Monday, July 21, 2014

Birthday Jimmie Rolls



Where I'm from, we call them jimmies. Those colorful sprinkles you get on ice cream cones. As opposed to the sugar crystal sprinkles that we actually call "sprinkles."

Most people just go ahead and call both sprinkles, but I think it's worth it to differentiate. There's something magical about jimmies.

And magic is what birthdays are all about!

There's nothing particularly fancy about these rolls, but they sure do light up a little one's eyes! 

Your favorite cinnamon roll recipe can fill in (or even those canned Pillsbury ones), but you're welcome to borrow mine. The trick is to use plenty of your favorite jimmies in celebratory colors.

You can adapt the recipe for Christmas, Fourth of July, any holiday that comes with appropriately-colored jimmies!

And the best part? You can make the rolls ahead of time (even freeze them!) and save yourself all the hassle on the morning of the big day.

Cinnamon swirls, ooey-gooey icing, and colorful sprinkles jimmies - nothing says happy birthday like these! 

(And nothing says "Happy Birthing Day" to mama like a low-key morning and low-stress breakfast prep. I should know.)

Birthday Jimmie Rolls
Makes 16 rolls

INGREDIENTS

For Dough
6 1/4 c. flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
2 t. salt
6 T sugar
5 t. instant yeast
2 c. lukewarm whole milk (2 1/4 c. if using whole wheat flour)
1/2 c. vegetable oil or melted butter

For Filling
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
2 T cinnamon
1/2 c. raisins (optional)

For Icing and Decoration
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. cream cheese, softened
1-2 c. confectioners' sugar (depending on how sweet you like 'em)
1/2 t. vanilla
rainbow (or other colored) jimmies

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all dough ingredients in large bowl of stand mixer, fitted with hook attachment. Mix on medium-low speed for 6 minutes. 
  2. Remove dough from mixer. Oil bowl liberally. Return dough to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in warm place until doubled.
  3. While dough is rising, grease 2 round 9'' cake pans. Set aside.
  4. Divide dough in half. Roll each half out in 9x13 rectangle. Spread each rectangle with 1/4 c. softened butter. Combine 1 c. brown sugar with 2 T cinnamon in small dish and sprinkle over butter, leaving 1/2'' gap on one of the long sides of the rectangle. Top with 1/2 c. raisins, if desired. (We do!) 
  5. Roll, beginning at the long end that has the cinnamon-sugar mixture all the way up to the edge. Use the clean long end to seal the rolls shut. Slice each rectangle into 8 thick slices. Place in prepared pans. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. At this point, you may wrap the rolls in a second layer of plastic wrap and slip into a large zip-top baggie to freeze. Can be frozen for up to 1 month. To thaw, place in refrigerator two nights or one full day before you plan to use them. If your home is cool at night, place out on counter the night before you will be baking. Otherwise, you can set them out to warm 1-2 hours before planning to bake.
  6. Preheat oven to 350F.
  7. Bake rolls in center of oven for 15-25 minutes (cooking time will depend greatly on what pan you use - glass will back faster than metal, and aluminum disposable pans will take the longest) until golden brown on top.
  8. While rolls are baking, mix the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer. (This is important. Don't try to do it by hand with a whisk; you'll get lumps.) Incorporate confectioners' sugar and vanilla at low speed with mixer.
  9. Cool rolls for 10 minutes. Spread with icing. Sprinkle with jimmies. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Happy 7th Birthday, Sophia!


Seven years ago, this lovely young lady blessed my life by coming into it and making me a mama. 

I can never thank God enough for choosing me to be the mother of this daughter.

Sophia, you are sweetness personified.


You always have a kind word on your tongue, a creative thought in your mind, and hands ready to help any and all who ask. Your sunshiny attitude is a gift to your family and to all who know you. 

I will never forget the day you told me you loved housecleaning day the best of all the days in the week (except Sunday!) because when the house was clean, everyone was calmer and happier, and you loved doing work to make people happy. You will go far in any walk of life with that attitude, my girl!

And when I asked what your favorite thing was about being six, you answered me, starry-eyed and smiling, "Will. Getting my new baby brother."

Your love for others humbles me daily.


Thank you, daughter, for all you have taught me of joy and gentleness. I love you to the moon and back.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Frozen in July: The Creation of a "Frozen" Birthday Party, or A Cake Catastrophe Redeemed


"Do you wanna build a snowman?"

Snowman pizza, that is!

