February 1 is the date Roald Dahl chose for Charlie to be admitted to Willy Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory. We were busy that day, so we opened ours up on January 29 to fifty-some of our friends and neighbors.
Jon and I have a tradition of hosting book-themed parties. For several years, we hosted a Bilbo’s Birthday Party (near the date of his birthday as recorded in Lord of the Rings, September 22) complete with hobbit-ish food, fireworks, beer, and bare feet. One year, we showed all three extended-release-edition films. That took all day and took place (as you can imagine) before we had children. We haven’t celebrated Bilbo in a few years, but we’ve been doing a low-key version of this Wonka party for a few years. This year saw the biggest one we’ve had (a benefit of having children who no longer nap!), and it seems everyone had a blast.
Our Wonka Fest is an excellent excuse to eat chocolate and have a party in the doldrums of winter. Plus, of course, Jon gets a chance to wear his top hat, and I’m allowed to use excessive amounts of butter, chocolate, and cream, even though it’s not Christmas. Here’s the menu from this year, much of it based on the meal Violet Beauregarde consumes when she unadvisedly chews her illicit piece of Wonka’s gum: tomato soup, roast beef with baked potato, and blueberry pie with cream.
- Fizzy Lifting Drinks. A bubbly cranberry-pineapple punch.
- Tomato Soup. My good friend Robin made a fantastic tomato soup one year for a Wonka party, and she gave me the recipe. Super-easy, creamy, and makes a giant quantity. We served it in a big crock pot to keep it warm.
- Roast Beef. I simply rolled up small slices of roast beef, skewered them on toothpicks, and served them with crackers and a side of sour cream mixed with a bit of horseradish.
- Baked Potato. In years past with smaller parties, we actually baked dozens of potatoes. This year I just bought giant bags of potato chips and called them “not-Baked Potato Chips.”
- Blueberry Pie. I made 159 tiny blueberry tarts. I acknowledge that this puts me in the “insane” category — but it was really fun, mostly because I divided the steps up over a week. I made a triple batch of pie crust dough one evening, stamped out 159 rounds of dough another day (stored them in the fridge between layers of wax paper), then mixed up the berry mixture and baked the tarts in a mini-muffin tin another day (while the girls happily watched Beauty and the Beast ). These were finished a week before the party and kept great in the freezer. Serve with a pint of sweetened whipped cream.
- Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight. My take on the golden-ticket-bearing candy bar is this amazing layered brownie recipe that I got from Wondertime magazine (oh, Wondertime! — may its memory live on!). It has neither fudge nor marshmallows in it (don’t tell anyone), but it is absolutely whipple-scrumptious.
- Wonka’s Nutty Crunch Surprise. Because I still wasn’t sure we had enough brownies (this is where Jon rolls his eyes), I made two double-batches (and he rolls them again) of my favorite Martha Stewart brownie recipe, then basically added a candy bar on top. For each 9×13 pan, I chopped up some peanuts, Heath bars, and pretzels, and topped the brownie with a frosting made of a pound of chocolate, a stick of butter, and ½ cup of peanut butter all melted together. Next time, I’ll put the frosting on first, then press the crunchies on top so the frosting layer doesn’t pop right off the brownie (as it did this year). Live and learn.
- Chocolate Fondue. We needed a tribute to Wonka’s chocolate river — “It’s all chocolate! Every drop of that river is hot melted chocolate of the finest quality.” I didn’t want to get into the chocolate fountain thing (too wedding-buffet-ish), so I borrowed a couple of fondue pots and went to town. Turns out that a pint of cream, a 72 oz bag of chocolate chips, and a bit of vanilla extract makes a good amount of fondue for fifty people. And leftovers can always be made into truffles! We served the fondue with chunks of pound cake (thank you, Costco!), strawberries, bananas, and big marshmallows.
- Coffee. Okay, so maybe it’s not in the book, but we had it anyway.
We had a few other activities going on, too:
- Chocolate tasting. Each guest brought a chocolate bar for The Chocolate Bar (our tasting station). But we didn’t think the volume through very clearly, and we quickly had fifty chocolate bars. Jon had the brilliant idea of cutting a few up at a time and walking around with a platter for people to taste various exotic bars. Bonus: Because of the excess, most guests got to take a chocolate bar of their choice home with them at the end of the night!
- A puzzle. We like having a jigsaw puzzle set up during open-house parties. It is a nice way to give people (particularly introverts) something to look at and work on while mingling with other guests. We bought a candy-themed puzzle for this year’s party — so colorful! But at 1000 pieces, it was way over the top. Next year we need to either start it before the party, get a bigger table for all the pieces, or buy a smaller puzzle. In any case, our guests did some really good work on a formidable puzzle this year!
- The Perplexus. Along the same lines, it is fun to have a labyrinth game sitting around for guests to fiddle with in between bites of chocolate. And this one wipes clean!
- Book excerpts posted around the house. We have this lovely edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with whimsical illustrations by Quentin Blake. We copied several passages from the book (with some of those great illustrations), taped them on black cardstock for a mock-frame, and posted them on the walls at various spots around the house so guests could browse.
- Audiobook. In the girls’ room, we played a great audiobook version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory narrated by Monty Python’s fabulous Eric Idle. I’m not sure if many people listened to it, but we certainly enjoyed it during the party-prep days! There may come a time when we’ll show one or another of the movies during the party, but we like keeping Wonka Fest more book-focused. (To say nothing of how the movies can be a little alarming for children.)
- Eating. This was really the main activity of the party.
If you didn’t get invited, we totally apologize, and beg you not to take it personally! Please let us know so we can send you a Golden Ticket next year! In the meantime, I’m going to scheme about some kind of Wonka-magic that will temporarily increase the size of our house right around February 1 each year.