Despite snow coming on the heels of summer and dead cherry blossoms, it's really spring now and our family celebrates with March birthday suppers. Below, my mom's dining room -
Shared birthday celebration for my mom, sister and uncle
Make your own salad bar with salmon and all the fixings
Girls night out with mom and sister - dinner at Pearl Dive followed by a play at the Studio Theater
tea parties with my boys
We love our tea. My six-year old's favorite is a red velvet cupcake herbal blend. I take my tea with milk and sugar and my boys follow suit.
tablescapes with kids
Above - poached eggs on top of spinach and gouda on my favorite Seedtastic bread. Legos permeate my entire existence. Despite half a dozen bins and storage areas, they are in every room, on the table, in my purse, pockets and office at work.
Fast weeknight dinner
throwing things together
I love when random leftovers from different days create a great lunch. Above - roasted sweet potatoes and eggplant and cedar plank salmon made a great salad with fig balsamic vinaigrette.
I invited my cousin over for dinner and a long catch-up chat. I ran to Safeway and picked up 75% marked down shrimp and 50% marked down peach pie and fruit tart. It became the spread below - an easy shrimp scampi, sauteed kale and chard, steamed green beans and desserts as the centerpiece.
picnic with grandma
My boys are enamored with the Force.
Last Halloween they were Luke and BB8.
star wars movie night
A few months ago we had our first movie night and of course my son chose Episode IV.
Taquitos and fixings, popcorn and treats
Costumes and fun drinks --
star wars birthday party
We threw the party at the rec center with a nice big play area.
I am pretty proud of the Pin the Tail on Yoda that my husband made.
They really couldn't hurt themselves with foam light sabers, right? I closed my eyes and hoped for the best..and they had a blast.
One Jedi training activity was to keep the balloon in the air with the light saber.
May the force be with you, checks on autocracy.
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Goodbye, 2016. It's been both so joyful, and surreal and difficult. But to focus on the joyful - we started the year off with my son's fifth birthday.
I tried this Food52 recipe for homemade funfetti cake and it is one of my all time favorites.
Instead of buttercream, I whipped up a cream cheese frosting. Perfect birthday cake.
The toddler and I both have summertime birthdays.
My five-year old made me a "robotic turtle" for my birthday, pictured above. The baby (via my husband) gave me smoky scotch.
Treats from the bakery and tall, festive candles...
We were traveling in Portland during my son's birthday and our cousin kindly hosted his birthday celebration.
Chocolate cupcakes and Star Wars...
The boys at Cannon Beach in Oregon -
We ended the year with my husband's birthday, multiple celebrations and our favorite tall candles atop key lime pie.
On to 2017...
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I was inadvertently obnoxious and booked my wedding ceremony and reception the day after my best friend's birthday. I got married a few weeks after the bar exam and had this narrow window constrained by the bar, starting a new job, my husband starting a new semester and cramming in a honeymoon. So there was basically one weekend in August 2006 that I could get married. Our rehearsal dinner fell on my friend's birthday and she was a good sport about it. In the aftermath of all this, I often miss her birthday proper (though we ALWAYS celebrate it at some point) because we are traveling during our anniversary.
But this past August, something happened. The week after our ten year anniversary, I got to be maid of honor in my best friend's wedding. August was even busier, crazier and more joyful than usual.
So here we'll have some gratuitous nostalgia, a few behind the scenes shots of her beautiful river wedding and some thoughts on wedding logistics.
(* Note the matching necklaces in the picture above.*)
ten years, man
2006, St. Patrick's Cathedral, downtown DC.
1999, Sophomore year of college, hung over but enjoying a sailing picnic, Annapolis
2002 Polaroid complete with drink imprint, senior year dorm hall
2006, honeymoon in Italy
2008, First baby
Meet Alyosha the beagle puppy, at 1/5 of his final size. He is now 56 in dog years.
