Category Archives: Holidays

Give me an excuse to celebrate, and I’m there. I love celebrating holidays… any holidays… and have adopted celebrations regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc. This is where I share my favorite holidays and celebration ideas and foods.

The Reckless Abandon of Sunshine on Easter

Growing up in Southern California, our Easter egg hunts were always outside in the gloriously warm sunshine.  In fact, there was often a bit of hurriedness to our egg collecting fueled by concern over finding all of the chocolate eggs before they melted in the sun.  Here on Vancouver Island we’ve learned that early Spring time might be cool and sunny, or it might be dreary and wet, or it could be any number of different temperatures and dampness factors changing every quarter hour or so.  It’s best to be prepared for anything, and simply to enjoy whatever weather comes your way.

While Easter dawned sunny, it was still quite frosty in the shade and a good jacket was required.

While Easter dawned sunny, it was still quite frosty in the shade and a good jacket was required.

We all enjoyed bunny bum pancakes.  The tail is made from a dollop of butter topped with shredded coconut.

We all enjoyed bunny bum pancakes. The tail is made from a dollop of butter topped with shredded coconut.

Little Man decided that his bunny heeded eyes and a nose as well.  I think he was just lobbying for more chocolate chips, but it worked.

Little Man decided that his bunny needed eyes and a nose as well. I think he was just lobbying for more chocolate chips.

We were mentally prepared for just about any kind of weather for this Easter, while having all fingers and toes crossed for sunshine since we were having five families over for a lunchtime potluck and egg hunt.  We knew that we could all crush into the house and have the egg hunt downstairs if need be, but it would be so much nicer outside! In the end, we were blessed with one of the most beautiful Easter afternoons that we’ve had in years.  While it wasn’t So Cal warm, we could be outside without jackets, sunglasses were needed to not be squinting into the dazzling light, and the grass was dry enough for the kiddos to roll around with reckless abandon.  It was fantastic, and we hadn’t even gotten to the food yet.

The kiddos are diving into their Easter potluck feast.  Ears and sunglasses abound.

The kiddos are diving into their Easter potluck feast. Bunny ears and sunglasses abound.

After the kiddos got to run around a bit, we gathered them together on the back deck to get them started eating and then the adults joined in.  Our table was overflowing with food.  We provided pulled pork sandwiches, a green tea punch, and a chocolate cake for dessert.  Our friends also contributed a seven layer dip with chips (they did it as a five plus two layer dip, thoughtfully leaving the two dairy items on the side for those with dairy intolerances), a sun dried tomato pasta salad, Easter Bunny white chocolate bark, stuffed potato skins with cheese and bacon (some graciously set aside for vegan cheese), black bean dip with veges, a Thai peanut broccoli salad, and other Easter treats.  To say the least, no one left hungry and even the adults looked like we could all use an Easter nap.

Our amazing Easter spread!  Pulled Pork sandwiches, coleslaw, dips, chips, salads, Easter treats, it was a wonderful lunch.  See below for recipes for the things that we brought to the table.

Our amazing Easter spread! Pulled Pork sandwiches, coleslaw, dips, chips, salads, Easter treats, it was a wonderful lunch. See below for recipes for the things that we brought to the table.

Please ignore the messy kitchen, and focus instead on the handsome pastry chef and the amazing cake he is decorating.

Please ignore the messy kitchen, and focus instead on the handsome pastry chef and the amazing cake he is decorating.

Yes, indeed...  A chocolate cake layered with homemade chocolate rice crispies and topped with a chocolate coconut frosting that tastes better than chocolate mousse.  Life is tough.

Yes, indeed… A chocolate cake layered with homemade chocolate rice crispies and topped with a chocolate coconut frosting that tastes better than chocolate mousse. Life is tough.

Before we could get to napping, however, we had the Easter egg hunt.  After the adults finished eating, we sequestered the kiddos in our living room with the curtains drawn while half of the adults went outside to the front yard to hide the loot.  Each family brought filled eggs to share, so the front yard glittering with plastic eggs.  Then we released the hounds… I mean the kids… to fill their baskets.  Since some of the kiddos were older and faster than the others, we had a parent-led redistribution after the egg hunt to be sure that everyone had a good collection of booty.

Release the hounds... I mean the kids!

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Then the kiddos and adults got to play in the sunshine or wander over to meet the pigs, sheep and chickens at our landlords’ farm.  The trees were blossoming, the kids were laughing, the sheep were bleating, and it was one of the best Easter moments I’ve had in a long time.

If you want to share in some of the food we had for Easter, here are recipes for those items that we brought to the party.  The recipes for this post are a bit different since I was “in the party prep zone” when cooking and completely forgot to take any pictures while I was making the food.  Doh!  If there are any steps in the recipes that are hard to follow since there aren’t any pictures, or you simply aren’t sure about something, please send me a comment at the end of this post and I’ll get back to you asap.  Have fun!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Fluffy Whole Wheat Rolls

Gluten Free Rolls – this recipe is not my own.  I followed the directions for soft rolls made with a Challah dough from the Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  If you are getting into gluten-free baking, I highly recommend this book.  It makes the best tasting gluten-free bread that I’ve found to date.  Their bread has great texture and mouth feel without being grainy, and without using an obscene amount of corn starch.  Love it!  Click here for a link to recipes for rolls from their book.

