Monday, May 31, 2010

Iron Chef: Grillin' It

For this month's Iron Chef edition, I'm focusing on not one ingredient but rather one tool: the grill!

Last weekend, we bought our first corn on the cob of the season and also threw on asparagus fresh from my parents' garden.

Inspired by that excellent Iron Chef himself, Bobby Flay, here are a variety of dishes we've either tackled ourselves or look forward to trying out someday.

First up, a recipe I featured on the blog last year - an allrecipes find (of course, what else do I ever feature??), we loved how it combined pork, peaches and peppers for a colorful and delicious kebab.

Honey Pork Tenderloin Kebabs
Serves 8 (2 kebabs each)
1/2 cup bourbon (bourbon is optional; you can substitute 2 tablespoons cider vinegar)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup mustard
1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into one-inch cubes
4 medium ripe unpeeled peaches, pitted and sliced
4 green peppers, cut into pieces
2 zucchini, unpeeled and cut into one-inch slices
4 yellow onions, cut into pieces
Olive oil for grilling
16 skewers
3 cups white rice

Mix first four ingredients in a bowl; stir well and set most of the glaze aside. Toss the pork cubes in the rest of the glaze while dicing the vegetables. Thread pork cubes, peach slices, green pepper pieces, zucchini slices and onion pieces alternately as desired onto each 10-inch skewer. Brush kebabs with honey glaze mixture. Lightly oil grill. Grill over medium-hot heat 5 minutes on each side, basting occasionally with glaze. Serve over white rice.

Feel free to mix and match alternative vegetables: sweet potatoes boiled and diced, mushrooms, red and yellow pepper, etc. Comments on also mentioned marinating the pork overnight in the glaze mixture to really capture the flavor.

We tried this recipe just today as we hosted an almost-impromptu Memorial Day cookout for a few friends:

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Lime and Cilantro
4 servings
3 sweet potatoes, unpeeled

Kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Parcook the potatoes: Place in a pot of water and boil until fork-tender; let cool. Slice each potato lengthwise into eighths.

Preheat a grill to medium or place a cast-iron grill pan over medium heat. Mix 1 tablespoon salt, the lime zest and cayenne in a small bowl.

Brush the potato wedges with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until golden brown on all sides (including the skin) and just cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter; immediately season with the salt mixture and sprinkle with cilantro.

Bob caught this next recipe on an episode of Grill It with Bobby Flay and has been hoping to find the right time to make it himself. 
Fire Roasted Snapper Wrapped in Green Corn Husks with Charred Corn-Charred Jalapeno Salsa, and Jalapeno Pesto
4 servings
6 ears corn
8 jalapeno chiles
Canola oil for brushing, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 limes, juiced
1 to 2 teaspoons honey
Cilantro, to taste
4 red snapper fillets, 8-ounces each
4 limes, halved
String for tying fish
Corn Milk and Jalapeno Pesto Sauce, recipe follows

Remove the very outer husks from the corn. You will need 8 for wrapping the fish. Soak the husks for about 30 minutes. Peel back the inner husks, remove the silks, and close the husks around the ears, and soak for 30 minutes. Heat the grill to high. Grill the corn until the kernels are golden brown and slightly charred, about 15 minutes. Remove the kernels from the corn and place in a bowl. Save the cobs for the pesto, recipe below.

Brush the jalapenos with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until charred all over, about 6 minutes. Dice chiles, including skin and seeds, and add 2 peppers worth to the corn with the onion, lime juice, honey, 2 tablespoons canola oil, cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Save the remaining jalapeno for the pesto

Remove the corn husks from the water and pat dry. Brush the snapper on both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place 2 husks flat on a work surface with the tapered ends facing out and the broad bases overlapping by about 3-inches. Place 1 fillet in the center and bring the longs sides up over the fish, slightly overlapping and pat down to close. Tie each end of the bundle with string and trim the ends to about 1/2-inch beyond the tie. Brush the bundles on both sides with oil and place on the grill. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until the fish is just cooked through.

