Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Underwater Birthday Party at the Lake

My daughter turned 3 years old this past Sunday. We threw her an underwater-theme party and decided to hold it at our favorite local lake here. This was the first time we had a party outside our home. It was a great fit for the kind of party I wanted but I was stressed about having to transport all our food and supplies there. In our tiny car too. I had to really cut back on the food and what I could make. I remember having to transport a large cake to a park once for my sister and it was terrifying. I knew I couldn't do that again. So I went with cupcakes instead. Then I made a mini cake at the last minute because the thought of having my daughter blow out 3 candles on a tiny cupcake kind of broke my heart. I know. It's just me.

Picnic tables with a view of the lake !

The great thing about hosting a party outside of the home is that we could invite more people, but at the same time, we could not make and bring as much food. But the entertainment and decorations were not necessary because we had the playground, soccer fields, basketball court, and the lake itself to swim in. That was a big plus. But this party was so stressful to plan and execute because I only had two days to actually prepare for it. I was also stressed at the fact that I didn't reserve any picnic shelters and I was hoping to just snatch a couple of tables on the day of the party. The only picnic tables you could reserve accommodated too many people and I am sure I would have had to reserve it months in advance. The plan was to hold it at the lake only if the weather was good enough. Our house was the backup plan in case of rain. The final decision to go to the lake was made only a few days prior to the party. But it all worked out! Thanks to the cooler weather, we arrived early and got a choice of some great tables. So happy! We did bring a foldable table along, just in case as well. We never used it though.

In the two days I had to prepare for the party, I made goldfish marshmallow pops using strawberry marshmallows (the entire bag!), all the decorations from scratch that went on the cupcakes and then 36 cupcakes and one mini cake, tuna and mock tuna mixes for my croissant sandwiches, a fruit display out of a carved watermelon and bananas, and prepared loot bags. Everything else was bought just to help simplify my life a bit. We had cheese balls (aka beach balls), rainbow licorice (aka pool noodles) and snack bags of goldfish/potato chips (aka fish & chips), and we served some tropical juices like pineapple juice and orange juice. I even bought spinach/artichoke/parmesan dip from Costco and included a small selection of fresh veggies. Shortcuts saved me! Seriously, this is not like me but I knew if I didn't plan carefully, the party would have blown up in my face. I'm a better organizer than that at least. I know my limits. And if you see our car, you would understand.

Fondant seashells, painted with red dust & pearl sheen airbrush color.

Made with pink/turquoise candy melts, then painted with red dust and pearl sheen.

Mock tuna mix made using jackfruit, cranberries and apples.

Cupcake decoration test at home.

It's too bad the weather wasn't warmer but that didn't stop the kids from playing in the lake afterwards. They are so brave. So we did everything I was hoping we could do and the kids all had a good time. I was really happy with how my cupcakes turned out. They looked magical and whimsical and very pretty. My daughter is into the Octonauts right now so I put Professor Inkling on top of her mini cake. When she saw it she was able to identify him right away! No complaints about the size of the cake either. Small cakes are 10 times easier to do than big cakes. And a cinch to transport. Lol.

Even without the mermaid tails, they looked pretty.

These were "pool noodles." We also had cheese ball puffs I called "beach balls." No one cared. Lol.

Checkered cake inside. Top was a cake ball.

Presenting goldfish marshmallow pops on top of graham cracker sand.

I didn't photograph our loot bags but they were basically stuff we bought and put together. There were goldfish crackers, assorted colored licorice, Scandinavian swimmer gummies, marine erasers, and underwater stickers. Finally, we all wore colors and clothes that matched the underwater party theme. The birthday girl and her Papa matched with color, my son wore a blue shark tee and I wore my gold fish tank. I think only one guest noticed.

We are lucky that our daughter is a late summer baby and that we could bring our party outside. I remember being jealous of all the summer babies because they would always have free parks to hold their birthdays at. My son, husband and I are late fall and winter babies. Now that we have had our first outside party, I think we could do it again in the future.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Strawberry Lemonade Ice Cream Cake

I created a new ice cream cake for our last Fun Run meeting a week ago. We have been meeting once every month since January and in previous years we always had coffee and treats at the final meeting. I think they forgot about that since I was the only one that brought anything. Totally fine since I had to use up more ice cream!