Carolina Style Coleslaw

Chocolate Celebration Cake – This recipe is also not my own, but came from Jamie Oliver’s excellent Comfort Food cookbook.  The main differences for what I did was that I used spelt flour instead of all purpose, and I used an organic, puffed brown rice for the home made chocolate crispies.  I also used the same Chocolate Coconut frosting that I wrote about with Little Man’s birthday cupcakes from school.  Next time I think I’ll triple the frosting batch so that I can have some between the layers as well.

Any of these items (or all of them) would make for a fantastic outdoor picnic.  In fact, we will likely do a smoked version of a pulled pork sandwich for an outdoor party later this August.  I’m also toying with making cupcake versions of the chocolate celebration cake…  Stay tuned.  I hope you all are enjoying sunshine!  Our sunshine just went away for a couple of days, but I’m already plotting more outdoor fun as soon as the sun is back.  Or we’ll likely go outside to play in the wet anyway.  We’ve been cooped up inside for too long as it is.

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A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Food Edition

In my previous post (A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Decoration Edition) I shared a few fun crafts and decorations for a kid’s space-themed birthday party.  Here I’m going to share a bit about the food that we served.  I’m still learning the ropes about choosing how much to try to pull off by myself and how much to purchase premade. When planning the food for a party, some of the best advice I’ve heard was from Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame.  Ina suggests choosing one dish from each of three categories: made from scratch, partially home made (taking some premade products and sprucing them up into your own dish), and completely premade (where the only labor should be opening the package and pouring its contents onto a platter).  Depending on the number of guests you can increase the number dishes from any or all of the categories, but just be sure that you don’t make your “made from scratch” category too prominent.  As I look at our Space Birthday party in hindsight, I front loaded the “made from scratch” category, but I’ll get the balance right next time.  😉

In my case I was doing good until I gave Little Man the option of homemade baked chicken strips.  With Little Man being dairy intolerant we have to be very careful with the premade food we buy, reading ingredient labels carefully.  Homemade baked chicken strips are a relative staple in our household, and one of Little Man’s favorites, so it seemed a “no brainer” to ask if that’s what he’d like for his party.  However, I didn’t take into account the quantity of chicken strips that we’d have to make and the fact that since we bought the chicken breasts frozen and defrosted them for breading and cooking, we would not be able to refreeze the left overs due to food safety concerns.  Oy!  The short version is that the night before Little Man’s party, Dave and I were up breading, baking, cooling and refrigerating homemade chicken strips until 1:00am.  Ugh…  Like I often say, I am a fast learner.  I shorten my learning curve by skipping trial and heading straight for error.  I do have to say that the chicken strips were quite tasty, especially with the homemade Dinosaur BBQ sauce.  Due to the late night processing, I didn’t even try to take photos so I’ll post that recipe another time.

In terms of partially homemade foods, we bought a massive bag of french fries from Costco and baked those up the morning of the party.  We also put together a Planetary Fruit Plate, similar to the Rainbow Fruit Platter we have done in the past.  The planetary shape was fun, but I think that the rainbow wins out both in terms of ease of putting it together, as well as the fact that whenever we do the rainbow shape the platter is devoured.

The Planetary Fruit Platter.

The Planetary Fruit Platter.

Rainbow Fruit Platter served on a rectangular bamboo cutting board.

Rainbow Fruit Platter, always a winner.

We were woefully short on the completely premade foods, with only a lovely bag of Cheezies specifically requested by Little Man.  Next time I’ll have this side more fully stocked.

Aside from the other food items, there are two things that I want to make sure we do from scratch every time; the cake and the punch.  Part of this is that it just seems special to put the effort into making his cake.  When I make the cake that means that Little Man gets to help me with the cake itself and the decorations, as well as the fact that I can control the ingredients ensuring there is no dairy and the sugar ratio remains something reasonable.  Someday we may need to put the cake into the premade food category, but for now I want to keep that fun for myself.  Similarly with the punch, it’s one of those things to make from scratch that takes a bit more effort than simply removing the cap off of something bought from the store, but the final product is so much better that I can’t stand the thought of the alternative.  The actual labor in making the punch isn’t much AND I can control for the amount of sugar, dyes and other unpronounceables used, staying away from the 50 shades of corn syrup and chemicals found in most store products.  Yuck.

Rocket Ship Birthday Cake

The birthday boy making off with a handful of rocket flames (aka M&Ms).

The birthday boy making off with a handful of rocket flames (aka M&Ms).

