Brave Themed Birthday Party

The Princess recently turned seven, and this year, she wanted her party to be Brave-themed.

So I came up with some ideas that went with the theme. First we got some molded plastic crown goblets, along with gold paper plates, napkins and forks.

Then, I made Will O’ the Wisps, like the one Merida follows into the forest, using battery-operated tea lights, double-sided tape, some blue cellophane wrap and streamers.

First I put the double-sided tape around the edges of the tea lights,

and then I sort of randomly attached the cellophane.

Using more double-sided tape, I attached thin strips of white streamers under the cellophane. This was also good for folding parts of the cellophane to get a sort of rounded, billowy shape.

And then I used some white lanyard (because I couldn’t find the fishing line that I KNOW IS AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE!!) and hung them in a trail to the door of the party. They looked really great blowing in the breeze, and after the sun went down they looked really cool, as the little tea lights flickered in the night air.

I also made crowns (using paper crowns from the craft store and glue-on jewels) for all the girls. For the boys, I got some ear-headbands, though at this time of the year, I had trouble finding inexpensive bears and had to settle for mouse ears. The kids didn’t seem to mind. For goodie bags, I used gold paper bags, and inside of each was a little teddy bear, bullseye cookies from snack bakeshop and a little bow and arrow set that I made using popsicle sticks and Q-Tips. (Directions for those on Practice What You Pinterest) tomorrow.

For cake, I made little cupcakes that looked a bit like the one Queen Elinor eats that turns her into a bear, and these were butterscotch flavored cake with vanilla butter cream icing. To make the cake, I started with a basic white cake recipe, and then I added a box of Jello Butterscotch Pudding mix.

The cupcakes were baked for 20 minutes,

and once they had cooled, I put a ring around the top with vanilla butter cream icing.

Once all the rings had been placed, I took what was left of the frosting and added red food coloring. (I think that the center-circle of the cake in the movie might be red, but I couldn’t justify using the amount of food coloring it would take to make the icing red, thus mine were pink.) The pink icing was used then to fill the center circle on top of the cupcakes.

For games, we had a tug-of war, and I bought a little toy archery set. The kids had a nice competition to see who could hit the target, though it turned out to be more fun than it was competitive.

It was a really fun party, and The Princess had a great day. Though one other thing I forgot to mention: During the party, I set my iPod to play some Bagpipe music via Pandora Radio to go with the theme. One of the guests (or perhaps more than one…) kept turning it off though. Go figure.

A Shout Out for My New Blog: Practice What You Pinterest

While this is a place I will always reserve for my adventures in parenting and life in general, I have decided to start a new blog devoted to cooking and crafting: Practice What You Pinterest. Hope you enjoy it!

Pintrest in Practice (Brown Sugar Balsamic Pork Tenderloin)

In the last month or so, I, like many others, have become swept up in Pintrest. It’s a great place for sharing craft ideas, recipes, and other things. I like pinning photos that grab my eye as well. In short, it’s my new favorite Time Burglar.

Anyway, I have been trying a few of the recipes, with varying success, and thought I would start to share some of those experiences here.

Last night I made a delicious Brown Sugar Balsamic Pork Tenderloin, whose recipe called for a crock pot. What could be easier, right? The photo on Pintrest looks like this:

So, as the recipe called for, I cooked the tenderloin in my crock pot for about eight hours. Then I made the sauce, on the stove, and it thickened nicely in a short period of time. As I went to brush the tenderloin with the sauce, things got a little more challenging. First of all, there was still water in the crock pot, so I wasn’t sure how that was going to affect the flavor of the dish.

I also like pork tenderloin to be a little crispy on the outside (grilled outside is my favorite way to make it), so I decided to take it out of the crock pot to brown it in an electric pan for a few minutes while the sauce soaked in and glazed the meat.

This is where I ran into another logistical problem because after all that time in the crock pot, the meat was so tender that it pretty much fell apart. What went into the crock pot as two tenderloins came out as four fragile pieces. But they browned nicely in the pan, and the glaze was delicious.

My only problem was that the meat came out so stringy that it wasn’t easy to slice at all. We ended up putting what amounted at that point to pulled pork into buns and eating sandwiches instead of the nice sophisticated presentation I had planned in my head. Also, after the 8 hours in the crock pot plus time in the pan, the meat was a little dry.

I would make this recipe again, since the glaze was so yummy, but I think I would cook the tenderloin in a more traditional way, either on the grill or in the oven, and then just coat it with the glaze toward the end.