My latest ice cream cake creation has me using fresh strawberries, lemon goodies, and 1 1/2 tubs of vanilla ice cream. It's been a very warm Spring and I couldn't think of a more perfect ice cream cake to make. I have lemon and vanilla layers below and end with strawberry on top. I had plenty of lemon stuff to give it that tang and sour goodness so I had no need of any fresh lemons. It had just the right amount of lemon flavor in it. The strawberry flavor was not as strong but definitely present. I prefer more lemon than strawberry anyway and the cake as a whole wasn't overly sweet. I loved this balance but feel free to tweak it if you prefer more strawberry with just a tint of lemon.

Strawberry Lemonade Ice Cream Cake

1 box Meyer lemon cake with glaze (baked according to the box)
1/3 box of crushed lemon oreos cookies
1/2 jar of Trader Joe's lemon curd
1 1/2 tubs Tillamook vanilla ice cream
20 fresh strawberries, sliced
1 cup whipping cream, cold
1 tsp gelatin, 4 tsp water
1 tsp strawberry flavor oil
sprinkles (optional)

Cook and reduce strawberries until it thickens. Cool then store it in the fridge.

Bake lemon cake, cool and drizzle 1/2 of lemon glaze onto the cake. Slice cake in half horizontally so it's not so thick. Line the pan you baked the cake in with new parchment or aluminum foil before assembling. This makes it easy to remove the cake later.

Start the cake by laying 1/2 of the cake onto the parchment paper. Then add 1/2 a tub of vanilla ice cream. Top with a layer of crushed lemon oreos and spread on 1/2 a jar of lemon curd. Top with the other half of the cake. Spread on 1/2 a tub of vanilla ice cream. Place the cake back in the freezer for a few hours.

Mix the remaining 1/2 of the lemon glaze from the cake into the cooked strawberries. That should sweeten it just a bit and give it a slight lemony flavor. Mix 1/2 of the strawberry mixture into 1/2 a tub of vanilla ice cream to make strawberry ice cream. Spread this onto the cake and freeze for a couple of hours. Puree the rest of the strawberry mixture. Drizzle some of this puree onto the cake. Freeze. Add 4 tsp of water to 1 tsp of gelatin, mix and then microwave for 30 seconds. Mix until it's dissolved. Whip the cold whipping cream until soft peaks appear and add 1-2 tbsp of sugar. Add the gelatin and whip. Add a squirt of strawberry flavored oil. Add a drop of red food coloring and whip. Pipe the stabilized whipped cream onto the cake, staying away from the edges. Add sprinkles if you wish. Freeze for a couple of hours.

When presenting, slice off the uneven edge all around the cake and then remove the cake from the parchment paper. The cake is gorgeous when you reveal all the layers inside like this :) Enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Soccer Rice Krispie Treats

I love rice krispies. Even though they are ridiculously sweet. I don't know of any kid that doesn't like them. I especially love them because they are the easiest and fastest treats to make.

I'm tired these days. From mommying around and from working for the school PTSA. For my son's last soccer game of the Spring season, I needed something to make that was easy, good and of course cute and creative. I came across an image I found online of a treat with a soccer sticker on the bag that looked like it was part of the treat. The treat inside had green sprinkles on top of white icing that made it look a bit like grass. I love the idea! Especially, because soccer balls are hard to draw and make into food as I discovered the last time I made a soccer treat.

For our last soccer game, I made and gave out these soccer rice krispie treats to all the 12 players on the team. I made the coach another giant chocolate chip cookie. With two soccer seasons a year and the same coach and team every time, I'm starting to run out of soccer coach gift ideas! Lol.

Sadly, my cookie broke when I tried putting it into a grocery bag for transport:(

I used my favorite brown butter rice krispie recipe but with extra half-melted mini marshmallows inside and I dumped in some sprinkles too to make them like confetti. I'm still trying to use up all those extra sprinkles from the volunteer ice cream social! Then for the top, I just used green and yellow candy melts. When I finished dipping them into melted candies, I used a toothpick to draw out some grass. You need to do this when the candy melts are nearly dried. But don't wait until they fully dry! You'll know once you test it!