This weekend, we threw a Frozen-themed party in honor of Sophia's 7th birthday. I have to be honest, this was the most in-depth party I've ever thrown. I mean, I tried to keep it simple. I did. But, it's Frozen! There's just so much you can do! My imagination kind of got carried away. In a good way, I hope. (You'll have to judge that for yourself at the end of the post.)

One thing I will say about birthday parties: They're not for everyone. I've mentioned in past posts the various reasons why we don't do birthday parties for our youngest children, but rather choose to celebrate at home as a family.

Not everybody has the means, energy, or inclination to throw a party for every child's birthday. That's fine. I'm all for simple! I'm not much of a party girl myself. When my husband asked me if I wanted a special party for my 30th birthday this year, I said no. I'd rather stay home. Thank you so much for the heartfelt offer, but parties aren't my thing. 

That said, I have one more thing to say about birthday parties: They are a gift. 

Especially children's birthday parties. A magical party is imagination come to life--your child's imagination and yours. It is a precious, precious thing to listen to a daughter's or son's dreams and then (as much as is in your power) make them come true. 

Birthday parties are not essential to birthday happiness. 

We don't always have a party for each of our children each year, but when I throw a birthday party, I tend to go as all-out as my budget and energy will allow. Not in terms of how big, how much, how many...but in terms of investment. Not investment of money so much as time and care. How much creativity--how much of me can I give to this special event?

My daughter will not necessarily remember every game we played, every treat we made, what all the decorations looked like, or even which presents she got on her special day. Those things, in and of themselves, are not important. What is important (and what I think she will remember) is that wide-eyed awe and glow of feeling special. Cherished. Loved.

She will remember that on that day, I listened to her dreams, and helped them come to life. 


 But enough of my precursory sentiments. Let's get on to the logistics. Games, Food, Favors. Cake. (Oh, the cake! I'll get to the cake. Just you wait.)

Let's start from the beginning.

Decorations

We used blue-and-white as our theme colors. What else for a Frozen birthday, right? Especially when your little girl's favorite character is Elsa.

Colored crepe paper streamers, bunches of latex balloons, and tissue puffs (the kind in the wedding aisle at your local craft store) made up the bulk of our decorations. We also found some blue-glitter ribbon, large aquamarine tissue paper starbursts, and glittery star garlands (popular 4th of July decor that was on sale at our Michaels!) to add some extra pizzazz.

The picnic table got an enchanted sprinkling of jewels and snow-like glitter over the teal tablecloth as the final touch.

Let's Get This Party Started

I love having an activity of some sort to keep the children occupied as guests start to arrive. A craft gives kids a way to focus their energy (because, let's face it, birthday parties--even if they're not your own--are pretty darn exciting when you're 7). They also keep everyone from getting distracted or into mischief while you're waiting for the inevitable late arrivals.

For our Frozen party, I thought it would be fun to make the craft lunch. In honor of Frozen's hit number "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" we built our own snowman pizzas! (Pics at the top of this post.) I made the pizza dough and sauce the day before and formed the dough it into small balls about an hour before the guests were due to arrive. (I stacked the dough balls on a plate, separated by layers of greased parchment paper to keep them from sticking.)

Upon arrival, each of the kids got 2 balls of dough and a small, child-sized rolling pin. They took turns rolling out the dough and then using the two circles to shape their snowman. I slapped on some tasty sauce, and then they went to town with mozzarella, olives (for buttons and eyes) and baby carrots (how else to get an authentic nose?).

Afterwards, we moved the party outside for snacks and games while my husband fired up the oven and baked our snowmen. He considered this a big bonus, as he didn't have to join in any "Let It Go" dance parties. ;-)

Games

Marshmallow Race

A marshmallow race was our first game. Each child got a giant Campfire-sized marshmallow, which she could place anywhere on her face. Once I gave the signal, the kids had to try to eat the entire marshmallow without using their hands. It was pretty silly and a lot of fun.

In retrospect, however, I shouldn't have made this the first game. Why, you ask? Because, well, it's silly. You look pretty goofy trying to gobble a marshmallow hands-free, and you know it. Some of our guests were only meeting for the first time, and what girl likes to look silly in front of new friends?

If I had a do-over, I would have put this one later in the game round-up. It was still fun, though, and the marshmallows, of course, were a big hit.

Snowball Toss

This is the one I would have chosen as the first game if I'd thought it out more. It's fairly easy for any child over age 4, and it was a great way to get the kids charged up in a friendly competition.

Basic idea: You stack up some plastic drinking cups (3 on the bottom, 2 in the middle, and 1 on top) on a card table and lob a snowball (ie. another of those giant Campfire marshmallows) at them. The kids get three tries apiece to take a whack at the tower, and you cheer each time someone successfully knocks it down!

