Category Archives: Food

A very dot-ty party

The birthday I’d been looking forward to and planning for months has come and gone! My little boy is 1. I planned his birthday party around the idea of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings, although it probably just looked like it was polka-dot themed.

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 11.23.57 AM

The invitations: Hand-drawn and hand-cut (with details printed inside), each one unique.

The decorations: We got a huge pack of scrapbook paper (but 8.5×11, since we’re cutting it all), in all the colors of the rainbow, and a circle cutter. I started with the curtain. A had seen strings of circles sparkling as they swung and twirled on the air currents in one of our rare trips to the mall, and he’d been mesmerized. We cut 2-inch circles then spaced them about 1 or 1-1/2″ (I just eyeballed it) apart, applied rubber cement, placed sewing thread on the first circle, and pressed a matching circle into place, sandwiching the string between, then continuing up the thread.

Eleven circles got me about 3 feet in length. My strings are all between 3 and 4 feet long. When I finished constructing each thread of circles, I cut the end, leaving a tail of maybe 18 inches, which I used to tie it on to the curtain rod. It’s not the sturdiest decoration, but it worked for the party. 🙂 All you sewists (is that the term we’re going with these days?) could also make it by stitching through a single circle, leaving space, then the next, etc.

Then we also cut circles of various sizes and used them to create both the birthday banner and various spots (heh) of interest throughout the house, including a “table runner” (tablecloths and 1 year olds don’t mix) and something on the front door to draw guests in.

The cake: Three layers of gluten-free chocolate cake (from the best cake mix ever), plus cupcakes. Frosted with 7-minute frosting. (I got pasteurized egg whites so I didn’t have to worry since this recipe doesn’t require the hand-held mixer over the double boiler bit, so the eggs are never on the stove. So much easier this way!)

And then the dots. Instead of starting with melted sugar syrup on the stove (or Instamelt, which I discovered too late since I can’t get it locally), I was inspired by stained-glass cookies to try just melting candy in the oven — stained-glass cookies without the cookie, essentially. I bought a mixed bag of Jolly Ranchers and one of LifeSavers. Between the two, I had a good range of colors (just no yellow). After some experimentation, I ended up melting the LifeSavers in my mini-muffin pan and the somewhat larger Jolly Ranchers in regular-sized silicone muffin cups.

With the oven at 350°, making sure each piece of candy was centered in its place, I let them melt and puddle. I started at 5-7 minutes, and then I was watching them very closely. If they go too long, they start bubbling and that’s kind of a mess to deal with. If you need to tip the tray a bit to get complete circles, do that as you remove them from the oven. Let them cool and them pop them out onto parchment, then apply to cake. The ones in silicone were a cinch to remove, compared to the ones in just the nonstick pan, but I couldn’t find silicone mini-muffin cups, so hey. [They get sticky relatively quickly, especially in high humidity. And they don’t last forever.]

The fruit: I made a fruit salad to match the circular theme, using the melon baller on watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew and papaya, and added pineapple chunks and halved grapes.

The event: He had a great time pulling on curly ribbons and letting them spring back. He liked unwrapping presents, until the pile of paper and tissue became more interesting than unwrapping for the moment. He quite enjoyed his first taste of refined sugar — he took teeny tiny pinches of frosting until he’d eaten nearly all of it — but he didn’t really care for the cake (I don’t think he even tried it, even when I placed a small bit in his mouth).

Happy birthday, baby!

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Autumnal dinner party

Last night we hosted 11 for dinner in our home. The menu:

I posted the recipe for the soup a week ago; the rest of the dishes were pretty standard fare for us, although I did make the coconut- and pecan-filled frosting for the (round, layered) cake from scratch (which was a first). The meat was grilled.

It was a lot of work, but I’d call it a success. Still quite tired this morning, though.

For more Weekend Cooking posts, visit Beth Fish Reads.

Jenny’s Apple & Butternut Squash Soup


This is what you’re making for dinner tomorrow

I hadn’t planned to participate in this 2nd annual Fall Festival Recipe Exchange, but when I saw Amy’s post today I knew that I should post and what recipe to post.

I discovered this recipe at the Juniper Moon Farm blog a couple weeks ago, and within a week, I’d tried it out. It just seemed so fall-ish, warm and comfortable! and I’ve wanted to try my hand at a squash soup for years now but hadn’t done so.

Susie posted the recipe for Jenny’s Apple & Butternut Squash Soup (edited here for brevity and efficiency; if you want to read the entertaining version of the recipe, click the link):

Action shot of Paul using the immersion blender on our first (of many, I'm sure!) batch of this soup. Lame-o cameraphone capture.

Apple & Butternut Squash Soup

1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and chopped
4 red or golden apples, peeled, cored and diced — I used gala
2 tsp coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cups homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock, skimmed of fat

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. 
Add onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes.

Add squash and cook, stirring occasionally until it softens, about 10 minutes.

Add apples, salt, cumin, coriander, ginger, cayenne, black pepper, chicken stock and 2 1/2 cups water (just enough to cover). Bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until veggies are very soft, about 30 minutes.

Puree until smooth with an immersion blender (or in batches in the bowl of a food processor or the jar of a blender and return to saucepan) over low heat. Thin with additional water if necessary. — I didn’t.

Serve hot and garnish with sour cream. Just drop a little dollop on top, or make a little cone out of paper, and use it like icing to make a cute little design on the top.

This soup refrigerates well, freezes OK (when it’s thawed it’s a little watery and loses a bit of flavor).

Serves 6.
 Per Serving: 143 calories; 3g fat; 6mg cholesterol; 27g carbohydrate; 865mg sodium; 2g protein; 4g fiber.
 2 Weight Watchers points per serving.

This recipe wasn’t created by Jenny (not linked in Susie’s post), but it’s not attributed. There are many similar recipes online, but I’m guessing this started as the Martha Stewart one. I’m planning to make this recipe again next week, but I’ll more carefully regulate (and maybe cut) the quantity of cayenne; it was a touch on the spicy side for us. Still, oh-so-yummy. Enjoy!