Today was a good day. Amaya played hard at her very own birthday party. The kids weren’t one bit bothered by the rain, and still played hide & go seek, jumped on the trampoline, and made bubbles by the boatful. They were soapy, soaked, sugared-out, and happy for 5 straight hours.
That’s the way birthdays should be. I remember crying at a few of my own kid-birthday parties, about stupid things, but mostly it was about expectations. Amaya played it cool, all the way through, and just wanted to have fun.
For this month’s Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 (click to see all the other fun, creative events held on Saturday, June 25th) the glorious editors at Foodbuzz chose to support Amaya’s 5th birthday party. For our theme we went with Pop!sicles, Pop! (soda for you urban folks), and Pop!ping Bubbles.
If you know me, you know throwing a party is not my thing. That’s the kind of talent that’s similar to craftiness. I love to cook but cooking for a party throws me off. I just want to hide out until she’s 18 and she can throw her own parties. If she wants.
So I took a deep breath and dove into party planning. I thought about parties I’ve been to and I put those experiences to good use when I was planning my party. I’d like to share those thoughts with you here.
I used Facebook to invite everyone to the party. I sent invites to the parents and it was easier than easy to monitor who was coming or not because of the quick “attending” button. I called those that didn’t respond to make sure that they saw the invitation. This saved me tons of hassle. Maybe it’s not classy, but hey, is this about invitations or a party?
Focus on Food Made with Love
I went looking around for some of my favorite products, especially ones that would not be run of the mill for most people. One of the reasons to have a party is to entertain the guests, and why not give them something to remember?
For this reason I chose OnoPops and Waialua Soda Works. These are both local companies that I have loved and I knew they would be a hit at our party. Both companies feature local ingredients. One really amazing thing about supporting local companies is that you get a better connection with the people behind the product. It doesn’t feel like a clinical transaction. I went by OnoPops kitchen and got a quick peek at his progress on the first lychee pops of the season and felt confident by my interchanges with both OnoPops and Waialua Soda Works that I was supporting real people doing something that they love. I feel the same way about Farmer’s Markets. It’s hard to feel anything when you’re walking down the aisles of a supermarket.
My favorite part about OnoPops is their outrageously creative flavors. The guys behind the operation, Joe and Josh, have made a very smart product and I hope to try every one of their many, many flavors. They currently sell OnoPops at local farmer’s markets, Whole Foods Kahala, and several other stores that sell organic and local products.
With the first few licks I wasn’t sure, but pretty soon I couldn’t get enough of it. The salty plum taste was so well-conceptualized as an icy dessert.
Later I had a Gingatanical green and I was breathing fire by the end of the pop, but I loved it anyway. It felt energizing and refreshing. Everyone else thought I was crazy.
There were sweeter flavors for everyone (even a few no-sugar added ones), and strong favorites were the Mexican Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Chinese Five Spice OnoPops. I could eat about a million of those Chinese Five Spice treats. It was definitely a departure from normal party fare and part of the fun was trying out a new flavor, once the kids saw that “Cherry” and “Grape” were not options today. We all had multiple popsicles and passed around our favorites. Yum.
Just thinking about these popsicles made me want to make a cool popsicle. This week I made a li hing mui mango popsicle. Mangos are a classic li hing mui accompaniment and the pair make a modern island-traditional snack.
- 1 Cup water
- 1 Cup mangos
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp li hing mui
- Blend all the ingredients together and freeze in popsicle molds. Note, it is very thick. I had to siphon mine into the mold.
From Waialua Soda, Karen and Jason Campbell have created a light tasting soda featuring uniquely Hawaiian flavors. I like that this pop has sharp, fresh bubbles, and isn’t syrupy sweet. Waialua Soda uses glass bottles, which is a naturally attractive choice for a party, so there’s no need for plastic cups! Everyone went in for 2nds and 3rds because we wanted to try all the flavors. You can find Waialua Soda at Cost Plus World Market locations nationwide as well as at many local businesses.
Simple Appetizers Only (and perfect for hands-on eating)
I didn’t want to have food that wouldn’t taste good (or be safe) after sitting around at room temperature for hours. In Hawaii it’s pretty much a no-no to not serve a meal, but I scheduled the party from 2-4 (although most people stayed until 7, which made me feel like a success!). I didn’t feel comfortable giving out food that wouldn’t taste good after it cooled down, so I picked things that would stay good the whole party. Also, I had time to make the food without running around like a crazy person for three days straight (I only did that for two days).
For the rest of our spread I made from scratch hummus, cupcakes, homemade salsa and served with tortilla chips, fruit, and vegetable sticks (all seen here in my husband’s hand-made, wheel-thrown, beautiful bowls. Lucky, aren’t I?).
Oh, and cake pops.
Yes, people, I made cake pops. I’m the girl that lacks craftiness, and cake pops are the ultimate crafty food. I know, mine are not that pretty, but we all ate them. Because these ones actually tasted GOOD. Cake pops are notorious for having just a one-size-fits-all sweet flavor. These ones were guava flavored, and the cake flavor stayed true through every bite. I originally wanted to make a mango flavored cake pop, but the mango flavor just didn’t come through and I kicked that recipe out the door.
P.S. We are all good parents. Cake pops are for special, only. Plus we did cut the limit of cake pops to 5 or less. Ha ha.