You could offer prizes for those who succeed, but I'm not a big fan of that approach. I prefer a more low-stress competition. (And I offer a second round for anyone who wasn't happy with their first attempt.)

Frozen Statues

You have to know your group of guests to determine whether this will be a good fit for you. In our case, it was!

I played the song "In Summer" from the Frozen soundtrack in the backyard while the kids danced around. Each time I paused the song, they had to freeze in whatever position they were in. If I caught someone moving, I pointed them out (but I let them keep dancing after that).

We had a great time, but I think you can see how this wouldn't work with a shyer group. A good alternative, in that case, might be a game of Freeze Tag. Or if you have a group of boys! For some reason, boys seem to prefer chasing each other over dancing. Go figure, right?


Drinks

Melted Snow

No snowmen were harmed! This was just ice water in a fancy crystal dispenser.

Snowcap Punch

This one was a little more complicated...and a lotta bit sweeter. (That's a thing.)

Mix 1 liter Sprite with 10 squirts blue Hawaiian Punch concentrate. Scoop in 1 quart vanilla ice cream. Serve with a ladle and a smile. (How can kids like this stuff?)

Food

Elsa's Snowflake Snack Mix

I'd seen similar mixes on Pinterest, but the exact mix-up just didn't sound right to me. After several strolls down the cereal, snack, and candy aisles at our local grocery store, I landed on a variety of things I thought would taste pretty darn good together.

Our mix included Vanilla Chex (incidentally, these taste exactly like birthday cake), yogurt covered pretzels, York Pieces, blue Almond Joy Pieces (we picked out the cream and brown ones to munch on later), and salted popcorn.

I have to say, this stuff was dangerously yummy. I may have eaten a good quart of the stuff. Maybe. On second thought, it might have been more.

The kids had me beat, though. Actually, it took a lot to drag some of them away from the bowl! If your guests aren't big into games, then you probably shouldn't serve this stuff. Nobody would get up from your snack table!

Snowman Noses with Reindeer Drool

Hey, don't knock it til you've tried it!

This oddly named treat is actually just baby carrots (noses) with ranch dressing (reindeer drool). If you haven't seen the movie, there is a running gag where one of the characters is always sharing carrots with his pet reindeer -- after the reindeer has already had a bite! Icky, of course, but kids love that kind of thing. Or, at least mine do. I imagine this snack would go over particularly well with any little boys.

Birthday Cake

What's a birthday party without cake, right? And this one...this was a really special cake. Or at least...the second one was.

Tangent time!

Normally, I bake birthday cakes from scratch. That's a big part of our family's birthday tradition. The birthday person gets to design their own special flavored birthday cake (and lick the bowl all by herself!)

I've made peanut-butter-and-jelly cakes. I've made ice cream cakes. I've made your good, old-fashioned yellow cake with chocolate icing. But, what have I never made? A box of cake mix.

Thus begins our adventure.

I went to the grocery store, planning to pick up some decorative sugars to decorate a white cake with blue raspberry icing (wasn't sure how I was going to pull off that icing, but that's what my daughter had asked for, and I was pretty sure I could swing it with some Kool-Aid mix), when lo and behold! Pillsbury was selling cans of blue raspberry icing!

It was on sale (a significant savings compared to whipping up some real buttercream), and it was already made. Cheap and easy and exactly what my daughter had asked for? I couldn't imagine anything better. I snapped up a couple of cans and then, since I was already using canned frosting, I thought, what the heck? Why not get a boxed cake mix, too, and make this whole ordeal a little easier on myself? I do have a brand new baby, after all.

I grabbed the aforementioned decorative sugars, and I was off. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Until I baked that first cake.

And it completely fell apart.

I mean, crumbled. Decimated. Right in front of my eyes. Right in front of my birthday girl's wide, worried eyes! (A pox on you, Betty Crocker!)

Here's a tip from a boxed cake mix novice: Do NOT buy Betty Crocker cake mix. 

Ever. Seriously, that stuff is of the devil.

It was the afternoon before the party. It was 91 degrees--and we don't have air conditioning in Seattle--and I'd just spent the morning slaving away over an oven to bake this cake for my baby girl, and here it was, falling apart in my hands as I tried in vain to stick it back together with those cans of blue raspberry icing.

It was a disaster.

Good thing I had the presence of mind to pray (as I bit back the curse words I desperately wanted to fling at the offending pile of frosting-and-crumbs)--and good thing my mother is in town visiting, because I left her with the kids as I flew out the door, blue icing on my shirt and my hair in a sweaty, drooping pony tail on a frantic race to the grocery store.

