Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Post: Bruce's Bear Birthday Party

Howdy, folks!  It’s Abbey, Dana’s friend and neighbor.  We recently threw a party for my son’s first birthday, and Dana asked me to guest write about it.  

A little background - Dana and I have lived as neighbors since 2011, when she and her then pre-hubs showed my husband and me their amazing new apartment and informed us when another duplex on the property opened up.  The property layout is hard to explain, but suffice it to say that we share a backyard.  

Was this the best decision of my life?  I’d have to make a Google Doc spreadsheet to analyze officially, but I present the following evidence.

1)  All of that wonderful food you see Dana posting?… well, we get to eat that.  Pretty regularly.

2)  Their hospitality extends to the beverage world.  Dana’s cocktail prowess alone should sway this argument, and then factor in Ryan’s fantastic homebrews to the equation.

3)  We get to see this guy all the time:  

To my kid, all dogs are called "Doo!"

4)  We get all of the benefits of actually living in proximity: borrowing stuff (cup of sugar, lemons, electric drill), sharing oversized quantities of foodstuffs procured from Costco or our produce subscription box, retrieving mail on vacations, just stopping in to say hello.  We should have a sitcom.

5)  Multiply this x10 during my pregnancy and immediate post-pregnancy days.  I can’t tell you how hungry I was and how many times they fed me.  

I think I can skip the spreadsheet.  

Anyway - my son’s first birthday party.  No pressure, right?  Honestly, I’m on the side of the fence of smaller-is-better for kid’s parties, partially because mine were pretty small as a kid, but also because I’d like to leave some room to grow over the years.  And also bear in mind (ha!), our families are in many different states, so I’m not trying to accommodate different sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  

BUT that doesn’t mean it can’t be cute and have a theme.  Homemade or smartly purchased is my game, since I also don’t want to spend a ton.  I thought of asking Alex, my husband, for theme ideas, since I was raised with just sisters and didn’t have a ton of boy themes in mind.  Then I remembered he wanted “dinosaurs in space” as the theme for my baby shower, and thought the better of it.

I picked bears.  Why?  Well probably because we call Bruce “little bear.”  I don’t know why or when it started, but it seemed to fit.  It also helped that we love the woods and happened to have a few Adirondack/bear themed knickknacks hanging around the house.  Even tissue paper.  So that was good.  The rest I was able to cobble together from the craft store- just paper and fabric.

Apparently you're breaking the law nowadays if you don't have a homemade banner for your child's birthday.

And the cake - I must confess, I have strong opinions when it comes to children’s party themes (or any cake, for that matter.)   My mom spoiled my sisters and me with really great cakes when I was a kid.  Carefully constructed carousels, elephants, a Sphinx for my sister’s 9th birthday… It was many years before I figured out that was not the norm.  

Anyway, I knew that for Bruce’s first birthday, it had to center around a great cake.  I didn’t want a cutesy itsy-bitsy baby kind of bear cake, but more like the Adirondack-style bears I’d seen.  If I had been making this a few years ago for a friend, I probably would have sketched the whole thing out and constructed this myself.  But being on the other side of parenthood, I searched the internet for a pan.  Yes, a uni-tasker (sigh).  

But then I found this.  The Build-A-Bear cake pan from Williams Sonoma.  Even better, it already had instructions for the cake batter (though I used Smitten Kitchen’s Vanilla Buttermilk Cake recipe) all the way through the buttercream and decor.  Score!  Homemade but something I didn’t have to carefully plot out first.  

Mr. Bear was a pretty good success.  I stayed away from the fondant clothes, because in general, I’m not a fondant fan.  I did need to cover up Mr. Bear’s middle seam, hence his tie (yay fabric remnants and a glue gun!)  That Vanilla Buttermilk Cake recipe filled Mr. Bear’s pan and a single 9” layer (later split) perfectly, so all I did was triple the buttercream to fill and frost.  Added some last minute touches like these meringue mushrooms I had already made for party food and a decorative flag (since, oops, I forgot to leave space to write in the frosting).  Mr. Bear was also tiered and the extra skewers helped hold him in place.

I tried to make the rest of the food bear-ish, but people needed to eat too.  (I have a special ability to survive only on Teddy Grahams and honey sticks.)  So we whipped up burgers and my mom’s recipe for pasta salad (toddler friendly and I daresay, a hit.)  

Meringue mushrooms were something I made all the time as a kid.  Again, my childhood was not normal.
Pretzel sticks, honey sticks... we're in the woods!  Get it?!?!

Of course, I can’t have a party without employing Dana.  She and Ryan headed over early, guessing that I might need a little help (who, me?)  Ryan was nice enough to man the grill for burgers and Dana took care of smoked salmon hor d'oeuvres, drinks, and even photography.  

What Dana makes when Abbey throws ingredients her way and says "make it pretty!"

Our little bear seemed to enjoy it.  

But of course, Mr. Bear couldn’t end there.  No, our sense of humor is too weird to waste this occasion.  What occasion, you say?  The Game of Thrones finale aired the next day, and we decided to continue our tradition of watching it together.  So Mr. Bear had to undergo a slight transformation to get an invite…

Don’t worry - I did this out of sight of Bruce.  But transforming his birthday cake leftovers into a festive and rethemed Father’s Day cake did feel pretty scandalous.  (Who said being a parent didn’t have it’s perks!)  Perhaps even one day (18th birthday?) Bruce will get to see what really happened to Mr. Bear.

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