Olivia’s Birthday: Tangled Party

My mother always had a way of making fun themed birthday parties without spending very much money or using disposable things. Growing up, we didn’t have the money to have ridiculous parties with plastic banners and themed tableclothes, but she always made them special. I can still almost taste the homemade calzones I made with my friends one year, and I have some great pictures of a birthday party where she let us raid her closet and play dress up with all her things. It was the thought then that made it special, and I’d like to think that I am passing that on to my children. I enjoy making them pretty party decorations, as inexpensively as possible, and then reusing them throughout the house or giving them to friends. I think we have as much fun planning and prepping for the party as at the actual party itself.

This year, for Olivia’s fourth birthday party, we went with a kind of Tangled theme. Mostly because I could envision cute, homemade decorations. And I thought it would be cool to have a Flynn Rider “Wanted” poster piñata, which we had.

^^ I designed the invitations and had them printed at Staples. I’m kind of obsessed with watercolor backgrounds right now. I want them everywhere.

^^ After I made some of these tissue paper flowers for the girls’ room, I thought they would make really great party decor. These purple and pink ones won’t go to waste after the party, either. The purple flowers are going to Mallory’s new apartment and the pink ones will be added to the girls’ flower wall downstairs. The tissue paper for these cost $12, with a 20% off coupon at Michaels. And if you can believe it, those flowers are just taped up with what I am convinced is the greatest tape in all the world.

^^ I designed the menu for “The Snuggly Duckling Pub” and had it printed as an engineering print at Staples. We served all foods you might find at a German pub. (Because Rapunzel is a German fairytale. I really like to go with the theme): bratwurst, pretzels and a winter vegetable medley (which was a surprisingly big hit – it tasted delicious – but of course, most things taste delicious when they are baked in butter and garlic), royal fruit salad (this perfect fruit salad, using only yellow and purple fruits, in true Tangled colors), kettle corn and chocolate cupcakes with a buttercream frosting.

^^ This cake is possibly the best one I’ve ever made. It was amazing! I used this 3-tier cake recipe to make one 4-inch, 2 layer cake for Olivia and two dozen cupcakes for guests. (I absolutely love this recipe, which I also make my own version of here. It’s so good, and when you’ve found a good thing, why change it?) I frosted the cake and cupcakes in the morning so that by the evening the buttercream had a nice crunchy layer on it, which I love. Melissa was so kind to give me some just in time!

^^ The candle is one of those standard ones you can find in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, but I painted the middle with glue and sprinkled it with gold glitter, because, the color scheme. I’m into it.

^^ I made these floating lanterns, a la “At Last I See The Light” scene out of tissue paper, string and battery-operated tea lights. They look so cute in person. These will stay up for a while, and then, sans tea lights, they will be part of the playroom’s new dollhouse scene. More on that later.

^^ I used a box to make this piñata. I cut off one end and paper-mached it to make a part that would break, because I didn’t have time to make the whole thing out of paper mache. It was wrapped in white wrapping paper with “Wanted” signs taped on. It was filled with gold chocolate coins as the reward and the kids hit it with a frying pan, just like Rapunzel uses against Flynn.

^^ And I can’t forget Steve’s favorite part of the party, this sign that hopefully says something about apple juice for kids and Logyard IPA in German. He was very excited when he looked up the word “logyard” on Google Translate for this. (If you actually speak German, please do not be offended at our inability to.)

As always, Olivia’s favorite part was the chocolate cake. It was my favorite part, too. Well, and the flower wall and floating lanterns. Those were also spot-on.
She’s one of the best people to throw birthday parties for. She gets really excited about all the decorations and the cake. When she saw the lanterns she said, “Wow! They are so beautiful, mom!”

Always Perfect Fruit Salad

My mother introduced me to this fruit salad last summer and I’ve made it countless times since. It is so delicious and wonderful, but is also completely natural, raw, paleo, gluten-free, etc. So basically, it’s the perfect thing to serve at a party because unless someone is on a diet where they don’t eat fruit and mint, they can eat this.

Perfect Fruit Salad
Serves 15-20 as a side

4 peaches, peeled
4 nectarines
4 red or black plums
2 pounds red grapes, cut in half
2 large navel oranges
1/3 ounce mint leaves, chopped or torn very small

You can use any fruits that you wish. I like to make this using whatever fruits are currently in season. Like raspberries or blackberries at the beginning of summer. Peaches now that it is late summer. The only crucial part is the orange and the mint, and beyond that you could choose your fruits based on color or taste preference. I don’t think melons would work well, though. They’re too watery on their own and would counteract the orange. 