Sticking with our Space theme, Little Man had a rocket ship birthday cake.  This was a super simple shape to cut and decorate, and didn’t require any reinforcing of layers or fondant hoopla.  For the cake itself I used a Chocolate Wacky Cake recipe.  Apparently this is a type of cake made famous during the Depression Era as it doesn’t use eggs or dairy, two expensive items at the time.  It’s also a bit kooky in the little divots you make to hold the vanilla, vinegar and oil, swirling everything together in the pan you bake it in (If you so desire.  I mixed it with the divots in a bowl and then poured it into the pan.).  The only thing I wasn’t happy with for the cake was the amount of sugar.  For this one occasion I did not halve the amount of sugar used since I wasn’t sure what that would do to the cake itself.  I’ll try a healthier version next time… which might just be next week.  For the frosting I used the Vegan Chocolate Frosting that I wrote about in the Mini Chocolate Cupcake post, and it turned out amazing as always.  Here are the links for the cake and frosting recipes, as well as the cake shape.

Chocolate Wacky Cake: This cake can be done in a variety of different flavors, but is especially fantastic for anyone with egg allergies since it doesn’t contain any.
Vegan Chocolate Frosting: I’ve written about this “stupid good” frosting before since we used it for Little Man’s birthday Mini Chocolate Cupcakes.  The recipe comes from Chocolate Covered Katie and cannot be praised enough.  ‘Nough said.  Just try it.
Rocket Ship Cake Shape: For Little Man’s party I made one 9×13 cake in a rectangular glass baking dish, and that was plenty big for our modestly-sized party.  I love how the bits that you carefully carve off to shape the nose cone become the fins for the rocket.  Waste not…

Things got crazy and I don't have a full picture of the birthday cake, but this is the shape.  It was frosted with the amazing Coconut Chocolate frosting and embellished with M&Ms, Little Man's main request for the cake.

Things got crazy and I don’t have a full picture of the birthday cake, but this is the shape. It was frosted with the amazing Coconut Chocolate frosting and embellished with M&Ms, Little Man’s main request for the cake.

Planetary Punch
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One of the recipes that I was most excited about trying for Little Man’s party was Planetary Punch.  The basis for this punch is the Apple and Mint Punch from Giada de Laurentis.  I quadruple the recipe whenever I make this for a party, and general cut the sugar in half.  What made the punch special for Little Man’s Space Party were the frozen juice spheres floated in the punch.  Dave has a silicon mould for making ice spheres for cocktails, so for the week leading up to the party we froze spheres of fruit juice (all fruit juice, none of the crazy corn syrup stuff here, please) in various hues to be floated in the punch as planets.  This would have worked perfectly… except that when making the simple syrup for the punch I ran out of white sugar and had to resort to coconut sugar instead.  While the punch still tasted fine, it was no longer a lovely shade of pale green, but instead the tawny shade of brown coconut sugar.  The planets were therefore a bit hazy to see through the punch.  I’ll be making it again in a couple of weeks with actual white sugar so that I can have the correct effect of the floating planets, and I’ll forward the pictures along when I do. 😉

The ice planets floating in space.

The ice planets floating in space.

While I did overload myself with a bit too much “from scratch” work, in the end we all ate well, yet managed to avoid the crummy tummies that sometimes results from party food.  Good naps were required by all.  Happy partying!

A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Decoration Edition

Space, the final frontier…

I hadn’t realized how fulfilling it would be to write that line, and I have to admit that am rather pleased with myself for doing so.  🙂  However, this is not our final birthday frontier, but just the beginning.  Little Man is already talking about the party themes he wants to have next time, although to him “next time” means tomorrow.  Not gonna happen.  In the meantime, let me share with you some of the fun space-themed party decorations and foods that we did for Little Man’s fourth (how can he possibly be four years old already!?!?!) birthday party.

When we were giving Little Man options of what his birthday party theme could be, we had no idea that “space” would be such a difficult one to fill.  I figured that with all the cartoons, etc. there must be some options out there for plates and table cloths, right?  Not so much…  Luckily our local dollar store had a good selection that if not directly related to space (like a really cool bag of marbles that look sort of like planets) could be spun that way (like the little finger lasers).  Combine that with Pintrest, and we were off and running.
IMG_3352Here are some of my favorite things that we did.  I’ll post the food tomorrow.
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Decorations and Activities
Since there weren’t any nice space-themed decorations in the local stores (and I searched them all), I made most of the decorations with supplies from the local dollar store.  My main focus was on the cake/food table backdrop, but I also wanted to have a fun play area for the kids, as well as decorations that extended across the room to make it all look more festive.  My favorite things that we did are the Galaxy Backdrop, the Hanging Planets, a Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor, a Rocket Ship and Glittery Stars.

Galaxy Backdrop

IMG_3294For the Galaxy Backdrop, I followed the directions from the excellent Elephant of Surprise website for Galaxy Pillowcases that could be used for floor/ground pillows.  I “upgraded” the project by using a twin-sized flat sheet so that I could use it as the backdrop on the wall above the cake/food table.  Aimee’s directions on the website are great, so other than the size difference between my twin flat sheet and her pillow cases the process was virtually the same.  Just be sure to use the real deal, cheap bleach.  I first tried this with my environmentally safe bleach and couldn’t figure out why the fabric didn’t bleach.  Ah well…  When using the “real” bleach, you should see the fabric change color almost immediately.  I ended up doing the spray bleach step twice since I didn’t quite get the results I wanted the first time.  Then after the galaxy sheet was washed and dried, the next two steps were to add a little white fabric paint and then some glow in the dark fabric paint.  Taa daa!

