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:

Appetizer:
  • Artichoke/chickpea hummus
  • Tzatziki dip
  • Lots of veggies & pita bread
  • Maui onion chips
Main:
  • 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
Dessert:
  • 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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter Hunt: Picture Clue Scavenger Hunt


This past Easter, I found myself in unfamiliar territory. I typically am well organized and plan things weeks, even months ahead. I was behind in doing our taxes by at least one month. Then Easter crept up on me. Isn't it usually in April?! I really had to cram for this one.

Weeks ago, my 7 year old started talking about this year's Easter hunt. He gave me suggestion after suggestion. It was like he was planning his own egg hunt! Year after year I would use these plastic eggs, hide each of them with clues inside to find the next egg until the very end when the Easter basket was revealed. As he got older, I made them harder. It was quite a bit of work to come up with good questions and to hide them in new places around the house every year. We did move houses a couple of years ago so that made it a bit new. My husband thinks my son is too old for Easter hunts but I told my husband that he won't stop talking about the Easter hunt so obviously it means a lot to him! He gets super excited every year. But then I did raise the bar a bit by planning these cool Easter hunts and cooking us a feast every year. Ha! Kind of like his epic birthday parties. Ahem.

This year, I just had no time. I mean I thought I still had time but Easter came early this year! I've been busy. I have a 6 month old to take care of now. So I sort of have an excuse. Right? I literally had 24 hours to plan another awesome Easter hunt. Done. At the end, my 7 year old said he really enjoyed it. Yes! :) I survived another Easter and I did not disappoint! Phew.

What I bought for Easter treats.

This year's Easter hunt had three parts to it. Part one involved finding all the plastic eggs around the house. Part two involved opening all the plastic eggs and assembling the puzzle pieces found inside. Part three was to solve the riddle written on the finished puzzle that revealed where the Easter basket was. That's right! We like to make our boy work hard for his chocolate eggs! Muahahaha.

As I was breastfeeding and looking at photos of my daughter on my phone, it dawned on me that I could just take pictures of where all the eggs were hidden. That would be SO much faster than brainstorming new and interesting questions. Then I could just show him a picture where the eggs were one by one in no particular order. Of course I would have to order them so that he would have to run up and down the stairs for each egg. And of course, I would have to make the pictures hard to identify by just taking the edge of an object and zooming in a lot in certain areas. This would basically be a test of how well he knew our house. How well could he find things that he hadn't seen for awhile? All the clues would be in the surrounding picture so he would just have to look carefully and think a bit. Aha! This picture clue scavenger hunt wasn't as easy as it sounded. But he did super well. He was only stuck on one or two of the images and we helped him along a bit. In some of the spots, we inserted a chocolate egg nearby too. Whatever he found, he would put in his basket. He missed one chocolate egg but got everything else! It was actually a lot of fun. I tested out the photos on my husband beforehand and he was even stuck on some. I got him to narrow the pictures down to the ten best ones. The following photos are a few examples of what we used.

Lego, yes. But which one and where? We have a gazillion.



I actually really love the idea of a picture clue scavenger hunt. Some of the pictures really involve problem solving too. For instance, the batman shirt is my husband's tshirt. Yes, it was in our walk in closet but where? My son had to figure out which part of the closet had my husband's clothes, then he had to figure where rather than making a mess of everything searching for it. I am organized and since my husband has a gazillion tshirts, bins were set up for him with various themes. And I used labels! So my 7 year old had to identify that Batman is a Superhero and the bin labeled Superhero/Space would be the place he should look for the tshirt. I'm proud that I came up with the picture clue scavenger hunt all on my own too. Lol. The puzzle idea I had already read about. I'm sure others have done the picture thing before but I didn't know about it. It was my lazy way of coming up with something fast, different, and fun. It's getting harder and harder every year to surprise my little man!




For the puzzle, I was going to use single puzzle pieces for each egg, so 9-12 total pieces. However, my husband thought that was too easy so he picked a puzzle that had 35 pieces and said that was more at my son's level. Okay. After the egg hunt, he was not that interested in putting the puzzle together. There were too many pieces and he was anxious to just get to the basket. It wasn't hard, although since it was printed on paper, the pieces curled and it was hard to attach them without each piece shifting. I helped my son put the puzzle together because it took too long and I had to nurse my daughter who was crying with my husband. He solved the riddle pretty quick and went and grabbed his basket. He was happy and then he ate some yummy chocolates :) Later on in the day, I boiled a bunch of eggs and he painted them. It's sort of our Easter tradition now.