Peel the peaches and wash the nectarines, plums and grapes. Pit and dice everything into bite size pieces. Add to a large serving bowl. Squeeze the juice from the two oranges over the fruit. Add the mint and toss together. Set out at room temperature to meld together for at least thirty minutes before servingRefrigerate if you aren’t going to serve until the next day. This tastes better and better the longer it has for the flavors to come together.

Perfect for any time of day and any occasion!

Ellie’s Birthday: “How To Train Your Dragon” Cake

Do you ever have days when you just feel like you’r super failing at being a mom. Maybe the kids are all upset or you’re upset and you just can’t set things right. Days when everyone is falling apart. On days like those I like to remind myself that there are a few things I do know how to do. One of them is baking cakes. And so I present to you Ellie’s fifth birthday cake.

The title of this cake is: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless, flying through the isles of Berk at sunset. Featuring cotton candy clouds and rock formations made of Hershey’s chocolate and Skor bars.

Ellie decided a month or so ago that she wanted a “How To Train Your Dragons” birthday party theme. Well, I’m not one for buying all those expensive and ultimately useless decorations for parties, but I do like to make cakes according to the chosen theme. When she said she wanted a cake with Hiccup and Toothless I immediately thought of the scene where they are flying through the isle rock formations at sunset. I think Astrid is with them and she reaches up and touches a pink cloud. It’s such a beautiful scene and I thought that if I was going to have to do something with dragons, it might as well still be pretty. So eventually the idea evolved to making a cake that looked like the sunset. I think it turned out pretty well.

I followed this recipe by Bakerella for the cake. I was initially disheartened when Ellie said she wanted a white cake with chocolate chips in it, because I am a chocolate cake girl all the way. And also because I usually find white cakes to be really dry and just, umm, gross. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this one turned out. I used the sugar water spray method that she recommends, and it worked splendidly.  If you must eat a white cake, I suggest this one. (Or maybe this one, although it is very rich and therefore I didn’t want three layers of it for a kid’s birthday party.) For the frosting, I came up with my own whipped buttercream frosting recipe, similar to the one I used for Olivia’s Perfect Birthday Party Cake, but without cocoa.

Whipped Buttercream Frosting
Makes enough for one 9-inch, 3-layer cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cups whipping cream

With an electric mixer on low, cream the butter. Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar, in four or five increments, beating on low the entire time. Add the vanilla and 1/4 cup whipping cream and beat to incorporate. Once mixture is smooth, turn your beater’s speed up slowly until you are beating on high. Beat until frosting fluffs up and resembles whipped cream, 3-5 minutes. You can add more whipping cream if you want it to be lighter or if you need more frosting (the whipped cream adds volume). For this particular project, you want your frosting to have enough substance to hold onto the chocolate candy pieces. For other projects, you may prefer a lighter, fluffier frosting.

After baking and cooling the cake layers, I cut off the rounded tops and assembled them with the whipped buttercream frosting. I separated out about a quarter of the remaining frosting and set it aside in a small bowl. With the other three-quarters, I used food coloring to dye it pink. I frosted the top and down the side one layer with the pink frosting, making whispy sideways strokes with a decorating knife. I added blue dye to the pink frosting to make the purple for the middle layer of cake. I wanted to create an ombre effect like sunsets usually are – they start out light and pink and darken until they are blue at the ocean. After the middle layer was done, I used the remaining uncolored quarter of frosting and dyed it blue for the waves. When mixing the blue dye in, it’s okay to leave some white streaks in the frosting to resemble frothy waves. I whipped this frosting upwards to look like ocean waves.
I put the cake in the refrigerator overnight, but if you don’t have time for that, let the frosting dry out a little bit, about an hour or two, before breaking up pieces of Hershey’s chocolate bars and Skor or Heath bars and pressing them into the frosting in the pattern of cliff and rock formations. I started at the bottom of the cake and worked upwards so that the top pieces would have something to support them. I saved the biggest pieces for the tops of the rocks so they could stick up above the cake top a bit. Just before the party started, I added cotton candy clouds by sticking various size pieces into the pink frosting. It looked all beautiful and wispy for a little bit before the cotton candy absorbed some moisture from the frosting and crystalized. That made it darken and flatten out, but it was still really pretty and sunsety. (You can see it in some of the pictures.)
Finally I topped the cake with a toy Toothless and Hiccup, which Ellie can play with now that this cake has been eaten.

