Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zebra and Neon Themed Birthday Party

Growing up, we didn’t usually have big birthday parties. Sure, we celebrated with cake and ice cream, and usually a few family members would come over, but as far as the kind of parties you see on TV – large bunches of balloons, petting zoo, clowns and magicians – no, we never had those.
However, when I turned 10, my sisters planned the coolest party I remember to date. We played games, there were cheesy prizes and I’m pretty sure I got a kiss from my boyfriend (on the cheek; does that still count?). I remember being so excited for weeks building up to the big day.
Recently, my youngest step daughter, Emilee, turned 11. She is still at the age that grown up’s are fun to hang out with and also young enough to appreciate parties. So, I decided this would probably be my last chance to throw an awesome birthday party full of all the girly frills that she will soon outgrow. Zebra and neon are in like crazy right now, so I went with that for the theme of the party.
I started with invitations. I made these with my Cricut by cutting out the balloon shape at the 5” setting. I cut one black, one colored and one white. Then, I used a Xacto knife to cut wavy stripes out of the black shape. I brushed the colored shape with glue and sprinkled with glitter to give them an extra fun sparkle and, once they dried, sewed all three together with a zig zag stitch (I used black thread because I wanted the contrast on the white side with the party details, but you could also use white if you wanted contrast on the front or of course any color you want for an even bigger “pop”). I couldn't find any envelopes to fit the balloons, so I just took a white scrapbook paper, cut it in half, folded that in half, clipped the corners, put the balloon inside and sewed (with black thread) around the edges to seal it. I also added a tuft of zebra fabric and a neon button to the bottom to keep the invitation from moving around inside the envelope.
I also wanted to create some lasting party favors, so I made each of the girls a matching purse and apron using zebra and neon fabric. I made the handle out of braided black yarn and attached them to the purse by simply sewing them to each side over the knot. I also added a contrasting yo yo and button to the front. You know, details. Emilee’s purse was special. I made it bigger and added a black and white ribbon flower as well as some thin elastic at the top.

The aprons were originally meant to be used for the cake decorating portion of the party which I later ended up scrapping. But, by that time, I’d already made all of the aprons so I gave them away anyway. I love how they turned out. The neon against the zebra print had a big impact and they were simple enough that they didn’t take too much time to put together.  The top of the apron is double sided but the apron is just single sided. The pocket is also doubled since the fabric was so thin. I added a couple of neon buttons and a zebra yo yo. This also helped me finally learn how to sew buttons using my sewing machine. Something so basic, yet I never understood it until this project. If you don’t know how to utilize this feature on your machine, LEARN. It is SO worth it.

The other items in the grab bags were fitting with the theme. I bought them from Party City online and, because I was only supplying for 6 girls, ended up being fairly inexpensive. I gave them a pack of neon headbands, some neon hair extensions, zebra and neon notepads and some neon gel pens.
Emilee likes cake, but hates frosting. This makes cake planning difficult, but I also knew I was up against Cake Boss and Cupcake Wars as she watches The Food Network as if it were Saturday morning cartoons.
I decided since she was turning 11, I would build two towers to look like two 1’s. Conceptually, I thought this would be easy as pie.  Let’s just say I have a bigger appreciation for cake artists now.

I went to the home improvement store and purchased a wooden round base for about 3 dollars and a 1” square dowel for around 2 dollars. First, I cut the dowel in half then drilled two holes in the base without going all the way through. I hammered the dowels into the holes and secured with some wood glue. After wrapping the dowels and base with aluminum foil, it was ready for cake. It took 6 boxes of cake to have enough for this tower! I used a square cake pan (the kind with straight edges, not the beveled kind you get at Wal-Mart – I special ordered mine online) and cut each cake into 4 squares. I did a thin layer of frosting between each layer and let the towers set in the fridge for a couple of hours before frosting the outside. I’ve heard this helps make the cake easier to frost with less crumb mess. I admit, it helped, but it was far from perfect. I had also heard running a butter knife dipped in hot water over the frosting after it had a chance to “dry” or “cool” could smooth out the wrinkles. Again, this helped, but it was not a smooth, fondant look. I also purchased some edible zebra paper and cut some round circles to add for decoration. I’m glad I did; it helped cover some of the blemishes I couldn’t fix with the frosting. I also didn’t get enough frosting for both of the stacks which is why one of them is the Tiffany blue and the other ended up being party chip white. When they were complete, I realized they slightly resembled the twin towers from New York which made me a little nervous – especially because I was adding candles and lighting them on fire. But, I figured the girls were too young to notice and I knew that wasn’t what they were.

