It may have been excessive. Perhaps a bit over the top, but that was sort of what I was going for.
Billowy balloons marked the entrance. Our guests, young and not so young, were greeted by our Lemonade stand offering a variety of cold beverages that refreshed on one of those perfect, late summer afternoons. Through the gate streamers flapped wildly in the warm wind overhead. In the center of it all was a table slathered with red and white striped tablecloth that held a myriad of kid’s dreams.
Still warm cotton candy was served on one side and popcorn on the other. In between it all were jars of jelly beans, ring pops, licorice rope and more. A gumball machine sat proudly upfront with a jar a pennies nestled up close so one would never have to dig through their own pockets.
During the rare moment that a child left that table they found their way towards the face painting area or the designated water gun zone. My sister-in-law provided balloon animals and we all proudly donned pointed party hats and red clown noses.
When the time came to eat something other than candy we headed upstairs. The white and orange striped cake sat in the middle of the long table. Chocolate cupcakes with an abundance of vanilla scented and lightly salted frosting sat next to the cake.
The food could not have been more simple. I supplied buns tucked inside vintage aluminum wrappers, and warm dogs. The guests were given a wide variety of toppings to create the hot dog of their dreams. Conversation buzzed around the table. Each asking for the advice of the other trying to take this opportunity to create the most perfect recipe. There was cream cheese, sharp cheddar spread, pickled peppers, salsa verde, fresh onions, peanut butter (apparently it was quite good), pepper jack cheese, fresh arugula, and of course – ketchup, mustard, relish and mayonnaise. I went with my favorite combination of cream cheese, mustard, pickled peppers, fresh onions and arugula.
On the side there was platter of heirloom tomatoes with blue cheese dressing and nectarines topped with fresh basil, lemon zest, lemon juice and a drizzle of fruity olive oil.
We ate and enjoyed the excitement of the kids buzzing around us. My little birthday girl flitted around in her tutu dress and little painted whiskers on her cheek. Her joy was infectious.
It was a special day filled with more sugar than we see in a year, people we love most in the world, brightly colored signs, and towering cakes. In it all I wanted Ivy and all who were there to feel excessively loved and spoiled.
We’ve since returned back to our normal (with a few pieces of leftover party candy thrown in). A few wilted balloons still hang outside and evidence of the red and white cloth can be found in various corners of the house. I’m not quite ready for it to be over. In the midst of wanting to love on my daughter and my dear family and friends, I was the one who walked away feeling spoiled.
I’ve been reminded lately, quite painfully, that I am an imperfect person who can not be everything to my children. I have and will let them down. I’m sure I have and will inadvertently hurt them. I can not fulfill their every needs. But being their everything is not my job description.
Which is why I cling to those moments where I can bring them great joy and reflect a Love that is so much greater than my own. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading a book, making an odd shaped lego airplane with them or inviting them into the kitchen to help bake a pie. Or sometimes it’s throwing them a party that in my own way tells them they are loved, excessively.
Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
from Gourmet 2010
This is an incredibly simple and delicious chocolate cake. I put a layer of warmed raspberry jam in between the layers as well as the Vanilla Bean Buttercream.
I always find that cakes taste better on the second day, particularly chocolate cake. The time allows for the flavors to mingle and the texture to soften a bit.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature 30 minutes
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
Pre-heat your overn to 350*
Butter and line a 9×2” pan (or 2 6” rounds) with parchment on the bottom. Butter the parchment as well.
In a bowl whisk together the dry ingredients.
Cream the softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffly in a stand mixer or by hand. Add the eggs one at a time combining well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.
Alternate the addition of milk and dry ingredients in three additions. Finish mixing by hand to ensure everything is well combined.
Bake at 350*F for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling on a wire wrack.
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
2 1/2 cups sugar
10 large egg whites
4 cups (8 sticks or 2 pounds) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
¼ – ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place bowl over a simmering pot of water or, if you are brave you can carefully place the bowl directly on a medium-low gas flame. If you go that route just be sure to constantly whisk the eggs and move the bowl so as not to cook the whites.
Using a whisk beat the whites and sugar until the mixture is hot and feels perfectly smooth as the sugar will have dissolved.
Immediately move the bowl to the mixer and begin mixing on medium high. Add the vanilla bean and whip for 10 minutes until the meringue is cool and fluffy.
At this point add the butter about a tablespoon at a time, until all the butter has been incorporated.
There’s a magical point where the buttercream just pulls together. Before that point you may panic and think you have a curdled mess. Don’t give up hope. Just keep mixing and it will come together. Add the salt and taste and adjust as you please. The salt cuts the sweetness nicely but you don’t want so much that it tastes salty. The salt will continue to dissolve as the frosting sits so taste just before frosting the cake or cupcakes and add more at that point if you think it needs it.
Store at room temperature for no longer than a day. Can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for a month. Set out a room temperature for several hours. Re-whip if the buttercream has separated.
Nectarines with Basil and Lemon
Really nothing needs to be done to a perfectly ripe nectarine or peach but if you’re in the mood to add a bit more interest I highly recommend these few ingredients. And it really is more a list of ingredients rather than a recipe as I sort of created in on a whim and failed to measure what I was doing.
4 – 5 ripe nectarines or peaches
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil (I threw a bit of Tarragon in there as well as I had an abundance of both in my garden).
Arrange the peaches or nectarines on a platter and top with the remaining ingredients.
Hot Dog Bar
Supply plenty of hot dogs and buns then let your creativity fly. In little dishes near the dogs I arranged:
- bbq sauce
- pepper jack cheese
- salsa verde
- sharp cheddar spread
- cream cheese
- Mama Lil’s Pickled peppers
- fresh, diced onion
- peanut butter
Other items I should have included:
- crisped bacon
- caramelized onions
- whipped cream (just kidding, that’s gross – or is it?)
Cupcake liners, popcorn bags, straws and hot dog wrappers - Party Delights (Etsy)
Balloons, Animal Masks, Clown Noses - Display & Costume
Hats – We made them by roughly following this tutorial.