Then comes this guy, one week old in 2011
And fast forward five and a half years --
Happy anniversary to us!
A maid of honor speech and best friends dancing at a wedding.
a huge, unwieldy, gorgeous river wedding
I stole the bride away in the midst of the set-up madness, just us. It was a perfect hour we'll always remember.
on wedding planning, random thoughts
1. If it seems like it's going to be a logistical headache, it probably is but most things will come together in the end, in the nick of time. It'll be beautiful.
2. Get the bride to prioritize the to-do lists. The Pinterest icing-on-the-cake stuff should be done beforehand.
3. Figure out who the coordinators and go-to people are and share Google docs with them with the to-do lists and the time line.
4. Eat and make sure the bride eats at some point before the ceremony.
5. Don't forget your comfortable shoes!
On the way to the rehearsal dinner...
making the bouquets
The two ladies flanking the bridal bouquet were pretty damn amazing. Here is what I learned watching them:
1. Floral tape is amazing. I never realized it's how you make the flowers stand up nice and tall and get flowers like sunflowers not to droop.
2. Start with the focal point flowers and then fill in. Pick out the best flowers. Peel away the outer layer of the roses.
3. If you use tall, wild looking flowers, you align them so they are several inches taller than the other flowers and then cut them down to desired size.
4. You use the tape again, in stages, as your bouquet takes shape.
5. Store bouquets in the fridge in warm water.
So, this pic does not do the reception site justice at all but it's all I have. Imagine that you have the mountain view on one side and the river on the other.
Little wedding guests having a ball..
The reception festivities included direct river access. Amazing. There is my little guy on a raft.
Bride and groom on a canoe!
Love, and congratulations!
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My dear friend is getting married! We hosted a bridal shower brunch for her a few weeks ago.
She is considering sunflowers for her wedding flowers and my mom did some mock-up arrangements for her.
Here are the invitations I made.
I've learned that setting up the party space the night before, including placing the serving dishes on the table, helps keep you efficient and organized.
One of our standby party dishes is roasted vegetable tarts. Roast vegetables at 400 with olive oil, s&p and a dash of cumin. Mix equal parts ricotta and feta and bake at 400. Top tarts with veggies and drizzle with a bit of balsamic.
I based the brunch menu on what was cheap and plentiful at the market -- zucchini, berries, tomatoes, spinach.
I used this recipe for chocolate zucchini bread and it was a hit.
We get Cavit Lunetta Prosecco from Costco for less than $10 a bottle. It is a smooth, solid prosecco and pairs well with pear and peach nectar.
Peonies, I want to eat you.
I collected images from my friend's dad, brothers and another bridesmaid and put a slideshow together. IMovie on my ancient, 10-year old Mac worked just fine. The chronology was baby pictures followed by family, friends, parents' wedding and then photos of the bride and groom.
White bean salad that I posted about here makes another appearance.
And thanks, love, for taking the boys and the beagle out all day!
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We threw a celebratory engagement dinner for an old, dear friend. I made a Thanksgiving menu and loved preparing the meal for just us. We usually have 30-50 people for the kids' bashes so preparing a small spread let me focus on all the dishes and really enjoy the process of cooking for the party.
Here is the menu:
Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter Rub
Winter Squash Stuffed with Cornbread, Leeks, Bacon, Apple and Greens
Roasted Sweet Potato with Honey and Cinnamon
Notice the pomegranates in the corner. I love putting pomegranates out with the cheese and appetizers. They are like edible accent art.
set the table: how to recast traditional china
So this is the wedding china I registered for ten years ago. It is Wedgwood Oberon.
I wanted to incorporate the china into a modern party tablescape that was cohesive in an interesting way. That morning I went to the thrift store. I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for but knew it when I saw it. I picked up these high quality black framed plates, a pair of asymmetrical fluted serving plates and the vases for less than $20 (see below.) Once I had those items, I could kinda see the table I wanted to set in my mind. Next I ducked into TJ Maxx and picked up a striped gray table runner and metallic woven placements.
