Thursday, May 31, 2012

Let them eat cake...and other yummy things!

As the kids get older it has become more difficult to plan a birthday party menu. Do you do kiddie food for the kids and more adult hors d'oeuvres for moms and dads? And aren't we getting a little bored of pizza at every birthday party? Don't get me wrong, it has it's merits, but I wanted to do something a little different this year. I decided to create a menu that would satisfy adults and kids alike, and could be made in advance and heated up during the party.

To start, I had a few platters of fruit and vegetables with dip, and cheese and crackers. I also put out a few bowls of Annie's Organic Snack Mix Bunnies and Bunny Grahams for the kids. I had juice and milk boxes for the kids, and beer, wine and cocktails for the adults.

Once the party got rolling, we passed around several different hot hors d'oeuvres. The first sounds very adult, but trust me, it's a huge hit with kids too: Gougeres. Gougeres are pastry bites made with gruyere cheese and can also more affectionately be called "cheesy puffs". I used Ina Garten's recipe, made the puffs a week in advance and froze them. David Lebovitz has a great recipe on his blog too, and the puffs in the picture are actually his, not mine!

Next, I used two of my favorite recipes from the Weelicious blog: homemade chicken nuggets and fruit & vegetable wontons. If you're anything like me I feel a tiny bit guilty when I feed my kids nuggets out if a box rather than a home cooked meal. That's why I love this Easy Chicken Nuggets recipe from Weelicious. You just put all the ingredients in a food processor, form them into "nuggets," and then either cook or freeze them. I always make a double batch and freeze a bunch. Parents and kids alike wolfed these nuggets down and asked for more. The fruit and vegetable wontons I adapted from a Weelicious recipe for Sweet Potato Apple Cheddar Purses. I bought wontons wrappers at the market. Then I pureed carrots and pears (which I happened to have on hand instead of sweet potatoes and apples), and added some cinnamon and a dash of agave. By omitting the cheddar in the wontons even kids with dairy allergies could eat them. I filled the wontons, pinched them shut, and froze them until I was ready to use them. During the party I sprayed a baking sheet with canola oil and baked the wontons in the oven. Again, everyone enjoyed them and moms were to shocked to find out the wontons were filled with pureed fruits and veggies. Again, I usually make a double batch and freeze a bunch for quick dinners and lunches for the kids.

Finally, I got the idea to make Mac & Cheese cupcakes from the Cupcakes and Cashmere blog. I actually used my tried and true favorite mac and cheese recipe from Ina Garten, and used a mini muffin pan so we could pass them around easily and they could be eaten in a bite or two. I skipped the tomatoes, but if you have the time you could always halve some cherry tomatoes and put one on top of each muffin of mac and cheese. The day before the party I made up the mac and cheese, then baked them and placed them in the fridge after they had cooled. Once the party started I put them on baking sheets and heated them through in the oven.

The best part of this menu, aside from the fact that people of all ages chowed down, was that everything was made in advance. That way I was able to focus more of my time on the kids and catching up with our guests. I also enlisted the Grandmas to help in the kitchen with heating things up, and since there was no actual cooking it was a relatively easy job. And desert was the cake, which I described in a previous post. So next time you are planning a kid friendly party maybe you'll be inspired to step out of the pizza box!

Pooka and Little Man's Undersea Birthday Party

Pooka and Little Man's birthdays are a mere 32 days apart. That makes it nearly impossible to have separate birthday parties at this age. I cannot ask all of our friends and family to give up a Saturday afternoon for a toddler birthday party, then do it all over again just one month later. So instead we waited until Pooka's birthday, when the weather would be warmer and the spring flowers in bloom, and went for a unisex theme. Since Pooka is obsessed with the aquarium (and Little Man is too young to object) we decided to go with a under-sea theme.

First up was picking the right invitations. We saw lots of fun undersea and ocean themes, like this All Arms invitation from Minted, or the Undersea Adventure invitation from Tiny Prints, but settled on the Whale Spout invitations from Paper Culture. We love Paper Culture because they plant a tree with every order, and only use recycled paper and envelopes. They also do a free addressing and mailing service, and the card stock if heavier than tiny prints.

Next, we choose the color palette: navy blue, turquoise, and coral. Again, since Little Man wasn't going to be able to voice his opinion (while my 3 year old has very clear and definite opinions) the colors leaned a little to the feminine side without being overtly girly. I ordered tulle and ribbons from Paper Mart and made a whole mess of DIY tulle pom-poms to hang around the house. Then, I pulled out some of the chinese paper lanterns I had bought from Pearl River to decorate Pooka's party last year (a circus theme) and covered them with tulle. Along the cross bar on the bottom of the lantern I hung more tulle, sequin trim, and raffia ribbon, and voila...a jelly fish! I also covered our large, round pendant lamp over the dining room table with tulle and hung the same tulle, sequin trim, and raffia to create tentacles and transform our light into a giant jellyfish that puddled onto the table. I covered the table in a turquoise tablecloth and spread extra pom-poms, seashells, and flowers amongst the food and birthday cake. I got a few bunches of balloons (my kids are OBSESSED with them) in the same color palette to put around the house. Finally, I covered the mantle with more turquoise tulle and placed coral, starfish, and shells down the length of it.

