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But those days have been lost. Now, either you spend the weekend before your Oscar party up to your elbows in icing and streamers, or you're making a deliberate statement by opting out.
As a Midwesterner, I know how to feed large groups of people, but when it comes to making it look cute, I'm lost. I scroll through Instagram regularly, seeing pastries arranged on minimalist platters or tiny flower vases within tablescapes (what is a tablescape?!), wondering why the home-grown entertaining gene never made it into my pool.
Now, I'm not trying to rag on Pinterest, or prove how misleading it is. Like watching #fitspo videos on Instagram and realizing it's dedication, not magic, that builds those crazy bubble butts, I've seen it done on enough DIY home decor blogs to know it's possible. People are capable of making these miniature dreams come true. I've seen it! And if they can do it, so can I.
So I decided to reach for the stars this Oscar season, and I decided to do it in public. Below, one woman's mostly unsuccessful attempts to throw the most Pinterest-perfect Oscar party of all time.
The Instagram Holy Grail: Mendl's Cake
I loved Wes Anderson's color-drenched masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel—until yesterday, when I tried to recreate its famed pastry, the Courtesan au Chocolat. There are literally instructions in the movie, so the recipe wasn't hard to find. And since the pastry is already messy-looking, I figured even if it looked bad, it would still be adorable. Oops.
My first stab took no less than an hour and a half, during which my in-laws surprised me by showing up with some family members who had not seen my apartment. By that point, my kitchen was so covered with confectioner's sugar that it looked like Lindsay Lohan's hotel room circa 2011.
Sure, this was embarrassing, but nothing was going to stop me from dipping and stuffing and plopping and prodding these rapidly collapsing little pate a choux poofs. Finally I took a deep breath, stepped back, and realized that my masterpiece looked like a pile of shitcakes. Seriously, like oozing-brown, flattened shitcakes.
It's funny that you never see anyone crying on baking shows. Not only had I spent hours writing down the supplies I'd need, going to the grocery store, finding pastry bags, filling them with burning hot custard-y chocolate, and assembling this whole eggy, runny mess, but I had other projects to move on to. What was I thinking? I had so much to do. I shouldn't have been making lavender icing by hand! But then a Beyonce-level power rose up in me and I decided to...do it again.
I pulled a different pate a choux recipe for the three poofs, and miraculously, this time, it worked wonderfully. (Even if dropping those plops is torturous in itself.) The icing remained my achilles heel—it's too watery to hold consistency—but then I discovered Wes Anderson had casually left buttercream out of the recipe. As you can see above, the result was still a mess, but it tasted eggy and chocolate-y and delicious, and after five hours of baking, that's all I cared about.
Difficulty level: 5 out of 5
Time suck? YES ON YES
Cost: At least $60. (It depends on how many ingredients you have at home, and if you're a Tory Burch-wearing housewife who already owns pastry bags)
The Oscars-Themed Photo Booth
The plan here: Get a classy backdrop and some props, set up a camera, and let my party guests go to town.
Earlier in the week, I had scoured PartyCity.com looking for options, but their backdrops were so cheeseball. If you've ever held clown glasses up to your face, you know Pinterest ones are even worse, so I decided to go rogue and create my own. With two sheets of tinsel and some camera icons on strings, I would have everything I needed to create a shiny, glimmery scene.
As I tore open the packages a few days later, I was met with that delicious factory poison smell that ASOS shoes and Forever 21 purses always have. It instantly filled me with dread. This stuff was trash, literally trash on strings, and I paid $25.96 for it—and that's before factoring in the command hooks, tape and party mounts that would allow it to stick to the wall for five minutes before crashing to the ground.
DIYing a photo booth sounded so easy in concept (hang some tinsel, boom!) but in practice it feels like encountering a wholly unfamiliar geometry question on a final exam. I tried various combinations of sticky stuff and locations (doorway plus ladder plus tape, wall plus party mounts plus tablecloth), but nothing worked until I used every sticky object I could find, all at the same time. Throw in my new tripod and DSLR remote clicker, and now I just have to pick up fake Oscar statuettes and a half-bottle of wine to make memories as embarrassing as Jennifer Lawrence tripping up the stairs every damn year.
Difficulty level: 2 out of 5
Time suck? A few hours of research, and an hour of logistics and some creativity.
Cost: $33. (There's got to be a cheaper way to do this, right?!)