Here’s what you’ll need: a black twin-sized flat sheet, bleach, a spray bottle, white fabric paint, and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint. Elephant of a Surprise website link.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric.  Here mine started to turn red almost instantly.  I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric. Here mine started to turn red almost instantly. I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Hanging Planets
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This project was so much fun, and the effect of the Hanging Planets suspended in front of the Galaxy backdrop is pretty spectacular, so the DIY craftiness really paid off here.  Another bonus is that we are also in the process of “upgrading” Little Man’s room to change the decor he’s had since being a baby to actual little boy decor (Sob!).  After seeing his party decorations, Little Man asked if the Hanging Planets and Galaxy Backdrop could hang in his room, so now a Space-Themed bedroom is in the works and the major decor is something that resulted from his party.  That makes me doubly happy since the effort wasn’t only for his birthday, but now the decorations will be enjoyed for quite some time.  A further bonus is that all of the supplies should be available from your local dollar store, and if you do crafts with your kids you might have some of the equipment already.

Here’s what you will need:  9 styrofoam balls of varying sizes, bamboo skewers, 4-5 (depending in the size) florist foam blocks, an array of acrylic paints (I used combinations of red, blue, yellow, white and black), multicolored glitter, a wide foam brush, a smaller bristle paint brush, a plastic paint palette for mixing colors, push pins and golden crocheting yard.

Step 1: Cut the bamboo skewers in half, insert one end into the foam ball and then the other into a foam block. This will let you hold the “planet” by the skewer while you paint it, then you can put it back into the foam block to let it dry while you move on to another planet.  I was able to fit two planets each on the smaller blocks, and three on the larger one.  Just be sure that the balls don’t touch each other or it will smear the paint.  I then pinned planet names to the blocks so I could remember which ball was to be painted like which planet.  As you will notice, I also included Pluto.  While technically a Dwarf Planet, this party is more about fun than planetary fact checking.  And, I thought that my mom would like Pluto included here too.  🙂

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Step 2: Paint a base layer of whatever the predominant color for that planet (for ideas see my color examples below).  To do this, simply remove the planet by its skewer from the foam block and use the wide foam brush to apply a good layer of paint to the planet.  The planet might spin a bit, and when that happened I just stuck the skewer in a bit tighter.  The goal here is to cover the sphere, not to be painstakingly precise with your color.  Once a planet is fully coated with the first layer of paint, return the skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Make sure to let the paint dry completely before moving on to your second coat.  With 9 planets this shouldn’t be a problem, as by the time you get the base coat on all nine the first one should be dry again.  In terms of color choices, please remember that my field is not astronomy, and I painted these planets to more or less represent their “astronomical” look.  Google images helped with pictures of the planets, but I followed whimsy more than scientific fact in their creation.  See below for the colors I chose for each planet.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

Step 3: Go back over each planet with a second coat of paint, adding whatever details can be individual to the specific planet.  Depending on the details you want to paint, use either the wide foam brush or the narrow paint brush or both.  I played fast and loose with planetary features here, so remember that the goal is fun not accuracy.  Jupiter got its storm, but I didn’t go into the detail to give Saturn 3-D rings.  Instead Saturn got rings painted around its equator.  Earth, as usual is the most problematic with the continents, but again this isn’t about a geography lesson.  Get the continents more or less on there, give Earth white on both poles and move on.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

What is key to this step is that the instant you finish with the secondary painting, have your glitter sprinkles ready and apply them immediately.  My planets were drying quickly, so if I hesitated for even a breath the glitter wouldn’t stick well.  For each planet I had my glitter jar opened to the correct color and a layer of newspaper laid out to catch the extra sparkles.  The moment I set my paint brush down, I grabbed the glitter and sprinkled away.  See my description of Mercury for an idea of what to do with the mixed glitter at the end.  Once one planet is complete, return its skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Let the planets dry completely before moving on.  I let mine rest overnight.

The finished planets.

The finished planets.

