Eco-friendly Party Serving Ware (+ Adventures in Potato Stamping)

I really, really hate disposable stuff.  I just do.  It really grates on me.  But there are times when it is the only practical option.  Times like Baby Girl’s first birthday party.  For those times, I love that there are some cool new beautiful AND functional eco-friendly options.

Price-wise, all the eco-friendly serving ware ended up being comparable to those commercial theme birthday party options (i.e. Rainbow Brite paper plates, etc.).  Our menu meant we needed a lot of different types of items, and fortunately we have a lot of it leftover for future parties (the kind that won’t have to have a Rainbow Brite, theme).

We purchased nine items from two different companies (VerTerra and Green Paper Products).  Thankfully, everything worked beautifully.  The loveliest items were definitely the VerTerra plates, forks and spoons.  The plates remind me of the Tencel items we carry at Sweet Iris – they are a beautiful and truly eco-friendly option.

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Aren’t they beautiful?  These are actually made from fallen, crushed palm leaves, + steam, heat, and pressure.  That’s it.  They utilize an agricultural waste product that would most often be burned, biodegrade in less than two months after disposal, are completely compostable, don’t transfer heat, maintain shape when in contact with hot substances, and are microwave-safe up to two minutes on high and oven-safe for up to 45 minutes at 350°.  Could you really ask for more?  I don’t think so.

I was truly thrilled with the plates.  Not only were they gorgeous, they worked beautifully–there was no sogginess or weakness at all.  If for some strange reason we used these for a normal dinner at home, I’d try rinsing the plates off and reusing them.  They can’t be put into the dishwasher, but other reviewers have had success with a quick hand wash.  They are just so pretty it feels strange to throw them away.

The plates shown above are the 7 x 8.5 inch.  This size would probably be the minimum size I would choose for an entree course (unless of course you are going gourmet and/or you use nice modest portions).  Remember, there are sloped edges on all of the plates that take away from your useable plate space.  I.e., the 6-inch plates we chose as dessert plates (but barely used as we ended up opting for cupcakes) looked so petite that I almost wonder if they might be an awkward fit for something like a really large slice of a round cake.  Judge for yourself below, where you can see those 6-inch plates below in relation to the cocktail napkins.

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You might go with something bigger if you will offer several dessert options.

We really tested the forks out, and I thought they did a great job even with the salad, though I will say that my young nephew had trouble spearing the lettuce and asked for a regular fork.  VerTerra’s website mentions that these forks are “famous for being able to pierce a raw carrot”.  I would believe it–though I think most people would be too worried about breaking a tine to really go for it.  That may have been my nephew’s problem.

You’ll also want to note that the spoons are somewhat shallow.  They worked well for our soup, but if you have a very thin, brothy soup I think they’d be a bit frustrating.  They’d give you no trouble at all with a chili or stew.

We did mess up by not getting knives, though.  Our salad ingredients didn’t get chopped quite finely enough for everyone.  Ah well, next time.

We presented the spoon and fork wrapped in blue, green, and yellow napkins and tied with raffia, in a tall thin basket (shh…it was the bottom section of a facial tissue dispenser basket) because table space was at a premium.  We wanted napkins in all our colors, but didn’t want to be wasteful buying the huge packages offered at most party stores.  Fortunately, I swung into Dollar General’s party section while on a box-of-Corn-Pops run.  3 packs of napkins, $3.  Score.

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We also bought greenpaperproducts.com punch cups, drink cups,  4 oz. portion cups and wooden tasting spoons.  The cups were all made from Polylactic Acid, or PLA, a biodegradable and compostable bioresin derived from corn.  According to their website, PLA uses 65% less energy than producing conventional plastics, generates 68% fewer greenhouse gasses, and contains no toxins.  

You can see the 4 oz. portion cups and tasting spoons below, filled with my new love, lemon-basil sherbet.  I didn’t find any of the cups to be so thin that they smash in your hand, as some other eco-friendly products can do.

