Category: Entertaining

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 2)

If anyone reading this has been on the Bar or Bat Mitzvah circuit in Toronto, you can probably tell someone who doesn’t know any better what to expect at a typical evening reception for a 13-year-old kid:

  • Gender stereotypical themes like Tiffany boxes and fashion labels for the girls, pro sports teams and rock n’ roll for the boys
  • Obnoxiously loud pop music, flashing lights and a couple of sweaty dancers charged with enticing reluctant self-conscious pre-teens on to the dance floor by baiting them with made-in-China giveaways
  • Barely teenaged girls in barely there dresses, high heels and Kardashian-style smokey eye make up
  • A sit down dinner for the adults who attempt to exchange pleasantries but can’t hear each other over the thumping bass music
  • A buffet of fast food favourites for the scores of kids that generally include burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and french fries
  • A photo booth with tacky feather boas, sparkling cardboard top hats and wacky glass frames for accessories that dole out pictures not meant for any photo album
  • A kids’ candy buffet overflowing with gummies, gum balls, sour keys and every other sugar-laden treat imaginable the adults secretly covet

We decided to forego the serial (and predictable) evening reception for something a little different. I call it a 13-year-old boy’s birthday bash extraordinaire.

Mere hours after the brunch reception that followed the Bar Mitzvah service, we changed out of our fancy duds for jeans and cozy sweaters and headed down to the William P Wilder Arena at Upper Canada College.

We rented one of the ice rinks for an hour and a half for the kids (and any adults who wanted to) to skate and play some shinny. We hired a former hockey trainer of the boys’ to do some fun games and activities on the ice–we did have giveaways for the kids, but they didn’t know it. We slipped the trainer some gift cards to give to kids who participated in the activities.

On the ice……

We also rented out the lounge that overlooks the ice rink–this is where non-skaters and the few adults invited could hang out and watch the skating.

My son likes music but isn’t into dance parties, so he made a playlist on Spotify to play over the sound system inside the rink. I had my playlist going over the speakers in the lounge.

I hired Jacqui, who owns TWSS Balloons, to do a big balloon display over the entrance to the lounge as well as a couple of balloon bouquets inside the room–nothing crazy, but definitely festive.

Balloon display by TWSS balloons

I also brought some board games from home for those who didn’t want to skate and were looking for something to do. I was glad I brought them because it kept some of the younger kids entertained while the adults could enjoy a drink and conversation.

My son’s favourite colour is red, so I purposely decorated the tables with inexpensive red table cloths with a small stack of hockey pucks and a votive candle for a centrepiece. This was a kids’ party after all, so any effort on decor was for my benefit–not the kids’.

Red table cloths and coordinated balloons

I got lots of praise for the dinner menu, but credit really goes to my son, who asked for his favourites; burger sliders, chicken wings, caesar salad and penne in a pomodoro sauce. The food was catered by my neighbourhood friend, Suresh, who owns Avondale Foodworks. He’s catered for us before and he consistently produces delicious and flavourful meals that are always crowd pleasers.

Before dessert was served, the kids all gathered at one end of the lounge and were treated to a show by Magic Dan. He was great with the kids, held their attention, encouraged lots of participation and kept everyone, young and old, entertained. My youngest was particularly freaked out when Magic Dan made him float in the air!

Magic Dan performs to a rapt audience

Dessert was probably the most fun. I asked Suresh to order donuts and chocolate milk from Tim Hortons because what kid doesn’t like donuts and chocolate milk? And yes, there was another cake! I actually wanted to order a cake from a bakery because I really didn’t think I’d have the time or the energy to do another cake, but I made a deal with my husband that if I baked the cake (and prepared the icing), he would decorate it. So I baked four marble cakes, recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart. Then I left it to my husband to ice it. You can see the results below–a cake that looks like a giant hockey rink.

Hockey rink cake, anyone?

I did end up doing a candy table for the kids, but I had my rules: no bowls of open candy that grubby, germy paws could dig their hands into. I ordered retro candy and gum from a wholesaler and set it all up in galvanized metal trays and buckets. Kids would take a loot bag and fill it with their candy loot.