I bought these soccer stickers from Michaels and the package was exactly 12 soccer balls! Perfect. I think they were the perfect touch on the packaged treats! I love them but I honestly don't think the kids cared. Lol. I watched some of them and they tore the things open and just popped them into their mouths like hungry ghosts. Did they even notice the stickers on them? Did they see the grass I painstakingly marked with the toothpick? Did they even know what they were eating?? Who knows. And who cares but me. I still loved them :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

School Volunteer Ice Cream Social

This past weekend, I organized and hosted an ice cream social for our school volunteers. It was the first one of its kind that's funded and given by the school PTSA. As a volunteer coordinator this year, I have been trying to push for an appreciation event for all our volunteers since the beginning of the school year. The teachers have countless appreciation events that the PTSA organizes for them and they are showered with gifts throughout the year but we never did much for our volunteers. Plus, the teachers get paid and we offer our time for free. I mean teachers are great but so are volunteers and I saw that we needed to do much more for them. By showing volunteers that we value them, not only will we help recruit new volunteers and retain volunteers, but we will also inspire and encourage existing volunteers to do more.

It's not like we were getting nothing. There is always a volunteer breakfast at the end of the year that is hosted by the teachers but only a select few of us get an invitation. The volunteers that have a presence at the school usually get invited but many of our volunteers work from home behind the scenes. I'm one of them! And no, last year I was never invited even though I put over 300 hours of volunteer work towards the school. That's just not right. Instead of getting mad at the PTSA, I decided to make things right by being a volunteer coordinator this year.

Last week was National Volunteer Week and April is National Volunteer Month. In celebration of this and to show appreciation towards our PTSA, we had an ice cream social. And it was a success! I am so relieved the volunteer ice cream social is now over. It wasn't actually a lot of work because it was just ice cream. Everyone kind of expected me to do something after pitching so many appreciation ideas but after a few failed attempts at getting a budget approval, I didn't really want anything to do with it anymore. I was also busy with other stuff too. But then they started asking me about it and so I felt I had to do something. The ice cream social for our volunteers during National Volunteer Month was easily approved. Even if we didn't have something to celebrate, a social for volunteers was important for volunteers to get to know one another. The work and cost was minimal and we couldn't have been luckier with the weather. The event was held at the school playground and field to keep it nearby and to save costs on renting a venue.

I made a poster. Actually I made many posters. That's kind of my thing lately. I'm the poster/flyer lady. After this event, I'll probably be known as the ice cream lady. They are already asking me to do it for the next school next year. The boundary changes in our neighborhood is sending us to a new school next year. And yesterday, they were trying to recruit me for VP of Volunteers on the board. I sort of said no. I think I need a break.

The event was a hit for everyone who made it out but my estimates were really off. I proposed a budget based on attendance for 200 people and I pre-bought ice cream in advance when they were on sale. If all our volunteers came out with the their family, that could have easily been more than 400. I took a risk but only half my estimate RSVPed yes to the invite. Of that, only about 70% actually showed up. What! I did not expect that one. So we had leftover ice cream. A LOT of leftover ice cream. I don't think I can return them so I'm just going to eat them all over the next several months and get fat. Ha!

114 people replied yes to my invite. I brought along 15 tubs of ice cream, expecting extra people to show up because of the nice weather. I recruited three parent volunteers to help scoop ice cream, trying to stay away from board members. If anyone needs a break, it would be the board members! However, one of my good friends insisted on helping and she's on the board so she was the exception:) The other volunteer coordinator was also present to lend us a canopy tent and to help at the greeting table and help set up. Yes, we had a greeting table for an informal check-in where volunteers could get name tags. The idea was for them to write their name, along with a program or event that they helped with at the school.

We also had three kids help with sundae toppings. My son, my friend's daughter, and my son's friend, who was also the child of one of our ice cream scoopers. The kids of all the adult volunteers were actually very helpful in setting up too and were even fighting over turns with the toppings stations. I really wanted to involve the kids to help give relief to more parent volunteers. Let's not forget this was a volunteer appreciation event as well.

Here was what I brought along to the ice cream event:

9 tubs (1.75 Qt each) - Vanilla Ice Cream
3 tubs (1.75 Qt each) - Chocolate Ice Cream
3 tubs (1.75 Qt each) - Strawberry Ice Cream
1 box of 12 single fruit popsicle sticks (dairy-free)

42 oz Crushed Oreos
1 tub (7lb 8 oz) Chocolate Syrup
10+ oz Colored Sprinkles
2 bags mini marshmallows (10 oz coloured, 10 oz white)
1 jar Cherries in Syrup (containing over 100 cherries)

160 small water bottles (8 oz each)
4 bags of ice (7 lbs each)

What I should have brought instead:

5 tubs (1.75 Qt each) - Vanilla Ice Cream
2 tubs (1.75 Qt each) - Chocolate Ice Cream
2 tubs (1.75 Qt each) - Strawberry Ice Cream
2 box of 12 single fruit popsicle sticks (dairy-free)