I made some cheap balloon topiaries out of PVC pipe, streamers and balloons for the front yard. PVC pipe cheap! I bought 4 10’ poles for 8 dollars, cut them in half and wrapped them with black streamers. I attached the balloons by tying two balloons together, then sets of two into 4, then sets of 4 into 8. I found it easiest to attach them to the PVC by running a ribbon through the pipe, taping off the bottom end then tying the other end around the balloon bunch.  But this is important: Make sure to secure them in the ground BEFORE you try and tie the balloons to the top. Otherwise you’ll be trying to hammer through a bunch of balloons which is virtually impossible. Because I only had them in the ground a couple of inches, I decided to secure them with some black ribbon to help them stay up in case the wind decided to pick up.

I had some boxes laying around at work that I used for the game prizes. None of the prizes were as big as the boxes of course, but they had a big impact and doubled as decorations during the party. I didn’t find any zebra wrap, so I opted for black with white polka dots and some good solids.

I was picking up all the girls for the party using my van, so I used a washable paint to decorate the windows and also hung some balloons out of the back to add some excitement.

For the outdoor tent (this is where the girls ate dinner and dessert), I used a netted gazebo we already own and purchased some black and white plastic tablecloths to drape from the ceiling. I also added a balloon bunch to the center and got to work setting the table. Most of these supplies also came from Party City and were pretty inexpensive.

I hung some paper lanterns from the ceiling in the basement where the girls slept, played games and sang karaoke. I also hung lines of balloons on the wall which doubled as a photo backdrop as well as location for the truth or dare game (prior to blowing up the balloons, I stuck one truth and one dare in each balloon so they could be popped during the game).

For the drink, I prepared some clear Kool-Aid and added some food coloring, then froze it in star shaped ice cube trays ahead of time. I made sure the Sprite was very cold before adding the ice cubes so they wouldn’t melt right away and make the drink yucky colored.

We had a taco bar for dinner as tacos are Emilee’s favorite. I was able to wash the bowls in between games so I could re-use them later for the fruit pizza bar. I had most of these items prepared ahead of time to make it easier to just grab and go. I made the sugar cookies ahead of time as well as the cream cheese frosting which I stored in a zip lock bag with the tip cut for easy application.

The morning after, I prepared French toast, turkey bacon and orange juice.


For the games, we played Sidewalk Pictionary, Photo Scavenger Hunt and Streamer Fashion Show. The girls seemed to have a good time and I certainly had fun planning!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to Make a Cupcake Stand

Recently I made this cupcake stand for a party I attended. The nice thing about making one yourself is you can design it to match your colors and theme instead of trying to find one that "will work". That's not even the best part. The real selling point to this is it costs less than $10 to make. Here's what you'll need:

I got my supplies from a local dollar store but many of these items can be purchased at Wal-Mart or wherever it is you shop.

1 pizza pan
2 pie pans (I prefer pie tart pans because they have the fancy rippled edges, but you can use the regular ones like I did for this project)
3 candlestick holders
1 can spray paint
Decorative items such as ribbon, rhinestones, etc.

Spray paint the pans completely ensuring even coverage on both sides. Align the candlesticks in the center of each pan. If you prefer, you can mark the location with a pencil or other washable method. I used hot glue to secure the candlesticks in place. Before the glue cooled, I added a row of rhinestones to hide the ugly glue line. Finally, I added a ribbon trim to the outer edges of the two pie tins. You could also decoupage your choice of scrapbook paper on top of the pans instead of or in addition to the spray paint for extra patterns and flair.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Festivities

This weekend, we celebrated Halloween with the kids. They're all getting to the age where trick or treating is a memory of their past, or they'd rather be hanging out with friends. So we decided to squeeze in our holiday traditions a week early.

