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).