I cooked us a special meal consisting of a vegan Chinese tofurky,  stir fry broccoli, egg salad, and store bought fish sticks and sweet potato fries. I also baked us a carrot sheet cake. Easy peasy. It was a tiring day for me this past Easter Sunday but knowing that my son and family was happy made it all worth it. Hope you all had a nice Easter with a little yumminess too :)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Vegan Dinner Party


We cook vegan from time to time but rarely do we ever do a full vegan dinner. This past weekend was probably the first time I did a four course vegan dinner party. Everything from the start of the dinner to the very end was vegan. Not only that but I avoided all processed foods altogether so no fake meat, fake cheese, fake anything was used! Everything was natural, healthy and made from scratch.

Washing watercress


Watercress soup: before & after.

Since we have been exposed to vegan cooking for years, it actually wasn't that much of a challenge. We invited our neighborhood friends over since I found out that she was vegetarian. We volunteer for the school together and her boy plays very well with our boy. Her family eats meat from time to time but they do pretty well with any kind of food. My husband's birthday is this Thursday so it was an early birthday dinner for him as well. He LOVES vegan food and I have no time to cook much during the week day anymore. Sadly my baby has to cry for 30 minutes or so while I get dinner ready every night :( She always wants to be held, no matter much much I try to put her down.

The dinner party was a success. I thought the food turned out great and our guests enjoyed it as well. Our friend made some fresh bread and brought that over and bought some strawberries to accompany my dessert. It was perfect!


Walnut Mushroom Paté

Paté presentation.

Cashew Cream Cheese.

Vegan Brownies.

Shepherd's pie in the making. Tons of veggies!

Lentil Shepherd's Pie.

Vegan Dinner Party Menu

Appetizers

Entrée

Dessert
  • Vegan Brownies with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ganache (from the Rebar cookbook)

The paté was a bit on the wet side but it was very tasty. The cream cheese is no substitute for regular cream cheese but as a nut spread, it was great! It's funny how a little apple cider vinegar can make the cashews smell and taste cheesy. Don't let the strange smell scare you!

I don't think I have ever had regular Shepherd's pie before. The first time I made Chef Heidi's version of the pie, I doubled the vegetables and used half of the meat in the form of beef-less ground beef. It was very tasty. I ended up making that many times. This time, I wanted to use natural ingredients so I substituted green lentils for the fake beef. Honestly, it tasted great too and I did not feel like I was missing anything. I think I'll use lentils from now on!

Warning: Do not put saran wrap over wet ganache!



I have made the vegan brownies countless times. It's probably one of my favorite brownie recipes and perhaps my favorite vegan dessert. I made the topping a little different this time around. I used about 1/2 cup of soy creamer and a whole bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips from Trader Joe's and maybe 1 1/2 tbsp Earth Balance to make the ganache. Then I microwaved about 1/3 cup peanut butter and poured that over the warm ganache to make a pattern. It was pretty and oh so delicious! Although I did wreck the top a bit when I tried to cover it in saran wrap while it was still a bit warm. Ahh! Hey and did you know that the semi-sweet chocolate chips from Trader Joe's are vegan?! They're accidentally vegan and only $1.99 a bag people! :)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Vegan Cranberry Tart


Thanks to Twitter I found a pretty cranberry tart recipe just in time for American Thanksgiving. I made the tart along with my usual pumpkin pie for our feast. I used almond meal and whole wheat flour for the crust since that was what I could find in my pantry. It was a hit so when I found a large 32 oz bag of cranberries on sale at Costco, I made the tart again. I had enough berries to do two tarts so for comparison sake, I made one vegan.

Taste wise, both tarts were pretty much the same. They looked the same too. In terms of texture though, I found the vegan one to be less viscous. It didn't hold up as much as the normal tart so it flowed more when it was sliced. When cold from the fridge, both tarts cut out much better. The tarts were made gluten free this time and I used less sugar in the filling. It really does remind me of lemon tart and I can't help but think this cranberry tart would be a huge hit in France. Too bad cranberries don't come from there and is not used in cooking.



 Apparently the original recipe was quite popular since my husband said one of his coworkers brought the same tart to work one day. He tried it and said mine was better. LOL. I did hack at the recipe and made a few changes so I'll share them here. We like it so much I may just have to add it to our regular menu during the holidays :)






Before

After


Vegan Cranberry Tart
(Adapted from NY Times Cooking)

*CRUST

1 1/2 cups pecans, grind into crumbs
1 cup brown rice flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) of butter (I used Earth Balance), at room temp

FILLING

16 oz fresh cranberries, washed
 1/2 cup brown sugar (use more if you like it sweet)
1 orange, zest and juice
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) of butter (I used Earth Balance)
3 eggs (I used the equivalent in egg replacer)

This is optional but I pan fried the pecans before grinding them up to crumbs. I used the magic bullet to process my crumbs. Combine all the crust ingredients together and mix well with your hands. Pour and press this into a tart pan.