Brush cut side of limes with some canola oil, place on the grill, cut side down and grill until slightly charred, about 1 minute. Serve alongside the fish.

Corn Milk and Jalapeno Pesto Sauce

1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
6 grilled jalapenos, from recipe above
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Corn cobs, from recipe above

Combine cilantro, grilled and diced jalapenos, garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper in a food processor and process until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add the oil and process until emulsified. Scrape into a bowl.

Scrape milk and any remaining kernels from grilled corn by standing cobs in bowl and running a knife blade down the cob. Stir the milk and scrapings into the pesto and serve.

The next recipe is our dessert - grilled pineapple, fruit of any kind on the grill really, just sounds decadent in itself, doesn't it? Add the word "dulce de leche" to the recipe name and you are in heaven.
photo source

Grilled Pineapple with Kahlua Dulce de Leche
4 servings
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup Kahlua
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 ripe pineapple, preferably golden
Vanilla ice cream, as needed

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pour condensed milk into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and cover with foil. Put pie plate in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to pan to reach halfway up side of pie plate. Bake milk in middle of oven until thick and golden, about 1 1/2 hours.

Carefully remove pie plate from pan and cool completely. Add rum and vanilla to milk, whisk until smooth, and season with salt. (The dulce de leche may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered.) Prepare a grill or grill pan. Cut the pineapple lengthwise through leaves, keeping leaves attached, into 4 wedges. Grill the pineapple wedges, cut-side down, until just charred, about 2 minutes on each cut side. Divide the wedges among plates, put a scoop of ice cream next to each, and drizzle with the dulce de leche.

So, what have you been grilling on this 3 day weekend?

Check out past posts Iron Chef: Apples and Iron Chef: Potatoes for more recipe action

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Even More Scrapbook Pages

One of my goals for the year included making 8 scrapbook pages for my niece - happy to say that this has been accomplished - and that the book has room for several more! I can foresee 1 or 2 from her first birthday celebration alone!

My sister and I hunkered down for a full day of birthday party planning/scrapbooking on a recent Sunday.

We had roughly 100 photos from Christmas celebrations alone so we left room to fit in 3 pages for the holiday. The first one focuses on winter - Ella is all bundled up, equal parts enjoying the outdoors and wondering what all this white stuff is. The circle of snowy words is actually the inside of my Christmas cards from this year - the one I sent my sister was destroyed for a good cause.
And this photo of her with her little booties and a cap on makes her look just like a little elf!
For a family-themed Christmas page, we attached photos of Ella with Grandma Goessel and her Aunt Kate along with the Ollingers' Christmas card. You've probably noticed the interesting shapes of this and the previous page - they fit perfectly in the book and add a fun element to the design.
Since there was some dead space in the picture with my Mom between them and the aluminum tree, we cut up the picture and layered them instead. We also scallop-cut the Christmas card to take up a little less space. I absolutely love Ella's pose in that shot - and her little outfit!
Another Christmas themed page focused on gift giving and receiving! Yes, Ella did receive Sophie the Giraffe (a teething toy). No, she did not receive the bottle of champagne that she's mesmerized by in the corner photo, but it was too cute not to add to the page! 
We used decorated gift tags and ribbon for the photo backgrounds.
 Ella loved looking at all of the presents, and though she hasn't quite mastered opening them up herself, she often liked the wrapping just as much as the gift itself!
To decorate this corner of the page, I leafed through old Christmas cards and found one with cute little 3D stickers. Carefully cutting them off the card, the characters created a little parade along the bottom of the page. Saving old cards you receive from friends throughout the years not only helps out craft-wise, but reading through the stack of cards from years past might make you feel like re-connecting with that old college roommate!

