Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fruit Kebabs on Pocky Sticks

I volunteered to provide all the food for all 24 kids in my 8 year old's class this past Valentine's day. No one offered to make or buy anything so I just volunteered to do everything. Sadly, this year is the first year I am not able to attend any parties because I cannot bring my toddler along. Last year, we didn't have many parent volunteers to help at the party so I had to work out a schedule with my husband for him to temporarily leave work so I could host the parties at school. This year we have a good team of room parents. Thank goodness!

As long as I'm a room parent, I cannot allow the kids to eat store bought treats. Plus, it would cost so much more if we had to buy the cupcakes or cookies from the store. For the Valentine party, I provided two kinds of bakes and two kinds of fruit. Another parent went out and bought juice boxes.

I knew I wanted to have mandarin oranges presented as "conversation cuties" and something else. Chocolate covered strawberries would have been nice but it seemed a bit small and I wasn't sure if everyone liked strawberries. I always like variety so there is something for everyone. Then I thought of just small fruit skewers with fruit cut up using small cookie cutters. That's simple enough but it turned out, I didn't have any small cookie cutters for Valentines. Crazy, I know. My husband then suggested I use pocky sticks. But I figured they wouldn't keep long since they would get soggy. He said they would if I just kept all the fruit on the chocolate side. Good point. So we bought some and I tried it out. It definitely had potential.

After the trial day, I knew what I had to do. The sticks were short so I didn't want to cut shapes out of the fruit using cookie cutters (besides, I didn't have any cutters!) or they would be hard to pierce or they would break. Yes, this was tested. I had to cut the fruit thick and they couldn't be very wide either or the whole thing would be unstable and awkward. Funny. What began as a simple idea was turning into a tricky task.

So I decided on these three colorful fruit: strawberry, kiwi, and cantaloupe. With the cantaloupe, I scooped out cantaloupe balls. Not only were the balls pretty, but they were also easy to pierce and held well on the sticks. The strawberries and kiwi were just sliced about the same size so everything would look balanced.

A few hours before the party, I precut everything and laid them on paper towels to dry. I wanted to keep the fruit as dry as possible. Then I pre-pierced everything using a metal skewer and chopstick. Yes, you need to do this! Don't even think about piercing the fruit directly with the pocky stick. I didn't even try because I knew what would happen. Every time I pierced through the fruit with my metal skewer and then chopstick, I would use more paper towels to dry off the fruit. Keep everything dry! Some of this then went to the fridge until I was ready to assemble.

One pack of pocky sticks is not enough to make 24 skewers. I used 1 1/2 packages of pocky sticks to make roughly 27 fruit kebabs. In the process, I broke about 5 sticks. Of the three fruit that I chose, kiwi was the softest and wettest fruit so I wanted to sandwich that one in the middle. I had more strawberry than anything else so I used a piece of strawberry on either end. It worked out well and they were so colorful. I also had the nice side of the strawberry showing on top. Okay, that is such a detail but that's just me :)

When I was done assembling the sticks, I put them in the fridge for about 30 mins to 1 hour before I could leave the house. The fruit kebabs were dropped off school 1 1/2 hours before the party and I just told the teacher to keep it away from any heat. I also sent an email to the parent volunteers to use the food glove I provided to serve the fruit kebabs and to carry them by the fruit in the center, instead of grabbing at the end of the stick.

My fruit kebabs were so cute and of course they were delicious :) When I asked my son, he said that none of the sticks broke when they were passed out and everyone ate them. He also said that some of the kids didn't know they could eat the stick but he told them they could. Lol.

Of all the food I brought to the school, the fruit kebabs were the trickiest ones to make. But totally doable :) Here is the list of the ingredients that went into making these adorable fruit skewers.

Gourmet Fruit Kebabs
(makes about 27 sticks)

2 packages of Pocky Sticks
2 lbs of strawberries
6 kiwis
1 big cantaloupe (scoop out balls)

It wasn't all healthy but everything was homemade. I also made rice krispie treats and cookie bars for the kids.