Combine the cranberries, sugar and orange in a pot and cook until the cranberries all pop. Reduce the heat and add in the butter. Mix the egg replacer with cold water until it's a paste. Stir this into the pot slowly and continue cooking until the mixture all thickens. Turn off the heat and with a immersive blender, blend until smooth. Pour this into the tart pan. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes until the filling has set. Cool and serve at room temperature. This also tastes well cold from the fridge.

*I did one tart without pan frying but just pre-baking the crust. That version was just as good with a firmer crust but the sides were not as intact. The second time pan fried the nuts but didn't pre-bake the crust and the crust was a bit softer at the bottom.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Star Wars Party Cake, Dessert and Game Ideas


It's the year of Star Wars! Episode 7 is coming out soon and the stores are filled with Star Wars merchandise. We found all sorts of food themed in Star Wars like Kraft macaroni and cheese, fruit snacks, cereal, frozen yogurt, Campbell soup etc. Then of course there were all the toys, school supplies, lunch boxes, blankets, balls, kitchen supplies, clothing, party supplies etc. You name it, they had it! Needless to say, we had no problem finding things to decorate our home with for my son's 7th birthday party. We already owned plenty of Star Wars things like Legos, bakeware, clothes, movies, TV shows, and video games. We bought some decorations, made some of our own, and bought some food and school supplies for game prizes.

Star Wars is one of the more popular party themes out there. Kind of like Legos. Google or search for it on Pinterest and you'll find loads of ideas and inspiration. We re-created many of them and was quite pleased with the outcome. I already blogged about the food we had for lunch at the party so here, I will talk about the cake, desserts, and games.

Princess Leia and Darth Vader.

Star Wars dessert table.

CAKE AND DESSERTS

Now that I have a 2 month old at home, I had to go extra easy on the cake this year. I already did a Star Wars cake once for my husband's 40th birthday. I wanted to do something different this time and I wanted to be able to use what I already had at home. If I had the time, I would have loved to do a death star cake. I saw this really amazing one online and read that it took 25 man hours to do. No way! I ended up choosing the simplest and coolest one out there I could find. An abstract Chewbacca cake. I made a three layer 10 inch chocolate cake with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream using about 1 1/2 times the recipe. It was fine but it didn't WOW anyone, especially me. I added more detail to it than the one that inspired me so it looked quite different. It would have looked better if I had used thicker fondant though. It didn't have that 3D effect because I was so frugal on the fondant. I actually ran out of fondant half way through and had to color more. I knew it would happen part way through so my fondant got thinner and thinner. LOL. Then I almost ran out a second time so I really had to stretch it out. I made it work but I had to optimize the coverage like crazy. Personally, I like using thin fondant because I find fondant to be too sweet. However, for this cake design, I think it really could have benefited from thicker fondant. The 3D effect was one of the things that attracted me to the cake design in the first place. Bakers take note!


I actually doubled the chocolate cake recipe so that I could use the leftover filling for cupcakes. As a result, I was able to bake the big 10 in cake and make 24 cupcakes. I decorated the cupcakes with Storm Trooper fondant cut outs and candy melted R2D2s. I made the fondant a couple days in advance and got my husband to roll and cut out Storm Troopers the night before. I used white chocolate chips and blue candy melts to make the R2D2s. I filled them with Trader Joe's Os so that they wouldn't be that sweet. These also became part of the favors that went into the kids loot bags. It took me days to make all the R2D2s since I only had one mold. Grrrr.



Other things I made for the dessert table were pretzel light sabers, Darth Vader Oreos, and lemon sugar cookies colored and cut out as Yoda. The Oreos were also included in the loot bag. I loved how all these turned out. I got my husband and brother to melt and color the pretzels for me. I was totally running out of time! The Oreos were baked the day before and I filled them with icing the day of the party. We actually had them in Oreo form for many days and they were never soggy or anything. I love how Darth Vader and Yoda cookies are so easy to make and do not require any icing to decorate :) I was going for easy and it was perfect. Between the desserts and food served at the party, I was able to cover many of the different characters in the movie.

Yoda lemon sugar cookies.

Blue and red light saber pretzels.

Darth Vader Oreos.


Chocolate Chewbacca cake.