Here are the color schemes I used for the planets:
Venus: Base coat of bluish green.  Secondary coat of bright green bands.  Green and gold glitter.
Earth: Base coat of bright, turquoise blue.  Secondary coat of green continents, with white at both poles.  Green glitter more or less on the continents and silver more or less on the poles.
Mars: Base coat of red.  Secondary coat of red with just a drop of black in random swirls.  Red and gold glitter.
Jupiter: Base coat of white with just a drop of yellow and brown. Purplish swirled band around the equator with a large swirly “eye” for the storm, as well as two yellow bands just off from the poles.  Purple and gold glitter.
Saturn: Base coat of muted yellow with a couple drops of purple.  Secondary bands of red and purple around the equator.  Purple glitter.
Uranus: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary white and darker blue bands just offset from the northern pole and one near the equator.  Blue glitter.
Neptune: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary coat of midnight blue (blue with just enough black so that you can still see a predominate blue color), applied not too evenly.  Blue glitter.
Pluto: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary swirls of dark blue and yellow.  Yellow and blue glitter.
Mercury: Base coat of dark gray.  Secondary coat of black applied not too evenly.  Sprinkled all over with the combined dregs of sprinkles from the other planets.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Step 4: Once the planets are completely dry they can be suspended.  I cut varying lengths of golden crocheting yard and secured each end to a push pin.  I then put one end of the pin into a planet (close to where I removed the skewer) and the other end we pushed into the ceiling.  See more below.

Planets Backdrop
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Before you set up your backdrop, decide where you want the focal point of the room to be.  Position your cake/food table in that spot, then hang the Galaxy Backdrop above the table.  Decide on the order you want your planets hung in.  The plan was to put them in actual astronomical order, but as you can see in the picture I switched Mars and Earth.  Ah well… More artistic license I suppose.  I’ll get that fixed before hanging them in Little Man’s room.  The correct order should be from left to right: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.  Hang Jupiter first since that gives you your midpoint.  We then hung Mercury and Pluto on either end of the backdrop, and spaced the remaining planets between them.  We then hung a “Happy Birthday” banner across the top and wrapped a cool strand of changing color star lights around the whole thing.  Taa daa!
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Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor
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This was almost one of my best ideas ever… almost…  I was inspired by the picture posted on Design Dazzle where for an outdoor party they simply unrolled some bubble wrap and let the kids run around on it.  For Little Man’s party, I knew we wanted to do some dancing and I thought that using the bubble wrap to make the dance floor would be perfect.  And it was… almost…  What I didn’t take into account was my sensitive child’s sensitive ears.  The other kids LOVED the popping bubble wrap, but Little Man was happier once the bubble wrap went away and he could groove to his heart’s content.
IMG_3348Here’s what you’ll need: 1-2 large rolls of large bubble wrap (not the tiny bubbles), clear packaging tape, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, rainbow light disco ball (optional but super cool)

Step 1: Decide where your dance floor (outside or indoor) will be.  Unroll your bubble wrap, cut it into long strips and then tape them together to make a square or rectangular “dance floor.”  We used 2 rolls for our area.  Then roll up your dance floor and stash it until ready to use.  Bubble wrap is near irresistible and unless you have armed guards protecting it, if it is laid down when the kiddos arrive, they will pounce.

Step 2: When you are ready to dance, activate and coil the glow-in-the-dark bracelets and place them on the floor where the dance floor will be.  The darker your room, the brighter the bracelets (aka planets) will be.  Unroll the dance floor over the planets, start your rainbow disco ball and unleash some tunes.  Little Man’s party dance music of choice is still Imagination Movers: Rock-o-matic.  It was awesome!

The DJ station.

The DJ station.

 Cardboard Rocket Ship
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There are a surprising number of cardboard rocket ship designs out there.  We wanted something that would be a great backdrop for pictures, but also that the kids could play in.  As long as it survived the party, I was happy.  It is just cardboard after all, and you should be able to get empty boxes for free from any selection of local stores.  Recycling can be fun!

Here’s what you’ll need: multiple large cardboard boxes, wide masking tape, a box cutter, spray paint, and acrylic paint.

For this craft I don’t have specific construction steps since this will vary wildly based on the shape and size of rocket you want to make.  I used a large cube-shaped box for the body, opening out the flaps and taping it all together to make a long rectangle.  If your “rocket” feels a bit unsecure in places, take some of your remaining boxes, cut strips from them and tape or hot glue these reinforcing strips on the inside of your rocket.  Once the body is complete, spray paint it silver.  After the silver paint is dried, shape fins for your rocket, hot glue them on and hand paint them dark blue with acrylic paint.

We made our rocket in two pieces so that it wouldn’t break whenever it fell over.  With another large box, shape a cone (or pyramid) top for your rocket.  Once the cone is shaped and secured with interior structural strips, spray paint it red.

After everything is dry, I cut a round window in the front and a door in the back.  Make sure your door is big enough for the kiddos to fit in, but don’t take it all the way down to the floor.  Leave a little bit that the kids need to step over in order to keep the base of your rocket strong.
IMG_3311Glittery Stars
IMG_3301Even though these popsicle stick stars (or snowflakes) are a pretty ubiquitous craft, I included them here since it was something that Little Man could have an active hand in creating.  I wanted him to be able to feel a bit of ownership in this DIY adventure, and to be able to see his art work hanging in the party space.

Here’s what you’ll need: : Large craft popsicle sticks, hot glue gun, craft glue, sticky jewels, silver glitter, silver and blue glass gems, sparkly yarn to hang them with.

