Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Party Paranoia

For the most part I am a fairly rational person. I can look at situations and think through the possible outcomes, arriving at conclusions supported by data, probability, and experience. There are, however, a few cases that defy logic. Heights, spiders, and birthday parties.

We recently visited Hoover Dam. Did you know that thing is freaking tall? And that above it they've built a brand new bridge that spans the gorge? And that unwary fools can walk out onto that bridge, cluelessly taking pictures, seemingly unaware of the perils posed by the combination of strong, gusting winds and extremely high bridge? I suppose they just think logically that, hey, if it was dangerous, people wouldn't be allowed to walk out there, right? Or that since thousands of people have done it before without dying, the odds are that they'll survive. I know all these things, and yet I just can't get my brain beyond, "high, windy, slipping, falling, plummeting to certain, splatting death below."
It's the same with spiders. I've been through the exhibit at the zoo, designed to soothe the arachniphobe with informational plaques about the harmless, beneficial spiders, placed right next to the case containing the "HOLY COW! There's no glass on this case! That huge, hairy spider could jump right out and land on my face!! What kind of place is this, putting innocent kids at risk?!! Someone give me a shoe so I can smash that thing!!" My husband had to escort me out and put a paper bag to my face so I wouldn't hyperventilate and pass out. (If I had, I'm sure the spiders would have rushed out and dragged my body away to be wrapped in the spider equivalent of Tupperware to be sucked dry at a more convenient time.)

Perhaps you're wondering why birthday parties might fall into the same category as heights and spiders. Let me clarify - it's not all birthday parties that reduce me to a quivering wreck, huddled in a corner, rocking and sobbing. Just the birthday parties that I have to put on for my children.

My first two children were born in the same month and it ruined that month for me. I dreaded having to put on their parties and the dread swallowed up the whole month in a cloud of worry, guilt, and dread. (Yes, I know I've said dread 3 times, but I really, really dreaded those parties.)

First of all, there was the question of theme. What would be fun? What would be different? What wouldn't break the bank? And what would make all the kids happy? I've done basket weaving, tie-dyeing, card making, nail decorating, American Girl doll, and several piƱatas. There's been playland, beach, pool, and backyard parties. I've done theme cakes till I see Pixar toys in frosting in my dreams.

Through all my years as a party planner, I've learned that the key to happiness is low expectations. I no longer do huge shindigs. We alternate friend party years with family party years. And I strive for the lowest stress possible. For my youngest son's birthday we invited friends to come to the pool. I brought cupcakes and watermelon slices. They swam, opened presents, and ate cupcakes. Ahh, the sweet smell of another birthday party over!

I ended up making three different kinds of cupcakes. I wanted to make minion cupcakes, not because they fit so naturally with a pool party theme, but because they're cute. So I made Twinkies, doubling the recipe, and making cupcakes with the rest of the batter. Then I made strawberry cupcakes, because I had strawberries in the fridge that needed to be used up. Then I made chocolate gluten-free, egg-free cupcakes for a guest with special dietary requirements. After all, what fun is it to go to a party and not be able to eat cake?

Today you get the strawberry cupcakes and next time I'll give you the chocolate speciality recipe. So you'll be doubly prepared next time you're called on to throw a party. Do not fear, they're easy to make and even with lousy decorating skills like mine, you can still wow the crowd.

Strawberry Minion Cupcakes
- adapted from Sky High, Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

1/4 lb strawberries, hulled and halved
2-1/4 cups cake flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2-3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large egg whites
1/3 cup milk

1 batch of Twinkies (preferably homemade)
1 batch of your favorite buttercream frosting
Smarties - yellow and white ones
Edible food pen
Thin black licorice ropes, or black gel paste food coloring

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Line cupcake pans with 18 cupcake liners.

2- Place strawberries in a food processor or blender. Process till no lumps remain. Measure out 3/4 cup puree and set the rest (if there is any) aside for smoothies or pouring over ice cream or french toast.

3- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

4- In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter. When it's fluffy, add the strawberry puree.

5- Add the dry ingredients and blend until light and fluffy (the batter will be very thick).

6- In another bowl, whisk together the egg whites and milk to combine. Add the whites in three parts to the batter, mixing only until incorporated after each addition.

7- Fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

8- Let cupcakes cool in the pan 10 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

9- To assemble the minions, cut the Twinkies in half. With the edible food marker, draw around the outside of 1/2 the Smarties and color in a circle for the eyeball. Then glue together pairs of Smarties with frosting. When the frosting has dried and the goggles are stable, use frosting to glue the goggles to the Twinkie halves. If you like, for some of the minions, use a single goggle, instead of a pair.

10- If you have the licorice, cut small lengths to use as goggle holders, smiles, and hair spikes. I didn't have licorice (my husband can tell you precisely how many stores in a 5 mile radius of my house don't carry it), so I used an ample amount of black food coloring gel with a small portion of the frosting to do the smiles and goggle straps. We had to make do with bald minions.

11- Frost the cupcakes and plant the minions into the frosting.


the authentic nut said...

These are so cute!

Peabody said...

Those are too cute for words. I love the movie! Though I am not loving the spider!

Shannon Riley said...

Oh my gosh! Those are so freaking cute! :D

peachkins said...

those are super cute!!!

Half Baked said...


hobby baker Kelly said...

ROFL. I completely understand, we have 3 birthdays in June in this household alone, plus another for a brother/uncle. I hate the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality of the bigger, better party. Ours was pretty simple this year for the 7 year old and just family for the 4 year old but we will be phasing parties out in favor of special family birthday outings I think. (I had ONE big birthday party growing up and the rest was one special friend for an outing or just family celebration.)
LOVE the minion cakes though, and my girls love the movie. I'll have to dig out my twinkie pan - used once for a butterfly body but worked very well. I wonder where I stashed it...

RecipeGirl said...

so cute! I've only seen Hoover Dam from a boat. I need to visit and get right on in there and see it better.

Plumbing Supplies said...

Thank yo for posting this cute blog. I really find those cupcakes cute i liked it a lot.

Barbara said...

Those are adorable! And frankly, kids don't need huge extravaganzas for their birthdays. I sometimes think parents get carried away, don't you? Kids are just as happy with good friends, a pool and good eats!

Adam said...

I never thought about it from a parental perspective, but yeah, I can see that :). My Mother used to put up with two birthdays in September (my brothers) so close to each other that they ended up having the same parties for family and then separate parties for friends. I think I'm the one that stresses out now. Currently I'm trying to think of what cake to bake for my Mom for her birthday next month. For some reason as a baker you always want to do a little more. At least that's what they tell me at Bakers Anonymous. Oh and those cupcakes? Brilliant :).

grace said...

what?!? i thought everyone loved celebrating my birthday. you mean that my mom might've been filled with dread the whole time? i need to investigate. :)
terrific cupcakes--they're positively precious.