Now this page was fun! Ella has shown fashion model tendencies since her early days - and she has so many ultra-adorable outfits it is impossible not to pose her on the couch for some fashionista photo spreads! 
 We picked out a few outfits to feature and ordered wallet sized prints from Walgreens online - they were ready for pick-up within a couple hours.
 Although having to order wallets in sets of 4 rather than just getting 1 was not the most budget-conscious, it did give us the ability to get a little artsy in posing the pictures - as you see with her swimsuit photo shoot. 
 I originally wanted to make a filmstrip border for the second row of photos, but black and white film cells sort of clashed with our sweet n pretty pink page. So, we did an alternate version of film cells with cutting out smaller frames on pink and using a flowery border cut-out along the top and bottom. The Eiffel Tower stamp adds a touch of world class - I think she's ready for the Paris Fashion Shows, don't you?
 Our last page of the day was another Fashionista page featuring a few polka dot outfits! A fairly simple page, it let us use some great cardstock from a set called "All Dressed Up" found at Michaels. Really cool prints!
 Using an alphabet stamp set, I cut out all the letters in individual circles which added another fun element to the page. You can also get a glimpse of some of the images from a Parisian-Inspired stamp I picked up not too long ago.
 Work it Girl!

Check out the other pages we've made here, here and here!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Get Lost

I was a latecomer to the Lost party, catching up on DVD over the course of the last couple years. Season 6 was the first one we watched live and it has been very hard waiting a week in between shows and not being able to jump to the next episode on the disc menu! Awhile back I wrote about the Lost weekend I gave to Bob for his birthday a couple years ago - we played hermit for three days and watched the entire third season. For the series ender, we figured we'd become a little more social. . .I even had a boarding pass to the party:
My friend Claire threw a finale get together with one simple rule: no talking during the show! With a 2 hour re-cap show, 2 1/2 hour series finale and Jimmy Kimmel Live special, it was quite the evening. I kept waking up all night with visions of Jack in my head. Too many hours of Lost in a row!
Dharma Initiative labeled foodstuffs peppered the table as we dished out grilled pineapple, pork loin (substituted for boar), kebabs, and mango salsa.
I contributed to the spread by bringing Red Velvet Cupcakes. Having never made these before, I was very pleased with how they turned out.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

30 Servings
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 (1 ounce) bottle Red Food Color
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 (16 ounce) box confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk, food color and vanilla.

Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not overbeat. Spoon batter into 30 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely. Frost with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat cream cheese, softened, butter, sour cream and Vanilla Extract in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until smooth.
My first idea was to find a bag of tiny airplanes and have them crashing into the frosting of each cupcake, but then I decided to line them up in a cake pan to create one scene as if it were a full sized cake. I dyed some of the icing sky blue and the rest of it the color of sand using yellow, red and a little green. Picking up wooden shapes from Joann Fabrics, Oceanic 815 fell out of a cupcake sky onto the desert island (or rather, the dessert island).
The nametags were all Sawyer-given nicknames for various characters and I made sure to grab Freckles. I dressed like Kate, which really just entailed a tank top, jeans, a belt and curling my hair. Although not the intent, the gross sweat stains the characters have sported all year also made an appearance as we had our first 90 degree day in Chicago! It was still 80 degrees when we left Claire's around 10:30!
So what did you think of the finale? I was happy with how they ended things, knowing that we weren't going to get a laundry list of answers checked off. And I'm a sucker for happy reunions which I think the church scene definitely embraced - have we ever seen Jack and Sawyer hug before? I doubt it!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Everyone Loves Free Money

In my mind, free money is just as good when it is perceived as free money - that $20 bill you found in last year's winter coat pocket surely came out of your checking account at some point, but I'm sure you jumped up and down when you found it!

This month I explored a few ways to find over $200 in free money and bump up the monthly budget (I did have a Nashville girls weekend to pay for, after all!)

