Taste of Richmond

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A true bon vivant relishes good food, and the inaugural Taste of Richmond did not disappoint. While the event took place weeks ago, I figured it was better to post late than never. The historic John Marshall Ballrooms were packed with the top restaurants in Richmond. Many were still riding the wave of romanticism surrounding New Southern cuisine, which has swept the nation. There were gourmet samples of shrimp and grits and pork belly macaroni and cheese.

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But to further prove that Richmond is a foodie town beyond Southern fare, there was 14 carat gold-flecked sushi. And the best amuse bouche was being dished out by the stellar Indian restaurant Lehja. I can’t remember what they called it. But it was heaven.

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It was a way for Richmonders to sample all the places we’re been meaning to try but hadn’t had a chance to. There was a cooking show by Comfort’s Jason Alley, winestopper party favors and that overall glow from being well-fed.

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Ecuadorian Feast

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“Friends with benefits” should include friends that cook. When my friend Jackie entertains, guests are spoiled rotten. Picking up your finished plate will earn you daggers.

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First, you’re served a hand-muddled cocktail, made with small-batch tequila, lime and sugar.

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While you sip, you can linger in Jackie’s spotless kitchen and steal plantain chips fresh out of the fryer.

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Buen provecho! Shrimp ceviche, home-fried plantains, tortillas and homemade salsa are served fresh.

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After the meal, guests are offered shots of  MamaJuana, an earthy libation from the Dominican Republic that’s said to cure any ills, from digestion to libido.

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Dessert is a tres leches-style cake with fresh fruit. The creaminess tempers the heat from our spicy meal. Not too sweet and 100% delectable.

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Every time we leave Jackie’s home, we’re left wondering what we could have done to deserve such star treatment. But we keep that to ourselves. We wouldn’t want Jackie to start wondering that too.

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Cheers!

Prom Night in No Man’s Land

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What happens when the band plays Freebird

If one wants an edge when navigating fashion, they need to learn how to mix the high and low. If one wants to eat well, they’ll appreciate a white truffle pate as much as a street taco. And if one wants to live a good life, an appreciation of the high and low is also necessary.

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This isn’t the ballet. This is a true tale of a commune in the California desert. Off the grid with no electricity and running water, it’s a refuge for those fleeing regular society. Not even the police monitor the activities in Slab City, which got its name from the giant slabs of concrete on the ground. It is the site of a former military base. Barbed wire still blocks off the edge of town, which is said to have been a bomb test site.

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Chris McCandless, the young man who inspired the true story Into the Wild, lived in Slab City for a spell. Sean Penn even visited this collective of trailers and man-made dwellings to direct the film version of the book, using the real location and residents for authenticity.

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On Saturday nights, Bill the Builder flicks on a generator, and residents begin to shuffle into the center of “town.” As the desert heat gives way to cool air, they gather at The Range, built by Bill the Builder. He’s the unofficial father to everyone there. There’s a stage, and seats torn from Greyhound buses.  A string of lights hangs above the live band, diffused by plastic paint buckets. Residents drink hooch and sing prion songs.

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Inventive seating at The Range

Retired “snow birds” from cold climates drive down in their RVs to ride out the winter in California, and they often pull in to enjoy Saturday nights with the locals. But the year-round residents can seem menacing on paper. They’re often ex-convicts and people suffering from mental illness. But most are kind, scratching out a living off the refuse of others. Fences are made from mattress springs, and they all bathe in the nearby sulfur-tinged hot springs.

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“Slab City Carol” reigns as prom queen!

How I found this place is another story. I’m here to share prom photos. Once a year, people come far and wide to dance to the live band’s rendition of Freebird with reckless abandon. They dress up and take prom photos. They drink Wild Turkey and wait for the king and queen to be announced at the end of the night. It’s a bucket list event for adventurers, road trippers and of course, les bon vivants!

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Kim Burke-Connors (pictured left) and myself pose under the prom arch.

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Laissez les bon temps roulé!

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As the night goes on, more clothing is lost.p

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Never leave yourself vulnerable in Slab City!

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Residents pull out their hidden daggers, just in time for the photo!

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The local lothario, who invites girls to his “temple”; an upturned septic tank from the military base, which is shaped like a temple.