At the end of the candy table, kids picked up their parting gift: a red and white trucker-style baseball cap with a custom design embroidered on the front.

Nifty trucker baseball caps

All in all, it was a great party with lots of variety for the kids and the adults. The vibe was just right. There were still plenty of details to remember and lots of elements that maybe others would have happily left to a party planner, but I really enjoyed researching all the options and coming up with a party concept that I knew would be emblematic of my son.

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 1)

This post has been a long time coming…13 years to be exact! Although I didn’t know it thirteen years ago.

My oldest had his Bar Mitzvah just over a month ago and I feel like I’ve just recovered from the big event.

He did an amazing job reading from the Torah, giving his speech to our guests, and maintaining his confidence and composure the entire day. He really shone like a star that day and was deserving of all the accolades and attention.

My job was to set the scene for our guests after the pomp and circumstance and for that I spent many months planning, plotting, “pinning” and preparing. There were so many details and so many checklists, but here, I will give you a brief glimpse into the celebration that followed the ceremony.

Our brunch began by welcoming our guests to “the cottage.”

Welcome to the Cottage
This was the seating chart for the luncheon

I hired a graphic designer, gave her the guest list in a spread sheet with the table assignments along with some suggested fonts and icons and the dimensions for the foam core board. She was amazing to work with and had the poster delivered right to my front door. We simply mounted the board on an easel right inside the entrance to the reception room.

As people wandered in and found their tables, there was a slide show playing to music projected on to a drop cloth that I had hung on the wall, with patio lights framing it.  The “screen” was flanked by red plastic Muskoka chairs that were draped with wool camp blankets and throw pillows with wildlife imagery such as owls, deer and moose.

All the photos in the slide show were of the family at various family cottages in both summer and winter. Putting together that slide show was a labour of love. I also printed all the photos on to 4″ x 4″ paper, which were used as part of the centrepieces.

Each photo from the slide show was part of the centrepieces

My mother, my husband and I did an assembly line, punching holes into each photo and tying jute twine through the holes. These photos were then hung on the young birch branches in the centrepieces.

Speaking of the centrepieces–these were probably the cheapest DIY centrepieces ever and yet the most personal. I got little red socker plant pots at Ikea–there was a lot of red in the decor because that is my son’s favourite colour–filled them with pea gravel and off cuts of birch branches from my girlfriend’s cottage in North Bay, and the young birch branches were from my mom’s cottage on Georgian Bay.

We stood the pots on round wood “coins” that my husband cut with his chainsaw from fallen trees in the ravine in our neighbourhood. I just had to schlep them all to the car!

And the final touch were the rocks around the bottom of the pot, which were collected by me and my son from the harbour near my mom’s cottage.

So I think all told, we spent about $5 on each centrepiece and the biggest expense was the printing of the photographs.

The additional expense came with the guest keepsakes that I put on each table. These were maple syrup candles in tins. They certainly didn’t come cheap, but I thought it was important to give guests a small memento from the day as a thank you from us.

Each guest received a maple syrup candle as a memento

The brunch was delicious, catered by L-Eat. Niki and Tony did a fabulous job and the presentation of the food was simple and elegant. We made sure everything that was served were things we would typically eat for brunch: french toast with maple syrup, quiche, bagels with all the fixings, yogurt with granola and berries, and as a special treat we arranged to have smoked trout from Kolapore Springs trout farm up near my parents’ cottage.

But the best part of brunch was the dessert table! This is where I truly got to showcase my baking skills, with the help of my mom, sister and mother-in-law. First, I decorated the table with objects that represented my son and the cottage–Scrabble pieces that said “Help Yourself”, antlers, a red model sports car, an old cribbage board, a vintage waterski, red oil lanterns, and a photo of my husband holding our son as a newborn.

All the baked good were displayed on red tin trays, big glass cookie jars with red lids, even the waterski was used to display the homemade butter tarts.

There were homemade salted chocolate chunk cookies, s’mores bites, butter tarts, honey cake, shortbreads, poppy seed cookies, ginger cookies and also chelsea buns from the Thornbury bakery (the only thing I didn’t bake!).