Step 1: Adults, using a hot glue gun, glue two sticks into a plus sign.  Do this with the remaining sticks that you want to use.  Little Man and I made 8 stars, so we completed 16 of the plus signs.  Then glue two of the plus signs together to create the star (or snowflake) shape.

Step 2: Kiddos and adults, you can now bedazzle the stars to your hearts content.  I put a little glue on a disposable plate for Little Man and gave him a paint brush.  He could then paint the glue onto the bare star, and then place the glass gems.  Be careful to not use too many glass gems on a single star, since they can become quite heavy.  We used 4-5 glass gems per star, with the remaining space filled with sticker jewels and squiggles of glue encrusted with silver glitter.  Let your stars dry completely.
IMG_3301 (2)Step 3: Adults, once your stars are completely dry, cut lengths of your sparkly yard for hanging them.  Tie the ends of the yard together in a small knot, then hot glue the yard to the back of top arm of your star.  I used the knot in case some of our stars were heavy enough to pull the yarn through the glue, but if your stars are light you might not need to do this.  We then hung them across the ceiling with push pins.

The whole effect... except for lots of screaming... more or less.

The whole effect… except for lots of screaming… more or less.

I hope that you enjoy these ideas for a Space Themed kids birthday party.  Please feel free to share any other ideas that you come up with or that you’ve seen elsewhere.  I “pinned” a ton of ideas to my Pintrest page under Kids Birthday Ideas, and only had the time (and gumption) to pull off a few of them.  Have fun!

The party in full swing.

The party in full swing.

Date Night

The semester began and I don’t think we’ve stopped running yet.  I can’t wait to carve out the time (and energy) to share some of the ideas and dishes that I’ve been working on,

Anniversary Date Night

Anniversary Date Night

To begin, I can’t believe that Dave and I just celebrated our 9th Wedding Anniversary!  Our actual anniversary fell in the middle of the week, so we did our big date night on the Friday night.  On the “real” night we had a great dinner at home of Chicken Taco Casserole, but to start I made an amuse buche that we’d had at our wedding.

Date Night Dates

Date Night Dates

These Date Night dates are a simple combination of a whole pitted date stuffed with walnuts and Parmesan cheese.  If you have it in your budget, these are superlative if done with mejdool dates.  Our budget didn’t quite run that deep, so instead I used whole pitted dates from the bulk bins at our local supermarket and they tasted fantastic.

Date Night Dates

Ingredients

8 whole pitted dates
8 whole or 16 halved walnuts, no shell
8 shards of Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. With a small, sharp knife cut an opening slit into the top of each date.
  2. Depending on the size of the dates, insert a whole or half walnut into each.
  3. Insert a shard of Parmesan into each date.
  4. Serve on a nice plate with fancy beverage of choice. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Date Night Dates recipe.

Amuse Buche

Here’s to more amazing memories!  Love ya, Dave!

A Tale of Two Parties: Deb’s Swiss Apple Pie

We’ve made it!  We’re at the end of the recipes from Dave’s Graduation Party!  It seems fitting  to end this party series with a dessert taht is perfect for feeding a crowd.  It tastes amazing, but is one of the easiest pies to make AND it comes giant sized.  This was taught to me by one of my favorite New Yorkers, Deb, of the famous Deb’s Jello Salad post.  It is from Deb that I was first introduced to the magic invention of the apple peeler/corer/slicer all in one.  Brilliant!  And it is especially brilliant for this recipe for the Apple Slices layer.  a few cranks of the handle and all you have to do for your presentation apples is slice them in half and fan them out.  If you have one of these inventions gathering dust in a dark corner of a kitchen cup board, this is the perfect dish to bust it out for.  You won’t regret it.

Deb's Swiss Apple Pie

Deb’s Swiss Apple Pie
Ingredients
:
Apple Filling:
4 large apples, peeled, quartered, cored and cubed
½ c. butter
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
Apple Slice Layer:
5 medium apples, peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsp. cinnamon sugar (see recipe)
Pastry:
5 1/3 c. flour
4 tbsp. sugar
2 c. butter
4 eggs
Custard:
2 c. heavy cream
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, making sure you have about 1 inch of overhang on two sides.
  2. Apple Filling: Put the apples, butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the apples begin to soften, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the apple filling from the heat and cool slightly.
    The apple filling ingredients.

    The apple filling ingredients.

    The apples are just now starting to soften.

    The apples are just now starting to soften.

  3. Pastry: Depending on the size (or presence) of your food processor you might need to blend this in two batches. If you have a large processor, or if you are mixing this by hand, do it all in one batch. In a processor blend all of your pastry ingredients until it looks like a wet sand with bits of butter throughout. If doing this by hand, combine all of your ingredients in a large bowl and cut the butter and eggs into the dry ingredients. However you blend the ingredients, once well combined dump your pastry ingredients onto a lightly floured board and press them together until they form a unified dough. Roll your pastry into a large rectangle that will fit your sheet pan. Carefully drape the pastry over your rolling pin and move it to your sheet pan. Gently press the pastry into the corners of your pan and crimp the edges if you want a decorative finish.
    The crumbly pastry ingredients.