I felt very proud of how this turned out. Mostly because it was actually pretty simple to do, once I wrapped my head around the idea. I am all about cakes that look super impressive, but are actually relatively easy to accomplish. Those kinds of cakes make me happy. And I think it made this little five-year-old pretty happy, too.

The One Where Henry is One Year Old

Can you believe this little cutie is one year old now? 

I can’t believe we made it! Just kidding. Kind of. There were some rough moments in there. But Henry is a little wonder and I’m so happy he’s in our lives.

He’s such a sweet little boy. He has three words: “mama,” “dada” and “hi”, which he especially likes to use when talking on the phone (anything small enough to be held up to his ear). And he gives me this look sometimes when his sisters are being crazy. It’s like a wide-eyed, “can-you-believe-they’re-doing-this” look that is pretty hilarious. I like to catch his gaze whenever they’re around to see if he has anything to say about what they’re doing. 
 
And he could walk if he would just let go. He pushes chairs or doll strollers or pretend shopping carts all over the house. And he’ll just stand there on his own with no support. But he absolutely refuses to take his first steps on his own. He’s a lot like his big sister, Ellie, in that way. He’s been content to just crawl for six months now. But he’s getting so heavy. I, for one, would really love it if he started to walk. Especially so we can enjoy the quickly-approaching summer. 

In general, he just loves life these days. He loves his batmobile. He loves being squeezed as tightly as possible. He loves grapes and bananas and anything edible, really. He loves when I sing Wheels on the Bus and he laughs so hard when I do the noises dramatically. He loves to go to the park and swing. And swing. And swing. He loves when I am holding him on our way to the park and I start to skip. He loves doing anything silly he can think of to try to get us to laugh. He loves to throw his head back and fake laugh. He loves to snuggle hard (so hard that my nose has been pretty assaulted by his intense snuggling). He loves to climb on anything and everything that he can reach. He loves wearing his grandpa’s hat and being sung to by his Papa Dennis.

We took him to the beach for the first time this last month. At first he just sat on the sand and played with a stick. Then he discovered he could crawl on it and he was off like a shot. He loved the beach and hanging out every day with his sisters, grandma and grandpa.

He really loves the elements. He giggles with delight when it’s raining and he gets wet. Or when the wind blows on his face. He gets really excited about every little thing.

And he would love to spend all day, every day playing in the bathroom! I’m always reminding his sisters to keep the door closed, because he can sense that it is open from 100 yards away and he’ll come rushing toward that toilet in a full sprint. Why do babies love bathrooms so much?

We had a little birthday party for him a few days after his actual birthday and it was such fun. My family came from Idaho, so Henry got pretty spoiled with affection from almost all of his (many) grandparents, aunts and uncles. It was great to have so many family and friends come. (That, and when you invite my family to come, they not only make the 6 hour drive and stay the night, they also mow the lawn before the party and clean the house afterward. They’re pretty awesome like that… love you guys!)
If only we had a bigger house I would have invited everyone we know. Because I love throwing parties. And because I love Henry. And so throwing parties for Henry is double the fun.
My favorite part was watching him open presents. I don’t know if it’s just because he’s seen his sisters do it so many times, but he seemed to really understand the whole process, and got very excited about his new toys. And now he likes to find them around the house and hug them with the biggest grin on his face. It’s always fun to make your baby so happy.

Well. We made it. One year of Henry’s life. There were some long days. And some short days. And so many very good days. And I love him so much and am looking forward to this next year so much. The funny thing is that I’ll write less on here about him this next year, but I actually look forward to it more.  I can’t wait to hear what he has to say. I can’t wait to take him on all our adventures this year. I can’t wait to hear his laugh as often as possible and tackle him and tickle him and enjoy everything about my baby boy.

Perfect Birthday Party Cake (With Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting)

Last weekend for Olivia’s third birthday party I made this Perfect Birthday Party Cake. I’ve made a lot of delicious desserts in my day, but this one takes the cake. (Get it? Haha.)

Anyway, I found this recipe and tried it with my sister a few weeks ago for my birthday. And it was awesome. So I made a few improvements, and served it at Liv’s birthday party. It was such a fun time! Steve’s family got snowed in and couldn’t make it, so we called up our friends at the last minute to come eat food and cake with us and I think it was the best birthday party yet! (Which either means we’re really lame or our friends are really cool. I’m going to go ahead and hope it’s the latter.) We even lost power due to the storm, but Liv and all her little friends just kept playing. And reading books by candlelight. And examining the globe collection. It was lovely.

