A Sweet 16 Birthday Party

Two Dallas moms throw their daughters a sweet 16 birthday party.

PARTY CENTRAL: The secret to this successful birthday party: 40 teenage girls gathered in one living-room-turned-dance-floor and whipped into a giggling frenzy by a DJ and choreographer, bottomless pitchers of virgin strawberry daiquiris (below right), and a few keepsake party favors (below left).

Sweet Sixteen
Two moms tag-team the perfect birthday party.

Go Jen-fer; go Manda! chants dance troop choreographer Fenton Fulgham over deafening rap music at the 16th birthday party for my daughter Jennifer and her best friend Amanda. The DJ revs up the tunes as 40 girls from the cross-country team kick off their Steve Maddens, Reefs, and platforms to follow Fenton’s hip-hop moves. Point! Forty fingers point. Head! Forty bobbing heads turn. Turn around! Freeze! They do. The giggles get louder; the girls get wilder. Even the shy ones start shimmying, creating a buzzing frenzy. Amanda’s mom Ginny weaves her way through the crowd, serving fiesta pinwheels and seven-layer dip from a silver tray. Another mom passes virgin strawberry daiquiris with tropical umbrellas, which are snatched up faster than the host can pour them. My husband David is videotaping the craziness.

Ginny and I have gone all out to throw this birthday party for our little-miss-perfect daughters. Since Ginny’s one of those amateur-chef-moms who bakes everything and I’m the kind who re-wraps store-bought Rice Krispie squares for bake sales, she’s prepared the Mexican feast. Come to think of it, all I can really take credit for is organizing everyone else to do the work. My sister has volunteered to bake two of her famous chocolate chip pound cakes, and her 13-year-old son John Henry brought one of his banana cakes, Jennifer’s personal favorite.

SUGAR AND SPICE: The birthday girl’s favorite dessert, banana cake, is a homemade gift from her 13-year-old cousin, which he decorated with roses. (Left) Life-sized paper dolls of the two best friends were the hit of the party. (Below) A night of dancing and hula-hoop contests provided endless entertainment for these high-energy teens.

I called in the big guns when it came to decorating, and the results are amazing. Florist and decorator Bryan Long filled the house with gorgeous arrangements of  lilacs, roses, hydrangeas, kangaroo paws, pink cockscomb, bells of Ireland, and feather thistle. He fashioned an impromptu disco in the den by clearing out all the furniture except one sofa, which he pushed against the wall, and stringing royal blue and gold light bulbs (the girls’ school colors, of course) in a criss-cross pattern across the ceiling. Rented cocktail tables draped in blue and tied with fat, gold bows border the room. A myriad of colorful votive candles lining the mantel gave the room a soft glow.

When dinner is ready, the DJ takes a well-deserved break (I don’t think even he can keep up with the girls, which makes me feel better), and the starving partyers stroll with plates piled high out to the lawn, where dinner tables are covered in blue and gold plaid. Neon lights are stapled in funky swirls to the fence. And then the girls spot Brya’s piece de rsistance: life-sized paper dolls of Jennifer and Amanda as pigtail and fluffy-slipper-wearing Bobsy twins, balloon-holding swimsuited tots, uniformed baton twirlers, and sassy cover girls. Ginny and I share a look “where did those sticky-fingered little girls go? Can they really be 16 already? They’ll be heading off to college soon…. We might be tempted to get a little sentimental, but the girls joy is infectious.

Let’s par-tay! someone shouts, and they’re off again, moving inside for more dancing and a hula-hoop contest.

Mom, I’ll remember this for the rest of my life, says my daughter, giving me a bear hug.

Me too, sweetie. Me, too.

FIRST COURSE: Various salads and appetizers kept the girls fueled up until dinner was ready.

Aunt Nanny’s Famous Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
(serves 8)

 1     box yellow cake mix
 1     small box instant chocolate pudding
 1     small package milk chocolate chips
 8     ounces sour cream
 4     eggs
 3/4  cup vegetable oil
 3/4  cup water
 1/2  cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a tube cake pan. Dredge half a package or more of chocolate chips in flour; this prevents them from all falling to the bottom of the cake. Mix cake mix, pudding mix, and sugar. Add water and oil. Beat in one egg at a time with a wooden spoon, which makes them creamy. Add sour cream and chocolate chips. Pour into pan. Bake 50-60 minutes. Remove cake and cool for one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Virgin Strawberry Daiquiris
(serves 6)

 1    10-ounce package frozen strawberries with sugar
 4    ounces lemonade
 2    cups water
 3-4 fresh strawberries
 1     cup of ice

Mix the above in blender until smooth. Pour into short glasses. Decorate with a party umbrella and strawberry slice.

Pasta Mexicali
(serves 8)

 8        ounces penne pasta, cooked and drained
 1        cup black beans, rinsed and drained
 1        can cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
 1        can whole kernel corn, drained
 1        red onion, chopped
 1        small red pepper, chopped
 1/2     cup fresh parsley, chopped
 1/4     cup cilantro, chopped
 1/4     cup cider vinegar
 1        tablespoon Dijon mustard
 2        garlic cloves, minced
 1 1/2  teaspoons ground cumin
 1/2     teaspoon ground red pepper
 1/2     teaspoon ground black pepper
 1/4     cup vegetable oil

In large bowl, combine pasta, beans, corn, onion, red pepper, parsley, and cilantro. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, mustard, garlic, cumin, and red and black pepper. Slowly whisk oil into vinegar mixture until blended. Pour over pasta; toss well to coat. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or until well chilled.

ALL THE FIXINS: Fajitas and casseroles are easy make-ahead entrées for large parties.

Baked Mexican Rice
(serves 4)

 1      onion, finely chopped
 1      clove garlic, finely chopped
 1/3   cup olive oil
 1      cup rice
 1       teaspoon salt
 1       teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 1       tablespoon chili powder
 1        4-ounce jar button mushrooms
 8-12  slices garlic sausage or chorizo
 1 1/2  cups stock grated Parmesan cheese

Saut onion and garlic in hot olive oil until soft. Add rice and seasonings and brown lightly. Add mushrooms and sausage and enough boiling stock to come 1 inch above the rice. Cover tightly with lid and bake in 350-degree oven until liquid is completely absorbed, about 35 minutes. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Queso Fundido
(serves 4)

 1       pound bulk pork sausage
 1       4-ounce can mild green chilies, chopped
 4       tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
 1/4    teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
 1       cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
 12     6-inch flour or corn tortillas 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saut sausage in large skillet over medium-high heat until brown, breaking up clumps with spoon, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage into 8-by-8-by-2-inch glass baking dish or other ovenproof pan. Mix chopped green chilies, 3 tablespoons cilantro, and hot sauce into sausage. Sprinkle cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, and remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro over sausage mixture. Bake 10 minutes. Wrap tortillas tightly in foil. Place in oven with sausage casserole to heat through. Continue to bake casserole until cheeses bubble and mixture is heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve with warm tortillas.


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