How to Throw a Downton Abbey Party

Fangirl Level One

You're just having a few friends over to watch the show this Sunday night but want a little something extra special.

TEA

I mean, OBVIOUSLY. Serve tea, and if you're super awesome, use actual teacups. You can probably snag a few from Goodwill for less than a buck a piece.

SOMETHING SCONE-Y

Scones, biscuits, shortbread, tea sandwiches... something easy and dainty that makes you feel like Lady Dowager.

Fangirl Level Two

You're having friends over to watch the show, but they're reeeeally into it and you have an hour to make it extra fun.

PLAY BINGO

Paste Magazine made four different cards for an earlier season, but you could print them out and change any irrelevant boxes. Or if you have decent computer skills and can make a table, make your own Downton Bingo cards. Check out the link for ideas if you get stumped.

SERVE PEOPLE

Put on a white shirt, a black blazer or cardigan, make a bowtie out of construction paper, and serve your friends tea and snacks. 

Fangirl Level Three

A real throwdown.

CANDLES

Light them EVERYWHERE. And not just any candle - tall tapers if you can. Put a sturdy cluster in the middle of the food table, and your ambience will be splendid.

AN EXTRAVAGANT TEA PARTY

Unless you have the time and budget to serve seven courses complete with salmon mousse and roasted quail with hollandaise, an all-out tea party is the way to go. Have multiple tea options and serve a variety of finger foods, including the obvious tea sandwich. 

PHOTO BOOTH

If you don't take pictures, it never happened! ::modest eye roll:: But a photo booth - or at least a few props around - is never a bad idea. Have some bowties, a couple of old man hats, a tiara, elbow-length gloves, feathery hats, a serving tray or two, a parasol, etc. Encourage folks to act like a specific character if they get shy.

DOWNTON TRIVIA

You know how much I love trivia!

  • Collect quotes from the show, and ask your friends who said them. 
  • Give teams a list of character names, and have them put the names in order of when they left the show whether by happenstance or ::gulp:: death.
  • Play a game of Round Robin where people have to say the entire name of a character in order to keep playing. If you get the name wrong or can't think of one, you're out.

These are just a few ideas to get your brain moving, but of course Pinterest is a powerhouse of ideas. And if you're really serious about throwing an epic party, I wrote 31 posts over 31 days on game-changing party planning. You can get the entire list here. 

 

 

How to Put Benedict Cumberbatch in a Cookie Jar

cumbercookies.jpg

Say hi to Benedict Cumberbatch, guys!

Don't let that sweet, awkward smile fool you. I mean, let it melt you, but don't let it fool you. Benedict is a powerhouse of skills. Acting skills, yes. He's a brilliant award-winning actor who's transformed himself a million different ways. Kahn? Check. Stephen Hawking? Totally. Julian Assange? Bring it. Sherlock? ALWAYS. 

But he has another skill, illusive and provocative, curious and wondrous. That skill?
He can see inside your soul.

It sneaks up on you. One minute you're watching Sherlock, and the next you're taking Ibuprofen for chest pains because he's taken up residence and caused your insides to stop working.

There's just something about Benedict Cumberbatch.
So naturally we should turn him into a cookie.

I've been on a mission in recent months to craft the perfect Cumbercookie, to somehow combine class, smarts, chummy familiarity, and something that you just downright crave. Nothing I came up with ever hit the mark. 

Then one weekend, I threw these cookies together on a whim, no Benedict in mind. I gladly ate them because they were delicious, but afterwards I just couldn't. stop. thinking about them. Then the magical truth dawned on me... I HAD MADE THE PERFECT CUMBERCOOKIE. And ironically it snuck up on me, just like the man himself. 

I present a triple chocolate cookie with a rich cocoa powder dough studded with chunks of dark and white chocolate. It's gooey, crispy, rich, sweet, and simultaneously familiar and unexpected. 

It's classy tux black and white.

Every bite is different but part of the same beautiful package. What will you get? Mysterious dark chocolate? 

Reliably sweet white chocolate?

Or just a simple bite of cookie that begs for a glass of milk and a nap after? 

No one would blame you if you made a Cumbercookie ice cream sandwich. And then forgot to eat it because you saw this picture and then passed out.

I can't feel my face. What were we talking about?

Cookies! I'm telling you... they are a lovely surprise. I'm a classic chocolate chip cookie girl, but doggoneit if I didn't choose a Cumbercookie over a chocolate chip just today. They're so delicious and belong in your cookie jar pronto.