The Dessert Table

 

It wouldn’t be a celebration without a cake, right? Of course I baked a cake! It’s the giant, incredibly chocolatey cake recipe from Deb Perlman’s Smitten Kitchen. It’s the same cake I baked for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, except this time I made marshmallows, charred them and put them on the cake. I also made banana chocolate chip cake “logs” and I made flames from melted red and orange lollipops. A candy maker I am not!

Campfire cake

I can’t say the cake turned out as nicely as I would have liked from a visual perspective, but it tasted damn good.

Credit for all the photos goes to Julius Ding of Julius and James Photography. This was their FIRST Bar Mitzvah photo shoot, and they really did capture the essence of the celebration, rather than the staged photos of the family and Bar Mitzvah boy that we all too often see. This was a celebration in real life and I’m so glad Julius was there to capture the moment.

There is so much more to tell you about the day because it didn’t end with the brunch! But I think I’ll save those details for another post. I’m starting to get tired just thinking about it again. Phew!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to learn more about what I did and how I did or where I got my ideas from.

The Annual Hanukkah Party

Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of a go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).

I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.

 

Hanukkah Sugar Cookies

Call me a glutton for punishment, but every year for the last–oh, I don’t know–four years, my husband and I have hosted a Hanukkah party for our closest neighbourhood friends. You see, we are the token Hebrews in the ‘hood, so most of our friends have never been to a Hanukkah party, let alone tasted a latke. So, we felt it would be a Mitzvah (aka: good deed) on our part if we threw a little shindig to enlighten our friends.

Well that little shindig turned into a big shindig and has become something of a tradition. It has also given me licence to go a bit meshugenah (crazy) with the event planning, decor and yes, a dessert table!

Today I’m giving you a preview of some of my *crazy* ideas. I made a big batch of sugar cookies a la Martha Stewart and decorated them with royal icing and some confectioners’ decorative sugar. You will notice a theme of blue, white and silver. 

I made the dough, chilled it, rolled it out, cut it into the shapes of dreidels, menorahs and stars of David before baking. Then I went to town on the icing. The icing was a piping consistency and I could have piped all the cookies and then flooded them, but I got lazy. So the icing is a little thicker (the kids will love me for it–not the parents) than usual and maybe not as pretty. But I’ll let you be the judge!

IMG_2993
Fresh baked star of David sugar cookies
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Star of David sugar cookies with royal icing, blue confectioner’s sugar and a silver dragee.
Dreidel sugar cookies with blue royal icing and white snowflakes
Dreidel sugar cookies with blue royal icing and white snowflakes

 

Wine and Cheese Party

It was my Dad’s 70th birthday this past week and to mark this amazing milestone my siblings and I planned a late afternoon wine and cheese party for him. 

The offerings were meant to reflect my father in the foods that we chose. We did this by visiting The Cheese Boutique. It was my first time there and I can’t believe that in all the years I’ve lived in this city I have never been there! Better late than never. This place was like a wet dream for foodies. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a wall of mustards, followed by a wall of balsamic vinegars and a wall of oils. It was like walking through a maze  of rooms, each dedicated to foodstuff. Jams. Teas and Coffees. Pastas and grains. A cold meat “locker.” Fruit and Veg. A cheese fridge–the ceilings were hanging with cheese and legs of prosciutto. And then the maze opens up to a room with a large cheese counter, the perimeter of which is surrounded by yet more culinary delights. The wall of chocolate. Pastry and breads. Oh! My! Heaven!

The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Refrigerator
The Cheese Refrigerator

We got to sample some amazing cheeses and some charcuterie. These would be the centerpieces of our party. I started out by putting slabs of wood on the table that my brother-in-law had made. I decorated around these slabs with succulents and branches with berries and a few tea light candles to add some light. It was very Autumn-ish. Then came the food: cheese, meat, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, clementines, smoked fish, foie gras, fig jam, olives, gherkins, goat cheese, fresh figs, grapes. It was a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness. And it all got gobbled up! If you are looking for some inspiration, here are a few shots of the table.

 

Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Cheese and crackers
Cheese and crackers
Charcuterie
Charcuterie
The Whole Spread
The Whole Spread

 

 

 

Polka Dot Party

I wish I had more energy to put into this post but the truth is I’m pooped. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet.