A Major Reward
 - after a full year using our Discover More Cash Back card, Bob and I decided this would be the month to cash in the points we've earned thus far and apply to our monthly balance. Yes, you get a little more bang for your buck by ordering gift cards instead of straight cash, but that can be tempting to spend it on something you don't need and we figured we would be better served to apply it to our balance.  I didn't realize you could only cash in the rewards in denominations of $50 so we applied $150 to our checking account and still have an extra $22 hanging out in our pool. Wondering if we'll be able to build the points up in 2010-2011 as we did 2009-2010. Keep in mind, the first month we had the card we put close to $5,000 on with new apartment purchases! Being able to pay off the card every month has been a stress-saver for us and we look forward to continuing in that trend!

Change is Good
- I let my loose change build up for a full year - haven't cashed it in since right before moving last May. With a bag o' coins weighing down my purse, I headed to the nearest Chase to figure out how much I'd be bringing home with me - $45.50! Not too bad! I probably don't use cash as much as I used to, impacting the number a bit, but that is made up for the fact that I no longer have to save my quarters for laundry! I love you, in-unit washer and dryer. For both your freeness and your convenience.

Trade it In
- I'm a frequenter of and recently noticed the trade-in program they offer. I have had seasons 5-7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, unopened, in my closet for the last few years and finally found somewhere to send them in. (Craigslist postings did nothing, I still do not know much about eBay and - perhaps unsurprisingly - none of my friends were itching to take them home :-) The reason for the unwanted discs is that my original order of them from got lost so when I called about it they sent me a replacement order. Then, the original order came to me about a week later! The "trade in value" of the seasons were $7.50 each so I printed off the pre-paid postage label and sent them off. A quick $22.50 in Amazon gift cards - put that on top of the $50 gift cards I regularly earn with my Amazon Visa card and I'm thinking Christmas presents this year will be pretty easy to find. Now I'm just waiting for the 7th Harry Potter book to be eligible for trade-in - Bob and I had 3 copies between us!

So there are a few ways I made a few extra bucks this week without doing any work. If only it were always that simple. . .what have you been up to to make a little cash on the side? Nothing illegal, I hope.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nashville Star

Just back from a 3 day girls weekend in Nashville! We came in two weeks after all of the major flooding and most places were back to being open and ready for the massive numbers of bachelerette parties and girls getaways it seemed to encompass! Hearts go out to all of those still recovering - we were lucky that our hotel was at the top of the hill and sustained no damage. I must say, I thought I would have a celebrity sighting or two: Keith Urban bailing out a flooded basement, Kenny Chesney loading sandbags, Taylor Swift giving a free benefit concert all weekend at our hotel. . .
And so, 11 girls threw on cowboy boots instead of galoshes and got ready for a good time celebrating two birthdays! I can honestly say we spent almost the entire three days eating.

Here are the highlights:

We hit up several of the bars along the Broadway strip - I was surprised at how small Nashville seemed to be, we ran into the same people everywhere! And half of them seemed to be from Chicago! It was hard not to embrace country music when there is a band on every bar's stage at 1pm on a Friday. Especially when one of the bars has cowboy boots lining the entire wall!

The made-for-tourists Tootsie's was an inevitable stop, and although the music was fun and we tried to enjoy it, the skinny bar and packed like sardines clientele made it a bit uncomfortable to be in for too long. You know when you are at a standing-room only bar and are constantly getting bumped by people walking in both directions, to the front and to the back of the bar? Yeah, its like that!
Saturday night we had a little more room to breathe at Second Fiddle, basically right next door to Tootsie's. Music was just as fun (interspersing country hits with Bryan Adams/Bon Jovi means I can see along to more songs!) and we actually had a cocktail table to call our own.

That is, until a bar patron grabbed onto to it for balance and knocked all of the beers off. . .

On to food? Yes, please.