For cake, I used the Yellow Cake recipe with Pink Buttercream Frosting from The Sweeter Side of Amy's Breads cookbook. We are generally hard core Magnolia Bakery fans, but this may be our new favorite. It's not quite as sweet, and with a touch of poured fondant in the frosting the cake seems to hold up a bit better. I colored the frosting blue and turquoise to look sea-like. A late night cake accident led to some quick thinking and a cuter than expected result. While assembling the cake the night before the party a crack occurred in the top layer, and I was forced to lop off a piece of cake. What remained was something that reminded me of the sand dunes and bluffs at the beach, so I went with it. I used the turquoise piping to make waves and some brown sugar to make sand. I added some cute sand castle and starfish scrapbook stickers and turned a potential disaster into the most talked about item of the day! I also made a small cake banner using fabric scrapes cut with pinking shears, stitched together and hung from two bamboo skewers. A simple but lovely and unexpected decoration.

Favors are this huge question mark for me. How much should you spend? How do you choose favors for a mixed-age group of children? Are they even necessary??? This year we decided to do a combination favor/activity/craft. I purchased wooden bead kits from Melissa & Doug and used the alphabet letters to spell out each child's name. Then I added several additional beads and placed the string and all the beads in bags. I actually used brown paper sandwich bags since I already had them on hand. Once the beads and string were inside I folded the bag in half, wrote the child's name on the front, punched a hole along the fold, and tied a ribbon through the hole to secure the bags closed. I made sure to warn the parents of younger kids that there were small pieces inside! The necklaces were a hit and for the older kids they were a fun craft too.

We had a wonderful day, and we hope our party ideas can help inspire your next birthday party for the little ones. Look for some future posts about what Pooka and Little Man wore, the gifts they recieved, and the yummy toddler and adult friendly finger foods that were big hits at the party.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fab Find: Personalized Baby Journals from Minted

To be honest, I haven't written a whole lot in Pooka's beautiful Binth Baby Book. It only lasts up to age three, which she turned last month, so I guess it's obsolete now anyways. As for the Little Man, he hasn't even got a baby book, just a series of jotted down milestones spread between our wall calendar and my "notes" on my iPhone. Whenever I feel bad about not making a better effort to document my kids lives, my husband always points out that we have thousands of photos and hundreds of videos of the kids thanks to living in this modern, digital, smart phone age. So in some sense my kids will have a digital archive that would certainly rival the most diligently filled in baby book. But I still have a fear and mistrust of relying solely on computers and smart phones to be the repository of my children's many amazing milestones and life events. Perhaps it's because we have had two desktops and at least one laptop crash on us, swallowing up all of our data into a digital black hole (thanks to things like iCloud this should be less of an issue in the future, but still...).

But I may have found the perfect solution with these adorable personalized (and inexpensive) journals from Minted. We love Minted and have used it in the past for Little Man's birth announcements and other invitations and know they have excellent customer service and quality products. These journals seem to be no exception. With cute personalized designs and photos on the cover and 40 lined, graph, or blank pages inside you can use these journals any way you choose to keep those special moments around for posterity. I'm leaning towards the Hello, Stripes Journal for the Little Man and perhaps the Fleur de Noel Journal for Pooka. These would also be unique baby gifts to give to friends, especially your friends that have everything. My recommendation would be to not personalize the journal to say "Baby's First Year" because odds are most parents can't fill 40 pages in the first year, and so many exciting things happen in the following years that you wouldn't want to limit the journals use (for instance most babies start walking between 9-14 months so a first year journal might skip one of the most exciting milestones there is).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Proving you can be a mother and a leader...

A wonderful site that helps encourage participation in the global community called More Than Me Global posted this great photo of an Italian MEP bringing her newborn daughter to a voting session for the European Parliament to draw attention to women's rights.  Follow this link to see the pics and read more. It's such an inspiration!

More than Me Global: Awesome!

And while you're at it, cruise around the More Than Me Global site. Sometimes it seems like we couldn't possibly have a spare minute in our day to think about anything other than our own families, but it is so important to be a member of the global community and offer help where we can (sorry for the guilt trip, as if we don't have enough mommy guilt already!).

Favorite Easter Books

This will be Pooka's third Easter. As such, we have several Easter books that we bust out around this time of year. Starting with our youngest book, we read Karen Katz's Where are Baby's Easter Eggs?. You would think these books would get old (since she also has similar books about jackolanterns, Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, etc.) and yet somehow they still seem to delight her. As an infant it was the excitement of lifting the flaps. Now she likes to "read along" and tell me what is behind each flap before we lift it, which probably means the Little Man will never know the joy of discovery for himself since she will always be blurting out what's behind the flap before he opens it!

Last year we added Jan Brett's The Easter Egg. This sweet book is about a bunny who wants to make the most fantastic egg so he will be chosen to help the Easter Bunny deliver his eggs on Easter morning. We love Jan Brett, having both The Mitten and The Hat, so this book did not fail to disappoint. In fact I think it is my favorite of the books of hers that we own. We also bought a beautifully illustrated book called Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes. I have considered cutting out the illustrations and framing them for Pooka's walls more than once. It is a sweet story about a rabbit using it's imagination, which Henkes then brings to life in his illustrations.