    The crumbly pastry ingredients.

    It doesn't look like it will hold, but it will...

    It doesn’t look like it will hold, but it will…

    Ta da!

    Ta da!

    The pastry just fits into the baking sheet.

    The pastry just fits into the baking sheet.

    A simple crimping of the pastry edges.

    A simple crimping of the pastry edges.

  4. Apple Slice Layer: Spoon your apple filling into the pastry shell. Arrange the sliced apples on top of the apple filling in neat rows, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apple slices.
    The apple filling layer in the pastry crust.

    The apple filling layer in the pastry crust.

    The apple slice layer.

    The apple slice layer.

  5. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 425, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Watch your pie and if it starts to brown too quickly or “over caramelize” cover it loosely with foil.
  6. Custard: Gently beat the heavy cream, eggs, vanilla and nutmeg to combine. Pour this custard over the apples, doing your best to pour it evenly over the pie. Return the pie to the oven and bake for a final 10 minutes. Cool the pie before portioning.
    The custard mixture.

    The custard mixture.

    The finished product.  Delicious!

    The finished product. Delicious!

  7. Slice the pie into squares and either serve directly from the pan or place the slices on a pretty platter. The pie can be served warm or cold, and can be made a day or two in advance. Be sure to refrigerate the cooled pie until ready to serve.

Click here for a printable version of Swiss Apple Pie recipe.

Including a “recipe” for cinnamon sugar seems a bit odd at first, but it’s one of those things that no one should ever have to buy premixed.  There’s just two ingredients, cinnamon and sugar.  No stabilizers, preservatives or other ingredients that you can neither pronounce or guess as to what they do.  For me cinnamon sugar is more about proportions than anything else.  I want to be able to smell and TASTE the cinnamon.  It should do more than simply create a light beige sugar.  It should be redolent with cinnamon, enough that if you sprinkle it generously on buttered toast (it makes the best cinnamon toast ever!), you should get the sweetness of the sugar, but more importantly the warm heat of the cinnamon.  There should be no doubt in your mind about what you are eating and enjoying at that moment.  ‘Nough said.

Cinnamon Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar
Ingredients
:
½ c. white sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Put both the sugar and cinnamon into a jar with lid, seal the lid and shake vigorously to combine. Conversely you can combine the two ingredients in a small bowl and transfer the finished cinnamon sugar to a jar or other container to seal it for future use.
  2. This can be used for an excellent cinnamon toast or sprinkle it on top of muffins before baking them for a sweet finish. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Cinnamon Sugar recipe.

Deb's Swiss Apple Pie

A Tale of Two Parties: Half Moon Cookies

We’re getting there, my friends.  Just two more recipes from Dave’s Graduation party and we’ll be done.

The recipe I am sharing here today is for Half Moon Cookies, or Black and White Cookies for Seinfeld fans.  I first tasted the cookies from this recipe at my bachelorette party when my two bride’s maids made them for my female guests.  The party was amazing, we had a henna artist giving everyone traditional henna tattoos, and a friend who is also a belly dancer and dance instructor gave us all a dance lesson and danced for us as well.  It was an amazing evening topped off with tastes of upstate New York, like the Half Moon Cookies of Utica fame.  Thank you Jen and Georgia for the fantastic evening (I can’t believe that was nearly 9 years ago!), and thank you Jen for the great recipe!

For Dave’s Graduation Party, he immediately thought of these cookies for a dessert, and with Little Man’s love of the moon I thought they were a great fit.  I baked and decorated the cookies the night before Dave’s party, and our home smelled of rich chocolate and sugar for hours and hours.  Warning, you’ll definitely want a nice tall glass of cold milk with these!

Cookies, cookies and more cookies...Half Moon Cookies
Ingredients
:
For the Cookies:
3 ¾ c. flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. butter, softened
¾ c. cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ c. milk

Fudge Icing:
3 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 ½ oz. semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp. butter
4 ¼ c. powdered sugar
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Vanilla Icing:
7 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter, softened
Scant ½ c. milk
1 tbsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. For the Cookies: In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl beat the sugar, butter, cocoa, and salt until it looks like dark, wet, chocolate sand. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add half of the milk and combine. Add half of the flour mixture and combine. Repeat with the remaining additions of milk and flour, blending well after each addition.

    The flour mixture.

    The chocolate cookie base.

    The chocolate cookie base.

    Little Man's curls as he "helped" me beat up the cookie batter.  He's obsessed with all things chocolate, so I had to get those eggs in there fast before he started tasting.

    Little Man’s curls as he “helped” me beat up the cookie batter. He’s obsessed with all things chocolate, so I had to get those eggs in there fast before he started tasting.

    The mixing additions begin with half of the milk.

    The mixing additions begin with half of the milk.

    Then half of the flour.

    Then half of the flour.

    After the first half of the milk and flour were mixed in.

    After the first half of the milk and flour were mixed in.

