Is It My Birthday YET? (Or Meghan and I Plan ANOTHER Party)

In case you don’t remember, I went a little mental before my birthday last year. I was having this meltdown because I felt like many of my best friends were gone, and I was trying to have the PERFECT Peter Pan party. I was freaking out I didn’t have Danielle to do my flowers, Nicole to make me cocktails, and you should have seen the panic I had over the melting mascarpone frosting on my strawberry cupcakes! If you missed that mess, consider yourself lucky.

See, I sort of lost sight of what was actually important as I’m wont to do. I often get so wrapped up in perfection that I take all of the pleasure out of the process. I have always loved my birthday, but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not about people celebrating me. It’s about having all of the people I love in one place.

This year I caught myself complicating matters again. I was devising a plan that involved ocean kayaking, a beach potluck, and a Sunday brunch at Shutters. I was trying to pick out the perfect Paperless Post invite for the occasion and realized I couldn’t even explain the weekend without multiple invites, linking it all to eventbrite, etc.

When your party is too complicated for Paperless Post?

It’s a problem.

So, I put a pin in the plan and put everything on hold until something less complicated inspired me. Saturday I was feeling like I needed a change of scenery so I headed down to the South Bay. I’m trying to write something that has been hard to make sense of because it comes to me in pieces. I knew I was trying too hard to force it, so I figured I’d head to the beach and wander without a plan. I decided to let life unfold and just inspire me.

And that’s when I had this lovely, magical day. I started taking pictures of things that moved me.

Like chalk drawings.

photo-401

And houses.

South Bay architecture on Dogs Dishes and Decor

I love the New England look of this house. I imagine eating lobster rolls and clam chowder on the patio of this place.

South Bay architecture on Dogs Dishes and Decor

I love the stone work on this house. It almost feels like it belongs in Texas. Like you could host amazing football parties here, complete with some serious barbecue.

I wandered all of the way up to Manhattan from Hermosa taking photos and thinking. I even got a pic of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 beach pad.

Beverly Hills 90210 House on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Like, Donna Martin lost her virginity here and stuff.

The wandering continued for a long time until I came upon an absolutely massive house that caught my eye. It wasn’t the size of it I loved so much as the lines — and the stone work.

I had to keep backing up to get the entire house in the frame. I kicked off my flip flops and kept taking steps backward, trying to get it to fit.

South Bay architecture on Dogs Dishes and Decor

All I could think when I saw this house was, “This place is perfect for massive family dinners with friends, complete with dart tournaments and impromptu dance parties on the patio!”

I heard a voice behind me say, “Sure, take a picture of my house.”

“It has such great lines!” I replied excitedly without looking back. I got the shot and finally turned to face a group of men sitting on towels and drinking beer. One of them brought his phone over and asked me to take a picture of the group for his daughter. “She’s in New Hampshire this weekend. I want to send her a picture of the guys.”

“That’s sweet,” I said as he handed me his iPhone.

I took a few photos and they invited me to sit with them. They offered me a beer — and a chair. It was draped in a navy and yellow striped towel with the name, “Caitlin” embroidered on it.

“I’ll be Caitlin today,” I said as I sat down.

“That’s my daughter’s towel,” the man with the iPhone told me.

“Yesterday I was Meghan.” I said as I took a sip of my Pilsner Urquell.

We talked for a long time about architecture, writing, economics, my complicated feelings about Ayn Rand, and everything else. “Meghan, what do you do?” One asked. “My name’s not really Meghan,” I said. “It’s actually Anika.” This led to jokes about how I didn’t look like an “Anika.”

“My mom wanted to name me Meghan,” I explained. “I use it at coffee shops when I don’t feel like spelling my name. I actually went by Ana for a while in college because I got sick of being different. Then I realized I wasn’t me without a weird name, so I went back.'”

See, in some ways I am Meghan. She wears Ralph Lauren, serves on the advisory committee for a sorority, and she likes pearls. She wants to sell real estate and join a country club. And in others, I’m Anika. She goes to Furthur concerts, studies Ayurveda, and has been know to lay on the floor listening to Purple Rain on repeat while trying to write really gut-wrenching stuff. I mean, I have had my nose pierced since I was 19 and I still can’t decide if it’s really ME or not. I’ll take it out for years at a time and then just put it back in for no reason.

At my 25th birthday party, one of my more sensitive and artistic friends from college was taking in the chaos all around. There were former football player/frat boys doing shots from an ice luge and a super drunk reality TV personality eating dip straight out of the bowl with her hands. He turned to me and asked, “How can you be friends with people like that and someone like me?”