Because Olivia loves Lightning McQueen so much, I wanted to give her a Lightning themed cake. So I found some race car cake toppers online and they were the perfect thing. Although she was a little sad when she saw the cake but couldn’t eat it until her party. I told her she had to wait for her friends to come. So when her first guests arrived, she opened the door for them and then ran over to her cake and said, “My friends are here! Let’s eat my cake!” When she finally got some, I don’t think she was disappointed.

Perfect Birthday Party Cake
Makes one double-layer 9 inch cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup minus 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup hot, strong coffee
  • 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
In a medium-size bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift together with a fork and set aside.
In a liquid measuring cup, pour in 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Add milk until you have reached the 3/4 cup mark. Set aside.
With a mixer, beat eggs. Add vinegar and milk, yogurt, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Beat until well combined. Add the dry ingredients in four increments, stirring well between each addition. Add the hot coffee and stir to combine. Add the mini chocolate chips and stir to distribute evenly throughout the batter.
Wrap the sides of each cake pan in a strip of wet cloth (like a torn dishtowel or an old t-shirt.) (This added moisture will help keep your cake from rising so much in the center, so you won’t have to worry about cutting off the rounded cake top.)
Divide your batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake layer comes out clean. Let the layers cool completely in their pans before assembling your cake.
Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
  • 2 cups (4 cubes) butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream (plus a little more, if necessary)

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand with an electric mixer), soften the butter on low speed. (Do not turn your mixer on too high or air will get into your frosting and create bubbles.) Once your butter is very maleable, add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, one cup at a time, stirring slowly and thoroughly between each new addition. Add the vanilla and stir. Add the whipping cream and stir on medium for about ten minutes, until frosting is light and fluffy. The longer you go, the more whipped the cream will get, making the frosting that much more delicious.

If it seems that your frosting is too thick and won’t be easily frosted with, add more whipping cream, a Tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.

Assemble your cake with a layer of frosting in the middle, and chocolate sprinkles to top it off!

At the end of her party, I asked Olivia what her favorite part was and she said, “Eating cake.” I think she and I are going to get along just fine.

Egg Quiche Cups

I love to make things in individual servings for parties. It eliminates some of the hassle of serving and also tends to make things easier to eat even if guests aren’t sitting at a table. I’ve seen the idea of baking individual omelettes or quiches in cupcake tins and I thought I’d give it a try. It was so easy and really, really delicious. I’ve been making them since just for breakfast because you can do all the prep on just one day and then re-heat them throughout the week. If you haven’t tried them, you really should.

Individual Egg Quiche Cups
Makes 15 servings
  • 6 eggs + 3 cups egg whites
  • 1 pound bacon, cooked and diced small
  • 1/2 red or yellow pepper, diced small
  • 1 tomato, diced small
  • 1 yellow onion, diced small
  • Pepper and garlic seasoning
  • Minced chives
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare cupcake tins by spraying with Olive Oil Pam. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and whites. Feel free to add milk or water if desired. Pour into cupcake tins, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way. Sprinkle the bacon bits, pepppers, tomatoes and onions into each of the cups. Sprinkle the pepper and garlic seasonings and chives on top and bake for 20-30 minutes, until a fork inserted into the middle comes out clean, showing the eggs have cooked all the way through.

Just before serving, sprinkle the shredded cheese on top and return to oven for about five minutes, until cheese is melted and quiches are reheated.

Additional serving options: dice up avocados or other relishes to be added by guests. And of course, ketchup is always a good idea for the ketchup lovers out there.

Olivia’s Parisian Bistro Brunch Birthday Party

Could I think of a longer title? Probably.

We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for Olivia’s birthday party this year, what with being out of town and doing lots of house projects to get ready for the new baby’s imminent arrival. So a few days before my mom came in to town to help with said projects, we decided we’d throw a little birthday brunch for our breakfast-loving two-year-old. And what better theme than Parisian bistro? It was really easy and so adorable. This is pretty much the perfect party idea for so many occassions – birthdays, showers, welcome home parties, weddings. It’s my new favorite. It was almost as cute as the birthday girl herself (but not quite). We even played the Carla Bruni station on Pandora to help set the French cafe mood.

It was perfect. I’ll be sharing recipes in the next few weeks, but here’s a little rundown of the menu:

I didn’t have my normal paparazzi following her around to take pictures, so these were the only ones I got, but I do think the birthday girl was quite pleased to be the center of attention for the event. She sang Happy Birthday to herself along with everyone else and loved her gold-flecked cake.

