Last Saturday what was meant to be a typical English-style picnic in the park (in keep with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations just over) became a party in a church hall (thank you very much, English weather!)...without losing heart, we just moved party food and balloons and had lots of fun anyway!
So, a few ingredients for the perfect party (consider also we were celebrating two birthday parties at once, our little one's and her friend Alex who was born on the same day, so we definitely joined forces here):
1. Good food: I made two loaves of olive and sun dried tomato bread, one the night before, one on the morning of the party (don't think I was up at three in the morning to kneed by hand and bake, my wonderful bread machine did the donkey work!); we bought a platter of mixed antipasti to go with it;
I made three kinds of quiches, easy enough when you buy ready-to-roll shortcrust pastry, which you only need to fill with a mixture of roasted or pan-fried veg (I used mushrooms, asparagus and broccoli), egg, cheese, nutmeg and a bit of seasoning/herbs; for the non-veggies, add some chopped sausages or beacon, put it in the oven and you are done;
add the usual crisps, popcorn etc. and, for the little ones, rice cakes, breadsticks, cherry tomatoes, mini-carrots and dips, and pineapple / melon (which I forgot at home this time!);
2. Drinks: the obvious fruit juices and lemonade, but my favourite summer party drink is Pimm's and Lemonade (for the grown ups, of course!) with lots of strawberries, some orange and mint...don't forget a few beers for the boys.
3. Bunting: I made 7m of purple-shaded bunting (my first attempt, of which I am incredibly proud of...I can see how it can get addictive!). Bunting is easy enough to figure out even without templates or patterns, but there is a perfect ratio for me, and you can find here my tips and tutorial on bunting-making.
4. Crafting with kids: I could see for the first time my Little Miss realising it was her birthday, enjoying the party, the presents, the singing, etc. which meant, unlike last year, we mums couldn't simply sit around the table chatting. I organised a mini-workshop to entertain the kids (which worked like a dream with the slightly older ones too): I cut beforehand stripes of coloured card, bought a bunch of foam stickers, glue, rubber ink stamps, crayons (all quite affordable from Wilkinson, but you can find tons of these on the Internet) and let the kids decorate their own party crown! At the end of the decoration stage, we closed the crowns with sticky tape.
5. Some toys are necessary, especially for the littler ones, so my friend brought some plastic toy food, a riding horse and some toy cars to keep them entertained, as well as balls and balloons;
6. Music, of course! I'm lucky, because wonderful husband is a singer/songwriter in his leisure time, so we had a medley of nursery rhymes and Guns 'n' Roses (!), as well as some original tunes of his own making;
7. Cake: I made a Hello Kitty cake, which proved to be pretty easy to make starting from a round cake. The first time I made it (to take to nursery on her actual birthday), I used the Sugar Free Banana cake recipe I blogged about sometime ago; Little Monkey has obviously pasted the healthy food phase and didn't want it (to my disappointment, as it was a really delicious cake!), so the second time round I made a chocolate cake with whipped cream and strawberry filling...in both cases I baked the sponge the day before and decorated it with white icing sugar (ready to roll, remember my troubles when I decided to make it at home???), and a few details in writing liquid sugar, both widely available at cake shops and supermarkets.
8. Party bags: I know, not everyone gives party bags, especially when the kids are so small, but this is a lovely anglo-saxon habit that we don't have in Italy, which I think really makes people remember the party afterwards, so I decided to go for it. I visited the Crafty Crow blog and found inspiration for 40 different homemade party favours. I ended up making purple playdough with glitter, and added a few items like mini-books, peg dolls and stickers to the bags. I also used purple paper bags (which I bought on Amazon), as opposed to plastic, to make them more environmentally friendly.
That's it! Perhaps next year there will be more organised party games and maybe a magician, but for this year this was the perfect formula...and boy, I was tired at the end!!!
But all worth it looking at Little Monkey's face before blowing her candles!