It’s that age-old problem: you’ve cooked a meal for a party and you have no idea what wine to serve with it. I’ve developed a bit of a cheat sheet over the years and I’m going to make this post all about what goes together.

First, let’s talk about meat. Serving beef and lamb usually calls for red wine. You’ll often hear people discussing a “full-bodied” red, and that’s what you want here. It needs to stand up to the heartiness of the meat. Shiraz or Pinot Noir are good traditional choices. For gamey meats like venison or bison, you want earthy and spicy flavors so try serving a Sangiovese.

If you’re making chicken, traditionally it is served with white wine. If you are grilling or roasting the meat, a glass of Chardonnay is an excellent accompaniment. For food that will be heavily or richly sauced, serve a Cabernet Sauvignon. For other fowl like duck or quail, you can go the opposite route and serve a merlot.

White wine is also a good choice for fish or other seafood. Try a dry Riesling for flaky fish or a Pinot Grigio. Grilled fish also pairs nicely with Chardonnay.

If your food is very acidic, like pasta with a tomato sauce, your wine will have to balance out the acid. Try a nice Zinfandel. And if what you’re serving is very spicy, you want something crisp and refreshing that your guests can drink quickly. A Riesling or a sweet Gewurztraminer will pair well with the flavors of your meal. A Chardonnay, on the other hand, should be avoided because it will actually tastebitter from the heat of the food.

Cheeses or desserts can be a little less clear. Full bodied wines go well with cheeses that are hard, and soft cheeses play well with drier wines like Marsanne. If you are serving blue cheese, try something sweet. For dessert, serving a sweet wine is also fine as long as the dessert is not as sweet as the wine.

Another good rule of thumb is to think of the recipe origin. If you are cooking a meal in a French style, pair it with a wine from the same region. If you are grilling something light and California style, look for something grown in the Napa Valley.

You can also think about the way you’re cooking your meal. Something poached or cooked delicately requires a light flavor to drink as well. If you are roasting your meat, it will have a richer flavor and therefore will stand up to a richer wine. Something barbecued or grilled will have a smokiness, so a wine aged in wood will bring out that flavor. If you are making a creamy sauce, then your meal can stand up to a heavy wine.

Keep in mind that these recommendations are based my tastes and experiences, as well as some tried-and-true combinations. You may like something else, and that’s totally fine. Or, if you make something and a guest brings a wine that you hadn’t planned on but you want to serve – no problem! Be flexible and open to possibilities.

Everyone thinks of New Orleans when they talk about Mardi Gras. However, it is a legal holiday in the whole state! And Baton Rouge can throw some great Mardi Gras parades and exciting fetes as well. We have different family friendly Krewes made up of people in the Capital area who host parades throughout the week, ranging from pets in costume to a night parade and more. It is a fantastic time for everyone, and of course you’re going to want to throw a Mardi Gras themed party if you can’t make it down here during the parade season (which lasts from the Epiphany straight through to the day before Ash Wednesday). Let’s talk about what you’ll need for an awesome Mardi Gras themed party of your own:

  1. This one is obvious, right? Do you know why they are so closely associated with the holiday, though? Krewes have always thrown objects to the crowd during the parades, but it wasn’t always these novelty necklaces – they used to throw everything from edibles to dirt! Supposedly, back in the 1880s, somebody wearing a Santa suit threw beaded necklaces instead, and crowds loved them. Other krewes followed suit, and now it’s what the parades are known for.
  2. A King Cake. This sweet, round cake is as much a part of the celebration as the parades and beads. Typically,it consists of twisted dough, colored icing, and sprinkles. The King Cake heralds the new year and the beginning of spring. There is also a bean or a trinket – often a figurine of a baby – baked or embedded (if it’s plastic) in the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the trinket or bean is pronounced King for the day. They also have to host the following year’s party!
  3. Lots of purple, green, and gold. This is more of a New Orleans thing, having come from the signature colors of one of the oldest Krewes in that city, the Krewe of Rex. New Orleans has had more parades thrown by the Krewe of Rex than any other organization, and their colors have been become synonymous with Mardi Gras.
  4. If you want to serve traditional food, think gumbo or jambalaya. The ‘official’ drink of Mardi Gras is a Hurricane. For added atmosphere, play brass band or Zydeco music.
  5. In addition to the parades, the other thing Mardi Gras is known for are the balls. Each Krewe throws one for its members, and the that year’s King and Queen’s identities are kept secret and are revealed the night of the ball. These are very formal and often incredibly exclusive events. In keeping with that spirit, you can throw a formal bash with gorgeous masks for your guests.

The history of the Krewes in Louisiana makes for some interesting reading, and I really recommend you learn more about this great Louisiana tradition! As Louisianans like to say, Laissez lesbon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)!

Every parent has experienced the stress and joy that goes with putting together a child’s birthday party. Some go all out and others try to avoid them whenever possible. I have three kids so I’ve thrown a few of these, and there are a couple of things I have learned along the way:

Let your child get involved. First, you don’t need to do all the work – they should be helping. Second, it will give them some say in how the party looks. Obviously the younger they are, the less they can do, but find something that is age appropriate. Let them pick decorations, or decide on the location. Have them help you set the table or ice the cake. Anything that gives them a little say in what is going on will be great.

Next, remember that it isn’t necessary to go too big. When they are very young, they won’t even remember their birthdays. So you are essentially doing it for yourself and your family. Keep that in mind when you catch yourself thinking of making 25 monogrammed cupcakes for each of your 2-year old’s dear friends.

Another thing to consider is the gift situation. Your kid probably doesn’t need any more crap, and that’s exactly what they get most of the time. We have a wishlist on a popular online shopping site for the kids to ask for gift items, but we often include the following phrase on the invitation: “Please don’t feel obligated to bring a gift, your presence will be enough.” The gifts that the children do receive are not opened in front of everyone, either. We learned this the hard way when some gifts didn’t even survive the length of the party without losing pieces or being destroyed.

Plan out what the kids are going to do so that it isn’t just a free for all. Free for alls usually end up making your house look like a tornado hit it, one (or more) of the kids will leave crying, and somebody always feels left out. Even putting something loosely-structured in place will work. Party games are really going to depend on the age. If they are too young to win or lose gracefully, skip the games and do an activity with them instead. Let them top their own pizza or decorate a cupcake.

Then there are the goodie bags/party favors. I try to avoid the cheap little plastic things that will be thrown away by next week. If the party lends itself to this, a great idea is to do some sort of craft with the kids. Dump a bunch of building bricks on a table and let the kids build something to take home. Another great idea is making picture frames, and what that looks like will depend on the kids’ skill level. If you have a photo printer or a Polaroid camera, you can create a DIY photo booth and props. This way, the kids can take home a picture of your event in the frame that they make.

Keep in mind that kid’s parties are usually a little awful and a lot stressful, so just plan for that and everyone should make it out alive!