Rachael’s Frozen birthday party: Doing what frozen things do in summer

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We decided on a Frozen theme for Rachael’s birthday party this year because we knew no one else would be throwing a Frozen party and themed party supplies would be readily available and not marked up.

But seriously, we knew we wanted to have her party at our local community center/pool. It is inexpensive, as venues around here go, (did I just refer to it as a venue? Wow; that’s obnoxious) it had plenty of room, and Rachael adores swimming. The angle was along the lines of Olaf wanting to do what frozen things do in summer.
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You’re Invited!
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I couldn’t buy the ready-made invitations where you just fill in the blanks. First of all, that would be too easy and not cause anyone angst or heartburn. Secondly, none of the invitations out there fit with the theme. All of them had either Anna or Elsa or just Elsa posing like the menacing snow sorceress she is. Oh, and there were the invitations which included Hans, standing all happy with the group. My reaction was, Um, have you seen the movie?

My approach to the invitations was to include the colors associated with both sisters. The blue, textured paper and the fuchsia ribbon are similar to the colors of Anna’s winter outfit. The snowflakes, of course, are linked to Elsa. I used a snowflake punch to create the three light blue snowflakes. I added a jeweled snowflake on top to create some dimension and sparkle to the snowflakes. And, of course, Olaf had to be included on the invitation.

Make with the cupcakes, lady.
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We all know what kids look forward to the most at any birthday party: the cake. I decided to go with cupcakes for the sake of simplicity. I had no desire to pretend that I have the skill with fondant that others have or pay for and post on Pinterest. It’s also easier to make enough to accommodate a large group of people.
Rachael had specifically requested chocolate cupcakes. I also wanted to have vanilla for those who don’t like chocolate. I decided to use the chocolate cake recipe from Martha Stewart that I used for Rachael’s 2nd birthday. Besides being one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve had, it’s so easy! It’s a one bowl recipe; mix the dry ingredients together, then dump in the wet ingredients and mix until combined. No creaming butter with sugar. No adding the flour and milk alternately in three additions.
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For the vanilla cupcakes, I used Old Faithful. Rachael requested that they be blue. I did a trial, layering different shades of blue. I wasn’t entirely a fan of the look, so I decided to just stick with one shade of blue.
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This is why we do trial runs, kids.

I felt like the final products turned out delicious and beautiful. Everyone seemed to agree.

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Vanilla buttercream and Sixlets

I also made some fondant snowflakes to garnish some of the cupcakes. The kids really loved them. One of the girls asked me, before we had pizza, if she could have one with the snowflake. The great thing about them is that they look so complicated, but they couldn’t be easier.
I purchased a set of four stamps from my local candy store, Fran’s Cake and Candy. This is the set I used. I simply rolled out white fondant to no more than 1/4 inch thick on a surface dusted with cornstarch. (You can also use powdered sugar. I’ve found that cornstarch gives a better non-stick result.) Dust stamps with cornstarch as well. Press down the spring-loaded button, hard, to stamp. While pressing the button, push the cutter portion into the fondant and wiggle it until the shape comes free. If the fondant remains inside the stamp, pressing the stamp button will release the shape. Allow shapes to air dry and harden.
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I wanted to add a little sparkle, so I used edible glitter spray. Make sure that when you use the spray, you cover the area around where you’re spraying. It does wipe off of surfaces easily, but it will fly everywhere.
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I wanna stuff some chocolate in my faaaaaace!
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Putting labels on everything seems to be a thing. I don’t mind it if it’s a sign card so people known what a particular food is but, otherwise, it just kind of annoys me. (The trends this year was to label carrots as Olaf’s Noses and bottled water as Melted Snow.) There is one bandwagon I jumped on, however, because it’s right in the movie. We needed chocolate truffles, and they had to be labeled!

Strawberry Cheesecake Truffles
The first set of truffles I made were Strawberry Cheesecake truffles. I did make one modification. I was disappointed by the lack of strawberry flavor in the original recipe. It just got lost in the cream cheese. So I added an additional 1 tablespoon of minced strawberries, and that did it. The sweet tang of strawberries burst through the richness of the cream cheese. The graham cracker crumbs added a nice, sandy texture.
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Lemon Chiffon Truffles
The next set of truffles could not be simpler, and they sound lovely and fancy enough for a royal ball.
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These truffles are creamy, yet light and refreshing because of the lemon zest. One recipe does not make very many, so I doubled it on the next go round. I found that the zest of one large lemon is still sufficient for a double batch.