Rice krispie treats

Sugar cookie bars

Friday, January 13, 2017

Touring Las Vegas with Kids and Eating at Buffets

Just before Christmas and as an early celebration for my birthday, the four of us went to Las Vegas for a week. My husband and I haven't been back since 2007. We stayed right on the strip and although it was considered low season, it was still very busy. Las Vegas never sleeps too. There are shows even on December 25th. It's definitely a happening and exciting place. Giant billboards, ads on top of every taxi, and everywhere you look on buildings and all those lights! They really go all out there. Our 8 year old was super excited being there for the first time. It was quite different from his usual Hawaiian vacation. Lol.

It was our 16 month old's second flight. Like the first one we took with her back in May to Maui, it was alright. Not great and not that bad either. Although on the way back it was hell for us since my husband and I were both suffering from food poisoning. Oh god. That story probably deserves a separate post of its own. It was only a 2 hour flight back but it was pure hell.

Despite our rough journey back, going to Las Vegas with the kids was surprisingly great. I mean it could have been better but we got to do a lot and we pulled it off. As I often tell my husband, a lot of parents in our situation probably wouldn't even try because it's too hard. Traveling together is hard work but as long as we don't anger many others along the way, that's a win for me!

Cactus Garden at Ethel M Chocolate Factory

Red Rock Canyon - 30 min drive from Vegas

We rented a car for a few days so we could explore the nearby parks outside of the Vegas strip. We visited Ethel M Chocolate factory and the holiday lights at their cactus garden. We shopped at Costco and Trader Joe's. Boring but it saved us a lot of money. Initially, we wanted to go to the Grand Canyon but we decided it was too far to put our baby through the car ride. Instead, we hiked near Mead Lake and saw the Hoover Dam. We hiked in the Valley of Fire (totally awesome!) and Red Rock Canyon (meh). The four of us watched V The Ultimate Variety Show and then my 8 year old and I went to Paranormal: The Mind Reading Magic show. We all visited the Marvel Avengers STATION. We just watched Captain America Civil War on DVD so that was pretty cool to see all the costumes. It was more for kids than adults though.

Marvels Avenger STATION

8yo waiting to collect our personalized M&Ms.

Vegas may be known for its entertainment but their buffets really steal the show. Let's be serious. You cannot go to Vegas without experiencing one of their epic buffets. Just like how the strip tries to mimic the world with their fake mini cities, buffets offer food from around the world too. Something for everyone and it's brilliant. Were they expensive? Yes, they can be. But you would likely pay more if you were to eat at a good restaurant on the strip. Vegas is just expensive. At least on the strip, which was where we stayed. Over the course of the week, we ate out maybe five times and three of them were at buffets.

Our first buffet was the Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station downtown. The only reason we went here was because Vegenation was closed early for a holiday party. We were tired from hiking and we just had to eat somewhere. Last time I went there back in 2007, I remembered I was impressed by the amount of food I saw and how cheap everything was. I wasn't an extreme foodie back then though. I have much higher expectations now and found myself rather picky about what I ate. There were a few things that were quite good so I just kept going for those things until I was full, instead of trying more things. When it came time for dessert, I shared a few things with my husband but I would have to say that none of the desserts were worth saving room for. This restaurant was actually the best of the three buffets that we tried for the kids because of the simple dishes they offered. Our 16mo was able to eat just plain steam vegetables, baked yams and other simple foods like that. She ate a lot too, which was awesome. Our 8yo ate quite well too but it was his first big buffet so he was ready. Lol. It was a weekday dinner and the bill for the four of us was $38.90. Our 16mo got to eat for free but our 8yo had to pay an adult fare. The meal was so cheap though so who cares!

Our second buffet was a giant leap from the first buffet. This was massive in both quantity and price. What else would you expect from the great Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. It was a holiday weekday and we went for brunch and our bill came to $149.21, without any alcohol. Our baby was free and our 8yo had the kid's discount. Note that buffet restaurants, at least the good ones on the strip, raise their buffet prices during the holiday. The closer you get to Christmas and even New Year's, the higher the prices go up. We got admitted around 11AM and we didn't have to wait at all, which was nice.

