Birthday Party Planning for the Lazy Parent

One of my first and clearest memories is running around my house with my friends during my fifth birthday party. Therefore, with both of my kids, I felt a bit of extra pressure to make extra sure that we had a super cool fifth birthday party. Unfortunately, I always seem to forget that all the kids want is to play with their friends and drown themselves in frosting.

This year I didn’t have as much time on my hands as I usually do. We had recently moved their were many boxes still waiting to be unpacked. And to further distract me, we had a guest who is allergic to nuts. At first I thought it would be no problem to keep things safe for him. But if you spend enough time reading ingredient labels and worrying about whether or not your mixing bowls are clean, you start to get a little loopy. Lucky for me, the child’s mother was a real rock star helping me through the menu and responding to all the crazy little questions that came up at the last minute.

What I’m getting at is that the move and a guest’s dietary needs helped to keep me in check and compared to the some of the super high-stress, non-stop, cram-it-all-in parties I’ve planned, I was downright lazy. And you know what? I think it was the best party we’ve ever had.

I’ve made a list of tips to remind myself how to throw a non-crazy kid’s birthday party next time:

Keep the guest list short. We had a total of five kids, including my two girls.

Encourage any older kid(s) in your family to contribute heavily to the party’s decor. At the very least, make some tissue paper flowers together a few days before. Thank you Martha Stewart.

Steal cute and simple food ideas from genius bloggers.

Make exceedingly simple food and make of as much of it ahead of time as possible. We served crudities and deviled eggs as appetizers. Then the kids sat down to eat popcorn, fruit, and cheese strombolis before the cupcakes descended. More than one of the recipes came from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook which I love.

Keep activities and games to a minimum. We did a pinata and that’s it. The two hours flew by. Most of the time I was hanging out with the grown ups. The kids were running amok all over the house.

Have the kids decorate their own cupcakes! This saved me a ton of work. Best of all, it was the birthday girl’s idea. We stuck a candle in her creation and she could not have been more pleased.

Feel free to add your genius ideas for making kids’ birthday parties easier and more pleasant in the comments below. : )

Black Raspberry Rockets

I used to think that raspberry rockets was the best snack I’d ever thought of. But now there’s a new kid in town… and she’s knocking my socks off.

My new life goal is to find some super high-quality white chocolate to use for this snack. The waxy aftertaste I’m getting from the cheapo Nestle chips we’re using is getting in the way of an otherwise perfect culinary moment.

In other news, we still don’t have anything resembling an Internet connection. We’re getting closer, but still not there yet.

Chicken update: 10 weeks old

 

I’m very happy to report that the chickens are still among the living. Sometime in the past couple weeks they passed from the realm of baby to full-fledged chickendom.  While I occasionally found myself wishing they had an older chicken to show them the ropes, they are adjusting well to life in their new home.

A couple of the chickens are actually friendly and the other four want nothing to do with us. My kids have been enjoying them a lot more since we opened the door to the coop and allowed them to roam in the hen yard. I never have to ask twice if they’d like to bring some table scraps out for the chickens to feast on.

I’m a really big fan of the chicken’s hind feathers. They are as soft as they look.

I’m also fascinated by their feet. Scared might be a better word than fascinated. Luckily, they appear to be completely unaware that they’re walking around on a set of potentail weapons.

If all continues to go well, the egg factory will swing into gear sometime in the middle of September.

Wheat Thins

[donotprint]I’ve been trying my best to pretend otherwise, but we moved to a new home a few weeks ago. I’m starting to realize that a tiny break from blogging may be necessary. We have no internet at the new abode and don’t expect to for another month or two. While I’ve been able to make due with sneaking off to the public library while my youngest is at preschool, it’s starting to get a little old.

The chicks have grown leaps and bounds so I’m hoping to write a post about their exploits soon. But for the most part, I need to lower my expectations for a while. I’ll be back. I promise.

I wish I could make these crackers all day long today. They are perfection. My time in the kitchen has been rather minimal lately. Snacks consist mostly of fruit or store-bought crackers. When we were busiest with the move, the kids were eating lots of junk and seemed to be constantly hungry. It was a nice reminder of how far we’ve come and I’m anxious to get back to a healthier place. At the moment, I’m focusing on healthy meals and hopefully in a few more weeks the snacks will fall in line. [/donotprint]

Homemade Wheat Thin Crackers Recipe

This recipe is minimally adapted from one by the same name in King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking cookbook. I discovered it through Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship who features her own version of this recipe in her splendid Healthy Snacks on the Go ebook. (Given my snack-driven lifesytle, Katie was kind enough to send me a copy. Thanks Katie!)

If you’re able to roll them out nice and thin, I find these even tastier and more addictive than the supermarket variety.

If you don’t have any silicone baking mats, you can use 11 x 16-inch sheets of parchment paper.

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for topping
1/4 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the flour, sugar, salt, and paprika in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor for 10 seconds. Spread the butter chunks over the flour mixture. Run the food processor for 10-20 seconds until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal. The occasional large chunk of butter is more than okay.