I shrugged, but he continued.

“I mean, who are you more yourself with?”

“I’m myself with everyone,” I replied.

It’s true. I am. And as I make my birthday list this year, I’m thinking about the great diversity among my friends. The only thing some of them have in common is me.

And yet?

What they also share, what I can say without a doubt, is that they are all people who have done what they said they were going to do more often than not. People who listened. People who cared. People who stepped up for me when I needed it. People for whom I have done the same.

So, I’m going to bring them together this year for whatever unfolds. I’m getting a hotel room in Hermosa and inviting everyone to come down and hang out when they can. My friends with kids can bring them in the afternoon. My single friends can come later and hit up a few pier bars with me. Anyone who doesn’t feel safe to drive can crash on my floor. It’s going to be SIMPLE.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t created a Pinterest Board for my birthday. I mean, I’m still ME.

And I love my friends. For who THEY are.

By the way? That big house did not belong to the guys. Some billionaire owns it, and it’s sitting empty in the wake of his divorce. It makes me really sad it isn’t filled with fun-loving people coming together for a really good time.

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I Have an Ice Cube Problem (Or There’s a Titanic in my Gin and Tonic)

I’m a sucker for wacky things. Like, I see a bottle opener shaped like a shark and it takes all of my self-control not to purchase it. It’s not like I need another bottle opener, but you should hear the arguments I make in my mind for its utter necessity. Never mind that the item is not even an anatomically accurate representation of a shark….

How could I live another day without this? Photo Courtesy of Amazon.

Sometimes, my rational side loses the argument and I buy completely frivolous items — particularly when there’s a theme party involved. Like the skull and cross bones ice cube tray I just had to have for my Peter Pan Birthday Party last summer.

Or my Gin and Titonic ice cube tray. In my defense, that ice cube tray was a gift — from a lovely person who obviously gets me. Gin and Tonics are one of my favorite cocktails, and they’re so much more fun when I can drop a few iceberg and ship shaped ice cubes into them.

See? Fun.

If I liked the movie Titanic, this would be the perfect cocktail for a Titanic movie night with the girls, but I don’t. Incidentally, if I were entertaining company with G&Ts, I would probably buy Fever Tree Tonic instead of the more pedestrian Schweppes, and I might even substitute a more complex gin like a Hendricks instead of my go-to Bombay Sapphire, but I digress….

If I’m being honest with myself, I’m much more likely to host a Star Wars party, though. I think that means I neeed to get these Han Solo in carbonite ice cubes. I mean, these things are so amazing. I die. (See how the rationalization starts?)

Come on. I need these, right? Photo courtesy of Amazon.

While we’re on the topic of movie theme parties, I probably need these Batman ice cube trays so I can throw a Dark Knight Rises party in honor of the DVD release on December 4.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.

So, anyway, this is how my mind works. And this is how I spend $50 I should probably just put in my savings account….

Peter Pan Party Wrap Up (Or Here’s Everything in One Place)

OK, this is it. The final Peter Pan Party post. The everything-in-one-place post. The you-never-have-to-hear-about-it-again post.

These Peter Pan Partygoers are eager to wrap this ish up.

See, I’m saving you from digging around my blog to piece together a Peter Pan Party the way I used to rummage through piles of black capris and halter tops on my floor in college just to find two matching Steve Madden platforms. (Note: I do NOT wear Maddens anymore. This is because I no longer think it’s acceptable to be hobbled by cheap footwear.)

Invitations
I used Paperless Post because I’m into saving the planet by saving some trees. And also because their designs are like the perfect storm of affordable and attractive.

Photo Courtesy of Paperless Post.

If you’re not into this design, here are a few more pirate-y options.

By the way, PP now offers a charity stamp option. They donate $0.05 to Amensty International, Red, or the ASPCA if you choose the charity stamp instead of the default option. Naturally, I went with the ASPCA puppy stamp. Since we had 142 people on our guest list, we bought a little bit of kibble for homeless pets just by inviting people to drink with us at our party.

Flowers
Here’s the work in progress post, complete with ordering info on the vases and sprinkles.
And this is the reveal.

Neverland Map
I explain how to age paper for a treasure map or Neverland map here.

Other Assorted Decorations
This is the decoration wrap up, complete with product ordering information.