I stood there in the baking aisle, choking back tears (along with the aforementioned four-letter words that were battering against the inside of my skull). My Mom had recommended (right before I threw myself out the front door and left her with four anxious kids and a mountain of crumbly blue goop) that I buy Duncan Hines mix instead.

I grabbed a box (on sale), but doubt was gnawing at me.

What if this cake failed just like the last one? What if the problem wasn't the cake but the frosting? Should I make my own? And how does a person make blue raspberry frosting?

What if I went to all the effort of making a batch of homemade blue raspberry buttercream on this blisteringly hot day, only to have it taste awful? Or turn green? Or worse yet: turn out perfectly and then go to waste as I attempted to ice another boxed cake mix cake that I was more than certain was
bound to fall to pieces just like the last one?

So I did what any clueless, frazzled, frizzy-haired mama would: I went to see an expert.

The lady at the grocery store bakery must have seen the half-mad spark in my eye, because she patiently listened to my entire saga. She must also have been a desperate mother once, because whrn I was finished, she neither ran away shouting, "Crazy lady on aisle 12!" nor did she call security.

"Can you give me any tips?" I concluded dismally. I was sure she couldn't.

Ad it turned out, she could.

"Come on back here," she said, and she waved me behind the bakery counter with a conspiratorial grin.

I spent the next ten minutes being treated to a crash course in cake decorating. Did you know those professional bakers have commercial-sized icing tip couplers to go with their commercial-sized icing bags, and that is how they get that yummy, sugary, non-buttercreamy (that's a word) frosting to go on so beautifully and flawlessly?

Well, they do.

And not only did my angelic bakery lady show me how to use one, she made me a gift of her spare tip and not one but two icing bags!

Armed with my new-found knowledge and a heart full of boundless gratitude, I headed home to have a second go at this cake thing.

As it turns out, Duncan Hines makes a far superior product to Betty Crocker. I think it may have something to do with the more than 1/2 cup reduction in liquid in the ingredients and the longer cooling time, but whatever the reason, this cake held! The icing went on wonderfully, thanks to my Bakery Angel, and I topped the whole thing off with a hearty sprinkling of blue-and-white sugar crystals. A few edible pearls were the finishing touch.

At last, I had created the cake Sophia had been dreaming of all these long weeks!

"Mama," she whispered to me later as I tucked her into bed, "thank you so much for my cake."

"Was it what you wanted?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "And thank you for not getting angry when the first one broke."

Well, honey, I'm glad you thought I didn't get angry. I worked very hard to get un-angry. God is good. And, by the way, no thanks necessary. The joy in your eyes as you looked on that cake is all the thanks I need. Your grateful spirit is the icing on top!


 Going Out on a High Note

This is another good birthday party tip. It's a good tip in general, but especially where kids' parties are concerned. After all that running around in the sun and all that sugar, you want to end things early enough that they don't all start to unravel on your front lawn--and you want to go out with a bang.

I keep parties to two hours. Activity on arrival, games, lunch, cake and candles, and then the ubiquitous opening of gifts. Most parties finish off with a handing out of the goodie bags (though I know some parents are starting to go without these--we don't do goodie bags for our 5- to 6-year-old parties, because the younger guests don't seem to have developed much of an expectation  before that age). I prefer a more novel approach: the treasure hunt.

Treasure Hunts are something my mother invented for my childhood birthday parties. Rather than handing out pre-stuffed goodie bags, you hand each child an empty goodie bag as the party dies down (usually about the last 10-15 minutes before you anticipate parents to arrive).

Sophia helped me decorate each guest's bag with their name and carefully selected stickers (Frozen ones, of course). Then, I taped a scrap of colored tissue paper to the bottom of each bag. Each bag had a different color, which coordinated with the tissue paper I used to wrapped up each child's "goodies." The wrapped goodies were hidden in our front yard while the party took place in the back, then just as things were winding down, we headed out front, and I set the kids loose to find their hidden treats!

Everyone had such a great time, and then we all sat in the shade while they unwrapped ring pops, Twinkle lollipops, novelty sunglasses, and crystal bracelets in Elsa blue-and-white.

You could also wrap the gifts in the same color tissue and differentiate with a different sticker for each guests, but I had more variety in my tissue paper than my stickers this time. ;-)


Well, that's it, folks. My humble tips on how to create a "real howler in July!" The Frozen birthday party was a hit. 

We had a blast with some fun games, tasty food, and even an important life lesson or two. Good times were had by all.

Just ask my little Elsa look-alike. 

The only question left: Do you wanna build a snowman?