Cinderella Story

Eleanor is almost six, but is already quite clever as clever.  Today we celebrated her coming birthday with a Cinderella party.

When the girls arrived, I put head scarves on their heads, gave them dusters, and ordered them to clean the house, or else they wouldn’t get anything but bread and water for supper.  They totally got into it.  The living room is now totally dust-free.  Brian even found it to be a good excuse to wash the windows.

But soon, the Prince (Jeffrey) arrived to deliver this royal invitation:

Wow, right?  The Wicked Stepmother (me) said that they wouldn’t be able to go since they didn’t have anything to wear, and the girls ran off to Eleanor’s bedroom crying “boo hoo hoo.”  (And giggling the whole time.)

The Fairy Grandmothers were there to help the girls change into “dresses” made of crepe paper and ribbons.  Eleanor’s dress-up box provided extra glamour. They were a little hesitant about going to the “ball,” though.  “Do we have to dance with a prince?” one girl asked.  “Not kisses!” squealed another.

This is where my mom was totally the star of the ball.  She got the girls to hold hands and do some improvised English-country-style dancing.  Very cute stuff.

Then the clock struck twelve!  (Coincidentally, it was noon exactly, so I didn’t have to change the clock on the mantel.)  Each girl took off one shoe and left it behind before running back to Eleanor’s room to change back into “rags.”  When the girls came back, they discovered that Brian and the boys had hidden their shoes all over the room.  As each shoe was found, Jeffrey put it back on its owner’s foot, and William gave her a paper crown.

What better way to celebrate the end of a Cinderella story than with a Royal Feast?  I made a chocolate fudge cake with strawberry frosting.  I’ve never tried strawberry meringue frosting before, so it was kind of an experiment.  Eleanor loved it. I think the chocolate cake overpowered the strawberry flavor, so maybe next time I’ll pair it with vanilla cake . . . OKAY, ENOUGH CAKE COMMENTARY!

The big hit after cake was this lovely teepee that my mom made for Eleanor.  It’s so amazing!

The girls crowded right in.  We could hardly get them to come out when the party was over.  Fortunately, I had a fresh batch of Tiger Tails (these caramel-marshmallow lollipops that I make every year for Ella’s birthday) to lure them out.

Jeffrey and William are just as thrilled with the teepee as Eleanor is.  Eleanor was happy to give her Kaya doll a tour (the horse was her birthday gift from Brian and I), and Jeffrey immediately tucked Kaya into a bedroll.  Adorable.

She’s Here!

Introducing . . .

The fabulous Katherine Suzanne!

She arrived this past Friday, Jan. 21 at 2:55 p.m.

Clocking in at 7 lbs, 9 oz. and measuring in at 21″ long . . .

. . . she’s one cute-but-exhausting handful.

The delivery went very well; like the other kids, she came faster than expected and surprised everyone.  (You’d think we’d be able to recognize the pattern by now.)  We came home from the hospital on Sunday afternoon and Katie is settling in well.  She’s a pretty mellow baby, excepting when she’s getting a diaper change.  The other children are crazy about her, and always want to watch while I nurse or rock her.

Annnnd that’s about all I can write while holding her in one arm.  More to come later (um, maybe.  I’m really tired).

Brian’s Zinc Birthday

Brian turned 34 this past Saturday.  Since there aren’t any obvious milestones associated with this birthday, I took it upon myself to christen it the “zinc anniversary” of his birth.  ‘Cause zinc is cool and underappreciated.  We wouldn’t have telephones without zinc!

It was a splendid day.  We went out to rake leaves in the morning, and the kids serenaded us with their impromptu garage band:

Then we headed inside for homemade pumpkin spice doughnuts.  These were YUMMY.  Eleanor was especially rapturous about them.  “Mom, I love these all the way up to my chin,” she said, gesturing with her hand.  Then, a few minutes later: “Mom, I don’t think I can live without these doughnuts!”  Nice to know the girl has her priorities straight.

I gave Brian a copy of Mario Kart Wii for his birthday, so he and the kids indulged and played it for most of the afternoon.  Jeffrey was so excited that he couldn’t play it for more than thirty seconds at a time.

Then, in the evening, a party!  Both sets of our parents were able to attend, along with a passel of friends.  We had a scrumptious Italian feast, including my friend Laura’s excellent Pasta Bolognese.

For dessert (and as a second birthday present), I asked Brian to choose any cake from my favorite pastry cookbook, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.  He chose the Mystery Cake with Mystery Ganache.  I made it just like the picture in the book — the exterior edge lined with Pirouettes and tipped with red icing.  They look like birthday candles, right?