I made yet another birthday party for my middle child–having all three kids with birthdays in the first quarter of the year is both a blessing and a curse. By the time this birthday rolls around every year I always say to myself and whoever will listen, “this is the time I do one of these.” Bu then of course next year arrives and I start planning out the cake, the decorations, the loot bags, the entertainment, the meal….

This year I combined the family and friends parties to kill two birds with one stone however this makes for a rather large and unwieldy party. We had a company that brings exotic animals to the house to teach the kids about the animals; where they are from, what they eat, etc. This kept the kids occupied for one hour. That only left one more hour of the party to survive  feed the kids, do the birthday cake and usher them out the door.

My middle guy wanted a Smartie number cake just like his big brother so I baked a few vanilla cakes, got out the big serrated knife and got to carving. Then I slathered on some yummy creamy cheese icing and embarked on the painstakingly long task of doing a chevron patterned decoration on the cake with Smarties (or chocolate gems as they are referred to at the bulk food store).

Picking up on the Smarties I decided to go with a polka dot theme for the table settings found at none other than Dollarama.

And this was all completed by polka dot and chevron printed loot bags that I scored at Creative Bag (that place is dangerous–I could spend a lot of money there). I kept it simple for the loot: Kinder Eggs bought in large quantity from Costco and a $5 gift card to Indigo. I figured this was both easy and pleasing loot for both parent and child.

Here are a few snaps of the big day.

I made two 9# rounds and used a giant cookie cutter to cut out the centre to form the bottom of the number 6.
I made two 9# rounds and used a giant cookie cutter to cut out the centre to form the bottom of the number 6.
Here is the number 6 cake "in the raw" before applying icing.
Here is the number 6 cake “in the raw” before applying icing.

 

Here's the six cake with a thick coat of cream cheese icing.
Here’s the six cake with a thick coat of cream cheese icing.
And here is the coolest every chevron smartie six cake!
And here is the coolest every chevron smartie six cake!
A view of the polka dot plates I scored Dollarama
A view of the polka dot plates I scored Dollarama
And to cap it all off: polka dot and chevron loot bags!
And to cap it all off: polka dot and chevron loot bags!

 

 

 

 

The Building Blocks of a Boy’s Birthday Cake

It’s rather ironic that tonight of all nights I choose to sit down and write a post about my son’s birthday cake, since I am forbidden from eating such things at the moment. Forbidden might be a strong word to use given that my ban from indulging in such sweet pastries is self imposed. I am on a Spring cleanse. That means many delectables are off limits for a week and a half. And so I must satisfy my cravings through the only means I know how: eye candy. Literally.

My younger son turned three last week and I got it into my head several weeks back that I had to make him a spectacular cake. Put my new found cake decorating skills to work and turn out something fabulous. Being the over ambitious person that I am and with only borrowed time to do it, I thought I was picking a rather easy design in the form of a Lego cake. Lego has become a favourite past time for my boys so I thought it fitting to make a cake in the shape of bricks. The bonus came in the form of a Lego man cake mold from a neighbour. So I started by baking Ina Garten’s flag cake as well as her chocolate butter cream cake. I baked slab cakes AND mini cupcakes. Once baked, cooled and refrigerated, I sliced the slab cakes in thirds and constructed two rectangular cakes, four layers high alternating the flag cake with the chocolate cake. I topped them off with the mini cupcakes, all with a mocha butter cream that I kind of made up a recipe for. Once crumb coated and cooled, I applied home-made marshmallow fondant. I know, I know, I’m crazy. I just could have bought the fondant from the store, but no, I had to make this damn cake FROM SCRATCH! I didn’t love the way the fondant turned out but it was definitely more malleable than the store-bought kind. To make myself super crazy I decided the two bricks needed to sit atop one slab cake, which I covered in green fondant (that one was store-bought). And with a star tip I decorated the Lego man in coloured vanilla butter cream. I think I must have made enough cake to feed a small army. While there were plenty of leftovers there was no man left in sight. He was devoured by the kids and the adults had to satisfy their sweet tooths with the giant bricks of cake (too bad!).

