We’ve been a little AWOL over the past few days, but don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you! We’ve just been incredibly busy getting ready for Francesca’s Princess and the Frog/New Orleans-themed birthday party! Over the past few days we’ve been perfecting our gumbo and our beignets, so that we have the perfect recipes to share with you come next week, and Isabella has been drawing some unbelievable portraits of the Princess and the Frog characters, while we’ve begun to put together a green, purple and gold candy table. We’ll have plenty of pictures, recipes, party planning tips and other surprises coming soon. Meanwhile, get yourself in the New Orleans mood by taking a look at some of our preview pictures, and checking out this awesome jazz band we found in the French Quarter last March.
I love my family for only taking foodie vacations, but after a while the calories will catch up to you. So I was actually a little relieved when my high school friends and I settled on New Hampshire for our post-grad bonding trip, rather than what would have inevitably become an expensive and calorific gastronomic tour of Quebec. We brought The Chef along to chaperone (cook), but I thought we were planning to spend our days on our feet hiking, swimming or at least antiquing. And we did…
What I failed to realize, was that the house we rented, on a strict college student’s budget, was a whole hour from Mount Washington, but a mere seven minutes away from the biggest budget basher known to mankind: the world’s longest candy counter.
It’s very dangerous to let me loose in a store like Chutters. With whole bins of cappuccino jelly beans, peach-apricot fruit slices, cognac cordials, chocolate-covered pretzel balls and chocolate-covered gummy bears (tasteless in one sense, so tasty in another) I was like a kid in a… never mind.
Candy here is stored in big jars, and sold by the pound, but I was assured that a pound of candy was a lot, so I set a budget in my mind, and set out filling my bag with what was, to my mind, a very reasonable amount of candy. I took a break from candy buying to take pictures, and 1/2 an hour later joined my friends at the checkout counter. All four of them spent exactly what they planned to… I rang up to almost twice as much.
I call this a mini anecdote, but really it’s the story of my life.
We take parties way too seriously at our house, so when Francesca came to us and said she wanted her fifth birthday to be an Alice in Wonderland party it was almost too much excitement for us to take. We wasted no time in beginning plans for desserts and decorations. And this was in January.
Alice in Wonderland happens to be my second favorite book, and so (since I don’t see a Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh party on the horizon anytime soon) I knew the Mad Tea Party had to be absolutely perfect. Making that happen meant handing off all decorating responsibilities to Mom and Isabella, who in recent weeks has blossomed into quite the artist. Isabella painted white roses red, Mom ordered 24 pink flamingos and a dozen hedgehogs for croquet, and together they set up a tea table that would have made the Mad Hatter and March Hare very proud. They tied ribbons to the (unlit) candles, and Bella made a beautiful runner out of butcher paper, featuring 20 or so quotes from the books. And, of course, they gave every kid got his or her own little tea cup for their iced tea.
But of course, if we’re being honest with ourselves, really what is a teabirthday party if not just an excellent opportunity to eat dessert?
To celebrate the black, white and red color scheme we made a red velvet trifle with the Lee Brothers’ perfect red velvet cake (but without the orange zest), cut into cubes and layered with a white chocolate mascarpone mousse (without the pear brandy for the kids) from Bon Appétit, vanilla bean whipped cream (2 cups heavy cream, 3 tbsp sugar and seeds from one vanilla bean, beaten until stiff peaks form) and chocolate chips.
We found the Lee Brothers’ red velvet cake completely by luck. It’s the most flavorful red velvet cake we’d ever tried, with a vanilla-cocoa flavor that’s deepened by lots of buttermilk. It’s light, tender, moist and completely perfect. We liked it so much, we remade it in the form of “Eat Me” cupcakes. We wrote “Eat Me” on everything – in icing on the cupcakes, and in chocolate chip cookies on the trifle and oversized brown sugar cookies.
For drinks we took the labels off of Izze bottles and glass Coca-Cola bottles and tied “Drink Me” tags on them…
…and we rounded off the desserts with a candy table inspired by the graduation.
We played croquet, had a freeze dance “caucus race,” and finished with a white rabbit-inspired bunny hop red light-green light. And of course, everybody won everything and they all got prizes!
Francesca felt so special in her Alice costume and that night over her celebratory “Chicken Terinaki” she said she had “the best day ever.” And seriously, with trifle, croquet and pink flamingos, what day could possibly be more frabjous?
It’s been almost three weeks since I graduated and it’s still barely sunk in. It’s so foreign to me, taking a day trip to New York without feeling guilty for putting off a paper, or going in the car without bringing flashcards. But it’s been an amazing few weeks. Now that I have no obligations, I get to spend as much time as I want playing with my sisters, taking pictures, playing the guitar, manning the cooking school booth at the farmers market and of course, cooking up a storm. In fact, cooking up a storm is the first thing I did when I got home, Sunday, June 6th. The moment my diploma was safely out of reach from any sisters or cousins who might want to color it in, I put on my apron and went to work on final preparations for my grad party.
The highlights of the party were the cheese table (above), and a cookie-candy bar (below) that was as much of a hit with the grown ups as with the kids. Doing tables like these isn’t hard. After the jump are some tips for doing one at your own party.
And for dinner, mom really outdid herself. Among the things she made were Salmon en Croute with dill, lemon and black pepper cream, Beef Tenderloin with Stilton Sauce and assorted grilled vegetables with herbs de provence. But perhaps the highlight was this fabulous, and foolproof, bacon-arugula quiche. It’s one of our absolute favorite things to make here at the test kitchen, and we’re very excited to share it with you. Click for the recipe!