Additional sources: Eiffel Tower Centerpiece, Botanicals Garland by Rifle Paper Co

Valentine’s: Monogrammed Treat Bags

Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Well, except that all holidays are probably my favorite.

I saw a tutorial on Oh Happy Day to make these little treat bags with the initial of the recipient on them. I loved the idea and ordered the supplies on Amazon Prime (muslin drawstring bags, and black and pink paint pens).

Paint pens are my new favorite. I used an alphabet that came in a notebook from Target, which is also very pretty.

Didn’t they just turn out the cutest? I can’t wait until they arrive at all their intended destinations.

Each was filled with some candy and chocolate (obviously). And a little paper heart with a note on it was enclosed as well. Sweet and simple. Just the way I like it.

I hope Ellie and Olivia like them, too.

Ellie’s Third Birthday Party

O hey. Remember me? Yeah, I used to write this blog before the epic summer of craziness. And to be honest, I don’t know when I’ll be back to posting regularly, but I thought I’d still stop by and show you the cuteness that was Ellie’s third birthday party.

That’s right. Ellie is three. It is crazy. She is just so much fun these days. It’s sometimes a little strange to me how much of a person she is. How she can tell me stories of things that happened to her. How she can look back at all the pictures on her Instagram wall (see below) and recount the stories of going there or doing that. She is just very wonderful. And I think she really, really loved having a birthday and being special and having a party and eating cake.

Picture courtesy of Mallory Phelan.

 

Picture courtesy of Mallory Phelan.
Picture courtesy of Mallory Phelan.
 
Picture courtesy of Stephanie Deever.
Picture courtesy of Mallory Phelan.

Also, the greatest form of entertainment at the party was the rock piles in our backyard. Apparently way cooler to children than any of the awesome food. Except maybe for the kettle corn. That was a big hit.Blowing out candles is Ellie’s favorite thing. As is singing “Happy Birthday.” When I told her it was time to sing she wasted no time in starting to sing the Happy Birthday song to herself. Everyone else just had to join in.

Now that she is finally old enough to have a say, I really wanted her party to be all about things she really likes. So I made the menu around some of her favorite foods (and, admittedly, some of mine). And she even helped decorate the cupcakes. And she definitely helped a lot with quality control. She was great at sampling everything to make sure it was up to standard. Especially the frosting.

Menu:

Fantastic Fool-Proof Fudge

I forgot to post Ellie’s birthday party invitations, but I was kind of thinking along the idea of having a carnival-themed birthday party. It seemed appropriate for the end of summer. Plus, you can serve lots of kid-friendly things like corndogs and kettle corn. And fudge. Definitely fudge. Or am I the only one who thinks fudge is carnival-y?

Anyway, whether you think it belongs at a carnival, or at your house so you can eat it whenever you want, you should give this recipe a try. It’s super crazy fool-proof, just like the title promises.

Fantastic Fool-Proof Fudge with Andes Mints
  • 1 12 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup (6 oz.) milk chocolate chips
  • 2 cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 box Andes mints, unwrapped and diced small

Prepare an 8″ x 8″ glass pan by lining it with a 12″ x 12″ piece of aluminum foil, pressed along the sides and bottom. Lightly grease the foil with butter.
Dice your mints and set aside in a small bowl.
In a non-stick saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the sweetened condensed milk, milk chocolate chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips, stirring frequently to prevent the chocolate from sticking to the bottom and burning. Once your mixture is liquid, remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Moving quickly, pour half of the fudge into the pan and spread with a spatula. Sprinkle the Andes Mints over the top. Distribute the other half of the fudge over the top of the mints and spread evenly with the spatula. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Once the fudge has completely solidified, turn the pan over onto a clean work surface and cut into pieces.

To make Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Fudge, follow the same instructions as above, but use 1 Tablespoon of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla in place of regular, and don’t use the mints.

One of the things I really love about Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla is that it is just slightly unusual, to give anything you make with it a little kick, but it isn’t overwhelming, so most people like it.

I cut the fudge into rectangular pieces, wrapped each one in Saran wrap, and then put one of each kind in the favor bags for Ellie’s party. I’m a big fan of favors adults can enjoy, because, well, they payed for the gift. And also, edible favors are nice because no one feels obligated to keep some random memorabilia of your party. Plus, I always like the excuse to make yummy things.