We were recommended to this out of the way modern mexicana hangout by the hotel concierge and I think we all agreed that
Lime was a great choice. The restaurant had an indoor/outdoor vibe and we took advantage of the great weather by sitting at a long table on the patio.
With a drink menu including strawberry jalepeno margaritas, how can you go wrong?
Just look at these drink descriptions:
Margarita del Diablo  - Milagro Silver premium tequila, Gran Marnier, freshly muddled strawberries and green jalapeño, house sour splash, and a telicherry peppercorn rim
Caipirinha  - national drink of Brazil featuring Agua Luca 12x filtered cachaça, fresh lime, and pure cane sugar
the Existentialist - Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, sparkling soda, fresh cucumber

A couple drinks in (I had the honey mango maragarita followed by the house margarita), our food arrived: Truffle Butter Skirt Steak, Truffle Steak Quesadilla, Salmon Barbacoa and Baja Fish & Chips filled up the table. Hard to believe the prices were in the $12 - $16 range!

I would say our next stop was definitely a 180 degree turn from our modern dinner locale. A combination Cubs bar (wahoo!), goth bar and local dive, Red Door East boasted several interesting decor choices. . .

. . .and a pretty great sign on their jukebox!
PS. In what world is this a shot? All I see are tall glasses of alcohol!
In between the eating and the drinking (and the dancing), I did get to some of the shops. I had myself convinced that it was okay to walk out of Nasvhille with a pair of cowboy boots to show for it. In perusing the boot stores, the signs of "Buy 1 Pair, Get 2 Free" were extremely tempting. Some ridiculously expensive boots could dip down to $100 each if you and two friends found pairs to fall in love with. Unfortunately, it was all looking and no buying for this li'l lady.
These are the ones I would have sprung for in a minute if they would have been in my size (sadly, I don't think I can squeeze these 6's into a 5 1/2)
I also could have convinced myself to pick up a cowboy hat, but they all looked huge on me. Darn you, tiny head! Too often, I fail at being one of those girls who can pull off hats because of my tiny head. . .

We also headed into Dolly Parton's gift shop. Ogling her costumes behind glass, I think I would have to see her in person to figure out how tiny a waist she actually has!

The next day this group of gals didn't know what hit us when we headed into Monell's - a local favorite just about everyone we talked to rave about. One quote in particular caught my ear: "fried chicken comes with everything!" We were seated at an extra-large oval table with room for another party of three (again, someone in town from Chicago - what up with that??). 
Family style indeed, as soon as you get seated, the brownie at your place setting is moved aside until after the meal and the bowls of southern food start flowing. Cornbread and biscuits, peas, pot roast, macaroni and cheese, green beans, cheese grits, corn pudding. . .I could keep going. Not to mention delish sweet tea and juice pitchers littering the table!
I couldn't even move after this meal. And I couldn't eat for another 8 hours. That's a sign of a successful weekend in my book!
Big thanks to Laura and Sarah for use of their photos - between all of us in the group I think we shot Nashville from every angle.

The question now is: where is the next Birthday Trip??

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mother's Day Brunch

Less than 24 hours after our big 1st birthday blow out for my niece Ella, the family was back together to celebrate the mothers with a morning brunch. Perfect opportunity as the grandmothers (and a great-grandmother!) were in town and it was my sister’s first official Mother’s Day!

Planning with my brother-in-law Ike, who would be the host of the meal, we decided to make a buffet style brunch complete with different stations. I took my inspiration from the many European hotel breakfasts I’ve indulged in and made sure to add a cheese plate to the mix! I picked up a brie log, pesto gouda and port salut. The pesto gouda was really tasty and the port salut is one of my signature additions. Love it.

The pastry display featured French breakfast muffins and Pain au Chocolat. These muffins taste just like cinnamon donuts - mmm.
French Breakfast Muffins
12 servings
from the Colorado Cache Cookbook

1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbs flour

3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted

for the topping:

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine first five ingredients. Add milk, egg and 1/3 cup melted butter. Mix thouroughly. Grease and flour small muffin tins. Fill 1/2 full and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until  lightly browned. Mix cinnamon and remaining sugar, set aside. Mix remaining 1/3 cup melted butter with vanilla. Remove muffins immediately from pan and dip in vanilla butter then roll in cinnamon sugar. Serve warm.

