? OK, repeat after me: Rwree narrr. And again, but this time pretend you have a stuffed up nose: Rwree narrr. Tres bien!

Once we were seated, Chester introduced us to Jeridan, our tasting guide for our champagne-paired course and the official U.S. Ambassador for Ruinart Champagne.

30 seconds later, the white gold began to flow!

In between bites and sips, I soaked up the back story behind the Ruinart Maison and everything beautiful about the bubbles.

The History of the House

Ruinart, located in the town of Reims, is the oldest established Champagne house in France. Nicolas Ruinart founded it in 1728 right after the King of France decided to allow Champagne to be transported in bottles rather than barrels.

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Ruinart was the first Champagne house to cellar its wine in the region’s famous chalk caves, which were dug out by Roman prisoners over 2000 years ago. They’re 125 feet underground and span over five miles – big enough to house Ruinart’s entire production.

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Fun fact: It’s not just Arkansas where everything is relative. Nicolas’s uncle, Dom Ruinart, was a Benedictine monk and equal contemporaries with another wine lover, Dom “Donny P” Perignon. They were monks together in the same church, and they are also buried in the same abbey.

Also, Nicholas was the great grandfather of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, better known as the Widow Clicquot, or Veuve Clicquot.

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Today, Ruinart is owned by LVMH, which also owns Louis Vuitton. (I knew there was a reason I loved this Champagne!)

We drank a range of wines, including a Blanc de Blanc with our salad and soup course. A Blanc de Blanc is 100 percent pure Chardonnay. (And it’s also 100 percent pure vegan! Win!)

Their Chardonnay is the finest in the region sourcing Premier and Grand Cru fruit from our estate own vineyard in Sillery in the Montagne de Reims along with the vineyards in the Côte des Blancs.

 

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We also sampled the Tête de cuvee Ruinarts Vintage Champagne while dining on our main courses.

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Another fun fact: Ruinart was not just the first Champagne house, they were also the first to make rose, way back in 1764. We sipped Dom Ruinart Rosé, which is an amazing balance of Chardonnay & Pinot Noir while we enjoyed Chef Molly’s amazing third course.

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You may be thinking, Christy, it’s great that you were drinking the good stuff, but what in the wine cork could you eat? Turns out, a lot! Chef Molly and her staff were so amazing, the kitchen coordinated a selection of special vegan dishes just for me to enjoy.

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Tasting Notes

  • Our group loved all three wines, especially since they were all specially blended to pair perfectly with food. Champagne was actually made for food – its acids breakthrough meat fats and cream sauces. It’s great with charcuterie, chicken and duck. The rose is great with steak, pasta, cheese and pizzas. It’s especially great with fried foods like French fries and fried chicken. Not that I know, but I’ve been told!
  • Now here’s a fun fact that’s actually crazy: The only thing that doesn’t taste good with Champagne is chocolate. For reals! The tannins in the Champagne are too big a taste and too bitter for the chocolate. Better bet is to go with a port. You’re welcome.
  • Want me to keep going? Here goes: Ruinart uses just under 8 grams of fruit and beet sugar per liter of alcohol, which is equivalent to about a sugar packet. Champagne also is the least caloric of all wines. Just 74 calories per glass! Just be careful if you decided to indulge in the bubbly while exercising.

And at the very end of our experience, our group had the opportunity to purchase the champagne we tasted, including rare specialty bottles we didn’t get to taste, at below wholesale cost! You can just imagine how many cases of champagne this group took home. I have to officially say, my wine refrigerator is filled with Ruinart!

Thanks to Ellerbe’s wine program, White Glove, Purple Teeth.

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Ruinart GIVEAWAY!!!

Who wants to win more fabulous freebies compliments of yours truly and Ellerbe?

We’re giving away a bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc and a Champagne-fueled lunch for 2 at Ellerbe. $300 VALUE