Cookie Dough Truffles
Everyone loves cookie dough. I love the crunch of sugar mingling with the sweet dough and slightly bitter burst of the chocolate chips. I love it even more when I’m not risking salmonella poisoning from raw eggs. In place of eggs as a binder, this cookie dough truffle recipe uses sweetened condensed milk.
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If any of these truffles begin to soften while coating them in chocolate, stick the tray back into the freezer for several minutes. You can maximize your dipping time by waiting to pull your truffle filling out after your chocolate has melted and you’re ready to dip. Also, while you can melt your chocolate in the microwave, I found that using a double boiler helps to maintain melted chocolate. To dip, simply place the truffle filling into the melted chocolate. Use a fork or spoon to roll the filling around for even coverage. Retrieve the filling with a fork, and tap the fork against the side of the bowl or pan to remove excess chocolate. (I found that tilting the fork back and jiggling the truffle to around the center of the tines works best for maximizing the removal of excess chocolate while maintaining a stable surface on which the truffle sits while you tap the fork.) Using the blunt side of a knife, carefully slide the truffle onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Try to place the knife slightly under the truffle to slide it off. If a large amount of chocolate pools underneath the truffle, called a foot, then you have not removed enough excess chocolate. Don’t worry, though. You may gently snap off the extra chocolate once it has set. If you wish to add any decoration or pipe any chocolate onto the truffle, do so before setting the truffles in the refrigerator. Once the truffles have set in the fridge, you may store them in an air-tight container in the fridge or you may place them in a freezer safe bag and gently lay them in the freezer. I was relieved to find that these truffles could be kept frozen until ready to serve, so I could make them well in advance of the party.

A bit of a fixer-upper
The room we used for cake and pizza was the room in which Rachael had her gymnastics class, so I needed a simple way to bring in the Frozen theme that wasn’t just a plastic Frozen tablecloth and blue cupcakes. Clearly, recreating Elsa’s ice palace was out of the question, (although, given the time and resources, you bet your ass I’d have tried it.) The food table was going to be the best way to achieve bringing in Frozen elements in such a large room.

The Fountain
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I knew I wanted to recreate the fountain in the courtyard that Elsa accidentally froze, but I only wanted to give the impression of the fountain. I figured that would be a simple, yet dramatic, table centerpiece. I found this Sumbawa Grass at Michaels. I spray painted it a light blue, and then I accented it and covered any parts that I missed with white, multi-purpose craft paint. Once dry, (and they dried very quickly) I spray painted the pieces with glitter spray paint, which simply added some subtle sparkle. (And after smelling the glitter spray paint, I feel like I finally understand the smell of every vocal jazz singer and amateur, teen gymnast ever.) I found a great blue vase at Home Goods for $12! I filled the vase with glass accents I still had leftover from my wedding, making sure to add enough to that my pieces were secure and rising high enough beyond the rim of the vase. Finally, to add a bit more dimension and highlight the sparkle, I placed a bendable tree of LED lights in the middle.
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We didn’t manage to get a picture of it at the party, but we received many comments on how cool it was.

Signage
My husband, the comedian, is responsible for the next two decorations. He suggested that we place a sign on the table that said:

Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Snack Bar

He also said we should fill a bowl with Swedish fish and label it “lutefisk”. So we did. And it was awesome!
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Even though he has so many bad jokes and groan-worthy puns, he strikes gold every once in awhile.

Please enjoy this complimentary bag of stuff
While roaming the Pinterest to get favor ideas, (because I really hate giving people cheap crap that will either be thrown away or annoy the parents to no end) I found baked marble necklaces. Look it up. They’re really cool! But Mike was afraid that I’d go all Ralphie and put my eye out somehow. Fortunately, before I went and did them anyway, he came up with a much better idea: fire crystal necklaces. I’d be able to tie in the oft overlooked trolls, create something that was unique, and hopefully give the boys something that wouldn’t make them scrunch up their noses and say, That’s for girls.
I was able to find different types of crystals in the bead and jewelry aisles at Michaels. I used really thin elastic cord, (0.5mm) to string the beads because it fit through the thin holes in the crystals and would potentially lower the choking hazard risk for some of the younger kids.
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Printable tags

I was able to make the next favor on the cheap. Homemade play dough is easy and cheap to make, and it always a hit with kids. I found the recipe for this particular dough here. If you’re making dough from this recipe for a lot of people, I recommend doubling, quadrupling, (or more) the recipe. For those who have never made homemade glitter play dough, here are a couple tips.
1) Never walk away.
You do need to constantly stir, skim the bottom, and scrape the sides to avoid a burned skin forming. If you’ve ever made it, it’s kind of like making Cream of Wheat. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes for it to come together, so you won’t be stirring long.

2) Get it out of the pot quickly!
This dough came together almost instantly. One second it’s liquid, the next it’s a giant dough ball. Have a pan ready to dump the dough onto. The longer it stays in the pot, once it has come together, the more likely it is for the dough to change color and burn.