Mix the water and vanilla together in a small bowl. With the processor running, pour in the water mixture through the feed tube. Run the processor for 30 seconds to incorporate.

Dump the dough out onto a silicone baking mat. Press the dough into a ball and knead gently. Divide the ball in half. Shape the halves into fat rectangles and place one on the center of a silicone baking mat. Keep the other half covered with some plastic wrap. Roll the dough out until it is thin (1/16th-inch)  and covers almost the entire mat. Try to roll it out as evenly as possible. Lightly sprinkle the dough with flour if it sticks to the rolling pin.

Cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares with a pizza wheel. They do not need much space between them as they shrink slightly during baking. Place the baking mat onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt.

Bake for 5 – 10 minutes, rotating at least once. The time it will take for the crackers to bake depends on their thickness. They are done when the edges just start to brown. I usually have to save the crackers on the edge from burning and return the rest to the oven for a few more minutes. Keep a close eye on them after five minutes as they burn quickly. Transfer the crackers to a cooling rack. Serve. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Yield: 100 crackers
Prep-time: 30 minutes
Bake-time: 5 minutes

[print_link]

Agave Limeaide

My new favorite web site is bussongs.com because it has given us the lyrics to On Top of Spaghetti. How great is it to finally have a kid old enough to memorize my all-time favorite childhood song? I think I’ve got our summer plans all shored up now. Lots of running around and lots of signing. Loudly.

Agave Limeaide Recipe

Ice cubes
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons agave nectar

Throw four or five ice cubes in an 8-ounce cup. Pour the lime juice and water over the ice cubes and then add the agave nectar. Stir vigorously until the agave nectar is dissolved. Serve.

Yield: 1 cup
Prep-time: 5 minutes

Frog Eggs

I’m keeping my kids guessing as usual. I’m starting to believe that a kid who is too comfortable and knows what to expect at snack time is trouble waiting to happen.

Pictured here is a what I believe to be a Vietnamese treat from my local Asian grocery. It’s a perfect example of shaking things up in the name of fun and experimentation. One of the main ingredients is basil seeds. But they look beautifully similar to frog eggs floating in swamp muck. I just had to bring it home.

After I tasted this gelled treat myself and explained that I thought it tasted sweet and floral, with a hint of lime, my girls went for it. They both took a few bites and then decided they had enough. But my eldest actually claims to like it. God bless her.

If anyone knows any Vietnamese (?) and can translate the name on the label, I’d be much obliged. Google was no help to me on this one.

Salted Chocolate Almonds

Meet my ‘it’ snack of the moment. It’s crunchy. It’s simple and easy to prepare. It’s salty and sweet. And last but not least, there’s the chocolate! We all love these little nuts. I have no idea why oh why it’s taken me so long to pull this together. If I had come up with it three years ago when I started thinking about healthier kid snacks, I might have considered the case closed and never started this blog of mine.

Salted Chocolate Almonds Recipe

This recipe is easily doubled. It would also probably be insanely good with smoked salt if you happen to have any on hand. If you don’t have almonds, use cashews!

1 cup roasted unsalted almonds
1/2 cup (3 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
1/2 teaspoon (give or take – more is more) kosher salt

Melt the chocolate chips gradually in a double boiler or in the microwave. If using the microwave, proceed with caution and set the power level to 20% for a minute at a time. After a few minutes, the chips should not appear melted, but should be soft enough to stir into a semi-smooth mass with a silicone/rubber spatula. Stir for a good thirty seconds or more. The warm bits of chocolate will gradually melt all of the firmer chips as the heat is redistributed. If you heat the chocolate too much, it will turn into a coarse chalky mass (from which it is impossible to recover). Melting it gently and keeping it away from moisture of any kind will allow the chocolate to keep its temper and be shiny when it cools.

Once the melted chocolate is ready, add the almonds to the bowl and stir to coat. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread the nuts into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to dry. This should take about ten minutes. Break apart any huge clusters of almonds and serve. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups
Prep-time: 15 minutes (including drying time)

Sunshine Smoothie

One of my newest measures of snack recipe success is how messed up my four year-old daughter’s face gets when she eats. A good snack should leave behind some tell-tale signs of having been consumed with gusto.

Here we have Exhibit A which was the aftermath of our latest Sunshine Smoothie. Her face isn’t actually that messy. But the sprinkles on her chin make it a winner, non? The sprinkles were entirely her idea, by the way.

Sunshine Smoothie Recipe

1 fresh mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1 medium ripe banana, peeled
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup orange juice

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Serve.

Yield: 3 cups
Prep-time: 5 minutes

Chicks Update: 3 Weeks Old

The chicks are growing each day and their feathers are coming in in a hurry. They’re about of 3 weeks old now. I’ve doubled their living space by taping two boxes together and unintentionally provided them with a hurdle/roost to play around with. Aside from changing out their food and water twice a day and keeping their bedding clean, they require very little thought these days which is nice.