Also, my phone acknowledges "Cumbercookie" as a real word, and my hope and prayer is that one day yours does the same. 

Triple Chocolate Cumbercookies

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (2-3 oz) chopped dark chocolate (at least 60%)
  • 1/2 cup  (2-3 oz) chopped white chocolate

HOW TO MAKE THEM

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper because parchment paper saves your life in the kitchen.
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients - flour thru baking soda - and set aside.
  3. Use a mixer to cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, maybe two minutes on medium.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat another 30-60 seconds until combined and still fluffy.
  5. On the lowest setting, mix in the flour just until you can't see it anymore. It'll be a little thicker than a lot of cookie doughs, so don't fret. 
  6. Add the chopped chocolate by hand.
  7. Scoop with a food scoop if you have one or a rounded tablespoon, and place the dough two inches apart on the sheet pan. Bake for 11 minutes. Listen up. Don't bake these too long. When you pull them out, you shouldn't see any raw dough on the top, BUT if they're a little jiggly or seem raw inside, you're good. Again, you want the dough on the surface done, but don't worry about the insides. They'll settle as they cool and create the perfect cookie texture. Cool on the pan for a minute or two before removing to a cooling rack, preferably with the parchment paper trick. No spatula needed. 

Makes about two dozen Cumbercookies, and they last a solid three or four days before the texture starts to change.

Benedict, stop photobombing my pictures! Such a photobomber.

Lady Mary's Red Velvet Cookies

A magical cookie that sounds like walking in fallen snow. Velvety red, like Lady Mary's dress. Perhaps you were unaware of your desire to relive this perfect proposal in cookie form, but now that you are, here it is and you're welcome. Local folks enjoyed these in the Downton Abbey Sugar Box, and now you can have them whenever the sentimentality strikes.

Lady Mary's Red Velvet Cookies

It's a superpower to make chocolate taste even better than it already does, but I'm about to give you the magic potion - Ovaltine. It's one of the most powerful ingredients in the land holy cow I've been watching way too much Once Upon a Time.

Seriously though, Ovaltine is pretty great at injecting chocolate flavor into anything that calls for milk, as these cookies do. Joy the Baker has a recipe for chocolate buttercream in her first cookbook that is to DIE for, and the secret ingredient? Fairy dust I mean Ovaltine. Give it a try sometime when an extra chocolate jolt is needed. 

Now I'm going to eat a Lady Mary cookie and then watch another episode of Once Upon a Time. I'm not obsessed AT ALL.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup Ovaltine powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • red food coloring (I used 2 tsp of the powdered kind)
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white and/or red sugar sprinkles
  • 1-2 tbsp powdered sugar for dusting on the snow

*Whole wheat pastry flour is indispensable in my kitchen, but if you don't have it, sub 1/4 cup regular whole wheat flour and an additional 1/4 cup of all-purpose. Whole wheat flours absorb more liquid than all-purpose, so the cookies will be off in texture if you use all all-purpose.

HOW TO MAKE THEM

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together the first six ingredients on to a piece of wax paper or a separate bowl, and set aside.
  3. Mix together the Ovaltine, milk, vanilla, and food coloring in a liquid measuring cup. This is the best way for the color to distribute the most evenly. Set aside.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugars until nice and fluffy, about 2 minutes. 
  5. Add the milk mixture and mix until barely combined. It might curdle a little, and that's no problem.
  6. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix until just combined. After the last flour streak leaves your sight, turn off the mixer. 
  7. Use a small cookie scoop or two spoons to scoop out teaspoon-sized balls of dough. These cookies are best baked small; they're Downton dainty that way. 
  8. Dunk each dough ball into the sugar sprinkles; these give the cookies that walking-on-snow texture that is so lovely.
  9. Place the dough balls about an inch or two apart, and bake for 9 minutes. The tops should look done, but if there's a little bit of soft dough beneath the surface, still pull them out of the oven. Unless, of course, you like crispy cookies. I personally don't.
  10. Allow the cookies to rest on the cookie sheet for several minutes, and then cool them completely on a cooling rack. Of course, my favorite way to do that is by starting with a parchment-lined cookie sheet in the first place. A life changer. 
  11. Once the cookies are cool, sift the powdered sugar over the top. Gently snow on a happy Mary... until her heart is broken seven episodes later. ::sob::

Sorry, Mary. You've gotten the spotlight enough now. So are y'all watching Once Upon a Time?! Am I the only one late to the game? I'm almost done with season one, and I just dig it. 

