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.


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Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Chocolate Cake
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

adapted from

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.


Tomatoes with Blue Cheese Dressing


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:

– mustard

– ketchup

– bbq sauce

– pepper jack cheese

– salsa verde

– sharp cheddar spread

– cream cheese

– Mama Lil’s Pickled peppers

– fresh, diced onion

– arugula

– relish

– peanut butter


Other items I should have included:

– crisped bacon

– caramelized onions

– saurkraut

– kimchi

– whipped cream (just kidding, that’s gross – or is it?)



Red/White Striped Tablecloth Roll 

Cupcake liners, popcorn bags, straws and hot dog wrappers – Party Delights (Etsy)

Face Paint Sticks

Balloons, Animal Masks, Clown Noses – Display & Costume

Hats – We made them by roughly following this tutorial.

Cake inspiration 



42 Responses to “Her Carnival Birthday”

  1. MG Atwood

    The party looked grand. Sweet Ashley, had you rented a big top, then you might have been over the top! So glad you showed restraint. What a fun day to celebrate the Rodriguez princess. Lovely lovely.

  2. Shaina

    We all deserve a little pampering every now and then. Happy birthday to that sweet girl. While we are all imperfect, I like to believe that it is those imperfections that mold and shape us and make us unique, imprint themselves in our character and make grooves and ridges that are then filled with love and joy and laughter.

  3. Judy Sharp

    HOW awesome!! Thanks for sharing this – your ids are really blessed to have you for a mom!!:)

  4. Giulia

    Amazingly beautiful. And I adore the cake and all the little sweet faces. I love to throw kids birthday parties — you are allowed to be a little over top for only so long.

  5. la domestique

    The party looks wonderful but my favorite part of this post is the photos of your kids. They are all adorable and I think it’s great to lavish some love on excessively every once and a while.

  6. Margherita

    She looks like the most happy kid on the planet. She will remember her fantastic birthday party for the rest of her life and that it’s just amazing!


    we should all be so spoiled Ashley; you are a good mama, a thoughtful mama, a mama who loves her children – there simply isn’t a better gift.

    i am so, so happy we met this summer – i hope we have the opportunity to spend time together again soon. xo

  8. sara

    what a special day! I see so many details and pieces of you in these photos – so much joy and spoiling. Thanks for sharing this, always love peeks into your life, and how dearly you love your kids. I love the point you made about not being able to be perfect…something we have to tell ourselves daily. beautiful job, ashley.

  9. Calantha

    “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.” My heart nearly burst when I read that line.

    Your daughter’s birthday was more extravagant than my mother’s recent wedding, and I think that’s how it should be. Children have a way of appreciating extravagance through their sheer innocent and carefree enjoyment of such magical events. It is so wonderful that you have made her special day even more whimsical for her. I’m sure the pictures of her joyous face alone are worth every moment of preparation.

  10. Michele

    I pinned this is was sooo cute! I thought it was beautiful and simple! Thanks for the great photos and congratulations to your adorable little Ivy.

  11. Laura Dembowski

    That looks like the best birthday party ever! No one is perfect and we all disappoint each other, but what we do in between the disappointments is hopefully what will be remembered. That party is certainly something to be remembered!

  12. Quiddy

    I don’t think whipped cream would be gross with hot dogs. As a little girl, when having dinner at the cafeteria, I would save some fries to eat with the whipped cream from my ice cream cup. It’s been years I haven’t tried but my mouth is just watering at the thought.
    Nowadays, plenty of cookbooks are about flavored whipped cream and some are savory, to eat on its own or to top a starter or main course dish.

  13. Erin

    What a gorgeous party!
    Also-I’ve had peanut butter on a hamburger before (and it was quite good), but I’m not so sure about on a hot dog! 😉

  14. Megan Ziesing (larama)

    Good job Ashley! I too love to go completely crazy with my kid’s bdays! Its the one time I can really let the creativity and love fly. I especially love your hot dog wrappers! Try a ladies tea with goodies, punch and a tub of dressup and accessories. I did this for my daughters 10th bday and it was a huge hit! Good luck on anything you do. I know you guys have a great little family!

  15. molly

    a huge, bear-hug of a happy birthday to your sweet girl. (is it just me, or was she not even BORN yesterday?!)

    the nectarines with lemon are brilliant.

    and i dare say, it’s a party to remember.

    happy almost-fall, ashley. it looks to be a good year.


  16. Suzanne Perazzini

    I would love to have been present at that party. No, we can’t be everything to our children and we will make mistakes but parties like this will stay in their memories forever even if it is only a feeling they have when they think of parties and their mother.

  17. Amy

    Well, a girl only gets one birthday a year, so it may as well be celebrated in style!
    I am not a mother (one day though), however, I am a daughter. My Mum and I have had a roller-coaster relationship at times and we have inflicted unintentional hurt on each other in countless ways over the years. Despite all of that, she is my fiercest supporter, and I am her biggest cheerleader. The love, the bond, and the gift between a mother and child is stronger than the little splinters that we mere-humans inflict on each other in our lives. Those small scratches disappear beneath a deep coating of love and a lifetime of support.

  18. amanda

    another simply lovely post. I too just watched “happy” recently and felt your sentiment completely. I found it important to also remember I am, in all likelihood, just as “happy” as those featured, as happiness is not a 24.7 disposition, or one that doesn’t allow for downtime or getting upset. Rather, it’s simply finding joy in what you have. And that joy is contagious (this blog post case in point)!

  19. Miss Stovetop

    She’s two already????? How these little girls grow! Wasn’t it just last week when she was eating cake straight out of the highchair table? Oh wait, that was me checking out those adorable pictures like I do every other month.

    Happy, happy birthday, little Ivy 🙂

  20. Explodyfull

    Fairy floss, lemonade stands and face painting! Sounds like the best party ever! Reminds me of pool parties for my birthday when I was young. Nothing as extravagant but it was still fun. I remember passing around a water balloon loaded in a thing with a pin and a timer in it. It was scary!


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