I’ve always loved the old-timey look of envelopes sealed with wax and stamped with a crest– they just look so important and mysterious at the same time. And while I’ve never had a reason to send a letter in such an envelope, an opportunity arose when my daughter decided to have a Harry Potter-themed birthday party.
As you may remember, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry receives a letter (many letters) from Hogwarts regarding his acceptance, and in the movie those letters are sealed with red wax.
While our party invitations weren’t paper invitations, we did have a Hogwarts seal (included in a fancy quill pen set she got for Christmas), and I was determined to use it. The solution: Cookies!
With the pandemic and all, I’ve had tons of time to make costumes but no place to wear them. Imagine my excitement when I came across a Regency event that was not only nearby, but on my birthday weekend! Clearly, it was a sign from above that it was time to get back into the swing of things! And since it was my birthday, I had the perfect excuse to insist that my husband and daughter accompany me. In costume.
(cue disgusted face from my 9-year-old)
As you may recall, my daughter has never been thrilled about dressing up for historical-themed events, but she can be convinced with the proper incentive. In this case, I told her that her participation could be my birthday present– and promised to work bunnies into the outfit, since she’s really into bunnies right now. And it worked, so the only thing that remained was to find some vaguely appropriate bunny-themed fabric… which was basically impossible. Of course.
This past Father’s Day my daughter decided that she wanted to make something fun for dessert for her dad– and since she’s recently been obsessed with “food impostors,” we thought it would great to make cupcakes that looked like cheeseburgers– mini cheeseburger sliders, of course, since full-sized ones would be a bit too much for even my husband’s sweet tooth to handle!
We decided to keep things simple and use box mixes as our base ingredients– a box of french vanilla cake mix, and a box of fudge brownie mix (though to avoid having a gigantic plateful of cupcakes we only used half of the cake mix).
So after baking up the six layers of my galaxy rainbow cake (and seeing how short they were) I was unaccountably struck with the fear that there might not be enough cake for all of the guests. (Spoiler: there was tons of cake left over) I decided to make some extra treats for the party, just in case– cake pops. I hadn’t made them in a while, but a little internet research turned up some new techniques for making them look fantastic, so I thought I’d give them a shot, using an extra box of cake mix and some leftover buttercream, plus candy melts.
Step 1: making perfectly smooth, round balls for dipping.
In the past I’ve crumbled up my cake and mixed it with cream cheese or frosting by hand, just because it was easier. However, the results have been somewhat lumpy, probably because the crumbs weren’t quite fine enough and the mixing was uneven. I think I’ve been trying to avoid making the mixture too gooey from overmixing, but it really wasn’t a problem. Solution: use the stand mixer to completely mix the cake and frosting into a smooth, homogenous dough. Add frosting sparingly to avoid your mixture being too soft.
Once you’ve got the dough set, portion it into balls and hand-roll them to a generally round shape. If you want them to be even more perfectly round, you can do this:
(though 14 seconds is way longer than you need)
When they’re shaped, stick them in the freezer for a few minutes while you prep your candy melts.
For my daughter’s seventh birthday she declared that she wanted a Parry Gripp-themed party. Who is Parry Gripp? Try typing it in as a search term on YouTube and go down the rabbit hole of playlists…
The short answer is that he writes weird songs, most of which appear to be aimed at kids, with accompanying bizarre animated music videos. Current favorites in this house include “Neon Pegasus,” “Space Unicorn,” and “Pancake Robot.” There are actually a ton of food-related songs, which we used as inspiration for our party menu, but one thing my kid was adamant about was that she wanted a galaxy-mirror-glazed cake, which would relate to both Neon Pegasus and Space Unicorn. I’m not sure where she even found out about mirror-glazed cakes, but hey, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
I recently had half a can of pumpkin left over from making a batch of my favorite pumpkin chip muffins, so I mixed up a batch of seasonally-appropriate pumpkin pancakes over the weekend. They’re easy to make and smell amazing as they cook, and the spice and sweetness level is perfect when paired with maple syrup. I added a sprinkling of toasted, salted pecans for extra crunch and it was a great addition.
For a Halloween party this past weekend I was tasked with bringing something sweet– last year I made iced pumpkin cake balls, which were a rousing success, so I decided to revisit the idea and try again with a different theme. Eyeballs!
This time I started off with a regular box of white cake mix, doctoring it up with some sour cream in place of the water– in this case 1 1/4 cups of it. This really is necessary to make the cake batter thick enough to properly fill the wells of the cake pop maker– otherwise the batter is so thin that when it rises it just overflows, rather than doming to fill out the ball shape.
Once my cake balls were cool I popped them in the freezer for a little while to firm them up a bit while I prepared my coatings.
It’s no secret that I enjoy making elaborate Halloween costumes. But the first Halloween with our baby daughter, to my surprise, my husband agreed right off the bat to my first idea for a family costume– Mary Poppins and Bert, with the baby as one of the dancing penguins in the Jolly Holiday animated scene.
Every now and then I feel the need to rope my family into my historical costuming hobby… but it’s easier said than done. Men’s outfits are relatively straightforward, but getting a 6-year-old to dress up in something she doesn’t want to wear can be tough– and even if you can manage it, watching her go through her day blithely unaware of the various grass stains and other horrors she’s inflicting on your carefully-chosen outfit is just painful. For that reason, I’ve refrained from ever trying to put my daughter in any genuine antiques, or even things that I’ve made with complicated techniques or particularly nice fabrics. I just know she’ll spoil them and I don’t want to spend my day worrying about it instead of enjoying the event.
But what to do when you’re just dying to attend something as a family, in full get-up? You improvise.
Since I spent some time making a light and airy Edwardian picnic dress for myself, I figured that something similar was in order for the kid. While I’d love to make her a dress laden with hand-embroidery and antique insertion lace, as I mentioned before it’s just not in the cards right now– luckily, many extant dresses rely heavily on pre-embroidered fabric for decoration, which is still widely available, so I decided to go that route.
So remember how last year I let my daughter tell me what she wanted her birthday cake to look like? This year I didn’t even have a chance to ask– she handed me a sketch one day and informed me that this was what I’d be making. It had three tiers (!), was decorated with berries and green icing, and had a fake warning on the outside saying that it most certainly did NOT hide any surprises inside… or did it?
Apparently she decided that what she wanted was a hidden pawprint to surprise her guests. It had to be pink, and it had to show only when the cake was cut into. While I had a general idea as to how to get this done, I turned to the internet and was happy to find a tutorial to give me some details as to how it could be accomplished! Here it is:
I’m not going to bother posting too many step-by-step instructions because honestly, the video is pretty good at explaining what to do.