My mom said that watching me set the Pirouettes into the ganache coating was so sumptuous that I should think about hiring myself out to candy stores — to sit behind a plate glass window and press cookies into chocolate cakes in order to attract customers.

William helped Brian blow out the real candles:

Why is it called “Mystery” cake?  Because of an unusual ingredient: condensed tomato soup.  It’s in the cake batter and in the ganache.  The citric acid deepens the flavor of the chocolate, and adds a subtle zing as well as extra moisture.  Brian thought it the most intriguing — as well as delicious-looking — cake in the book.  After tasting it, I heartily concur.  Who knew something so humble as tomato soup could be so fantastic?

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

My father-in-law turns 60 today.  As a present, we made him a video, in which my kids try to contemplate what life was like in 1950:

A few things to notice:

I recently took Jeffrey to a special viewing of the Charlie Chaplin film Shoulder Arms.  Hence, his description of film in 1950 is of a silent film.

Eleanor is under the impression that life in 1950 is more like life in 1850.

Poor William — look at what happens to him right around 0:20.  I’ve never seen such a patient, mellow kid.

I Saw the Number Five in . . . um, Pink

Eleanor celebrated her 5th birthday a little over a week ago.  For the first time ever, we cast aside our family rule of limiting the number of invitations to the birthday child’s age.  (Ex: you turn seven, you have seven guests.)  Eleanor has been going to a dozen or more birthday parties all year long at school, so it seemed kind of rude not to reciprocate.  Personal inconvenience is no excuse for hurt feelings.

Anyway, this is why we had FOURTEEN children show up for the party.  Really, it wasn’t that bad.  If anything, it highlighted the differences in gender among the kids.  The girls waited quietly for their turn playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey or whatnot, and the boys scrambled off to play with toy trucks.

(Granted, we probably shouldn’t have been playing games in the same room as the toys.)

As per tradition, Eleanor and William helped me make a kind of candy lollipop we call “Tiger Tails” as gifts for the kids.  It’s marshmallows dipped in caramel, then dipped in pink confectionery coating, then drizzled with melted chocolate.  I found this lollipop tree at a thrift store, and it made for a really spiffy display.  (My cookbook calls this candy “Heaven on a Stick,” and as a coincidence, “Stairway to Heaven” was playing on the stereo as we put them in the tree.  Har.)  I’d take a big pink lollipop over a goody bag any day, wouldn’t you?

We also played a game called “Musical Islands.”  It’s similar to Musical Chairs, except that we use towels on the floor, and nobody is eliminated with the removal of towels.  At the end, all of the kids were giggling, trying to cram on top of one towel.  Hee.

Brian and I made these paper kites using this very clever guide I snipped out of a magazine years ago.  You make three folds in stiff paper, add a wooden skewer and two pieces of tape, and voila — instant kite!  We hid them all in a box and used it as the prize in a treasure hunt.

Eleanor requested a big chocolate cake this year.  The frosting is unusual — it has both milk and semisweet chocolate chips in addition to sour cream and confectioner’s sugar.  It tastes like a melted candy bar.

My parents and Brian’s mother were able to come up for the party, as well.  My mom couldn’t resist giving Eleanor this sweet little doll.

Eleanor once again declared this “the best birthday ever.”  Success!

Happy Half Birthday, Wimmy!

cupcake.jpgYesterday William turned six months old, and we continued the tradition we started with our first child and celebrated his Half Birthday.  We made half of a cake, put on a tiny half candle, and gave him a “half present” (a sweater I’ve knitted for him that has yet to be sewn up — I’ve gotta do that tonight).

The cake was the Brown Butter and Almond Cake with Caramel Apples from Sticky, Chewy, Messy Gooey — the pretty little cookbook Brian gave me for Christmas.  Sadly, I misread the baking time, so it was a little too brown on top, but it was still delicious.

William did a fine job at blowing the candle half out.  Jeffrey and Eleanor blew out the other half, a task in which they found immense pleasure.

We meant to play “half” versions of traditional children’s party games — like “Pin the Tail!” or “Blind Man!” or “Musical!” but after cake and ice cream (and caramel apples that took just too darn long to make) the big kids were just a little too tired and cranky, and so we packed ’em off to bed.

Just as a side note, if you are a fan of half birthdays (or cute babies in general), take a look at this book:

oscars-half-birthday.jpg

Oscar’s Half Birthday by Bob Graham — some of the prettiest writing you’ll ever find in a picture book, with a topic that can’t be beat for cuteness: an urban family taking an outing to celebrate the baby’s first half year.  Darling.