Appetizers
Spicy Eggplant Dip
Truffle Popcorn

Taco Bar Main Course
Cola Carnitas
Slow Cooker Chicken (Note: I didn’t handle this part of the party, but if I had, I probably would have tried this recipe.)
Salsa
Salsa Verde

Dessert Bar
Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Mascarpone Frosting
Banana Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting
Glazed Lime Cake
Chocolate Stout Cake
Skull and Crossbones Sugar Cookies

And now… bacon wrapped meatloaf, because everything is better when it’s wrapped in bacon. Truth.

Peter Pan Party Aftermath Post 9 (Or Here’s the Peter Pan Party Decoration Download)

It’s probably time to talk about the rest of the decorations at my party. Then I really will wrap this up. I promise.

I’m ready to move on from the boy who refused to grow up to Jaws anyway.

Tonight Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is airing a special called, “How Jaws Changed the World” and OBVIOUSLY I set my DVR for that. Plus I have the champagne to pop ready because I looooove Jaws.

And sharks.

They’re sort of my thing.

On Thursday I promise to write a post entitled, “How Jaws 3 in 3-D Changed My Life” complete with a shark cupcake tutorial, but until then…

Peter Pan and the decorations.

This is my quick watermelon carving of Hook’s Jolly Roger, complete with the menacing croc. I wish the windows were level, but alas… I was rushing.

I did a freehand sketch for the sign, and it’s a quote from J.M. Barrie’s novel. I wanted to include it just in case people didn’t understand why there was this weird crocodile lurking around Hook’s ship.

If you want to get yourself a cool croc, I found that guy on Amazon here. It’s not the cheapest croc online, but it’s the best looking, and let’s be honest: that matters. A lot.

This is my (bad) attempt at a papier mache version of Hangman’s Tree. Hangman’s Tree is a departure from J.M. Barrie’s original story (there were multiple entrances into the Lost Boys’ home under the ground).

It was easier to do one tree and explain it on my Neverland map than to get into the whole passage about how Peter fits boys for their own trees, so that’s why I went this route.

Here we have lipstick on the proverbial pig with pearls hanging from Hangman’s Tree.

The entire skeleton of the tree was made with painters’ tape and twisted newspaper. If I had it to do all over again, I’d probably use a few real twigs and maybe even a little chicken wire. For the final layer of the papier mache, I used paper towels. I found posts online saying that makes it easier to cover the piece with paint.

I was in a hurry so I turned on the oven to dry out the tree. It’s probably a fire hazard or whatever but I kept an eye on it and didn’t let the dogs investigate it with their faces.

In retrospect, I think white tissue paper would have been better because I could have achieved a look more like this:

Photo Courtesy of Ultimate Paper Mache

And what would be a Peter Pan party without a little Tink?

I hate Tinkerbell, but you can’t really leave her out of your Peter Pan Party.

She is a scheming bitch, but she’s essential to the story.

The lantern is this little ditty from Ikea. I made Tink out of pins and tissue paper from Target.

At one point I considered hanging the lantern from a ribbon in the yard and surrounding it with green and white suckers, but I decided to reign myself in a bit.

My menu was another freehand sketch, but you could easily trace the silhouette and keep it simple. (Simple is something I SO need to learn.)

Here’s the Peter Pan Party menu situation.

I promise I’ll write my full wrap up post, so we can really fly away from Neverland. Forever.

Not that I’m going to grow up or anything….

Peter Pan Party Aftermath Post 8 (Or the Best Chocolate Cake Ever)

So now that I’ve complained ceaselessly about my glazed lime cake mess, it’s time to change gears and talk about the chocolate stout cake I baked for my birthday.

Because this cake?

Makes me happy. (Also, this cake is pretty hard to screw up.)

It’s made with beer and sour cream which might sound disgusting, but TRUST ME when I say it’s just moist and amazing even though I don’t really care all that much about chocolate in the first place.

The cake didn’t come out as pretty this time as it has in the past for me but I was in a major hurry – and a very bad mood from the lime cake mess.

This cake is a little ugly, but it is goooood. (I needed to saw a little off of one side with a serrated knife to make it level. I thought the frosting would fix it. It didn’t.)

And just so you  know I’m not lying about being able to bake a prettier version, here’s actual photographic evidence.

See? This is cuter. Note: the little nonpareil man is doing yoga. (Oh, and, ignore my crazy eyes; I was trying not to blink.)

If I had it to do all over again, I would actually make the cake a day or two ahead of time because it stays incredibly moist (and tasty) for a few days. This is something to consider if you’re planning a party and don’t have a lot of time for baking on the actual day of the party.

To get the skull and crossbones on the top, I put cream cheese frosting in a pastry bag and squeezed it into the cookie cutter. (I then leveled the frosting design with a butter knife.) I refrigerated the cake for a bit and then removed the cookie cutter prior to serving the cake.