Lemon-Basil Sherbet

Lemon-Basil Sherbet

Liven up your Disposable Ware (etc.) with a Potato Stamp

We also chose these biodegradeable, compostable, renewable sugarcane barreled soup bowls and were very happy with them also–the size was perfect, they didn’t get too hot, and they weren’t too floppy.  We  partied them up using a potato stamp and a tube of yellow paint:

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Festive, right?  If you’re like me , it’s been a decade or two since you’ve tried your hand at a potato stamp.  My tip – keep your design extremely simple, and if you are working with a rounded surface, keep your design small.  This was a surprisingly time-consuming project for me, as it was difficult to get the large lemon design we chose to print clearly and evenly on the rounded surface–I had to keep tweaking my stamps.   In sum, you’ll want to do as I say, not as I do.  🙂

To potato stamp all you need to do is draw your design outline on your potato-half with a pencil and cut away the outside, leaving a quarter-inch-or-so tall raised design.  I could draw a decent looking lemon freehand with a pencil, but if you need a more symmetrical design, you can push a cookie cutter into your potato half, then use a paring knife to slice through the potato until your knife hits the cutter.  Even with the precision of a cookie cutter, I don’t think that potato stamping lends itself to a flawless, professional look (am I wrong here? If so, comment below), but if a more hand-crafted look works with your decor (as it did with our “painted” napkin-inspired party), give it a try.

Hope that helps!  If you want to see the deliciousness that landed on so many different products, click here for our menu.

Yellow, Blue and Green Lemon theme party – Menu

 So if you read our previous post, you know everything you ever wanted to know about dyed doilies, paper lanterns, and use-what-you’ve-got centerpieces. The thing you didn’t get a peak at: the main attraction for our many out of town (even out of state!) guests–the food!

We’ve had quite a few barbecue/hamburger/hotdog outdoor parties lately, and we needed a change since many of the same people would be coming to the same place at the same time as they had just a month or so before.  So for my daughter’s birthday party, we decided to tackle serving a summery soup and salad to the multitude, and keeping the party inside with the exception of a bit of overflow seating.

We went a bit crazy with our theme, (albeit a rather loose theme: lemons with a yellow, blue and green color scheme) and even chose food that fit.  A lot of recipes were tested.  Some outstanding contenders just didn’t make the cut (sorry lovely gourmet Lemon-Blueberry layer cake.  Au revoir neat Pioneer Woman salad).  Here’s what did make it:

Menu

(click for recipes)

Sweet Corn and Cilantro Soup

Doesn’t Get Easier Grilled Chicken and Spring Mix Salad

Citrus-Basil Vinaigrette

Honey Mustard Dressing

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing (made from a packet)

30-minute yeast rolls

Lemon-Basil sorbet

Lemonade cupcake with homemade Cream Cheese frosting

Not-Too-Sweet Yellow punch

Logistics of serving soup and salad at a party

Tip #1: Pick a space and “prettify” it

Let’s face it.  A kitchen isn’t the prettiest place for a buffet line at a birthday party.  But if you’re not having an outdoor party, and you actually need to sit people at your dining table, your options narrow down pretty fast.

If you need to serve from your kitchen, here is a pretty idea:

These ruffled crepe streamers would also look pretty under kitchen cabinets:

As nice as these options are, we really needed to use the kitchen as a food prep workspace, not a showcase.  So we eeked out space in the entryway, using a console table with an expanding top as our primary buffet space, an antique washstand at the base of the stairs for dessert, a card table tucked by the front door for water and punch, and coolers with other drinks on the porch.

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Tip #2 : Traffic flow is everything

Wherever you put your self-serve line, if you have a small, narrow space, you’ve got to do anything you can to help with traffic flow.  If you can keep your different serving areas even slightly separated, it will significantly reduce your guests’ blood pressure.