Bacchanal Buffet must be the mother of all buffets. There were simply too many choices. Too many good choices, that is. This was as close to any fine dining buffet we have ever experienced. I read that there are sometimes 500 different offerings at this place. 500! Now for comparison, we visit our neighborhood Thai buffet on occasion and that place offers maybe a dozen things to eat. Crazy. In the two hour limit that we had to stuff ourselves, we pretty much ate for the entire day. And a part of the next day as well. Another bite, I probably would have puked. Lol. We taught our 8yo well because his first plate of food was a lot of seafood. Then for his second plate, he stacked it full of pancakes and waffles. Ugh. There wasn't much for our 16yo. Everything was just too fancy and had seasoning. She ended up chowing down on plain croissants, multigrain bread sticks, and fruit. Just carbs. Oh well. It's one of those famous places you just have to experience. If you don't go to this one, there are others like the ones at the Bellagio or the Wynn. I hear they are all epic. If you don't go during the holidays, it will be much cheaper too.

Our third and final buffet was somewhere in between the first and second in terms of quality and price. We went to Le Village Buffet at the Paris Hotel for a late breakfast. We were admitted at 10:30AM so were able to enjoy some of the lunch offerings that started at 11AM as well. If there is no break between breakfast/lunch or lunch/dinner, you can definitely do that and pay the lower price. There was an omelette and crepe station where you just order what you want and they make it in front of you. Anything you would expect to find at breakfast, they pretty much offered. There were quite a few different selections of sausages from France. The pastries were a bit disappointing, considering it was supposed to be French. They even had stuff that wasn't typically French like sushi. It was the best looking buffet we've been to. The restaurant was designed to look like you were sitting and eating outside in a small French village. The stations were split into different regions of France and it was just charming. The bill for the four of us came to $61.61. Our toddler was free and our 8yo had a discount.

California Burrito. Yes, those are fries in them.
The two other times we ate out were at fast food places at the Garden Grill and at the Shake Shack. We had to chase the Garden Grill down since it was the last market day before they closed. We tried so many things and they were indeed delicious. Everything was plant based and vegan. The avocado tacos and California burrito were my favorite. The Shake Shack was tasty but after we were done, we had to visit a juice stand. Haha. I don't think I have eaten a cheeseburger in like 10 years. We had no idea the Shake Shack was a fast food restaurant. My husband, son, and I all had burgers and fries for dinner and there was nothing healthy on the menu. It was a last minute decision to go there since it was close by and I heard it was family friendly. I was surprised to see a lot of other families with small children there as well. I wondered if they were as surprised as I was to find the place was in fact a junk food restaurant.

Overall, we had a good time in Las Vegas with the kids. Las Vegas is so different than anywhere else you would travel to and it's exciting for both kids and adults. We would totally go again. Maybe next time, our kids could eat more. Lol. The nearby deserts were beautiful and I was surprised there weren't more people hiking and exploring the areas. If you don't believe me, check out some of our pictures below. Amazing! The strip is cool and all but you have to leave the strip and explore the Valley of Fire! It's a 1 hour drive but it's beautiful there and there are plenty of short hikes for family with small children. It reminded me of Mars and underwater caves. All those lovely rocks were just asking to be climbed on and I have never seen my 8yo so excited about any hike before. Seriously, it was pretty cool.

Valley of Fire. 8yo would not stop posing during the hikes.

Valley of Fire (aka Mars, no?)

Us by more cool rocks in the Valley of Fire.

Red Rock Canyon. There were some nice areas but the Valley of Fire was nice everywhere.

Rams spotted during a hike at Red Rock Canyon.