I dusted the cake with a bit of powdered sugar and it looked soooo cute, but then the powdered sugar got all sucked into the frosting and just made it look like the cake was sweating. (This might have had something to do with the fact that it was like 110 in the valley and even though we had A/C in my friend’s guest house, it was still sorta hot in thurrr. Or because chocolate eats sugar — kinda like paper covers rock. I don’t know.)

Here’s the recipe. I HIGHLY recommend making this big stouty, chocolatey beast.

And if you want to decorate it, keep in mind that the chocolate frosting will bleed like mad and discolor the decorations. I had to add a second layer of nonpareils to the yoga man cake right before serving because many of them had discolored. (That’s part of the reason I used a ton of cream cheese frosting to make the skull and crossbones on top of the birthday cake.)

Ooo, and if you want to make skull and crossbones cookies (or replicate the design on the top of this cake), the cookie cutter is $1 at Sur la Table.

$1.

At Sur la Table.

I mean what’s actually $1 at Sur la Table other than the sales tax on a pastry brush?

Peter Pan Party Aftermath Post 7 (Or the Glazed Lime Cake Crisis)

It’s time to talk about cake. Why? Because I’m the birthday girl and I said so. Actually, it’s because I’ve been milking this birthday cow for far too long and I’m getting ready to wrap it up.

So… I’m going to do two posts about cake today, and pretty soon I’ll be moving on to things that make me legitimately happy. Like Shark Week. And the countdown to college football kick off.

But back to cake for now.

Since I share a birthday with my good friend, I always do a separate birthday cake for her. She loves my glazed lime cake and asks for it every year. So I make it every year.

And the cake makes me mad.

Every year.

Here’s the dilemma: The cake will sink in the middle if you don’t cook it long enough.

Please stop focusing on my armpit fat and concentrate on the cratered cake instead.

The problem with cooking it long enough to prevent it from sinking in the middle is that you end up drying out the cake a bit — particularly around the edges.

What to do?

See how fluffy and perfect-looking this is? I think the cake is dry, but I’m also a bit of a bitch about baked goods….

The problem with the cake could actually be that I have cheap baking pans, and I need something that conducts heat more evenly to get this cake to really turn out properly. I wrap my pans in aluminum foil every time I use them to prevent the edges of my cakes from burning or drying out, but I have more issues with this cake recipe than any other when it comes to uneven baking. I’m not even lying. I’ve made this cake at least 11 times and I swear I alternate between letting it dry out and letting it sink in the middle. Both options just send me right to the moon with rage. I could try the glass pan baking method (that the recipe actually calls for), but I don’t have a glass pan that is the right size. So maybe I’m just being one of those jerks who doesn’t follow the recipe and then says the recipe sucks. You know those people. They say, “I substituted margarine for butter, stevia for sugar, and grape Kool-Aid for grapes,” and then they can’t figure out why the cake now tastes like crap. (I kinda want to punch these people. Why write a review?!? It’s worthless to everyone who reads it.)

So anyway…

One potential fix for the dryness might be to double the amount of lime syrup you pour over the cake. Maybe you just make it moist by saturating it with syrup. Or you get over the fact that it looks ugly when it sinks in the middle because it tastes better that way. I don’t know.

Or maybe I just need to get married and register for some proper bakeware because I’m tired of buying my own bath towels and kitchen supplies. (Kidding.)

But before I run off and marry some Hollywood weirdo who wears fedoras with thrift store pants and Kicks just so I can register for swag at Sur la Table, I should mention I’m not the only one who has had sinking issues with this cake. If you read the reviews on Epicurious others mention the same problem. If you have any suggestions, or have a different experience making it. PLEASE LET ME KNOW.

The batter may actually be the most delicious batter on earth, and I should mention people psychotically love this cake. So, I might be crazy for being so superficial about its appearance.

Now that I’ve totally maligned this innocent cake, you can check out the recipe here. You’ll notice it’s made with powdered sugar and doesn’t have any leavening in it.

If you have questions about what baking pan to use when and why, this link is useful.

And now on to the chocolate cake, which you can check out here.

Peter Pan Party Aftermath Post 6 (Or Babies and the Best Banana Cupcakes Ever)

Banana Cupcakes, mateys.

If you’ve been reading my little bloggy for a while, you know I was prepping for a baby shower as well as my birthday party last week. And if you’re starting to feel like I’ve been a total only child by only writing about my Peter Pan Party, let me take you back to last Friday for a moment.

Picture this: It’s August 3. It’s 5 am. And it’s my birthday.

