Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Downton Abbey Dinner Party in The Arcadia Neighborhood of Phoenix Arizona

Downton Abbey, oh how I miss thee. It's only been a short time since season four wrapped up in the States and I'm already counting down the days until the release of season 5! What is it about this show that captivates the attention of so many? Is it the beautiful scenery, the smashing fashion, the hypnotic music, the witty script or Lady Violet's hysterically pompous quotes? Honestly, I think it's the combination of all those things. They give viewers, like myself, a glimpse into a way of life we could not have otherwise imagined.

Not to gush here, because let's face it, if you're reading this blog post, chances are you're as ardent a fan of the show as I, but Downton really is a wonderful Sunday night escape from everyday life. Don't you think? I totally enjoy it and oh my gosh, how dreamy was the late Mr. Matthew Crawley!
Dan Stevens certainly nailed this role. Besides being easy on the eyes, he brought a likability to the English privileged. I found myself relating to him and somehow felt as though I knew him, maybe he just reminded me of someone? Maybe it was the brilliance of his performance. I don't know. Regardless, I still can't get over his departure from the show. What a tear jerker. I mean couldn't the writers have worked him back into this season, like the show Dallas brought back Bobby Ewing? Seriously, I would've bought the whole car accident being Lady Mary's bad dream.
Bet I'm not the only one :-)
Okay, so on to the inspiration for this party. Last summer on a trip to visit my parents in Washington state, I came across a vintage white servants apron in an antique store. The apron was only $5 and the moment I saw it, I knew it would come live with me. When I picked up the apron, I said, "this would be perfect for a Downton Abbey costume party," and that's how the idea for this dinner party popped into my head. Even though the party took me months to finally execute, my brain worked on planning the details from that day forward.

Being a nerdy creative and a foodie, I quickly had scores of ideas to incorporate into this event, so to organize my thoughts, I naturally started a Pinterest board. You can check out my board here:
Downton Abbey Dinner Party
*Mike and I dressed as Mr. Carson, the butler, and Lady Mary Crawley

From menu, to decorations, to costumes, to invitations, little by little my vision of an evening "all things British" began to take shape. When I felt confident I had a handle on the plans, a wave of bravery came over me and I made the decision to email the editor of the Arcadia News, Amanda Goossen, with an invitation to the party. To my delight and complete surprise, she accepted! Gulp. Now the pressure was on. In all actuality, Amanda could not have been more gracious and kind.  The night of the party she made myself and my guests feel completely at ease.

You can read the article titled PASSION FOR COOKING AND CRAFTS YIELDS EXQUISITE  PARTY which ran in the March 2014 Arcadia News by clicking on the title.

Now for the fun details! Everything I'm featuring on today's post should be sourced on my Pinterest board for this party. If you see something that I have not listed a source for, please feel free to ask me in the comments below and I will do my best to point you in the right direction.

The Invitations

The pleasure of your company
is requested as

The Right Honorable
Lady Mary "Erin” 
Countess of Phoenix
& her butler
Mr. Carson "Mike"
hold a

Downton Abbey Dinner Party

Saturday, The twenty-fifth of January
at five thirty in the evening.

LaVallee Abbey
Phoenix, AZ 85018

Your finest Downton attire is requested
”Upstairs or Downstairs"

RSVP to Lady Mary "Erin"
at (602) 000-0000

When working on my guest list, I thought of my creative and quirky friends, who are also fans of the show. I knew they'd be totally into the costume aspect of the party and they certainly didn't disappoint. Here are a few photos of our guests arriving for the evening. I had our front walkway lined with twelve candle lit lanterns. A British flag flying from our front porch and a custom chalkboard for a door decoration, which I made from an inexpensive IKEA frame. I applied a faux finish to the white plastic frame to look like aged metal and then painted chalkboard paint right over the glass.

Mike and Pat, dressed as Mr. Carson and Ms. Hughes

Rob and Wendy
Matt and Dana, the talented owner of etsy shop APPLEWHITE HANDMADE

Todd and Laurel (love how they stayed in character for this picture!), the fabulous owner of etsy shop FORTH AND MARKET

The Table Setting
We've been blessed to inherit all the fine china, silver and crystal we could ever ask for. I had enough for twelve settings and felt excited to finally have a reason to use it all. I figured if something got broken--so be it. It's not doing anyone any good packed away.  I needed a few extra chairs, however, so I dressed up white IKEA folding chairs with ivory tulle and silk flowers.
Here is the table set and ready for dinner.

The candelabras encircled with wreaths of fresh flowers really brought the table to life.

I wrote the menu for the evening on a 6 foot chalkboard, which hangs on my dining room wall. I made the chalkboard out of an old salvaged mirror I found on one of my junking trips in Phoenix. Seriously, the crap I drag home sometimes, you would not believe. :-)

The Menu

Hor d' oeuvores varies:
Bacon wrapped Stilton cheese stuffed dates
Endive with ricotta, pecans & golden raisins
Goat cheese with fresh honeycomb, cranberries and pistachios  
Garlic Olives
Assorted sweet & spicy italian meats with Cambozola Blue Vein Brie
Sliced cucumbers with organic garden ranch dip
Dark chocolate covered dried fruits

Yeast rolls with herb butter
Strawberry almond salad with poppyseed dressing
Lobster bisque with sherry infused whipped cream & minced chives
Beef Wellington with bearnaise sauce
Zested French green beans
Raspberry rum trifle

Wilson Creek almond champagne
Downton Abbey bordeaux, Claret or Blanc
Newcastle Brown Ale
Bass Ale
Samual Smith Lager
Coffee or Tea

Our guests seated around the table. How cute is my friend Kim with her fun hat! Oh and her husband, Jordan, texted an apology before the party that he would be traveling without valet for the evening. To which I responded, "I'm in an inappropriate relationship with my butler, so I think anything goes." Ha!