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

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If you’re throwing a holiday party, rest assured yours will be one of many during the season. What can you do to make your party stand out? Everyone will have cocktails and a nice spread, but I’m all for an activity that keeps people engaged, whether they’re laughing or crafting. A cookie decorating area with to-go bags add more to do and an instant party favor.

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The Spiked Peppermint Cocoa was adorned with a candy cane in each cup.

This year, I put together a photo booth at my Christmas party. Holiday-themed props are easy to come by; Santa hats, reindeer andlers, red nose etc. I threw in a couple of converation pieces, such as a plastic butcher knife from Halloween. It guarantees funnier photos.

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And along with my friend Jules, we hosted a Yankee Swap (or, a White Elephant Exchange). All guests were encouraged to bring a wrapped present, unmarked. All presents were piled under the tree, and people drew numbers. Guests took turns picking out a gift, and the following players had the opportunity to steal a gift they coveted.

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Grinch santa hats

From stacks of lottery tickets to a box full of DVDs, guests laughed, lamented and stole items from one another – multiple times. From the next room, it almost sounded as if I had a movie theater in-house, as all the reactions were loud and silumtaneous. As the exchange got more heated, I passed out slices of pumpkin pie and refilled drinks, such as Jules’ spiced mulled wine and my spiked peppermint hot cocoa.

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Happy holidays to all!

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Hamilton helping with the set-up

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Part of the fun is destroying him

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Canapes: Mexican polenta bars and artichoke parmesan spread over toasted baguette slices

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Yes, someone brought a case of beer to the Yankee Swap

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The Yankee Swap gets heated!

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Before I die: The Grand Bal

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Marlene Deitrich at the Waldorf-Astoria’s annual “April in Paris” ball in 1951 – Paris’ 2000-year birthday

Much ado has been made of the world’s response to our dear City of Light being terrorized. Support has poured in worldwide, but some question why our response to Paris being attacked is so emotional, when things like that happen in other parts of the world all the time. These critics are right, but one must acknowledge that the world has always had a love affair with Paris.

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The Imperial Grand Bal in St. Petersburg, 1903

The French brought us lingerie, croissants, Coco Chanel, the ballet and much more. Even in Paris’ darkest hour since World War II, nothing can vanquish the City of Light. I’d like to bring attention to one of the many things that makes Paris so brilliant – Le Grand Bal.

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An Asian-inspired theme – the food and costumes must have been to die for

What is a Grand Bal?

It’s the party of a lifetime. It’s an event you tell your grandchildren about. While it’s always black tie, the best ones are costumed or masquerade balls. It started centuries ago when Louis XIV held a Grand Bal at Versailles to demonstrate his power. Noblemen and dignitaries far and wide gathered to pass messages and spread influence.

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Louis XIV’s Grand Bal costume

Czars in Russia did it, and during the gilded age in New York, Caroline Astor hosted them. The tradition may have jumped from royalty to socialites hosting charities, but the goal is the same: establishing social and political power. Truman Capote held a black and white ball and these were so influential, that uninvited couples left New York for the weekend, so to appear unavailable for the invite. Famous hostess Elsa Maxwell (who lived in the Waldof-Astoria for free) hosted the annual April in Paris Grand Bal on-site. It was the place to see and be seen.

One day I’ll throw one as well. Costumes, Champagne fountain and other Gatsby-esque frivolities. My theme will be the roaring 20s.

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Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball

Bringing the party back to Atlantic City

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With DC chef Christina Berrios (pictured left)

I’ll never forget that episode of Sex and the City, were Charlotte goes trashy to appeal to the blue-collar patrons of Atlantic City. That show is iconic, but poking fun at Jersey is like grabbing low-hanging fruit. Not as low-hanging as Florida, but still.

If East Coasters don’t feel like springing for Vegas (or even better, Monaco) we do Atlantic City. Is the place a bit declasse? Just ask the guy selling No Fat Chicks tees on the boardwalk. Is it fading? Absolutely.

But if Atlantic City is dying, why not infuse some life into it? If it’s tacky, embrace it! Our family does it in a big way. My uncle George and Aunt Nancy, with the help of their kids Rammy, Christina and Kelly, throw an amazing party. They have been hosting day trips to AC with a party bus you wouldn’t believe.

Here’s how to do it like a boss:

Get a party bus, send out invites, and fill it with people who like to party!