A certain puppy’s plaintive cries rouse me from my sweet birthday slumber. I decide to stay up even though it’s still dark outside because I’m absolutely up to my eyes in sewing owl sachets and baking and whatnot.

We never wake you up before dawn and go back to bed. Ever.

After walking the baby beasts, I settle in with my latte and tear into my stack of birthday presents like a wild dog. After the requisite calls to thank thoughtful family members (who were all in the eastern time zone, where it wasn’t OBSCENELY early), I settle in to do battle with the bobbin on my sewing machine. More on that later….

After sewing 19 owl sachets I decide to switch gears and begin baking the banana cupcakes that would be the base for these owl cupcakes.

I am just about to pour the banana cupcake batter into the owl cupcake liners when I get a phone call from my friend and co-host of the shower saying, “Stop everything! Jody’s water just broke.”

True story.

It was five weeks before our friend’s due date, so we thought we were totally in the clear holding the shower on August 4. Nope.

I pull out my lime green polka dotted liners and decide we will be having banana cupcakes at the Peter Pan Party instead of chocolate ganache-filled cupcakes with seven minute meringue frosting.

See, I had planned to make the chocolate ganache-filled cupcakes for the shower and since the recipe makes 24 cupcakes and is not easily halved, I was going to split the confections between the two parties. (Obviously I was going to wait to frost the second dozen until the next day with a fresh batch of frosting because the frosting looks way heinous if it sits out.)

Change of plans.

I totally switch gears from baby shower prep to birthday prep and go about my day hoping everything is going smoothly for my friend over at Cedars-Sinai, where absolutely everyone has their babies.

A few of my friends join me later for low-key take out and drinks and I force them to watch the Twin Peaks pilot like the spoiled birthday brat I am.

Then the news comes that Connor has arrived. On my birthday.

The funny part is both of his parents went to Michigan with me, and we’re all a little obsessed with Michigan football — like someone should probably check us in for treatment — obsessed. (I should mention Connor’s uncles and grandfather also went to Michigan, and so did the co-host of the baby shower. When you get all of us in the same room together, it’s a little frightening.)

Connor’s dad had been teasing me earlier in the day on Facebook about my love of Tom Brady, the Super Bowl MVP and former Michigan quarterback, with whom I share a birthday. And now his son shares a birthday with him too, which seems absolutely appropriate for the ultimate Michigan Wolverine baby.

So, anyway, the good news is everyone is happy and healthy, and my friend got to skip five weeks of pregnancy while it’s like 100 degrees in LA. Plus the people at my birthday party loved the banana cupcakes even though they weren’t on the original menu.

And now I have a new birthday buddy to add to my list that already includes two of my closest friends – plus Tom Brady, Martha Stewart, and Tony Bennett.

So, here’s the recipe for the banana cupcakes. It’s adapted (err, mostly stolen) from this recipe for the most amazing banana cake ever that I bake absolutely all of the time.

May the cupcakes make your friends go into labor too. Or something.

Banana Cupcakes

2 1/4 C cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about two large bananas)
1/4 cup buttermilk*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature

Mascarpone Cream Cheese Frosting 

1/2 C butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 C powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4 oz mascarpone

Sliced bananas for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Place 16 cupcake liners in cupcake tins.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Mix bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla in a separate bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing to blend after each addition. Add half of the dry ingredients and beat the mixture until just blended. Next add the banana mixture, followed by the remaining dry ingredients, just barely beating after each addition.

Pour the batter into cupcake liners. (Do not fill the cupcake liners to the top. You need to leave a little more room in the liners than you would ordinarily. This is because these cupcakes rise more than regular cupcakes.)

Bake until the tester inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, and the tops of the cupcakes have begun to change color, about 18-20 minutes.

Cool cupcakes completely on wire racks.

For the Frosting

Cream butter and cream cheese with the paddle attachment of your electric mixer. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt and mix to blend. Gradually add sifted powder sugar and mix until fluffy. Add mascarpone and carefully mix the frosting. (Mascarpone can curdle if it is whipped too much, so this last step is a bit delicate.)

If you want to skip the mascarpone altogether, just use 8 oz of cream cheese instead.

Place the frosting in the refrigerator until it’s the proper consistency for spreading, about 10-15 minutes.

* I don’t buy an entire container of buttermilk when I only need ¼ C. It’s a colossal waste. I make my own buttermilk instead. You can do this by adding a few teaspoons of vinegar to whole milk and allowing it to sit and curdle, about five minutes. If you don’t have vinegar, lemon juice works as well.