The Barware: Tuxedo Champagne Flutes
At any Oscar party, the champagne is going to be flowing big-time, so naturally, the glasses you pour it into have to be something special. A lot of party-throwers add gold accents to their flutes, either with paint or with spray, but I decided to dress mine in aggressively adorable hand-made tuxedos, which is the closest I'll be getting to Benedict Cumberbatch all night.
Oh, these little suits seemed so simple. I don't know what kind of magical elves' hands are making the ones on the internet, but these are not easy to make if you have nerve endings. Everyone else can get their masochism on by watching 50 Shades of Grey in the theaters, but I got mine at home by burning myself repeatedly with a hot glue gun.
By the time I was done, my tuxedoed flutes looked more like high cater waiters then elegant George Clooney bubbly glasses. Covered in stringy glue substance and gemstones, I got to thinking: Is it even safe to hot glue plastic to felt? Does that melt the glasses? How does one get these gemstones to stick without lighting one's fingers on fire? There was glue all over my hands, my feet, my floor and my life, but given how cute the glasses looked lined up on the table,it pains me to say it was almost worth it.
Difficulty level: 3.5 out of 5. Not difficult, just painful.
Time suck? I didn't sleep last night because of these, so, yeah, I'd say it's a time suck.
Cost: $17, plus a glue gun.
The TV Decor: DIY
An evening honoring perfect pictures should be picture-perfect, so there has to be some sort of decor around the pièce de résistance: the television. I stumbled upon a tinsel garland DIY, and considering how much money I would pay for one of these if they were for sale in a Brooklyn boutique, I decided to take the challenge up on my own.
Feeling like a regular Lauren Conrad, I picked up gold ($3.99) and black tissue paper ($2.99), and did a twenty-minute lap at Michael's looking for string. Just plain, white string. Like in some sort of bizarre nightmare, the string was too thin and expensive in the jewelry section, and too large and plentiful in the knitting section. Finally I sucked it up and spent $4 on brown baking twine, which looks a little Mumford and Sons for the party theme, but was the cheapest options.
At first, I found the slicing and dicing relaxing. (You can do it while watching TV!) But the part where you twist the tassels and make a loop was, to put it simply, impossible. I made ten or twelve of these and could never do it right—and the gold tissue paper ripped so easily that it required a ton of attention, like more attention than the Mendl's cakes. Giving up, I taped the twists at the top and they held, until I tied knots around them on the string. The end result was a little sparse, but since I was unwilling to take the forty minutes to finish the job, I am more than pleased with how it worked out.
Difficulty level: 2 out of 5
Time suck? Almost two hours (how! how!?)
Cost: $11, without tape. Not bad!
The Painfully Cute Food Offerings: Themed Popcorn Bar
You cannot throw a Pinterest party without having some themed foods. We're talking tuxedo strawberries. Popcorn cupcakes. Statue cookies that assemble like Lincoln logs. Do you know how deep the well goes? Click here for a slow descent into Pinterest madness. I'm having an anxiety attack just thinking of all the small paper things I have left to make.
I went with the simple-seeming Pinterest mainstay of a popcorn bar, with movie-themed offerings. For Wild, I made a trail mix kettle corn with nuts, raisins and M&Ms. For The Imitation Game, I made a dark chocolate and cocoa-dusted popcorn—dessert masquerading as a salty snack (heh heh). For Whiplash, I made a taco-cayenne popcorn so spicy it'll make your head, well, you get it. And, of course, for Boyhood, I went old-school as it gets: movie theatre butter. (Things you learn while theming food: A lot of nominated movies are super dark. Whatever you do, do not serve Selma popcorn or American Sniper cookies. World's most awkward party, guaranteed.)
I would have custom-made signs for each flavor, but I didn't foresee exactly what I was getting myself into. I ran out of time just from planning, and that's without sourcing popcorn tubs, getting popcorn scoops, or finding cute red-and-white popcorn striped boxes that are not sized for second-graders' hands, like most party favors are. It never ends, you guys. It really never ends.
As I folded butter into yet another batch of popcorn in my kitchen at 1am, I started wondering "Are my friends worth this?" And I'm fairly sure that they're not. But god damn it, like a guilty mom on the PTA baking cookies all night, I committed myself to this, and I was going to finish. And oh boy, do I have so much more to do before those people arrive.
Difficulty level: 1 out of 5
Time suck? A solid 75 minutes, not to mention all the groceries you have to get. It's so hard to find popcorn salt.
Cost: $25 if you have own an air-popper. (Butter is expensive!) More if not.