Wizard of Oz Party

My daughter turned six last week, and she wanted to have  a Wizard of Oz themed party. For her cake, I decided to do a rainbow layered thing. The idea was to make it shaped like a house, and have the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs sticking out from under it.

A few days before making the cake, I used gum paste to make the legs. I added some food coloring to make the shoes, and then I rolled those in colored sugar to make them sparkle.

I also used the gum paste to make the door and windows for the house. For the bottom layer of the cake, I used a 13×9″ pan, and one box of chocolate cake mix. Then, I used two boxes of yellow cake to make the house part. I wanted to do six layers, one for each color of the rainbow, so I divided the batter by six — and it came out to about 1 and a third cups each.

Purple was in the oven when I took this photo.

I used an 8×8 pan to make the layers for the house.

I don’t really like fondant cakes, so I don’t work with fondant. First of all, I don’t think fondant is all that tasty, but also, like I have said in the past, I don’t claim to be any kind of Martha Stewart. I don’t believe all cakes were made to look professional. They should look homemade. If anything, you should want your professionally made cakes to look like they’re homemade so that all of your party guests will think you spent all day toiling in the kitchen. That’s the mark of a good hostess.

Anyway, fully assembled and iced:

Then I went to get my daughter from school, and I guess I had assembled it too quickly, because when I got home, the whole back side had slid off:

But no, worries, just more frosting, and I kept this side against the wall:

Inside the cake:

Other touches included a green punch made of ginger ale, pineapple juice and sherbet. I put a witch’s hat over the punch bowl, so that it had looked like the witch had melted there. The punch was just okay. I mean, who even drinks punch anymore? Isn’t punch sort of a thing from a bygone era…like aspic?

I also had potato sticks to represent the Scarecrow’s straw, and a bowl full of animal crackers (Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) The cowardly lion didn’t have much representation here, but I had silver-colored plates and napkins in honor of the Tin Man, and we also had a “Pin the Heart on the Tin Man” game.

Last, but not least, were the goodie bags, done in the color of those magical shoes. Inside there were bubbles (like those of Glenda the Good Witch) and (Manfrengensen’s idea) munchkins from Dunkin Donuts.

It was a fun party, and we all had a good time. Though by the end of the evening, I was glad to be able to put my feet up after  everyone realized that there was no place like home.

Harry Potter Quidditch Cake Pops (The Golden Snitch)

This summer Edison celebrated his eleventh birthday with a Harry-Potter-themed party. For dessert, I made these awesome cake pops:

Inside they were devil’s food.

They were quite easy to make, and I learned how to do it from the Wilton Cake site. Basically, if you can make a meatball, then you can make a cake pop. It’s a bit messy, but it works out in the end. After I had chilled the cake balls for 2 hours, I inserted the sticks and dipped them in white chocolate Wilton Candy Melts. I also used the candy melts and a squeeze bottle to pipe out the wings on a piece of wax paper.  Once the candy shell was dried, (which only took a minute or two) I spray painted the outside with Duff’s Graffiti which is like edible spray paint. I had tried to use gold flakes and gold sugar in some test batches, but the Graffiti really did the trick. It was almost like I had airbrushed the things.

When the gold was dry, I melted a little more chocolate and used that to attach the wings, which were really delicate. I made lots of extra ones to account for breakage.

And then in the goodie boxes, I included these chocolate frogs:

And those were just melted milk chocolate that I put in a mold.

And these Gryffendor cookies by my friend at snack:

Hyppogryph Pee (aka lemonade), Dragon Blood (fruit punch) and Unicorn Blood (blue raspberry Kool-Aid)

The kids all wore robes, Manfrengensen wore Dumbledore’s hat all day and spoke with the old man’s tone. The kids played a version of Quidditch in the yard that was probably closer to Capture the Flag. We also had a dragon’s egg hunt and a “Care of Magical Creatures” event that was really a three-legged race, since Edison likes to keep the action moving. A good time was had by all!

Martha Stewart, I am not

Last night, despite the fact that I had a ton of homework, I decided to make cupcakes for Clooney to take to school for his birthday. And I wanted to make them look kind of nice, so I busted out the two-year-old frosting tips from their factory-sealed packaging and gave it a go. A little awkward at first, but better than usual. And then I put a few confetti sprinkles on there for good measure.

I put them into this big plastic container I had bought (again about two years ago) in anticipation of an opportunity such as this one. The contraption is called “The Cupcake Caddy,” and it has a handle and little circles (12 regular-size, or you can flip the plate over for 24 minis) to hold the cakes. I had made the mini-cakes, and they looked so precious beneath their protective plastic dome.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, even though I ended up doing homework until 10:30.