I have to admit that I had grander plans for the Pain au Chocolat as I was going to be tackling the recipe found
here at Sweet Charity Pie. Then I actually read the recipe the whole way through right before the weekend - apparantly it takes about 2 1/2 days to prepare with the number of times/hours you need to chill the dough! So, I settled on frozen puff pastry sheets and a quickie recipe. Unfortunately, I tried to stretch out the dough to make 12 instead of the recommended 8 and ended up with an open faced pastry - not the intent to show the chocolate! To be honest, I also could have just bought croissants and spread nutella in the middle of the warmed up breads! I do still want to tackle the full on dough making at some point - after all, I did buy the dry yeast and bread flour special for the recipe!

We set the toaster out with a basket of bread and bagels for those carb loaders in the room: yummy cream cheeses to top.

My brother in law has perfected the omelet and made them to order with tomato, spinach, green onion and cheese. 
Our meat station consisted of sausage links, straight-from-Iowa bacon and a giant honey baked spiral cut ham! Some ham drama when it got picked up the day before - no record of the reservation Ike made! Luckily we talked our way into one. . .

Ike's sister Kate whipped up the waffle batter the night before and quickly became an expert at the waffle maker! To make serving as easy as possible, the batter was already measured out in glasses at 3/4 a cup. The waffles were delicious - airy, not too heavy which was good since we had about fifty other breakfast items to pile on our plates. With some homemade whipped cream and strawberries, you should definitely indulge in more than one! 
The recipe is part of a chicken 'n waffles recipe from Emeril. Here's the recipe, sans the fried chicken:

Buttermilk Waffles

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Unsalted butter, topping
Maple Syrup

Preheat a waffle iron and lightly grease. Into a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together. In a clean bowl, beat the eggs. Add the butter and buttermilk and beat to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix well. Pour the batter into the hot waffle iron and cook until golden brown and lightly crisp. Remove and if desired, top with a slice of butter, and serve with the maple syrup.

A wooden tray filled with juice glasses and a pitcher of orange juice also held some pre-poured mimosas in champagne flutes for those that were ready to kick back and relax. Including me!
All in all a great success and some pretty pleased mamas - brunch for 10 accomplished without too much chaos in the kitchen thanks to a well organized buffet line and patient family members!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Planning a 1st Birthday Party - The Party

The invites for my niece's birthday party were out - now comes the fun part: planning the party!

Our blue and green flower theme welcomed us with open arms at the party store - the plates and napkins we found fit the theme to a tee:

We picked up green and blue knives, forks and spoons at the party store and found an adorable way to package the flatware. My sister had picked up some flower ties from Michael's without knowing how we could use them. After some consideration, we came up with the idea of using them as napkin rings! So easy to do and it lent some organization to the food display table!
On top of that, it was easy to pick up green and blue cups and tablecloths. The community center we were hosting the event at had ten long tables that we could push together as needed. We ended up with 6 tablecloths to cover 3 tables for guests to sit at and eat, 1 food table and 1 gifts table. The last tablecloth was cut in half for smaller cake and photo display tables.

My brother in law's parents took care of a great food spread. We stuffed ourselves with bbq pork sandwiches and pasta and fruit salads.