11 Things to Know About the 2015 Academy Awards

1. It's Sunday, February 22nd on ABC.

I mean, if you don't know that, then what's the point of the rest of them.

2. Prediction: Marion Cotillard will be the most beautiful person in the room. 

Reese, Emma Stone, and Keira of course could give her a run for her money since they always look ridiculous, but Marion? Marion is not of this world. I haven't been this excited to see what someone looks like since my kid was born. Truth.

P.S. The beauties we won't see? Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Chastain, and Amy Adams. All were nominated for Golden Globes; none for Oscars. 

3. There will be no Jennifer Lawrence.

With the exception of her presenting Best Short Film or something, it'll be the first time in a long time we don't get to watch her be an adorable, hungry lunatic while wearing Dior. 

4. You'll see a ton of white dudes.

I know this is a place of happiness, but we've got to give this point fair attention. Not one Best Picture about a woman. No one of color in any of the twenty acting nominees. And no women at all or anyone of color in directing or writing, except for the director of Birdman who's Mexican. Not that there couldn't have been. Selma, Unbroken, and Gone Girl all had excellent chances of making the front four rows look different than a 1960s cigar room, but alas, it'll be a night of white.

5. A lot of the white dudes are super sexy. 

Enjoy a parade of your crushes from high school! Or if you were born after 1975, your high school friends' hot dads! Nominated for acting - Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, J.K. Simmons, and Ethan Hawke. Then you add the hot older brothers - Bradley Cooper, Eddie Redmayne, and myheartandsoul Benedict Cumberbatch. We won't be hurting for a little awkward crushing.

6. Neil Patrick Harris will sing.

Your host, ladies and gentlemen. And he's totally singing. But he's also hilarious and equal parts snarky and sweet, so I think we're in good hands. It seems that Oscar hosts are contractually obligated to sing. It could be much worse.

7. McConaughey will McConaughey.

Yep, he'll be there, y'all. Along with Jared Blue Eyes Leto, Cate Blanchett, and Lupita Nyong'o of The Order of Women Not of This World. (She's VP to Marion's President.) If you remember, the previous year's acting winners present the following year's awards, so one can only hope that McConaughey does a Lincoln commercial monologue promptly followed by Michael Keaton's frantically awkward acceptance speech (assuming he wins). That's a forty minutes we can all get behind.

8. Meryl just won't stop being awesome.

It's getting obscene. This is her NINETEENTH nomination in 36 years. Her face is constantly on the Employee of the Month wall, but no one minds because she's so dang lovely. 

9. Eddie Redmayne will make you "aww" like he's a puppy.

He's nominated for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, a role that won him a Golden Globe just last week, and I want to put him and his little sprite of a wife in my pocket and have them kindly narrate my life. I mean, LOOK AT THEM. It's too much cuteness. All the smiling YouTube kittens better watch out.

10. Everything is not awesome.

Source: kill screen

The LEGO Movie didn't get nominated for Animated Feature Film. I feel like this is a travesty because that movie was subversive and adorable. A lot of sad legos in Hollywood right now.

11. Local folks can celebrate The Oscars with a Sugar Box!

RIGHT?! You can order yours January 28th, BUT this box has something special. We're going to have our own awards because YOU GUYS get to vote on what treats go inside! We'll have categories with nominated favorites from recent Sugar Boxes, and your votes determine the winners. It's all very fancy and diamond-studded. You'll also get Oscar ballots and even Oscar Bingo cards in your Sugar Box to make that Sunday night the best seventeen hours ever. Voting starts next Friday. Here's where you can sign up to be part of it. Just choose the local Sugar Box option to get all the details. 

The world needs to stop putting award show season during college basketball and NFL action. I'M GETTING AN ULCER. Too. Much. Excitement. 

Here's the list of the main awards we are about. 

PICTURE

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

ACTOR

Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
Michael Keaton - Birdman
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper

ACTRESS

Reese Witherspoon - Wild
Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl 

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
Robert Duvall - The Judge
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Edward Norton - Birdman

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Emma Stone - Birdman
Laura Dern - Wild
Meryl Streep - Into the Woods
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Keira Knightly - The Imitation Game

DIRECTOR

Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro G. Iñárritu - Birdman
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game

Real World: Downton Abbey

There's nothing more jarring than seeing a period-piece actor in skinny jeans and a sequined cardigan. And that's just Mr. Carson! ::knee slap::

Let's see what these upstairs-downstairs English folks look like in real life... if real life means photo shoots with designer clothes and professionally done hair and makeup. Celebrities - they're just like us!

