Saturday, May 30, 2009

How to Throw an Ice Cream Party

I just read an article where someone had commented that being frugal means being a cheapskate and therefore would be no fun to hang out with. I thought about it and decided that the Ice Cream Zoo that I'm throwing tomorrow night is an example of frugal fun.

When I was a kid there was a restaurant called Farrell's. It may have served dinners, but what you went there for was the ice cream and the candy store. Fantastic ice cream dishes were served up with a side of sirens, song, flashing lights, horns and general merriment ensued. Of course it helped that their main dish cream. Even adults turn into little kids around ice cream. My dad began re-creating their famous Ice Cream Zoo and inviting the entire neighborhood over for this creation, and now I have resurrected this dish and it is the staple and event upon which my most successful parties are thrown. And it doesn't cost me that much money. Really.

Evite, which doesn't even contain my entire guest list or the number of those who are actually coming, estimated that I would spend close to $400 up to over $600 for this party. (Laugh here.) As if I would ever spend that kind of money.

Here's how you throw an Ice Cream Zoo.

Invite all your friends and neighbors. Remind them 3 or 4 times, hound them mercilessly if you must; it's for their own good. They will be missing too good a time.

Decorate your yard with tiki torches, filled with fuel. Buy them when they are on sale (I bought a lot of mine at a garage sale and paid about $1 each.) One you have them, $6 of fuel will last a long time. I also put up string lights that remind me of a beach patio restaurant. Those cost a little, I'm not going to lie here, but they last a long time if you take care of them. I got mine on sale and spent about $22 for 50 foot of lights. Gather your lawn chairs. I have a nice mulched area that works nicely for this, seated around the garden beds and under the trees.

If you start with a few tiki torches, or have decent yard lighting, you really don't need much else. You could use Christmas tree lights if you wanted and then you have no expense involved.

Use a long folding table, if you don't have one, you can usually borrow one from friends or neighbors. This is for serving.

You need:
1. Large bowl, either stainless steel or glass. Put in freezer.
2. GOOD ice cream scoop. Seriously. I haven't had a decent one until this year and it makes all the difference.
3. Paper bowls (I use Hefty Zoo Pals.)
4. Plastic spoons (I use Hefty Zoo Pals. These wash and are reusable.)
5. Plastic cups Because I'm inviting grown-ups, I don't use the tiny Zoo Pals cups.
6. Napkins
7. Zoo animals. I buy them from Wilson's or Ebay. These wash and are reusable, so plan to collect them.
8. A large container for lemonade, a large tub for ice and soda
Optional: blender, ice, tequila, margarita mix, margarita salt, tiny little umbrellas.
Blow horns or kazoos.


Multiple kinds of ice cream: Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Peach, Sherbet, Mocha, Mint, Cherry, Banana. The sky's the limit here, but the first 5 are non-negotiable in my book. You want a variety. I buy mine on sale, so when they were $2/half gallon (not the new 1.5 quart size. grrrr) I bough most of mine. Some of the specialty flavors don't go on sale like that.

Multiple toppings: Chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, strawberry topping, pineapple topping, (whatever else you personally like) chopped peanuts, sprinkles, real whipped cream in spray can form, maraschino cherries.

Last year I set out containers of M&M's and Twizzlers, but I'm not doing that this year. Can't find the sand pails I bought for that purpose, and frankly I just don't want to spend any more money.

Drinks: Lemonade or iced tea, bottled soda, and optional adult beverages.

Additional items you may want to serve: cookies (the frosted animal cookies would be kind of cool)

To assemble the dish:

Several hours before the party, place your bowl in the freezer. The colder it is, the longer your dish lasts without melting.

Scoop the ice cream in advance. It is worth investing in a good ice cream scoop as it makes it so much easier. I scooped each carton into a disposable aluminum pan which I covered in foil and put in the deep freeze. Each one held two cartons. Trust me, pre-scooping saves a lot of time.

Set out your pre-scooped ice cream and the following toppings: chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, butterscotch (if you like it), strawberry topping, pineapple topping, chopped peanuts, sprinkles, maraschino cherries, whipped cream.

As quickly as you can fill the bowl, alternating flavors like this: Flavor 1, flavor 2, flavor 3, etc. etc. until the bowl is filled and mounded a bit in the middle like a mountain. Drizzle the chocolate, caramel, strawberry and pineapple toppings, spray the whipped cream over the top, sprinkle the peanuts and candy sprinkles and top with a few cherries.

At this point have someone go out and get your guests to blow the horns, whistles or kazoos. Quickly place the zoo animals on top of the dish. These make the “zoo”. Carry out your masterpiece and quickly serve the ice cream into the dishes. Reserve the animals.

You can either quickly return the large bowl to the freezer once your guests have had their first helping, or set the entire dish into a tub of ice to keep it as cold as possible.

If you are having a large number of guests, prepare a 2nd bowl as you are doing the first, but set the 2nd into the freezer until your first is nearly gone. Then the remainder of your guests get the same thing.

To figure out the amount of ice cream. Depends on your friends, I guess, but mine rarely eat a lot, so I figure 4-5 guest per ½ gallon, and that provides more than enough. If you do this right with a lot of different flavors then you should plan to be bringing ice cream to potlucks for a bit or plan on having folks over for games and ice cream later on.

The key to the whole thing is to make sure you have some friends who are good at mingling. You want to invite friends from all walks of life, all areas of your life, work, church, civic groups, neighbors, etc. and get them all together.

I like to provide something for the kids to amuse themselves with. Last year I had toy jumping frogs, party size card games like old maid and go fish. Someone else would do better at the party music than I, but I would like to have island music next time.

That's it. It's pretty simple, really. You could probably have as good a time with ice cream cones, but the presentation of the Zoo really is a lot of fun and people really respond well to it.