Guava Cake Pop Instructions (makes 40-45 pops)
(click the links to print the recipes and instructions, without pictures)
1. First I baked a guava cake from Kaui Philpotts’ book, Hawaiian Country Tables. With this recipe you’ll make about 40-45 cake pops. It helps SO much for your brain if you don’t have a baby grabbing onto your leg every two seconds. Maybe you will remember to make sure your camera is not on JPEG because you won’t get any good pictures of the cake making and next three steps, otherwise.
2. Then I let it cool completely. COMPLETELY. There are a lot of points during this construction that I have an urge to ignore warnings (which is exactly why I will never be a seamstress), but don’t ignore this.
3. While it is cooling, make a guava syrup from 1 Cup of guava puree and 1/4 Cup sugar. Heat the puree and the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Let it simmer, stirring constantly, until it reduces to about 1/3 of a cup of sauce.
5. Mix in a cup of cream cheese frosting and the guava syrup into the cake crumbs. Stir it all together with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated. Try to make a test ball out of about 2 Tbsp of cake crumbs. If the ball falls apart easily, add more cream cheese frosting (a Tablespoon or two at a time) and try again. Too much or too little frosting can make or break your cake pops.
6. Make cake balls out of the cake crumbs by rolling together a couple of tablespoons of crumbs, making sure they are firm with no cracks. Put the cake balls in the fridge until you are ready to make and (soon) serve your cake pops.
In a bowl that has high sides and isn’t too wide, melt 2 Cups of white chocolate candy pieces in the microwave for 1 minute, 20 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds and removing the bowl when the chocolate is completely melted. (when this runs out, melt about a cup more of white chocolate for the rest of the pops and repeat as necessary).
8. Dip this newly formed ball on a stick into the melted white chocolate, putting the pop straight down. Hopefully this action will cover the whole cake pop in one go, up to the bottom of the stick. DO NOT TURN the cake pop. Use a spoon, if necessary to drape the rest of the cake pop in the chocolate by spooning the chocolate over the part of the cake pop that is exposed, without turning and tiling the cake pop. Lift the pop out, straight up, and then hold it over the bowl on its side and tap your arm gently to remove the excess chocolate. Don’t tap the pop on the side of the bowl—just your arm. 9. Sprinkle as desired while the chocolate is still wet. (note, dipping the pop into the sprinkles does not work and only results in a bunch of chocolate being put into your sprinkles). Push the pop straight down into a piece of Styrofoam so it will dry easily. I found that if I sliced a small x into the Styrofoam with a sharp paring knife that it was easiest to push the stick through it. Let it dry completely (takes a minute or two) and serve. Will keep at room temperature for several hours. Can be stored in the freezer but not the fridge.
Even though these were tasty, once I started getting the idea, I had to make the most perfect cupcake ever. (Oh, was I talking about a diet during the last post? Puhleeeze. I am so cheating today.)
Orangette’s chocolate cupcake (A Homemade Life has become one of my very favorite books, and I have adopted her recipes as my new favorite foods.)
Baked's Matt Lewis’ caramel (as a filling) from his caramel apple cake. Jake made this cake for me for Mother’s Day and we’ve been dipping into this amazingly rich and buttery caramel ever since.
and The Pioneer Woman’s best frosting ever.
Are you drooling yet? Did I just put the most perfect three recipes together for the first time ever?
I just blew your mind. I know. I cored out the middle of the cupcake and then put a heaping teaspoon of caramel in the middle.
Fun Activities without Directions
Kids play fun games at birthday parties, but I already knew that wasn’t my style. I didn’t see much reason to corral everyone into a game that not everyone wanted to play. Instead I put out bubbles (homemade: 4 gallons of distilled water and 8 Cups of dawn dish soap—regular, not antibacterial, mixed the night before for proper development of prime bubble making) with spatulas, cookie cutter shapes, and yarn and straw wands. I made a big bucket and left it out for the kids to play whenever they felt like it. Pretty soon they discovered that their own hands were just as good as any of the wands. (click here for where I got the bubble idea). Y’know what’s great about bubbles? No directions needed. Other good activities like that are sidewalk chalk, sidewalk paint, and a big area to play in. Check, check, check. The kids went back and forth through all of these activities when they felt like it, eating popsicles and salsa in between, and the adults could enjoy hanging out together without worrying about keeping their kids in check.
Make it Special for Everyone
It was Amaya’s birthday, but the great thing was that it was a party for everyone. I didn’t want there to be too much emphasis on her alone, as that’s where jealousy or embarrassment can get mixed in. I asked guests to not bring gifts (and the few that were brought, not wrapped, were given on the side) and we never did sing Happy Birthday or have any sort of “look at me” formal agenda. Gifts are really fun, and I know she’ll get a few, but I didn’t want anyone to feel pressure about buying anything and it helped that we didn’t introduce any rivalries with the whole “watch me while I open my new cool presents” thing. I know my daughter, and she sometimes gets focused on the wrong things in big group situations. Do what feels comfortable for you. I know that Amaya did not feel deprived in any way. We’ll see how she feels when she’s turning 6.
Amaya has friends of all ages and sizes. She really lets you know she adores you. I have a hard time believing she’s my kid. She transcends age-differences and wants to have real conversations with everyone about their day, the last movie they saw, what they like to eat, whatever. And she does it with flair. Today was special for her because she got to eat as many cake pops as she wanted and played nonstop with her friends.
She loved every second of it.