Hugh has a Miami Vice vibe with that posture. Throw a white blazer on top of that denim, and you've got yourself a player.

That whole "she has a smile that lights up the room" thing? It's real because Michelle has it. I follow her on Instagram and have found her to be delightfully normal and smiley. Plus who in this world can be pale and wear gold and look flawless?! WE OF THE ALABASTER ORDER BOW DOWN, O QUEEN.

He was resurrected as Bond apparently. ::cat call sound::

Contouring, you guys. It's a real thing. Edith has a puffy face (not that there's anything wrong with that), but look at Laura's cheekbones! They're the same, y'all, but when you dump bronzer on that spot on your face, things get all house of mirrors on you and you look like a rocker chick whose face could cut glass in the best possible way.

Also keep an eye out for the red lip as we continue. These Downton girls know how to do The Red Lip.

Stop it, Jessica, with your high-wasted pencil skirt and the college girl straight-hair-with-great-bangs look being hip and fierce. P.S. Does anyone else remember a generation that consistently looked so stylish? I see middle schoolers now who have better style than I have had in my cumulative life. What happened to everyone having a dorky phase? 

I'm thinking this one never had a dorky phase. Hubba hubba.

Don't worry, Lavinia. One day you'll come back as a serious-cosmetics-commercial model with hair that blows in the wind and skin dewy enough to water a tomato plant. 

Mr. Cullen, I admire your tweed and the shoulders and the filling of them also your beard shadow nice you date Orphan Black girl right I bet you date good tweed shadow and cheekbones hot man.

Julian is totally Tom Cruise's gets-in-trouble little brother. I know, RIGHT? Betcha never thought he was a really amazing theater/opera singer thoooough! Seriously, listen to this. Skip to the 1:00 mark unless you like pretty orchestra music.

She's playing Cinderella in the live action Cinderella movie, and I'm SO EXCITED. She's perfect. Look at that face. Beautiful. SHOCKINGLY beautiful. But also fresh and young and approachable and kind. Or maybe that's just her eyeliner; I frankly have no idea if Lily is nice in real life, but I'm counting on it.

I'm thinking pretty excellent both ways there, JackGary. Also any man who can wear a suit that color and look as hot as he does deserves The National Medal of Hot Dude Fashion.

A fairy, this one. Slash can I have her outfit? Although I could never wear it unless I wanted to look like a weird napkin.

Is that leopard print under there, Brendan? There's definitely pomade, and I'm not complaining.

WELL then. 

He should've been cast as a Weasley is what you're thinking right now.

Red lip! Red lip! Daisy is the dearest, but obviously they homely-ify her a good bit for the role. Sophie is old Hollywood done right, man. That lip. The hair with the middle part (who can do that?!). The dimples. If I was a "I have a fashion muse" kind of person, Sophie would be in the running. (Clarification: I do not have a fashion muse... unless you count a ten year old Gap mannequin.)

We already knew he was hot, but put a dude in a well fitting jacket? It's the lady's lingerie, my friend. Gracious.

Presenting the winner for The Most Beautiful Eyebrows I've Ever Seen! Real life Ivy is a knockout.

Oh my gosh she's your cool Aunt Nancy!

Another red lip that I cannot emotionally handle. I think Rose Leslie is one of the most beautiful women on this planet. Top ten easy. She also plays Ygritte on Game of Thrones in case you were doing one of those "where have I seen her" things.

Another tomato plant waterer. But word of advice? Don't Google Amy Nuttall too much. She was either some kind of underwear model or else went a little crazy on her Myspace page.

We end with a crisis of conscience. Thomas is despicable, long past the redemption of being misunderstood, and - let's just say it - super slimy. But Rob? Rob is HAWT. Like, deserves two pictures hawt. A well-groomed almost-beard on a dude is the contoured red-lipped face of a woman. Freely ogle. 

Now a few photos of the cast as regular people because that's fun. ALSO. A surprising number of them have been photographed with Benedict Cumberbatch. In other words, YESSSSSS.

Aaaand we all just got pregnant.