Birthday, birthday girl

Posted in Dairy free, Food Philosophy, Recipes, Special Event on Jul 14, 2012

So, you’ve had a baby and want to celebrate her first year by throwing a birthday party. Sounds reasonable. Shouldn’t require too much work, right?


People have gone crazy. First birthday parties are approaching the madness of weddings and Quinceañera parties. Don’t believe me? Look here, here and here. This professionally photographed selection is just a sampling.  Believe me.

So, does that mean you turn your back on the first birthday? Well, obviously no. Then your child will grow up to be a masked murderer because you clearly didn’t love them. It’s a dicey situation.

What to do? We decided on a tasteful event, not gigantic, but sweet, a first birthday pink lemonade party. This tasteful event may or may not have morphed into a gigantic dark dirigible hanging above us in the days leading up to it, clouding our thoughts with dizzying questions and difficult deadlines while juggling work and the actual care of the  birthday girl.

Here is a journal of the big event with lessons learned and pro-tips to help you with your party planning. Oh, and also a play-by-play breakdown of our food strategy.

Come up with a theme. Think about what your child likes, and the ages of other children who will be attending. Take into account things like weather (will it be over 100 degrees out, why yes!) and nap schedules for other people whose kids take naps on schedules. Research the internet for ideas. Check out Etsy. Decide how much work you’d like to do yourself, and how much you’d like to sub out.

Pro tip: You are a bad parent if your party does not have a theme.

Invitations. Go to Michaels and wander around aimlessly for an hour or so with the birthday girl in the buggy. Try to imagine a universe where you suddenly know how to do crafts. Maybe a die cut would work for you? Patterned paper? Stamps? What does Martha Stewart have to offer that might be of some service? Can you trust her? When the birthday girl begins to wail remind her it’s for her own good, then hand her a packet of stickers to suck on. Leave those orphaned on a random shelf when you leave empty-handed. Select your invitations online, or buy a pack of fill-in-the-blank cards from Target.

Pro tip: Consider carefully the guest list. How many people do you actually want to deal with on this day? My philosophy: the first birthday party is like the birth itself. It should be restricted to only the very closest friends and family. This is not the time for block parties, bounce houses or pony rides.

Etsy has a lot to offer so spend a few hours clicking through there. Create an account and then save things that might work for you in your favorites. Now, things can be a bit pricey … like $40 for a Happy Birthday Banner. So, agonize over the decision for a while. Note: Don’t agonize too long! Most Etsy vendors create things from scratch and need three to six weeks to create and ship.

Pro tip: You must have a firm hand with your Etsy vendor. I have a dear friend who ordered a birthday banner for her little girl’s first birthday. Things did not go exactly as planned. While the banner was in fact pink, it was also festooned with little birds. My friend doesn’t do birds. It was a bad scene.

Décor. Think broadly here. Any random improvement problem you’ve been putting off – now is the time! For instance: If, by chance, an overzealous guest has previously tugged the towel bar out of the wall in the guest bath, urge your husband to repair it before you have a household full of guests. Urge as often as necessary. Also fair game: planting flower beds, weeding, edging, a new roof.

Pro tip:  In case your urging does not quite motivate the timely hanging of the towel bar, consider placing a painting over the hole the day before.

Details. This is important: Do not ask your husband to make tissue-paper-puff-balls and expect them to be done anytime other than the day of, 30-minutes prior.

If you should wait too long to order Etsy banners (they are very serious about those deadlines) make your own! I made banners out of her baby clothes, no sewing involved. This project only spanned about 10 Psych episodes, including the commercials. Make a triangle-shaped template out of light-weight cardboard. Then trace the pattern onto the clothes. Repeat. Finally glue-gun them onto a ribbon. Voila!

Plan carefully to eliminate the need for last minute trips to Wal-Mart the night before. Include on your plan actually purchasing a gift for your child. If Wal-Mart just cannot be avoided, prepare yourself for bare-bottomed children standing up – STANDING – in the front section of the buggy flashing passing shoppers. This will happen. Also, chances are you will be accosted while waiting in the checkout line by a woman buying 25 ears of 5 cent corn (price check: the sign says ten cents). She will offer you a Very Exciting Opportunity to meet her business partners and be a part of the Most Successful Business Venture in the history of mankind involving deregulation of electricity. If you can’t join them, at least promise you will consider who you buy your electricity from.

Food. Now we approach the heart of the matter. This is a tricky business, and it is all about timing. If you are hosting a party over the lunch hour (why are you doing that?) make sure you have something for all of your guests. Don’t forget about any allergies, or kids with weird eating habits (so annoying). Also, despite the fact that this is a birthday which, in fact, only happens once a year, some people will not look kindly on sugaring up their kids. There should be a token fruit or vegetable in attendance.

A sobering report: I have noticed people are eating less in public. Or maybe this is only a Nashville thing (tell me your thoughts). The last few parties I’ve attended people have daintily nibbled around the edges of the food table, but failed to really commit. If it were a dessert issue, I would understand. Some people go on diets and such. But, I have also seen this at lunch-time parties (why do people do that?) where people avoid all the food. As such, be prepared when people do not ravish the food table. Do not take it personally, and do not over order the food. Expect that many adults will not take dessert. Also, expect that many children are very selective about their cookies. Think twice about the cookie you offer. People will let you know if you mess this up.

Our First Birthday Pink Lemonade Party

Snacks (in order of most commonly consumed):

Homemade pimento cheese and crackers

Hummus and Pita


Bread & Company chicken salad with pita and crackers

Cherries (pro tip: some children do not appreciate being fooled by a fruit dressing up like a grape)

Baby carrots

Chips and pretzels


Cake 1 – The baby’s cake: Homemade lemonade cake with strawberry cream cheese icing. It was two small layers with a layer of the icing mixed with fresh diced strawberries between. The baby loved it, and it was very pretty.

I found the cake recipe here, but I was not prepared for the swiss buttercream icing they recommend. It sounded torturous. I went for the frosting recipe here, but added a few tablespoons of strawberry puree to make strawberry cream cheese icing. I used frozen and thawed strawberries, not fresh. A practice run found fresh strawberry puree was a lot harder to make successfully, and had less strawberry flavor. So ironic. The icing was delicious and really easy to work with. For the cake I used thawed frozen lemonade instead of lemon juice.

Pro tip: make sure you put the strawberries and the frozen lemonade out in enough time for them to be defrosted when you are ready to cook.

I doubled both the cake and the icing recipes and made the two-layer baby cake for the star of the show and cupcakes for the rest of the guests.

Cake 2 – We have a milk allergy in our family, so we had a strawberry cake dedicated just for her. With all the other food we were making, I decided to cheat a little on her cake. Duncan Hines actually makes some boxed cake mixes and prepared frosting without dairy. I jazzed it up a bit by adding some strawberry puree (about four tablespoons) to the prepared frosting and mixing it with a hand mixer. I also made the cake in two layers and included a layer of frosting with fresh strawberries between them. The strawberry frosting was topped with sliced fresh strawberries.

Cookies. Who can resist a cookie? Not my husband. Per his request I made a version of the famous Momofuku compost cookie. Delicious. I use Ruffles with Ridges potato chips, mini pretzels, espresso, and toffee instead of butterscotch.


  1. Jul 15, 2012

    Wait….hold the phone…your husband makes puffballs? No matter the time he takes, that’s impressive. :)

    • Jul 16, 2012

      Well, I did make the entire baby, so it seemed like the least he could do.

      • Jul 17, 2012

        Yea, and that took 9 months!

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