Then, after all that — the cupcakes…well, let’s just say that the Cupcake Caddy — not so good. It looked like the cupcakes had thrown their own party on the way to school, and a fight must have broken out or something. By the time we got there, (and mind you, it’s not a far trip; there are no hills or potholes along the way) most of them had put their petite icing heads together. I had to smooth over all my fancy work with a plastic knife Clooney’s teacher had on hand.

They tasted the same though, and that was a good thing.

A Crisis of Faith

I was off the diet this summer, and I didn’t do too badly. In fact, even with all the gnocci and ice cream that the summer brought my way, I only put on about six pounds. I kind of hoped to lose those quickly and even get rid of the few other pounds I still had to go, but it’s been hard to stay motivated.

First of all, there’s the job. I’m stressed there and at home, and also, the lunches in the cafeteria are pretty good! Wouldn’t it be my luck to find two of the only four probable gourmet-type lunch ladies in the United States? I’m thinking these ladies could have a show on the Food Network or something. The theme would be something like how to cook delicious meals for 400 or more people. Seriously though — what school do you know of that serves lobster bisque on a regular basis? LOBSTER BISQUE!! I don’t know about you — but I have trouble passing on any kind of bisque, let alone the lobster.

But, as I said, I have been trying. I’ve been going every week to my Jenny Craig appointments, albeit each week taking home smaller and smaller orders of food because I have yet to eat the victuals of the week before. This past week, I was sitting in the lobby, waiting for my appointment, and I had a crisis of faith. You see, footprints-in-the-sandlike all diets, Jenny Craig is a religion. But that doesn’t bother me. I know it’s a religion. What bothers me, is the way they market it like it’s a religion.

First of all there’s the big Jenny Craig sign that hits you in the face as you walk through the door. Is it any coincidence that the letters “J” and “C” are three times the size of the others in the phrase? I don’t think so. Then, behind the words “Jenny Craig” there is a poster of two pairs of feet walking on sand leaving footprints behind them. So, I was sitting there thinking, Are you freaking kidding me? FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND? I can’t believe I had never noticed it before.

I’ve always kind of joked that the appointments are a bit like the sacrament of Reconciliation. You go in and you confess all your transgressions each week. “Forgive me counselor, for I have sinned. This week I ate a bag of Funions.” For your penance, you must step on the scale, experience the weight of your guilt, and then she will likely ask what temptations lie before you in the week ahead. Once you have confessed, then you may partake of their low-cal bread.

valerie jennyLast week, as I was having this moment of dietary agnosticism, I really started to look around. And you know what else I noticed? All the posters they have of the celebrities who have had success with Jenny Craig, like Valerie Bertinelli and Felicia Rashad; in those posters, the women (in their “after Jenny Craig” photos) are lit from behind in a kind of glowing light. These are the saints, the apostles of J.C. They were even touting Bertinelli’s book, Losing It, etc. It was as if they were saying,  “Hey, would you like to read the Gospel According to Valerie?” Yeah, tell us all the good news, Val. What was this place? Had I joined some kind of cult?

It was as if I had an epiphany, or an anti-epiphany right there in the lobby, sitting on that pastel-swathed nondescript office chair between the faux ficus and the overflowing stack of well-perused copies of the Star Magazine. And I honestly don’t know where I will go from there.

I just started to think, okay, the food isn’t bad, and yes, I have lost a lot of weight, it’s good, it’s great for me and all, but when it really comes down to it, this is just a lot of marketing crap. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that I have kind of plateaued, and I admit that the bisque isn’t helping, but still, I feel a kind of void when it comes to faith in the program currently.


And one more thing, while I am kvetching about my apostasy, I have one more thing that I found that day. Just before the saleslady went in the back to collect my food, she mentioned a new promotion they are having in November. I started reading the flier about it and noticed a disclaimer that struck me as kind of funny: Jenny Craig is owned by the Nestle Corporation. I don’t know why, but that seems a bit ironic in some way. Like, I can lose all this weight on Jenny Craig, and then over the winter gain it back by eating crunch bars. It’s like they’re hoping to  get those of us who struggle with weight both coming and going.

What’s that economic term when a company owns all phases of production and distribution?  Isn’t the Nestle-Jenny Craig relationship a kind of vertical integration?

Note to Restaurateurs:

Focaccia is over.  Move on.