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They start you off at the bus site with  fresh Dunkin’ Doughnuts coffee and snacks, and homemade sandwiches for close friends and family. Then, they get the gambling started early, by passing out lotto cards, playing bingo, and giving fast cash prizes. They’ll offer $5 to the first person to pull out a bottled water, iPod, etc. They encourage folks to grab the mic in front of the bus and tell jokes.  The crowd is pumped by the time we arrive in Atlantic City!

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Bring a flask and pass it around.

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Bring CASH!

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Get a thematic Jersey manicure!

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Only a fool would pass up a Dolly Parton slot machine!

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Go on the boardwalk and be silly! Avoid the vulgar beach tees but keep on the lookout for sundresses, cheap sunglasses and quirky toys.

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Go on the beach. Yes, there are gangsters and perms out there, but so is the fresh salt air and warm sun!

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Get away from the din below in a cool penthouse, where you can wash the sand from your toes and the cigarette smoke from your hair (yes you can still smoke indoors in Atlantic City). Enjoy a nice scotch before descending.

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For the adventurous, visit that sacred floor between the casino and hotel rooms. Giant party rooms await you, hosting events. See were the party is, and go for the trifecta: open bar, buffet and loud music. Sneak in on the fun, Wedding Crashers-style!

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There was some kind of disco here!

Margaritaville may be a chain, but the menu is excellent and so is Jimmy Buffet. Get ridiculous drinks with fruits in them. Props to any establishment who tries to make the Northeast look tropical.

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And maybe, juuuuust maybe, you’ll get LUCKY!

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My husband scored this on the PENNY slots!

SLUMBER PARTY!

IMG_1278Childhood slumber parties were pure magic. It was the freedom of being together after the adult world had fallen asleep. It was in the thrill of the ghost stories, the unchecked amount of sugar in our candy stashes. Growing up doesn’t mean that slumber parties should be a thing of the past. In fact, we need them more than ever! Between our careers and growing families, there’s an ever-increasing need for quality time with friends and pampering.

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Whatever sense of wonder that’s missing from adult sleepovers, we make up for in luxury! Forget sleeping bags on the floor. We loaded down our sofa bed with linens and pillows.

Instead of frozen pizza, we opted for pan-seared sesame salmon, homemade pesto on spaghetti squash and new potatoes, and a summer salad with peaches and feta.

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Our movie popcorn was dusted with truffle salt we brought home from an unforgettable trip to Monaco.

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We had fun doing a 60s-style slumber party photoshoot – pure camp!

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We watched movies, then capped it off doing what girls do best at slumber parties.  We talked! Until the wee hours of the morning, we dished about boys, our careers, movie stars, and everything in between. Even if the giggles were fueled by my spiked watermelon & mint slushies, we still laughed all night. Just like old times.

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Backyard Pop-Up Wedding!

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A sweet chalkboard message and carport strung with white curains serves as a warm welcome.

Attorneys Marcus Lange and Zawadi Brown were already engaged, but when a San Francisco law firm offered Marcus a dream job, he and his fiancée decided to start this new venture as man and wife.

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the happy couple

We had two weeks to pull off one of the happiest days of their lives, and it was a success!

Sans Fancy Venue!

Everyone knows that a wedding date is at the mercy of the wedding venue. Since official venues were out, we chose our backyard! Since it’s the East Coast, we got a spacious white tent in case of rain.

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Sans Caterers!

Instead of locking down official caterers, the couple cherry-picked their favorite foods, and dishes that highlighted their heritage. The groom is German, which meant schnitzel and sauerkraut potato balls. The bride is from Trinidad with a Rastafarian and vegetarian family, which meant a mix of vegetable patties, jerk chicken and plantains. They also offered one of their favorite dishes: mutton biryani from India.  Guests are still raving about the All-Around-the-World menu!

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Sans Bakery Cake!

Instead of trying to score a last-minute wedding cake from a bakery, they called on food artist Carol Brown, known for her impeccable baking at Dixie Donuts and beyond. She outdid herself, with a homemade red velvet cake, chocolate brownies and a classic pound cake. For good measure, Marcus and Zawadi provided chocolate-covered strawberries as well.

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Sans Decorators!

Rather than hiring a decorator, Zawadi and friends, (including myself) created hand-made decorations in various shades of purple, the wedding color. Silver was the accent color. Billowy tissue paper balls were strung about, wisteria hung from the railings and the ceremony took place under a tree that was positively dripping with colored ribbons and strands of crystals. When the wind blew, it was ethereal.

