In my last column, on the misguided “cheap parties for rich people” meme currently taking over our newspapers, I mentioned my own upcoming soiree. And indeed, this past weekend, I invited a bunch of friends and a few strangers (read: cute boys I vaguely know) to what I called “birthdahousewarming.”
Yes, I moved into this apartment, oh, fifteen months ago, but as a procrastinator and generally not-too-neat person, I didn’t quickly have my place either fully furnished and decorated, nor ever really tidy. (Necessary disclaimer: I am messy, but not dirty. There are clothes on my bedroom floor, but not moldy food on my kitchen counters.)
As this birthday approached, I was debating between having people over and gathering folks at a bar. Each had its appeal – at a bar I would likely have all my drinks bought for me, but the atmosphere is beyond my control and I have to take the subway home at the end of the night; at home I have to buy booze and snacky foods, and clean, but I get to show off my (when it’s clean) quite lovely and spacious abode. But to be honest with myself, something that would force me to clean was probably a good thing, and I have put more than a year’s work into making my home a place I love. It was time to (almost literally) warm it with the people I loved.
That just left the hurdle of feeding and watering a group of friends. My mother instilled in me a strong hostessing instinct – I couldn’t bear to just provide a jug of cheap vodka and some HFCS cranberry juice and call it a day. Visions of crudités and homemade hummus danced through my head, but so did fears of overdrawn checking accounts and subsequent months of living on toast.
Thankfully, in a bit of birthday deus ex machina, I realized that, hey, it’s my birthday, and I’m young enough that my grandparents still send some cash my way come December. So that took me from zero budget to low budget. My anxiety was eased, but I still needed to do this cheap.
For food I went to the super-cheap grocery behind Port Authority for veggies to go with my homemade hummus. Target provided very cheap and very delicious restaurant-style tortilla chips and a splurge of dark M&M’s. My supermarket had organic apple chipotle salsa for just a dollar more than the regular stuff; that extra dollar was mightily worth the oohs and ahs and enjoyment of my friends. It made everything feel a little fancier.
But drinks confounded me. Alcohol is not cheap. (Or, cheap alcohol is usually not good.)
I figured people would bring beer and wine (and I knew I could count on one dear friend for whiskey), so I wanted to lay the foundation with something festive and interesting.
I scoured the internet, got somehow set on the idea of cranberry champagne punch, found basically no internet recipes for that, and so made it up myself (with the help of many silly and frantic emails to wise friends).
Most punch recipes call for several kinds of alcohol. I’d be starting from scratch, without a bar to draw from, so that put just about everything out of my budget. A friend assured me that champagne + fruit juice would be tasty, and I picked up a few fancifying touches from the internet.
I made this entirely without recipes (and without a punch bowl – my big soup pot had to suffice), but in preparation I bought:
3 bottles of the next-to-cheapest champagne I could find: $21
2 8 oz. boxes of blackberries: $2
1 64 oz. bottle of cranberry juice cocktail: $2.39
1 32 oz. bottle of black cherry juice: $3.50
I didn’t use all of either juice – those leftovers went to a vitamin C binge to ward off a cold that was tickling the back of my throat. (Totally worked.) I’d say I spent $27 on the punch. I wasn’t exactly tracking how many servings, but let’s say 20? That’s $1.35 each, a fair competition for even the cheapest bottle of beer, and immensely better than a champagne cocktail at a bar.
This is a party, after all, and a go-with-the-flow improvised recipe, so it’s not the time to intensely nitpick calories. Serving sizes vary, too, but I can estimate that a small glass of this has fewer than 150 calories (probably more like 120) and the juice and berries are surely healthier mixers than a lot of other options. Cranberry juice has vitamin C! Have your fruit and drink it, too.
Cranberry & Black Cherry Champagne Punch
(makes about 1 ½ soup pots worth)
(Picture from Torani, but it's fairly/kind of close to what it actually looked like.)1) Freeze an ice cube tray full of cranberry juice, and one full of black cherry juice. Leave juices and champagne in the fridge for several hours to chill.
2) Pour a champagne into punch bowl or large soup pot. (I only used two bottles at first, because my soup pot isn’t huge and also the third bottle’s cork was stuck, so I had to wait for a strong friend to arrive. This helps keep things fizzy, too.)
3) Add juice, to taste.
4) Add blackberries. (If you want to be a total rockstar, you can soak the berries in a little champagne or vodka ahead of time to booze them up.) Add juice ice cubes.
5) Stick a ladle in your soup pot and explain to guests that it’s not mulled wine.
Totally guestimated calories and cost per serving: 120 calories, $1.35