I think it was well worth the effort, and while I’m nowhere near as talented as some of the crazy cake decorators who do this for a living, I did give myself a pat on the back for my attempt. I’ll leave it to you to be the judge. Unfortunately I can’t give you a taste, but I can leave you with the recipe for the mocha butter cream.

Lego Cake

MOCHA BUTTER CREAM RECIPE

1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

4 cups of icing sugar (sifted)

1/4 cocoa powder (sifted)

2 Tbsp. (give or take) strong brewed coffee

Cream the butter and shortening together

Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and whip until fluffy, adding the coffee to thin consistency of icing as necessary.

What a cute tasty looking Lego man!

cialis

Fun with Fondant…and icing…and cake

So I have evidence that I’ve actually learned something in the last 2 months at my cake decorating class. Probably the most important lesson learned was to give up trying to make royal icing with egg whites and go with meringue powder. It resulted in the most fluffy, sweet yet pliable icing for creating delicate roses, branches and leaves that now decorate my cake. While this past week’s class was supposed to be a trial run at putting fondant over a cake dummy, I decided to stay up into the wee hours baking a heavenly white cake and whipping up a batch of butter cream frosting so that I could do the real thing. I added blue food colouring gel to the fondant and it came out a lovely Tiffany blue. I piped the bottom edge of the cake with royal icing beads and then added brown food colouring gel to make the branches. The roses were so-so, but I can live with imperfection on a cake like this–heck, it was my first attempt! And the finishing touch was definitely the green leaves. That was Margaret’s suggestion (she’s our instructor) and the piping tip #352 is an absolute dream. The leaves were the most fun to do. I took lots of pictures but we aren’t tucking into the cake until Friday. Hopefully it will be well worth the wait because the cake is staring back at me from underneath the glass cake plate saying “eat me” and I’m doing everything in my power to resist temptation.

Blue Fondant cake
Royal icing details

Buzz Off!

Last night friends of our came over with their kids for dinner. We were going to eat inside, but the kids decided to run around in the garden before the pizza arrived and the weather was actually perfect for dining al fresco. While the waning days of summer are ideal for outdoor dining, they are also rife with ornery bees just looking for their next fix. And let’s face it: no one enjoys having a yellow jacket hover over their food. They may be harmless, but they’ve got a bad rap for hanging around where and when they are least wanted. So we moved all the necessary acoutrements to the table on the deck but before a single crumb of food left the house I insisted on rigging up our bee catchers. My mother-in-law hangs these out on her deck and I’ve seen them at several restaurants. I finally snagged a couple at the Superstore in late winter in the clearance aisle for some silly price (in our house we call these a “deal of the ‘centch'”–as in century) and by gosh, they work! You simply fill it up with a bit of juice (we used orange) and the bees fly up the centre, the cork at the top prevents them from flying out and within seconds they start doing the backstroke in the juice! They are worth the investment–a whopping $1.79 I think it was–if you enjoy taking your meals outside.

Glass bee catcher
Glass bee catcher

Sippin’ in Style

My husband never fails to continually surprise me, hence why I love him so much. And he did this the other morning when he asked me if we had any orange juice. An innocent enough question, but the answer was no. He then asked “do we have any fizzy bubelach?” to which I also answered no. For the uninitiated, fizzy bubelach, is a fictitious drink referred to by Adam Sandler’s character in the movie Zohan. You have to see it to appreciate the reference, but I digress. Dave clearly wanted something to drink so I said there was some lemonade in the freezer. I offered to make it, but Dave was on the job. I couldn’t quite figure out why he wanted lemonade until I saw him pull out our white ceramic pitcher and these two beautiful crystal glasses that belonged to my grandfather. All of a sudden the kids’ pink lemonade was transformed into this dainty summer bevy. I asked Dave what prompted the early morning indulgence and apparently he was inspired by a bit article in one of my design mags that he happened to be flipping through (I won’t tell you where–you can guess). Needless to say, it put a smile on my face and really, truly don’t you think it’s a great way to start the day? (hint: next time make it a mimosa)

Virgin Lemonade Cocktails
Virgin Lemonade Cocktails