First, we visited a local pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect gourd. This is a very important step in the carving process because the shape, size and color of the pumpkin has to speak to the carver and give specific inspiration.

We took our orange heathens home and got started. My husband's favorite part of pumpkin carving is pumpkin seeds. Luckily with this many pumpkins, we get quite a few and usually have enough to share. He's received several compliments on his "secret recipe" - one person even said they were the BEST seeds they had ever had!

While everyone worked on bringing their pumpkins to life, I started working on the popcorn balls. This caramel recipe was given to me by my mom and I've never even tried another version. It's that good! I like the caramel to stay a bit gooey and sticky instead of hardening on the popcorn, so if you're a crunchy caramel kind of person, this might not be the recipe for you.

I added in a few festive bits of candy to add to the pizzaz, then inserted the wooden sticks before they were completely cool making them easier to eat later. Other ideas I considered:
  • Drizzle chocolate over the tops
  • Add food coloring to match a theme
  • Throw in some nuts
  • Add chocolate chips
  • Try sunflower seeds for a fiber kick
  • Tie a ribbon/bow around the stick for presentation points
  • Wrap with cellophane and give as gifts or bring to a potluck
  • Make a popcorn ball bar and have various bowls of yumminess for guests to choose from (first dip in chocolate, then add desired toppings)
Now that the balls were cooling down, it was time to get started on one of my favorite parts of fall: Caramel apples! When it comes to the apples, I tend to keep it simple. I like the caramel bits rather than the caramel candies because there is absolutely no unwrapping involved and usually the bags include popsicle sticks so you don't have to buy them separately. The instructions are also found on the back of the bag, so you can vary it if you'd like or just follow their simple steps.

Everyone has their favorite toppings for apples at our house, so once the dipping was done, everyone got a chance to add their fav's. I'm pretty boring and prefer the classic plain caramel. By the way, a trick I learned to help keep the apples from sticking to anything while they're cooling: Spray wax paper or a foil-lined cookie sheet with cooking spray. Stick them in the fridge or freezer for faster set up. If you're finding it hard to eat on the stick (or serving to younger children who will find it difficult to bite through to the apple), use a knife to cut the apple into bite size pieces and serve on a plate. We cut them before dipping them so they could be served in wedges and dipped individually.

Now that we were waiting on the caramel to set, it was finally dinner time. This is another recipe handed down to me by my mom. It has been a classic in our family for as long as I can remember, and the only thing I change is adding more clams - I love clams! I like to throw all the ingredients into a slow cooker/Crock Pot and let it simmer for a few hours. The fall season is what we call "soup season" at our house. The warm summer months have been replaced with cooler days and the breath of winter is just around the corner.

Nothing marries up with a good chowder quite like bread bowls. I admit, I took yet another short cut on this one and purchased the bowls ready-made at the store, but they do just fine and are beyond convenient for our large family.

Now that our bellies were full and the pumpkins were lit, it was time to settle down for our traditional Halloween movie: The Nightmare Before Christmas. My sister-in-law brought some warm cider to go with the popcorn balls and apples which was the perfect ending to a very festive fall day.

Homemade Caramels Recipe
2 c. Sugar
2 c. Heavy whipping cream
1/2 lb (2 cubes) butter
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
3/4 c. White Karo syrup

Bring all ingredients but 1/2 cream to a boil, then add remaining cream. Boil (simmer) to a soft ball stage. Pour into a wax paper-lined pan and let cool, then cut into squares and wrap individually. Can be stored in the refrigerator, but not required.
Yields approximately 60 caramels.

Clam Chowder Recipe
2 -3 Potatoes
1 c. diced onion
1 c. diced celery
2 cans clams, undrained
1 tsp. salt

3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
1 qt. half-n-half (or milk)
1 1/2 tsp salt

Combine all vegetables and clams in large pot and cover with water. Cook until tender.
Sauce: Melt better and add flour. Add milk slowly until well combined. Add salt. Cook until thick. When mixture is thickened, add to vegetables and stir to mix well. Heat through and serve.