Alright. I bet you are dying to know about our food poisoning story, aren't you? No, I don't think we got poisoned at the buffets. You're safe. However, if you overeat, you may just puke. That's a different thing altogether. For us, I think we have narrowed it down to the fresh pasta we bought from Trader Joe's earlier in the week, which we tried to finish the night before our flight home. It was the roasted vegetable ravioli and porcini mushroom ravioli. My husband and I got super sick but our kids were fine. Our 8yo barely ate any of his pasta that night. I was the first one to vomit in the middle of the night. I felt crappy all night and couldn't sleep at all. After puking twice, I was just weak and nauseous for two days and didn't eat a thing. My husband started to vomit on the plane ride back. Hey, there is a first for everything! Yup, pure hell. Especially with a tired toddler jumping all over you. We made it back alive to tell the story at least.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Candy Sushi Bar: Make Your Own Candy Sushi

Our son is now 8 years old. We had a party for him but it wasn't crazy like the previous years. We barely did anything and we even ordered food. Right?! In fact, we almost didn't have a party at all because he's been naughty lately and my husband was scared his friends would trash our place. Lol. He's scared that every guest would trash our place but honestly, our son has wrecked our place more than anyone else. However, he does behave worse when there are guests over. After some negotiating, we decided to have a small party with just a few close friends of his.

The day I stop Photoshopping for a party will be the day.

We signed our son up for martial arts lesson over the summer for a few months and he really enjoyed it. When we were brainstorming themes, I thought we could do something along those lines and have an Avatar party or Ninja party. I looked into a party lesson at our martial arts center but we didn't know enough kids to invite and it was just too expensive for what they offered. Every year, I find myself researching and toying with the idea of a party venue and every year, I decide it's not for us. I would rather spend that money on a nice gift for our son instead. He would have just as much fun at a party at home with his close friends. And nothing beats the convenience of staying home and customizing your own party without rules. Especially with his baby sister here too. On his actual birthday on November 20th, we had a martial arts party at home with five of his close friends.

I made a theme cake and customized some cookies for the party. That's it! We ordered pizza for food and then I did a food craft with them. Boy, I would have loved to cook Chinese food and all but the kids probably wouldn't eat it. They must have their cheese pizzas and nothing else, right? For entertainment, we bought some sumo bumpers and a martial arts kickboxing game. We also had martial arts video games and if they really wanted we had the Kung Fu Panda movie too.

I even wrote Chinese on the cake! My son's name.

My husband said that the food craft was a great idea. Woot?! I agree! I found everything I needed at Daiso as well and we got to use up our Halloween candies :) I have always wanted to make candy sushi after seeing them on Pinterest. Nothing is prettier and cuter than candy sushi. The end results were just like the images I saw and the boys seemed to have fun. It was a bit messy but it was worth it!

We printed out some nice color images I found online to give the kids some inspiration and ideas. I made two batches of rice krispies (with less rice krispies for a softer, chewier, and more workable version) right before the party started. I was able to press and fill three parchment lined cookie sheets with the rice krispies. We used scissors to cut them into rectangles with parchment paper hanging off of them so that they would be easy to remove. I set up the candy sushi bar with an assortment of fruit-roll ups, gummy worms, Swedish fish, Nerds candies, Starbursts, gummy bears, licorice etc. Minutes before the craft, we made a few pieces of sushi just to see how it would work and to showcase as demos. We cut up some of the fruit-roll ups to make it easier for the kids. I prepared a bit of chocolate fondant as well, in case anyone wanted to roll their sushi using that. They were fine with just the colored fruit-roll ups though.

During the craft, I was there to demonstrate and help the kids make their sushi. I had a cutting board station and I assisted the kids with the slicing, if they needed help. When the kids were done they washed up and went to play. I offered to fill their sushi containers with more candy sushi, if they wanted. The containers were kind of big. Ahem. It was fun and we used up all the Halloween candy, which was awesome! Every kid got to take home the candy sushi container that they made. I also gave them each a bag of karate sugar cookies as part of their party loot.

Done! Take home your own party candy sushi! #partyloot

I made custom karate cookies. One of each pose in a bag.

The party wasn't too out of control. What I find is that if there is a structured activity and supervision, the kids listen and actually do very well. I supervised a friendly sumo bumper match and everyone played fair and had fun. It looked like fun and I wanted to try it too! It's when you let them go free range without adults interfering that they start trashing the place. Let's not forget they're 7 and 8 year old boys after all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Watermelon Themed First Birthday Party

This past weekend was my daughter's first birthday. Crazy, I know! Originally, I wasn't planning to do much since I had no time with my 7 year old at home with us all summer. I only started thinking about this party two weeks ago and only decided on what I was going to do a week before. I'm so used to planning inside food since we're all Winter and Fall babies here but our daughter is actually a late summer baby. Woot! Barbecue, here we come!