3) You’re going to need glitter. Lots of glitter.
I was surprised at how much glitter was needed just to make the dough mildly sparkly. I patted the dough to a medium thickness and covered the surface with glitter, (I used both fine white and blue.) Fold, knead, repeat. Continue until you reach the desired level of sparkliness. I suggest pulling a portion of dough off, forming it into a ball, and judging the sparkle level that way.
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Zoë enjoyed helping pat the dough. She played with it as I packaged it saying, “Look, mommy. Anna’s footprints in the snow.”

“But, Julie,” you say. “Don’t glittery things fall into the ‘will annoy the parents’ category?”
Not this dough. Once the glitter was mixed in, it did not get on hands, clothes, or furniture.

I had several empty baby food jars that I had saved for crafting purposes from when Zoë was a baby, so I decided to package the dough in those.
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Rachael said it was the best birthday party ever! I hope this was helpful in throwing a Frozen birthday party for your prince or princess, and that they say the same to you!

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WWPD?

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So, I wasn’t going to eat a cupcake for second breakfast.. But then I thought, What would Pippin do? I’m pretty sure that he would think it was the right thing to do. I mean, it was there.

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Okay. FI-YUN! Then what would Jesus do? He would feed the hungry, and I was starving!

But seriously, if LOTR is not a good enough reason to do something, then this may not be the blog for you.

Anniversary cupcakes

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In just a few days, Mike and I will celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. I feel really lucky to have married my best friend. I know that may sound cliche, but he really is my best friend. We were friends long before we ever started dating. We could hang out without pretense and just be ourselves. I enjoyed his punny humor and I could make him laugh and relax. We often went to a hole in the wall Chinese restaurant down at Tech. It was sandwiched in between a guitar store and a laundromat, and the food was fast, cheap, and amazing. We can’t remember what it’s called because we always called it Sketchy Chinese. Every once in awhile we’d go drinking together downtown. I made him start falling in love with me because I would sometimes wear overalls to go drinking. Loose pants mean I have room to drink more. *nod* He watched me date a bunch of other guys who were in no way right for me. I watched him pine over other women with whom, for one reason or another, he had no chance. After a couple of false starts trying to date each other and some growing up, we got our shit together by finally realizing we belonged together.

We pretty much knew after a few months of dating that this was it and we wanted to marry each other. So, as it is in my personality to do so, I waited for him to pop the question with a patient and calm spirit. Not once did I ask him to more narrowly define the time table. You see, I absolutely love it when I know really big surprises are coming and I have absolutely no control over what will happen with them. Just. Frickin. Adore. It. So, he finally proposed on an absolutely gorgeous day in May on campus at Virginia Tech. I knew he had the ring, (we had gone down there to pick it up) but he still managed to surprise me. In the middle of the Drillfield, as the bells of Burruss Hall rang out to toll the noon hour, Mike called out my name. I turned to find him on one knee with my gorgeous diamond ring. And in response I yelled, Holy shit!

After seeing Mike’s childhood church in Greensboro, I asked to be married there. I loved the pyramid shape of the sanctuary; its windows let in soft sunlight and brought the outside in with the view of old, towering, leafy trees. Of course that meant a long engagement to allow enough time for long distance planning. Fortunately, one of the easiest points of planning was choosing the bakery for our cakes. Maxie B is a small, yet mighty, bakery, which was recommended to us by my mother-in-law. Not only did they have a delicious version of the wedding cake I wanted, (white cake with raspberry filling and white chocolate buttercream) they had cake that would fit in perfectly with the fact that it was fall for our groom’s cake. Pumpkin chocolate chip with white chocolate cream cheese frosting. I have yet to find anything nearly as good that claims to be the same cake. It is so delicious and rich that you will gladly ride that sugar coma train straight to hell!20130924-204205.jpg
First person to guess what the cake says gets nothing. Well, the glory of winning, but…

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Most awkward cake cutting ever

In honor of our anniversary, I wanted to recreate that delectable groom’s cake.

Pumpkin cupcakes filled with cinnamon chocolate ganache

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Cupcakes
Yield 18

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree. May use mixer with whisk attachment.

Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
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Rachael said, “Look mom, they’re small and sweet, just like me”

Ganache

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Bring whipping cream to a simmer in a saucepan. Pour evenly over chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Gently whisk, add cinnamon, and whisk until incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Beat chocolate on medium with hand mixer until ganache is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
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White chocolate cream cheese frosting

1 1/2 packages (12 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces fine white chocolate, melted and cooled

Melt white chocolate in the microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring after each interval. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and cream cheese together until well combined. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar. Mix until combined. Add the vanilla and white chocolate. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
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Assembly

Cut a cone from the center of the cupcake. You can achieve this by running your knife in a circle at an angle.

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Mmmmm, leftovers

Spoon or pipe ganache into the center.
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You will have an easier time piping the ganache with a medium round decorating tip. Place decorating tip at the bottom of the hole and life tip as you squeeze decorating bag. Decorate with frosting.