    Then the last of the milk...

    Then the last of the milk…

    Then mixing in the last of the flour...

    Then mixing in the last of the flour…

    The final batter is quite thick.  Be careful to NOT let the batter get warm.  If you kitchen is warm, keep the batter bowl in the refrigerator between baking batches of cookies.  If the batter gets too warm, it gets soupy and the cookies will melt flattly on the pan, rather than setting up nice and fluffy.

    The final batter is quite thick. Be careful to NOT let the batter get warm. If you kitchen is warm, keep the batter bowl in the refrigerator between baking batches of cookies. If the batter gets too warm, it gets soupy and the cookies will melt flattly on the pan, rather than setting up nice and fluffy.

  3. Spoon the batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 3-inch rounds about 2-inches apart. Six dollops of batter should fit on a sheet.

    Lovely dollops of batter ready for the oven.  I don't have a small scoop for the batter, but if you have one that would be fantastic.

    Lovely dollops of batter ready for the oven. I don’t have a small scoop for the batter, but if you have one that would be fantastic.

  4. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies are set, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. When done slide the entire parchment sheet onto a rack to cool. Use a clean sheet of parchment for further batches. Once cool remove the cookies from the parchment and set aside until you are ready to decorate them.
    One sheet down... For the number of people coming to our party I had many, many more to go.

    One sheet down… For the number of people coming to our party I had many, many more to go.

    Lots of cookies cooling on the racks.

    Lots of cookies cooling on the racks.

  5. Fudge Icing: Melt both of the chocolates and butter in a double boiler over simmering water (I used a medium-sized metal bowl over a simmering pot of water). Add the powdered sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and 6 tbsp. boiling water (use the water from your double boiler). Mix until smooth, but stiff. The icing should fall in thick ribbons from your spatula. Use more boiling water to thin the icing if necessary, adding it one tbsp. at a time. Be careful to not thin it too much.
  6. Vanilla Icing: In a large bowl beat the powdered sugar, butter, milk, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy.
  7. Decorate the Cookies: Spread about 1 tbsp. of warm fudge icing on half of the flat side of each cookie. If the icing starts to seize up, just put it back over the double boiler until it loosens. Then spread about 1 tbsp. vanilla frosting over the other half of the cookie. Keep going with the rest…
    Cookie Platters 2 (3)
  8. These cookies don’t stack well, so do so at your peril. They do not store well either, so they are best eaten within a day or two of frosting them. This shouldn’t be a problem.

Click here for a printable version of the Half Moon Cookies recipe.

Cookies, cookies and more cookies...

Cookies, cookies and more cookies…

 

Oh, Canada!

My next post will continue the recipes from Dave’s Graduation Party, so if you are waiting for those do not despair.  They are coming, and soon!  This post is a “break from your expected programming” inspired by the fact that Canada Day is just around the corner.  I wanted to share this craft idea with you before the holiday has passed us by, hence the interruption in the grad party recipes.  Spoiler Alert!!!  If you are one of Little Man’s Papas avert your eyes, since this is also your belated Father’s Day gift.  Well, OK… you can peek…  I just wish that I’d been able to get the shirts to you before this was posted.  🙂

The original idea comes from the workmanfamily website, and I thought it was fantastic!  If you would like to see their original post, please click here.

I thought that the workmanfamily post’s idea of using a kid’s hand print as the maple leaf in a Canadian flag was brilliant, and the bonus is that it doesn’t take many supplies beyond a t-shirt and fabric paint.  From the original wormanfamily post they shared the idea of using an empty cereal box for the cardboard to put inside the shirt to keep the paint from seeping from one side of the fabric to the back side as well.  Just another example of renew, reuse, recycle.
Love it!

I was able to get good quality t-shirts on one of those major chain mega sales!  I used a torn up box from our recycle bin for the cardboard between the shirt layers.

I was able to get good quality t-shirts on one of those major chain mega sales! I used a torn up box from our recycle bin for the cardboard between the shirt layers.

I used a small plastic plate to hold the fabric paint, and it was just the perfect size for Little Man's hand.

I used a small plastic plate to hold the fabric paint, and it was just the perfect size for Little Man’s hand.

We did three shirts in one go, so set up the little work area for Little Man's hand prints.

We did three shirts in one go, making a little assembly line for Little Man’s hand prints.

Then I started the bars.  I began by painting the main column.

Then I started the bars. I began by painting the main column.

Then I went back and darkened in the column.

Then I went back and darkened in the column.

They I went back and strengthened the straight lines on all four edges.

They I went back and strengthened the straight lines on all four edges.  I know the edges don’t look straight here, but that’s partly from the rotation of the image.  It’s also a craft, so I can claim “rustic” just like in cooking and that makes it look better, right?

Oh, Canada!

Oh, Canada!

Two shirts for Papas and one for Daddy!

Two shirts for Papas and one for Daddy!

This Canada Day marks our one year anniversary for living in this amazing nation!  What an awesome and crazy year this has been.  I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store…