No alcohol allowed in the park district, so my blue beverage tub was filled with soda and water only over an ice bed.
The cake was from Deerfield Bakery - if you are in the Chicago area I strongly recommend! We served this up with homemade vanilla ice cream - quite the endeavor by Ike's dad!
Ella got served the first piece of cake and it was quite the sight. If you have ever witnessed a one-year old eating their first piece of cake I'm sure you can attest! She started out weary at first but gradually picked up speed in putting the pieces in her mouth - and outside of her mouth. Interesting note - she ate the chocolate part first. We must be related!
Onto the centerpieces for the tables: I found brightly dyed mums at the grocery store and they were too perfect to pass up! I'm not sure if they had extra flowers out because it was Mother's Day weekend, but this  worked to our advantage! While definitely not shades found in nature, I loved the bright blues and greens they had available. $4.99 for a 5 pack of flowers: I picked up 4 shades and they filled the 6 vases perfectly. An interesting touch was that the dyed flowers ended up making the water colored the longer they sat in the vase!

Speaking of vases - I headed to the Salvation Army to find 6 to spread out among the three dining tables. Each averaged 95 cents. After I got them home, I realized that 3 of them were larger than the bud vase look I was going for. As I prepared to head back out to hit another thrift store I had a thought - what about my stemless wine glasses? I grabbed three out of the wine cabinet and filled them with 4 of the cut flowers. Perfect fit and oh so cute!

One plus side is that I had a great new centerpiece for my own dining table when I got home thanks to a switch out of our lemon-colored placemats to the green ones we had picked up at Target during the same sale.
Adding to the table centerpieces were picture frames containing photos of baby Ella throughout the year. I took the idea from the Baby Shower we threw my sister last year:
In this case, and to lend some interactivity to the tables (since there were no planned games) I made a folded over card that said "Ella at ? Months" on the front and the answer in the middle.
It is not a party if there are no balloons, right? We had a few helium filled friends sprinkled throughout the room including one fancy mylar that read "1st Birthday." In lieu of balloon weights for all of the balloons, a few were weighted down with the party favors for the kids in attendance. At this birthday party we had three children besides the party girl herself. Picking up an age-appropriate toy, we added the child's name with a label maker and tied it to a balloon or two they could take home (along with the balloon) at the end of the party.
We decorated the windows using crepe paper and a twist on regular streamers. We picked up about 6 flowery leis from the party store that matched our color scheme. I cut each one and tied them together to form one long streamer. In order to be able to tie the ends together, some of the flowers had to come out which actually added more decoration to the tables as we could scatter them about.
The photo display table held a few more Ella-centric goodies. This included a photo album filled with great shots from throughout the year and the scrapbook I've been writing about in several posts - stay tuned for one more post about a 5-page marathon run Alanna and I had the other weekend - here's a sneak peek at one of the Fashionista page with this shot of the book:
Music wise, we kept things pretty low key - as opposed to the birthday party going on in the activity room across the hall - full on DJ, life size Buzz Lightyear and Woody costumed adults and - at least I think I saw at one point - a conga line. Think more Harry Connick Jr, Michael Buble and Jack Johnson for our mix that played through my iPod hooked into some lightweight travel speakers. I downloaded a few kid-centric songs to plug into the playlist including Ella's favorites: "No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" and "Old McDonald Had a Farm." "Birthday" made famous by the Beatles was added as well as a rendition of Happy Birthday that had Ella's name in it. Of course, this means my iTunes recommendations this week have been quite interesting. . .

During gift opening I took notes on who got Ella what so her parents could easily send thank you notes. She received several new dresses that she'll need some occasions to wear them to! Ike and Bob quickly got to work putting together a rocking horse that Ella wasted no time pushing around the room.

Being able to get into the room only half an hour before the party kicked off was going to be a challenge, but this meant we made extra efforts to prepare as much ahead a time as possible including having the flowers already in their vases, doing the napkin rings a few days before the party and delegating! It was great to have Ike's parents own the food part of the event so my sister and I could focus on decor and more!
All in all a great turnout and a happy baby - what more can you ask for? Should be interesting once she gets old enough to have a say in what kind of party she has. I suppose that is how one ends up with a full on DJ, life size Buzz Lightyear and Woody costumed adults and a conga line!