20 oz Crushed Oreos
1 small bottle Chocolate Syrup
5 oz Colored Sprinkles
1 bag mini marshmallows
1 jar Cherries in Syrup (containing over 100 cherries)

80 small water bottles (8 oz each)
4 bags of ice (7 lbs each)

As you can see, I totally overdid it! Lol. But this is the first time we did this so now we know. The idea was to give each person a generous 6 oz ice cream serving in a cup. That is like 2 big scoops of ice cream. Unfortunately, we started off serving smaller scoops but I didn't notice since I was so busy with the setup of the sundae topping table. Half way through the event, I told our volunteers to offer up to 3 scoops and we allowed people to come back for seconds and even third servings! Lol. The event was only 1 hour long but the ice creams were already starting to melt.

Here are a few tips I would give to those who are thinking about doing an ice cream social:
  • Expect only about 80% of the RSVPs to actually show up & even those that show up may not want any ice cream
  • Be generous on the ice creams and toppings. It's hard to run out.
  • Don't pre-purchase ice cream until you have a good idea of the numbers.
  • Ice cream sundaes are great but even the non-dairy people wanted popsicles. Easier to have?
  • Buy an extra bag of ice or two. That may help keep the ice cream colder.
  • When there is no lineup, put the ice cream back in the coolers.
  • 1 hour for the social is plenty! Any longer and there will be a big melty mess.
  • Here was one of my favorite resource page:

It took me a few weeks here and there to research, organize, design the posters, search and shop for bargains and supplies. The cost of the event was only about $139, which included the cost of about $20 for posters. I made the posters with the idea that they could be reused year after year. So more cost savings down the road. Because I'm a skilled bargain hunter, I was able to buy a lot more and choose better quality ice cream and present everything in a more professional manner. We served Tillamook ice cream people! We were essentially able to give people pretty awesome sundaes at the cost of around $1.55 per person. Since we had so many leftover supplies, we could have served even more people and that would have brought the cost down even more. My goal was to keep it at no more than $2 per person so I'm quite happy with the final calculation. I'm a bit disappointed with the turn out but overall, I think the event was a success. And the weather was fantastic!  Yay:)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Ultimate Valentine Cupcakes

I am a Room Parent for my 9 year old son's class. As a Room Parent, I plan, prepare and some times host the class parties for Halloween, Valentine's, and the Year-End celebration. This involves researching ideas online for fun food creations and finding suitable craft projects or games for the age group in the class. Everything planned needs to be achievable in around 1 hour and has to be within the class party budget of roughly $50 per party. We are very fortunately at our school this year because our generous PTSA is giving every class up to $150 to spend on class parties for the year, which works out to be $50 per party. We buy what we need and then we reimburse for it. Since I make a lot of my own stuff from scratch, that is more than enough.

I have been a Room Parent since my son started school. Big surprise! I do spend a lot of time on it but I enjoy it. And it's only three times a year so it's not that tiring. *cough, cough* I love coming up with cool foods but the crafts are equally fun to work with too. To save time, I usually do a lot of prep work at home like pre-punching circles, pre-cutting triangles, and pre-painting sticks. And that was exactly what I did for our recent Valentine party! I can't do everything for them so the kids did have to cut out their own ears, eyes, glue, and write messages on the back of their craft. I think the cool part about the fox craft was that they could attach magnets to the back and put it up on their fridge.

Forget the craft, the showstopper at the party were the cupcakes though. But maybe it's because I love to eat sweets so much. I don't know. I made sure we served the cupcakes last. I had other healthier food servings like fruit cups and little cucumber bread bites to serve first. Another one of our awesome Room Parents made a fresh batch of strawberry watermelon lemonade as well. The kids in this class are truly spoiled!

Cara cara oranges, bananas, strawberries.

So about those cupcakes! Well, they weren't just cupcakes. They were cupcakes, cookies, and candies all in one. Why the heck not? I made my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and whipped up an extra large batch of swiss meringue buttercream. The cookies and XOX gummies were from Trader Joe's. And I'm so glad I bought them when they first arrived at the store. They sold out pretty fast! At first, I thought all the decorations were too much but now I think they were great. Because they're on top of the cupcakes, I was able to make sure everyone received the same thing and it was stuck on so nothing shifted during the travel to school. And they're kind of cute, no?

I was going to stop here. But then decided to keep going.

And just like that, we're down to one more party to do before school is over! I can do this people.
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