And here is the result:
The traditional chinoiserie pattern in the salad plates is framed in by the dark black border of the simple dinner plates. The stripes and metallic gray continue the framing and add modern color and texture. The asymmetrical fluted serving dishes, with their clean curves, bridge the aesthetic gap between the curlicue patterns in the china and the linear pattern of the tablerunner.
Fruits and vegetables looking festive
My four year old loved his job of preparing the herbs for the herb butter for the turkey.
I love making cranberry sauce. There are more complicated ways to do it but I just dissolve 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of fresh orange juice and then add one bag of cranberries.
The cranberries pop while you cook them. It's so easy to prepare, tastes so much better than canned sauce and preparation does not compete for any oven cooking time.
In lieu of stuffing, I made acorn squash stuffed with cornbread, leeks, apple, bacon and spinach. The recipe came from The Homemade Kitchen, a beautiful and trustworthy cookbook that was just published.
I adapt this recipe for roasting a turkey with an herb butter rub underneath the skin. With four Thanksgiving turkeys under my belt, I still have to re-learn the details of the preparation technique every time. But I am at finally at the point where I have a technique that I trust. To get a moist and delicious turkey:
Congratulations, dear friend!
And for dessert we had chocolate and fruit tarts, pomegranates, cheese and Turkish delight. (The Turkish delight was an impulse item added to the cart while I was waiting in line at the store. The four year old and I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe earlier this year and my son was intrigued about what on earth Turkish delight was.)
The baby recently turned one and we had a big birthday bash at Riverbend Park in Great Falls. Riverbend is adjacent to Great Falls National Park. We even suggested that our guests try out this beautiful hike looping from Riverbend to Great Falls and back. It is gorgeous along the water and you can rent or bring your own kayak.
We reserved the covered picnic shelter that is off to the side and it provides a great semi-private setting with easy access to the river, trails and importantly - the bathrooms!
We grilled hotdogs and veggie burgers and set out a hot dog bar. The sides included macaroni and cheese, quinoa, green beans and various salads. We ordered the sides from Wegmans Catering and it was easy-peasy.
I highly recommend the King Nature's Market Salad. It is so perfectly composed with field greens, broccoli, feta, olives cabbage, edamame, mixed nuts, amazing seasoned tofu and curry yogurt dressing.
Here is our hot dog bar
It was a lot of fun coming up with the toppings to allow for so many different combinations.
And stepping back - here is the party set-up.
And walk down a little ways towards the water to the Visitors Center and you will find real bathrooms with running water! (This photo is from a few months ago during another afternoon at Riverbend Park. Here we are sitting on the Visitor Center patio).
I had this elaborate vision for the presentation of my s'mores bar complete with a tiered display and the chocolate (sea salt caramel, raspberry, peanut butter) artfully arranged. What ended up happening though was me throwing everything on the table ten minutes after the party started. Oh well, it was still delicious.
Happy birthday, dear baby!
throwing a party at a fairfax county park
1. Oh my goodness, do not forget the lighter fluid on your kitchen counter.
2. You can't book a Fairfax County picnic area online, you have to fill out the form and fax or email it.
3. No alcohol is allowed at Fairfax County outdoor picnic areas. (In case you were wondering, it's a class IV misdemeanor...)
4. What is your rain plan?
5. To-bring list:
-lighter fluid, charcoal and your grill gear
-stepladder (to put up the streamers)
-thumbtacks (to put up the streamers)
-bug spray and sunblock for your guests
-broom (might need to sweep the area)
-battery powered speakers or boombox
-emergency toiletries for guests like toilet paper, baby wipes and anti-bac
My little boys love their aunt Ana. She lives in New York City but like clockwork, she is here to visit for every big event and appears at my side when things like pregnancy bedrest happen. She also plays sous chef and decorator for all the boys' parties. She does things like lovingly make tarts and oversee the birdhouse painting at our woodland creatures party, or string dozens of lanterns and help with all the prep for our tapas and sangria baptism bash.