In our case, we had the guests start at the soup side of the table and continue in a straight line towards the drinks.  We made the soup accessible only from the side of our console table, and the salad only from the front.  Guests that needed to grab yeast rolls and utensils stepped around the corner to the other end of the table, before continuing onto the card table by the door where the punch and water servers were located, or to the coolers with more drink options just outside.  Between these small efforts and guests exercising general southern hospitality, everyone got their food surprisingly quickly and easily.

 Tip #3: Get creative and use what you’ve got to save space and keep food hot (or cold)

We had to fit seventeen different foods on our console table–plus plates, bowls, napkins, and utensils.

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It took some creativity, but we made everything fit, through the use of some unique (ok, odd) serving pieces.  We used a flour canister to serve our soup. It was tall and narrow enough to keep a large quantity of soup hot, and didn’t require all the room that a traditional soup tureen and lid would need.  I had a bowl of soup 30 minutes after it was added to the canister, and it was still wonderfully warm.

Sweet Corn and Cilantro soup

Sweet Corn and Cilantro soup

Victory!

We also needed something tall and relatively narrow to hold the utensils (you can’t see it, in these pictures, but a giant pan of yeast rolls took up all the room on that side of the table), so we recruited the bottom of a facial tissue dispenser basket.  Finally, without a vinegar cruet (or three), we turned to two large creamers and a gravy boat to serve our three salad dressings.

Doesn't Get Easier Grilled Chicken and Spring Mix Salad

Doesn’t Get Easier Grilled Chicken and Spring Mix Salad

We had  some more traditional serving pieces too, like the two B. Smith tiered bowl sets (from Bed, Bath and Beyond).  These affordable servers kept the food in easy reach–even for kids, and add a bit of height for a much prettier table-scape.  My mom and I each own one of the the tiered sets above (aww, they’re friends!) as well as several other B. Smith serveware pieces.   Though most of the B. Smith pieces aren’t as space-saving as these stacked bowl sets, we love the vertical element and the way they dress up even simple foods.

Other than posting the recipes, I’ll also have one more quick post to tell you about the gorgeous eco-friendly, compostable plates (made from crushed leaves!), bowls (made from sugarcane–and dressed up with a potato stamp) cups, and utensils we used.

Yellow, Blue, and Green Lemon-themed Party Decor

After months of being on hyper-drive trying to get Sweet Iris launched, general parenting, and other miscellaneous craziness, I had really planned to keep things simple for my daughter’s first birthday party.  Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.  Who was I kidding?

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We were rushing around trying to get ready, but I managed just a few pictures that’ll give you at least an idea.

This post is about the really fun stuff: the decor!

Also check out upcoming posts about the fab menu (including, but not limited to: Sweet Corn and Cilantro Soup, Doesn’t Get Easier Grilled Chicken salad,  Citrus-Basil Vinaigrette, 30-minute yeast rolls, Lemonade cupcakes, and Lemon-Basil sherbet), unusual serving pieces, and the crazy new kind of eco-friendly disposable serving ware we tried out (made from crushed leaves! Say what?).

So other than the doily dyeing tutorial we already did, I don’t *think* anything requires an elaborate tutorial.  Instead, I’ve offered a few essential tips  throughout the post to help you as you create similar items.  Please comment if you have any questions at all.   Here goes!

Inspiration

So this whole blue/green/yellow lemon “theme”, if you can call it that, was basically inspired by a couple of packs of gorgeous Isabelle de Borchgrave napkins that I fell in love with and nabbed on clearance(!) at Target a few years back.  I LOVE these gorgeous napkins, and we tried to use our measly 16 dinner napkins to big effect, loaves-and-fishes-miracle style.

Centerpieces

The half-dozen centerpieces were a major part of the napkin-multiplication project.  These were born out of a look around the house: “Ok we have a circle punch.  We have tin pails.  We have some napkins.  We have trees in the backyard.”  Et voila!

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The napkins were ironed and used to mat simple tree branch centerpieces with 3-D ornaments.  To create the napkin mat, the back ply of the napkin needs to be removed (because otherwise it starts to separate itself and peak out after ironing).