This year we are considering three new books to add to the repertoire. The first is a classic by Dubose Heyward called The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. Despite being written in 1940 the tale of the country bunny working hard and persevering to be chosen as the Easter Bunny is an enduring story that should be shared with all little ones.

On a lighter note, Pooka adores all her Olivier Dunrea books (which have all been thoughtful birthday gifts over the last few years). Any of his board books would suffice for Easter because they are based on goslings (which scream springtime to me), but we don't yet have Ollie's Easter Eggs. These books are great for the younger set and are still read regularly as bedtime books at age three. Pooka even wears "bright red boots" like Gertie, and shouts out "follow me" to the Little Man so I guess Gossie (Olivier Dunrea's main character) has really captivated her.

Finally, I'm a sucker for any book with a big ole' Caldecott Medal stuck to the front and Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry is no exception. It's a story of a rabbit that moves into a house with a not so excited cat and how they become friends. This seems like the perfect topic for any preschooler, especially one that may have a new sibling in their life! And the illustrations are simple and lovely!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Easter Bunny is coming!

Watch out bloggo-sphere, Pooka's Mama is making a comeback. May it be long-lived and fruitful! In the time that has passed, I've been a busy lady. Pooka will be three at the end of the month, complete with all the trials and tribulations that go along with having an almost three year old (it's a ride, to be sure). The Little Man, who was still in my belly at the last post, is thriving and just passed his one year mark a few weeks ago. And finally, finally, I feel like I have my head above water and have the time to sit and share some of my favorites with readers new and old.

The biggest change for me may be my new addiction to Pinterest. You can find and follow me at "Pooka's Mama." I add new things daily, and you'll find boards on all things kiddo, as well as mama style, home life and travel. Basically, it's me in a nutshell (or at least the glossy, pretend me if i had all the time and money in the world). So stop by and if you like what you see go ahead and follow. I'm sure there is a way to link the blog to my page, but until I figure that out you'll just have to click the link above.

So, Easter is coming (or for some it may be Passover, but I'm pretty sure there aren't any Passover baskets, so for now we will focus on Easter gifts and treats). With two baskets to fill this year the options are endless, but I'll share what's going in Pooka and Little Man's baskets and hope it offers some inspiration.

The baskets are actually cute pails I picked up at Target for $5 each. Some day I'll probably do those fancy baskets with their names on them from Pottery Barn Kids or a beautifully handmade basket from this Etsy site, but for now they seem a little spendy. As for gifts, Pooka is getting a cuddly little Steiff Happel Bunny, and at only 5 inches it won't clutter our already full abodes. It is also great because it will fit into a reusable papier-mâché egg, and Pooka loves any type of storage item (bags, boxes, etc.). If you have a little more room to spare or your wee one's bedroom isn't already overflowing with stuffed objects I'm a huge fan of Steiff's Linda Lamb for something a little different than your average bunny. She is also getting this cute book that reminded me of spring called 999 Tadpoles by Ken Kimura that I found at Anthropologie (they strangely have fab kids books there). She was also supposed to get these fun Melissa and Doug Happy Giddy Binoculars because she is obsessed with the eye-spy game since she learned it at school. Unfortunately, the morning after I bought them Pooka came bursting into our bedroom to show Mommy the new spy-glasses (her term) that she had found. Oops! I guess I had left them on the kitchen table the night before and Daddy didn't know they were for Easter. So instead, Pooka will be receiving the Wave and Learn Magic Spelling Wand from the PBS Kids show Super Why. I don't usually go in for these types of cheesy electronics, but she will love it and if she learns a thing or two from it the money was well spent. And besides, in the realm of princess toys and shows you can't really go wrong with Princess Presto who's magic powers are all related to spelling and phonics.

The Little Man will also be getting three things in his basket. In place of a bunny, he is getting this sweet Dario the Dinosaur Blanket Pal that I found at Giggle.
He is also getting Melissa and Doug Farm Sound Blocks. When you match up the front half of the animal to the back half of the animal the blocks reward your little one by making the sound of that animal. I'm sure Pooka will have lots of fun showing the Little Man how to use these! Finally, he is also getting a nice board book using onomatopeia to describe the sounds that different types of trains make that I found at Anthropologie (I don't have it in front of me so I will have to update the name and author at a later time, sorry!).

As for eggs, I'll be using Eco-Eggs for coloring our eggs again this year. They make beautiful, subtly shaded eggs and can be found at Whole Foods. And I don't have to worry about my kids eating any crazy dyes when we eat the hardboiled eggs. For treats, the Little Man's basket will have some of Mama's homemade sugar cookies ( I use the recipe from the At Home with Magnolia Cookbook), while Pooka's will have cookies, plus Annie's Organic Bunny Fruits and some Organic Surf Sweet Jelly Beans.

For more Easter ideas, check my tweets or my Pinterest boards. I have posted several other cute bunnies and gift ideas. Hope the bunny is good to you this year!