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Sans Florist!

The couple skipped major florist fees by marrying outdoors, as our yard has a peach tree, fig free, Concord grape vines, a weeping cherry, daisies, hydrangea bushes and more. In fact, every flower from the purple hydrangea was snipped and placed on every table. Adding to the rustic theme were mason jars filled with sand and lit candles, lanterns hung from the trees and burlap runners featured ladylike polka dots.

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The ceremony was short, sweet and personalized with the couple’s own vows.

Sans Bartender!

Rather than hiring a bartender, the couple offered a conveniently pre-mixed signature drink, the Trinimeister. Combining both their heritages, it was a mix of Jaegermeister, coconut rum, pineapple juice and Sprite, which fit right in with the summer day. Beer and wine were also available, though as the party went on, more and more bottles of liquor filled the bar.
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Who needs a wedding planner when you have friends?

It was a day with zero humidity, sunshine and a cool breeze. It may well have been the prettiest day of summer. Mr. and Mrs. Lange were surrounded by love, with friends and family who all rallied together to make this day unforgettable.

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Bree Hall (pictured right) was a force during the wedding planning.

We wish Mr. and Mrs. Lange the best of luck with their new adventure in San Francisco!

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Hydrangeas popped on every table, and wedding toasts made guests laugh and cry.

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Silver accents complimented the purple and white decor.

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Gift bags were filled with homemade air freshener spray (created by the bride’s brother) and German beer.

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The couple’s friend Mark is also a taleted musician, who performed a warm, personal tribute.

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happy to open our home

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Build Your Own Taco Bar!

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Dixie Donuts food artist Carol Brown and her son Acie

The late, great Nora Ephron once said that people love to play with their food. That might explain my obsession with Korean BBQ.

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I had friends coming to dinner with their three boys in tow. As a kid, it can be a bore being dragged to adult dinner parties. So I took a cue from the Nora Ephron playbook and decided we would play with our food. I created a Build Your Own Taco Bar!

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It was a weeknight, so the dinner needn’t be fussy. The mother and children are vegetarian, so I served alternative proteins and and kicked the veggies up a notch with chipotle-spiced eggplant and Southwestern-style summer squash. I laid all the toppings out, and we had a great time building unique tacos – no two were the same!

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This greeting lets the kids know it’s not all about the grown-ups!

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The drinks let grown-ups know it’s not all about the kids!

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I get to rock my fabulous Mexican folk art runners!

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For extra long tables, be sure to place fixings to both ends of the table. Less passing, more eating!

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A sweet end to the meal: Carol’s homemade pound cake

 

 

How to Throw a 50s-Themed Sock Hop!

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Over the hill? Over that theme!

Birthdays are meant to be celebratory, but tacky party ideas for these poor people are mocking, suggesting that death is just around the corner.

When my mother turned 60, we opted instead for an upbeat 50’s-themed party, which would be reminiscent of her childhood and a much simpler time. People are still talking about it, and it even inspired other family members to do the same!

How to do it…

1) Make it a costume party! It will set a great atmosphere, and lots of laughs when friends see one another!

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2) Vinyl records make great decorations for the walls, dangling from the ceiling on strings and as a centerpiece. Speaking of centerpieces, it’s easy to make a mock milkshake with glasses, shredded paper and striped straws! Glass soda bottles look great too – extra credit if you score vintage ones!

IMG_76763) I say this for every event, but have a themed cocktail. We named ours the “Beauty School Dropout.” And since it’s a sock hop, wholesome root beer floats and milkshakes really hit the spot!

IMG_76994) The birthday cake is a perfect opportunity to reinforce the theme. We used a lot of vinyl records, so one went right onto the cake!

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5) To keep things lively during our meal, we had karaoke. But that’s only because we hired a special DJ who had a trick up this sleeve….IMG_77166) HE WAS ALSO AN ELVIS IMPERSONATOR!!! I now truly believe that one should not throw a sock hop without an Elvis impersonator. It just takes things to a whole other level.

IMG_77197) We used vintage candy as party favors, and it brought back old memories to everyone, from baby boomers to millennials! Using the language of the time, we told guests we hoped they had a “swell time,” added a poodle graphic and tied it up with a bow!

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The party hosts enjoying the fruits of their labor

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The birthday girl being serenaded

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