My very favorite thing about these centerpieces is something I didn’t expect at all–the  3-D circle “ornaments” spin gently in the A/C or the breeze.  It is a surprisingly nice little feature.

We used spare tissue paper for the “grass” on these centerpieces–honestly because I just didn’t have the energy to drag the baby into town (read: Raleigh) and buy something better.  Sorry about that.  The student will surpass the teacher, right?

Finally, we broke up the harsh lines of the mat and integrated the centerpiece and the table by scattering a few butterfly and bow confetti die-cuts, purchased from Purple Corner on Etsy.

Entryway

While we’re talking Etsy, we also got tulle-backed ragged yellow flowers that we pinned onto the buffet table from I Felt Sprightly.

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As you can tell, all the drama (and most of the work) was in the entryway

Here and on the front porch, the irregularly-ribbed paper lanterns (yellow, chartreuse, and deep blue), parasols, and yellow sandalwood fans (which doubled as favors for the kids) are all from paperlanternstore.com.

Fireplace

Also from Etsy’s I Felt Sprightly, I picked out some die-cut felt flower sets, which consisted of four different size petals, intended to be formed into 25 four-layer flowers.  We thought these looked great randomly ordered and sewn into a garland for the fireplace (along with some Rit Lemon Yellow dyed doilies).  We could have also used this garland draped on a chandelier or hung in close rows and gently gathered like a curtain on either side of a doorway or entryway.

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I really hate that I didn’t get better pictures of the fireplace, because it really did look pretty.  You can check  the background of other pictures in this post to see more of the fireplace.

Front Porch

In the front porch picture, you can see how we hung the sandalwood fans on the porch.  We found that the best way to keep them open was to wedge a folded piece of paper into the tail of the fan.  The fans had small metal hooks which made hanging them a breeze.  Evidently I was in such a hurry to snap this picture before the guests arrived that I didn’t notice the giant yellow lantern that had eased its way onto the railing to “sit a spell”.

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Oops.  It was a really humid day, and the painter’s tape we tried to use to hang the lanterns just wasn’t cutting it (or, rather, “hanging” it).  Fortunately we had a roll of my Sweet Iris packaging tape handy, which I’m thrilled to learn can hold up through any sauna North Carolina can throw in its general direction.   I did think about cropping that lantern out of the picture, but we do try to keep it “Reel” around here.  🙂

So while we’re outside, want to see the final product I teased you with in our doily dying tutorial post?  Here’s what a simple foamboard cut-out, yellow paint (b/c the door is glass and you’ll see the backside), a hot-glue gun, and 109 doilies in varying shades of  lemon yellow can do for you:

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Lovely, yes?  This is much easier if your child has a nice symmetrical initial: no hunting down letter templates or enlarging things on copying machines, just a ruler and a pencil will do the job.  Come to think of it I may need to prioritize first initial symmetry when picking out baby names in the future…

I hope some of these ideas help you!  Please comment below and let me know if you have any questions or tips.

For the rest of the story about this party, click here for the menu, and here for the cool eco-friendly serving stuff.

10 Steps to Perfect Dyed Doilies – Tutorial

So the gorgeous Pinterest pictures have talked you into it (I hear them too!) and you are ready to dye some doilies.  Here’s how to do it:

 1. Purchase Doilies:

Buy your doilies.  A lot of them.  With dyed doilies, getting a wide range of shades is pretty much unavoidable.  You can get an idea of the kind of variation I’m talking about in the photo below–where you’ll also get a good idea about how to make a doily bow, or a doily puff (though this doily bow in particular is actually destined for a fabulous letter wreath–where the variety in shading looks gorgeous in the finished product)–but more tutorials later… Image

If that kind of variation is undesirable to you, be sure to use consistent heat and soaking times and dye much more than you need so you can pick and choose doilies that reach your desired shade.

