Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Birthdays

A week when you're seven months pregnant and watching your toddler alone because your husband is out of the country on business is not an ideal week to plan and prep for a birthday party. Especially not when you've had no motivation to even settle on a theme for the previous month. So what did I do? Settled on a few projects, kept the guest list small, and never turned down an offer of help.

My big project was going to be the cake. Given E's current obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, I thought a train theme was the one to finally settle on, and his favourite engine at the moment is Percy. The Husband managed to talk me into a 3D cake rather than a simple sheet cake silhouette, so I decided to run with it.

In the spirit of keeping it simple, I bought a Swiss roll, two boxes of Betty Crocker red velvet mix, two boxes of cream cheese icing, and a few tubes of writing icing and food dye. On Tuesday night, I baked my two lots of cake mix: one in a flat 9x12" tin and the other in a small loaf tin. Once they were out and cooled, they were wrapped in cling film and put in the freezer.

Wednesday night brought another project as I took a break from the cake: hanging streamers. After a brief and unsuccessful quest to find crepe paper streamers at a local store, I decided to make it easier on myself and just order things online.

So, with E in bed and Simon Pegg saving Gloucestershire in the background, I got my streamers hung from the ceiling. The next afternoon saw the balloons inflated and hung so that, by Thursday night, I was ready to crack on with the cake.

With all the separate cakes frozen, it was easy to get straight lines when I cut the pieces I needed without creating too many crumbs in the process. Then, it was time to quickly spread on the crumb coating: just enough icing to catch most of the crumbs and stick everything together. Finally, assembled, the whole thing went back into the fridge to be properly frosted and decorated on Friday night.

That's when things started to go downhill. The red dye for the bottom of the cake worked a treat, but the green dye that I needed for most of the cake made the frosting incredibly runny. There was washing on and the kitchen was getting hot: drips and dribbles of green frosting kept sliding down the sides of the cake all over the places I didn't want them to go. The whole thing was quickly becoming a gloopy mess, so I shoved it in the fridge to help everything set. Still no good. So, after half an hour of trying to salvage everything while the cake stayed in the fridge, I opted for more drastic measures and popped it in the freezer.

The freezer was just the trick: the frosting set enough for me to tidy the earlier drips and smudges without much fuss, and the writing icing for Percy's stripes and the roof of the cab stopped running as well. On Saturday morning I got everything touched up and then printed off a face on cardstock to finish the look.

We kept the rest of the decorations simple: a level crossing into the living room, a railroad sign on the closet, and a 'Snack Station' complete with two platforms for the two-year-old birthday boy. I did find, though, that by Saturday, I had a bit more energy than I'd expected, so with the Husband back to help, I left the tidying and gift bag assembly to him and decided to have a go at doing the individual seven-layer dips from The Girl Who Ate Everything. They were a huge hit!
The original: via The Girl Who Ate Everything
My attempt: not too bad.
The difference? I was too lazy to make pico de gallo and this household doesn't eat olives, so we technically had six layers instead of seven. Plus, I made proper taco meat as one layer using my own homemade taco seasoning recipe.

So, all the family (minus one brother-in-law who's over in the States at the moment) and E's BFF and her mum came round to ours for nibbles, cake, and a chance to let the toddlers run wild. My mother-in-law offered to bring crips, cake, and quiche pinwheels, which I gratefully accepted; my lovely sister-in-law Rachel brought biscuits; and Angus & Emily brought some scrummy doughnuts. This padded out our own offerings nicely since I had Organix snacks for the kids, the seven-layer dips, some frozen spring rolls that we popped into the oven, and drinks.

The kids are all a bit too little for games, so they just ran around and played with E's toys. We let them watch one or two episodes of Sarah & Duck in the slower moments of the day, and that kept them fairly happy. All in all, I'd call the day a success.

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