Hawaiian Luau for a 50th-Birthday Party

A long time ago, my husband turned 50.  Fresh from a typical, fabulous vacation in Hawaii (is there any other kind?), I decided to throw him a luau to celebrate.I knew I could not really replicate the professional luaus in the islands, but I had read somewhere that a truly authentic luau was the type hosted in a kama‘āina’s backyard. Okay, I’m not a local, but I am a haole wahini, so I figured, why not?  My kids were little then (aged 5 and 7 years), but very enthusiastic, so I knew it could be a party that we would all enjoy.

The first thing we did were the invitations:

It helped knowing a few Hawaiian words to add some flavor to the invitation and the party: aloha (hello, good-bye, I love you), Aloha nui loa (very much love), E komo mai (welcome), hale (house), haole (foreigner), Hau‘oli lā Hānau (Happy Birthday), kama‘āina (local resident of the islands), imu (underground oven), kahuna (expert), keiki (child or children), lei (flower necklace), ‘ohana (family), ‘ono (delicious, also mackerel), Pūpū (appetizers), Wahine (woman), wikiwiki (hurry), Ali‘i (chief), ‘a‘ole pilikia (no problem), mahalo (thank you)…

Then I decided on the menu.  I was lucky because I had a few friends and family who were happy to help (well, that’s what they said!).

Party supplies (dinner plates, dessert plates, dinner napkins, dessert napkins, beverage napkins, and plastic forks, knives and spoons in solid tropical colors) came from Party City, and Oriental Trading provided a few more supplies and all the favors (tablecloths, assorted souvenir glasses for everyone, and more kid-oriented stuff for the keiki – children).

Tropical flowers came from Island Florals in Costa Mesa, California. I selected anthuriums, heliconia, ginger, orchid stems, ti leaves, bird of paradise, and palms – enough to fill vases for the dessert, beverage, and buffet tables, the dinner tables, and my living room mantel and coffee table.Arranging the flowers took about two hours the day before the luau, but the time was worth my trouble. Nothing says “paradise” like the flowers of Hawaii…

Set-up was straight-forward the morning of the party: I used my dining room table inside for the deserts, which would be arranged before the party (except for homemade ice cream, which I’d pull out last-minute).I set up the “Bali Hai Bar” on a patio outside, along with simple coolers to keep drinks cold. (I recruited a few friends the day of the party to skewer banana, strawberry, and pineapple wedges on the essential umbrella drink-pick…)Appetizers were set up on our backyard picnic table, and when dinner was ready, I cleared that table and set out the dinner buffet.Rented tables, chairs, and heaters had been arranged by the party rental company that morning also.Every island souvenir, tropical serving dish (including some from my mother-in-law that she had brought back from Guam in the 50’s), and relic of Hawaiiana I owned, was pulled out and used somehow.

Because this was a family-style luau, there were all ages.  Entertainment for the keiki was pretty relaxed.  The one planned activity for them took advantage of all the pineapple tops I had cut for the meal: every family went home with their own newly planted pineapple plant (directions linked here), courtesy of their keiki. And yes, I did try to involve my kids in the set-up and hosting: they were responsible for dressing up native teddy bears, greeting our guests with a lei, and filling out their name tags.  After that, it was every kid for themself!

The music we played was classic beach and luau: Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and assorted Hawaiian CD’s we’d picked up at Hilo Hattie’s…

As the party wound down, each guest left with their pineapple plants, souvenir glasses, and leis.  They also took home a small scroll printed with the definition of aloha. live alohaThese wise words were written by Pilahi Paki, a Hawaiian sage who recognized the need for Aloha in Hawaii back in the 1970’s when tourism became airborne.  Her acronym says it all.  Thank you, Auntie Pilahi, and aloha to all of you reading!

Hawaiian Luau Birthday invitation

My kids were at an age (5 and 7 years old) when they wanted a hand in everything.  And I have always thought (still do) that children’s art efforts can be very appealing.  So I thought to put them to work on the invitations.  At the same time, I wanted our guests to know just how far the “birthday boy” had come, so I needed to show “then” and “now” images.  The combination of needs resulted in a triptych card (cream-colored cardstock, (6 1/2 ” x 12 3/4″), with before and after photos and artwork by my kids to set the island theme:

The initial opening of the card revealed the “now” picture; both photos were “matted” on tropical flowered paper:

The next unfolding showed the artwork and the party details:

In signature primitive style, with their Crayola watercolor paint set, my kids painted the ocean, a wave on the sand, and a palm tree on the beach.  They did this 40 times (for 40 invitations)!  They added a few assorted stickers (a sun and a Hawaiian image) and I added a vellum sheet with all the pertinent details, affixed with tropical flower stickers.

The invitation said this (Microsoft Windows 2010 Ravie font, boldface in orange):


Chris, our big kahuna,

is celebrating

a special birthday:

Hukilau down to the

Sandalwood Beach Bungalow

for a luau!

Saturday, October 5th

4:00 pm

Rsvp to the natives –

Sandy, Vince, or Tina


by September 22nd

No gifts, please –


Nutcracker Tea menus

Here are two menus, one for enthusiastic cooks who like to do everything themselves, and another easier version for those of us short on time, but equally as enthusiastic.

Nutcracker Tea Party Menu – expanded version
Cream scones with currants
Mock Devonshire cream
Lemon curd and strawberry jam
Open-faced smoked salmon finger sandwiches with dill butter and capers
Cherry tomatoes stuffed with egg salad, topped with caviar
Cucumber watercress finger sandwiches
Chocolate brownies with mocha frosting
Gingerbread cookies
Petits fours with marzipan layer
Sugar plums
Assorted black and herbal teas with milk, sugar, and lemon slices

Nutcracker Tea Party menu – simplified version
Cream scones
Devonshire cream (store-bought)
Lemon curd and strawberry jam (both store-bought)
Open-faced smoked salmon finger sandwiches with dill butter
Egg salad finger sandwiches
Cucumber watercress finger sandwiches
Chocolate brownies (store-bought) with mocha frosting
Gingerbread cookies (store-bought)
Marzipan “fruit” candies (store-bought)
Black tea, herbal tea with milk, sugar, and lemon slices