In addition to the cake, I also made Chewbacca loot bags. I bought extra large brown kraft paper bags and aluminum foil tape from Daiso and made the simple bags. I saved these black cardboard pieces from when we bought our Nespresso machine for a future craft and they were perfect for the project! Who knew I would be using them to create Chewbacca loot bags for a Star Wars party one day? I only had to make 9 bags and it didn't take long at all.





Contents of the loot bag. Plus Star Wars fruit snacks I threw in later.

We had great ideas for the loot bags. We purchased brand new old edition Star Wars comics for each of our guests. We also had booklets containing 275 stickers from the new Star Wars movie coming out. We had tattoos from the previous Star Wars movies, the homemade Darth Vader Oreos and R2D2 chocolates. I also threw in Star Wars fruit snacks I bought from the stores. I bought paper masks for the kids to wear and take pictures with during the party and they were welcome to take those home as well. We also planned on giving them the balloon light sabers we made for the games but none of them survived the party. Our group of 6 and 7 year old boys had fun popping them all! Again, who knew?

GAMES AND ENTERTAINMENT

The games at the party were a bit of a flop. I put my husband in charge of it because I didn't have the time to deal with it. We're both to blame. He's not experienced in dealing with these sorts of things and I should have been involved more. I gave him plenty of ideas and helped him out when I could but during the party he was on his own. Unfortunately, he was not able to command our group of boys and things got out of control. At one point, he was looking for me and kept calling me and said that the boys were out of control and that he needed help. I was upstairs breastfeeding our daughter. Ugh.

R2D2 assembly station.


I can't really talk too much about the games and activities that took place since I didn't do them myself. When the kids arrived, my husband had an activity for them to build a R2D2 unit. He spent over 2 hours devising this R2D2 craft for kids and no one was interested in doing it. I felt bad for him. It was too structured and the boys just wanted to whack each other with balloon light sabers. It was a cool idea but it was a last minute idea and I did warn him that we didn't have much time and we needed to just do things we had supplies for. The R2D2 pieces weren't even in the correct colors. He tore open my Halloween construction paper and used that. Had I known, I wouldn't have let him and I would have gave him something else. Plus, I told him we didn't have enough glue sticks for everyone. He thought about using tape and then wanted to drive to Target the morning of the party to buy glue sticks. I am so glad I didn't let him! I mean it was nice he took initiative and worked so hard on the activity. Too bad it didn't work out:(

In fact, we actually already had an activity for the kids to do when they arrived. I had printed out many Star Wars paper crafts for them to cut and clue into 3D characters. This was printed in color the weekend before. Last year, we had coloring pages for those that arrived early, this year I thought we could do this. What they didn't do, they could take home to do later. I thought my husband's R2D2 craft was somehow a game we could play for a prize. There was a misunderstanding there.


One great thing about the games and activities were the light sabers! When I was crafting my loot bags, my husband was building handles for the balloon light sabers. The aluminum foil tape and black duct tape I got from Daiso were perfect for this. We had leftover round label stickers from when we had our garage sale years ago so we used that as buttons. We took as many shortcuts as we could and I think the balloon light sabers turned out fantastic! Good job hubby :)

We had a light saber game where each kid was blindfolded and they had to use the force to see if they could whack the balloon that was floating in the air. We had a bunch of helium balloons strapped to a larger one and that was moved around. The kids had fun with this game. The prize was a Star Wars pantry pack consisting of Star Wars cereal, Star War fruit snacks, and Star Wars Kraft macaroni and cheese.


The second game also involved light sabers. My initial idea was to give each person a balloon and light saber and see who could keep their balloon in the air the longest. The game that was played was with one balloon and each kid had to take turns. I guess we ran out of balloons but this game was way too easy.

In the third game, each kid had to shoot at the death star using a nerf gun. My husband used the cardboard we saved from a Lego game last year and cut two holes into them. He decorated it with a bunch of cutouts to resemble the death star. I think. And judging by the colors, it was probably that Halloween construction paper pack again. This was fun when the family tried it but during the party, my husband said only two of the kids tried it out. I think he just has trouble commanding children.

In addition to the games and crafts, we also had the kids watch a Lego Star Wars show while we prepared their lunch. I popped fresh popcorn for them to enjoy while they watched :) My husband also had the kids play video games. Apparently, this happened throughout the party. Again, they had to take turns but they didn't all want to play. He even printed out certificates to give to the kids for three different video games. Ok. There was way too much stuff planned for them to do. Too many choices and no time. I really should have helped him out more. Oops.

So the games were a flop but the food was a hit. The kids all ate but we made so much food! Nothing new there though. Regardless of the disorganized activities, all the kids (as far as I know) loved the party and had a great time! It doesn't take much to please little children. Many lessons learned.
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