When shopping for doilies, I found the best method was to first decide on the size I wanted, then do an Amazon search for that particular size.  I picked out a pattern I liked with the help of those results.  But before loading up your cart, do a separate search for the brand and pattern.  That’s how I found a huge box of doilies that didn’t show up in search results any other way.  I was able to score 1000 lovely Cambridge Hoffmaster 5” doilies for $12.41, with free shipping.   We used 5-600 for my daughter’s birthday party just on doily bunting and door décor.  And I still have a pile left over to feed my newfound doily addiction.  Hoorah!

2.  Purchase Rit Dye:

Pick out some Rit dye colors.  When you are ready to purchase, you really want to purchase your dye locally.  Wal-mart has a good selection of Rit dye for around $3 each, though they may only have liquid, like my Wal-Mart did.  That’s fine because the liquid works great.  I have very limited experience with Rit dye, but here are a couple of color tips:  Royal blue is lovely, but dyed/dried it leaves marks on your hands, and therefore your baby might slowly get a Smurfy look after handling her.  Not that I’ve experienced that problem, or anything ;).  Also, the Kelly Green ended up being more of a blue-green.  I solved this by adding just a little bit of yellow, and it got me much closer to my desired shade.  Lesson: if you want a kelly green doily, pick up a bit of yellow dye at the store as well.

3.  Separate doilies:

Grab a stack of doilies and start separating them into single layer.   Put them in stacks of 10.  If you run into a stubbornly close-knit pair, instead of picking them apart at the edges, try putting your thumb and middle finger on opposite sides of the center of the doilies and rubbing to separate. It helps.

4.  Heat water:

Pick a saucepan that is not much wider than the size of your doilies.  Fill with 2-3” of water, and heat water.  You don’t want it to boil, but you want it to be hot.  You can leave it on the heat as you dye, or periodically heat the water up again.  Your doilies will accept the dye much better with hot water.

5.   Add dye:

Add your dye to the water until you achieve your desired color.  Remember that your doilies’ color will deepen with time soaking in the dye.  How much dye you add to your water will depend on the Rit dye colors you have chosen and the color saturation you want.  I needed a lot more yellow dye than Royal Blue or Kelly Green (about 70% of the bottle vs. 30-40%).  You may have to add more dye and/or more water as you progress with your dyeing.

6. Test:

Before you jump in with a full batch, test dye one doily, submerging it in the dye and leaving it for five minutes.  Remove with tongs.  Adjust your dye if necessary.

7.  Dye:

Add one doily at a time to the water, placing it gently on the surface of the water, and then gently poking it with your tongs to cover the surface with dye without allowing your doily to fold.  Work as quickly as you can, adding the rest of your stack of 10 doilies to the water.  As tempting as it is, you can’t put the entire stack in at once.  You’ll get big un-dyed spots in the middle and an overall tie-dyed look.  Let your batch absorb the dye for five minutes, but not more—you don’t want your doilies to disintegrate.

8.  Dry:

Have your drying area ready.  If your baker’s racks aren’t otherwise occupied with cupcake recipe trials like ours were, they will work great (just be sure to protect the surface beneath from dripping dye).  We simply cut open garbage bags and laid our stacks on top.  For faster drying, put a stack of paper towels beneath the doilies and/or let your doilies dry in the sun.

Remove the entire stack of doilies at once with your tongs, letting excess dye drip back into the saucepan and transporting the stack (hovered over a plate) to your drying area.  Don’t worry about separating the doilies.  They’ll dry, albeit slowly in the stack.  As you place it on your drying surface, you’ll want to avoid folds, but wrinkles or minor bunching will iron out.  Fiddle too much with wet doilies and they will tear.

9.  Iron:

For really good-looking doilies, you don’t want to skip this step.  It makes a big difference.  A low temperature works well.  Remember to protect your ironing board from dye, and wipe down the surface of your iron after you finish—did I mention that the blue dye gets all over everything?

10.  Admire:

Aren’t they gorgeous?  Aren’t you the most talented little mini-Martha on the planet?  You are!  Now what will you do with them?  Sew them into bunting?  Fold them over treat bags?  Make a fabulous wreath?  The world is your oyster!  Enjoy!

Questions?  Suggestions?  Comment below!