We really haven't had many barbecues this summer and I have been wanting to invite some of our neighborhood friends over for one. This was the perfect opportunity to throw a barbecue and combine it with our daughter's birthday celebration. We normally go overboard with the food for barbecues so we could easily feed everyone. The watermelon and end of summer theme came to me since we have been eating a lot of watermelon lately. It was simple enough and in the end, it turned out pretty darn cute too.

Our 1 year old and 7 year old.

We had 23 people attend our party, three of them were babies though. The nice thing about these early birthdays is that we don't even have to think about games for entertainment since babies can't do much still. No loot bags to worry about either. This was just going to be about the food. And a few decorations. Yay.

Here's the menu I had for the party:

  • Artichoke/chickpea hummus
  • Tzatziki dip
  • Lots of veggies & pita bread
  • Maui onion chips
  • Soba noodle salad with BBQ veggie/tofu kebabs
  • Brussel sprout salad
  • Quinoa salad
  • BBQ plank salmon
  • Greek chicken breast souvlaki with pita/tomato/red onion (gyro style)
  • Chicken-less version of souvlaki
  • Drinks: mango nectar & lemon/lime soda
  • Watermelon
  • Banana
  • Green grapes
  • Watermelon cake (Pink velvet with pink buttercream icing & mini chocolate chips)
  • Watermelon cupcakes with cream cheese icing
  • Watermelon rice krispies
  • Yogurt flower cookies (Trader Joe’s)

The lunch food was great but it's the same stuff we always do. I wanted this party to be easy. Lol. Some of it was new for our guests though. I made almost everything from scratch, except for the pita bread, flower cookies, and chips. The chicken souvlaki was really popular. I should have made more of that since the kids liked it. The food we served wasn't really kid friendly but I figured there had to be something in there the kids would eat. Apparently, that was the chicken.

These watermelon rice krispies looked simple but were actually a bit tricky to make.

Totally looks fake next to the real thing, right? Lol.

Look at those colors! <3 And it tasted just as good.

I was happy with how the cake turned out. It was my first painted fondant cake so I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I was careful to roll the fondant a bit thicker this time and I put the cake in the fridge before and after applying the fondant. Even with the imperfections here and there, the cake still looked good overall in the end. I was a bit worried because I ran out of red food coloring and I knew the cake was actually pinker than it should have been. No one seemed to mind. When you think about it though there is so much variation in how watermelons look inside and out that it was just fine. The cupcakes with the cream cheese icing were delicious. Ah, yes. Red velvet is still one of my favorite cakes.

I loved the watermelon decorations! The weather had been strange lately so we were so lucky that the sun came out for us the day of the party. The day before, it just poured. I heard that buckets of rain fell and it halted traffic on the highway. Lucky us. The watermelon decorations and colorful fruit and desserts made it a pretty party theme for our girl. Especially, when the sun came out. I loved the gold ONE balloon we got as well. We had color balloons to match our watermelon theme and the house just looked so nice. The colors were very Christmas-like too but it worked well for the end of summer!

No one commented on it but I loved the food table display. I worked on the red ONE sign during the week. I spotted a gold version on Pinterest and loved the idea so I copied it with a version I created from what I could find from the dollar store, Daiso. It was hard to photograph the table with the sun behind it but I thought the sign and food looked great on top of the black and red tablecloth.

I used a red tablecloth for the fruit and dessert table since the watermelon and cakes were very green. The chalkboard had a sweet message, which I also copied from something I saw on Pinterest. Lol. I found a nice watermelon garland pattern online, printed it in color, and then got the kids to put it together. It was a nice and quiet craft to keep them busy :) I got my niece to carve our daughter's name on one of the small watermelons as decoration for the table. That looked great too. Everything just came together so I was happy. I kind of wished we took more pictures though. We don't even have a family picture. Boo. Guess we were enjoying ourselves way too much this time :) Happy 1st Birthday to our sweet baby girl! And happy 1 year parenting anniversary to us (again) for surviving the first year! Phew.
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