We made grilled lamb chops, using this recipe.
Aunt Ana is moving across the country and we threw her a farewell party.
The matching outfits were 100% unplanned.
Look how beautiful. I had actually been planning to make something else but when shopping that morning, I noticed that the grocery store had several packages of french cut lamb chops in the Manager's Special section for 50% off. So that was that.
We also had grilled mushrooms and cranberry cilantro quinoa.
The little boy helped to make the cake. (I learned that he has this precise and painstaking way of cracking eggs using his thumbs every so gently.)
And we made this lemon blueberry cake.
So we've thrown lots of parties and this is what we think makes a good one:
1. there is good food
2. guests are comfortable, and
3. that you have fun too.
So those are the essential things but you have to break them down into a to-do list:
1. there is good food
The menu is interesting (but manageable) and the food stays warm.
2. guests are comfy
There are adequate spots for guests to sit and/or hang out and chat, and they are not getting bit by mosquitoes. Also, guests should be able to get food and drink when they want it and how to do so should be intuitive. Lastly, your little guests should be comfy and happy too and should have something to occupy them.
3. you have fun too
You can relax and enjoy the party when you're not stressing out. So take care of the things that would stress you out: get the house in order; think through the details (plan, mentally diagram and do stuff ahead of time); make sure the food situation is under control; and have a game plan if it rains on this giant outdoor party .
menu is interesting but manageable
How do you feed a giant crowd of 30-40+ people?
I generally pick a theme and cook a few things the morning of the party and combine it with make-ahead dishes and catered dishes from a restaurant. With regard to catering, don't just go to restaurants that have a set catering menu. If you find some hole-in-the-wall place that you really like, I bet they would make a bulk to-go order of your favorite dish to take away.
sample menu: superhero fiesta
Burito Bowls, see picture below (made the night before )
Cuban Ropa Vieja Shredded beef (crock pot, overnight)
Pork Carnitas (crock pot, overnight)
Spinach Enchiladas (catered)
Cheese Quesadilla (catered)
Mexican Rice, Pinto Beans & Guacamole (catered)
Quinoa and Black Beans (made the morning of)
Southwestern Chopped Salad with cilantro lime dressing (dressing made 2 days before)
Homemade Caesar Salad (dressing made 2 days before)
Sopapilla Cheesecake (made day before)
Tres Leches Birthday Cake (from bakery)
Fruit Salad with Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips (fruit sliced the night before)
BUT this is summertime so hopefully the menu will be easier. Cookouts and kids running around outside -- what could be easier and more fun?
and this is how you keep the food warm
I really suggest that you invest in electric chafing dishes. For the superhero menu, this is how we kept the ropa vieja and the carnitas warm. We bought this electric chafing dish three years ago and have used it for every single party we have thrown. We also bought this standard chafing dish (see right, in the back) and are really pleased with it. It was almost the same price to buy this chafing dish as it would be to rent one from the rental company.
guests are comfy
You need enough chairs both inside and out. I bought 15 folding chairs from Ikea a few years ago and bring them out for every party. Little corners like this are nice too. I've also found that renting tables and chairs is actually very reasonable. The bigger cost is the delivery fee (often around $100). My plan will be to rent tables and chairs when I need to but to borrow a friend's truck for pickup and drop off of the rentals.
make it intuitive - how do guests get food and drink
When you set up your food tables, try to avoid bottlenecks. Arrange the tables so that there can be two lanes of traffic on either side. Also consider setting out different food stations around the party so there aren't backups. Some people will just want to nibble, others will want a full meal and there will be all this eating going on at different times.
what if it rains?
We're a pair of lawyers (me, looking for a creative outlet and my husband, who likes working with his hands) with two little boys, a beagle and an old house with an unruly yard. We blog about our projects, food, and travel.
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