The Downton Abbey soundtrack played in the background throughout the night. Along with the music of the roaring twenties. During dinner we played a comical game, I named Bollocks, which is a British expression for bullsh*t. Guests had a secret phrase written on a piece of paper under their dinner plate they had to pass off during dinner conversation without another guest calling "bollocks". Off the wall phrases like, "kittens terrify me," or "I like the smell of bowling shoes," or "I once ate 13 hot dogs," kept laughter rolling throughout the meal.

Some Decorations Around The House
A Downton Abbey print and character wedding photo displayed on my entry console table. This party was in January, so I kept up some of my winter themed decorations from the holidays. 
 Mercury glass cloche displayed with vintage spools, my grandmother's victorian jewelry, and a royal crown made by my friend Laurel.

Downton Abbey and Union Jack pillows. 
 A vintage looking book found at Home Goods, which was actually a box to hide remote controls.
A Carson printable decorates the dream board I made out of chicken wire and an antique picture frame. This hangs above my kitchen window.

Our Costumes
Mike rented a period correct tux with tails and I ended up having a dress made. I loved my dress for the evening and even got one of my grandmother's 1920's jewelry sets out of storage . I've had this set since college and this is the first time I've ever had an opportunity to wear it!
Here is an old photo of my grandmother holding me as a baby. I wish she was still around to share all this with. 

I'm embarrassed to say I got so busy throughout the evening, I forgot to photograph the food! Argh. Shame on me. Luckily, the Arcadia News took lots of photos and will release them to me soon. I will update this post when the photos are made available. In the meantime, I did manage to take a picture of my dessert. A classic English trifle. This one is raspberry rum. YUM! This trifle tastes as good as it looks and is truly simple to make. See the recipe at the bottom of this post. 
We wrapped up the evening retreating to a heated back porch with a nice bottle of Port.

After throwing a party like this, with all the fancy dishes and multiple courses, I can understand why a staff was needed. It's definitely an undertaking. Here's a photo of the aftermath--just keepin' it real. Wink.

In closing, I'd like to touch on my favorite scene from this season. Three lead characters, Isobel, Lady Mary and Tom, who have all had great loves and then heartbreakingly lost them, sit down to discuss their first feelings for their respective loved ones. Amidst the loss and sorrow, Isobel says something rather unexpected. Coming from the viewpoint of it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, she says in an uplifting moment, "Aren't we the lucky ones?"  Such a powerful statement and so true. It's statements like this that really resonate with me. I guess that's why I love the show.

As Mr. Carson once said, "The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end, that's all there is." Was the party a lot of work? Absolutely. But does anything worthwhile in this life come without great effort? I think not. Yes, memories were certainly made. It was a special night, indeed. Good friends, good food and great conversation. We had fun and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. To repeat the sentiment of a dear friend, "I will cherish forever."

Yep. I feel lucky, for sure.

~The Lemonista

Raspberry Rum Trifle
By Erin LaVallee

1 box super moist yellow cake mix
1 Tablespoons dark rum

2 3.4oz boxes vanilla instant pudding
2 cups cold milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons dark rum

1 Costco size container of fresh raspberries (around 3 grocery store size ½ pints).

1 quart Whip’n Ice (I get this at ABC CakeOR 1 large container cool whip

Preheat oven to temperature listed on cake mix box.
Make the cake per the instructions on the box with the addition of 1 tablespoon dark rum. Bake in a 9x13” pan. Allow cake to cool and cut into 1” squares.

Prepare filling:  Whip heavy cream and set aside. Mix pudding mix with cold milk until it thickens. Mix in 2 tablespoons dark rum. Fold in whipped cream.

Prepare Whip’n Ice per instructions on the container or use container of thawed cool whip.

In a trifle bowl, add a layer of cubed cake (Tip* depending on the size of your trifle bowl you may not use all of your cake, I had quite a bit of cake left over), then spoon on half of your filling. Next, sprinkle half your raspberries (saving a couple to decorate the top). Finally, add a layer of Whip’n Ice or Cool Whip.
REPEAT for a second layer.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.

You can decorate the top of your trifle however you choose. I added a royal icing flower bouquet and a few raspberries, along with a custom cake topper.
*The royal icing flower bouquet and Downton Abbey cake topper are both sourced on my Pinterest board.

Linked to:

Clever Chicks Blog Hop
My 1929 Charmer Sunday's Best
Made by you Monday
Sweet Sharing Monday
Show me your plaid Monday's
Tip Junkie, Tip me Tuesday
Wow Us Wednesday
Feathered Nest Friday


  1. What fun! I love al the photos. I host a Miss America themed party every year, but it pales in comparison to this. You are officially the coolest person in the blogisphere. By the way, it's Sunday night and I'm feeling sort of low not to be looking forward to seeing all my DA friends. I think reading this made me feel worse. :)

  2. What a great party. I love the invitation. How great that everyone dressed for the occasion. You set a pretty elegant and refined table. I am so sad that this season was so short. It was great to watch anyway.


  3. Oh I wish I had been there!! Looks like you had a amazing evening! Thanks for linking up at Show Me Your Plaid Monday's!

  4. What a fabulous post! I did a downtown tea post a while ago but a formal dinner- wow- love how your guests got into character- delighted to be a new follower :)

  5. I fell in love with Downtown Abbey last season and am hooked, this season did seem to short. What a great idea, and how amazing you made the evening, such attention to detail! I wish I was there, your table is so elegant! I am so impressed I am featuring this Sunday at Sunday's Best for "Ms. Creative". thanks for sharing at Sunday's Best.

  6. What a great idea! I recently purchased some items from the Downtown Abbey heritage lace collection. It adds a very real touch!