Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Happy 4th Birthday to Jones {London Garden Party}

We pulled together a last-minute birthday party for my little boy a few days after we returned from a 15 day tour of Norway and Sweden.  It was the most laid-back party I've ever thrown because I didn't have time or energy to do much, but I loved the result.  I made the cake, called around for last-minute bouncy house availability, and ordered some fabulous custom confetti balloons from Meg of Meg-Made (Check out her Etsy shop and fabulous blog), which made the event look magical.  Meg conveniently lives in my town and saved the day by whipping out some fabulous balloons in Jones' requested colors: white, red, and yellow.

For decorations, we used sidewalk chalk to direct our guests to the back garden, and then we put out our little table and chair set for the kids to use while they snacked and ate cake.   I strung up the confetti balloons, and they were pretty magical swaying in the breeze as the confetti swirled inside. I looped strands of ribbon on the branches, which looks beautiful, is extremely inexpensive, and is so easy to clean up at the end of the party.   Just pull!

I made my famous go-to layer cake (with blue and yellow layers, as instructed), watermelon, chocolate-covered pretzels, and peanut butter cookies.  For favors, all the kids received three of Jones' favorite things: a Kinder egg, a dum-dum lollipop, and a little army man with a parachute.  Too bad I don't have any pictures, because they were adorable. My eldest even took charge of writing everyone's names on the tags, which was a particularly nice touch, I thought. For kids' activities, we made homemade bubbles for the kids to experiment with (they loved this!), we had sidewalk chalk, parachute army men for them to throw, and then of course the bouncy castle kept them entertained for the majority of the time.
On his actual birthday (scroll to the bottom for pictures), since we'd already consumed an enormous cake at his party, I taped together Kinder eggs to make a cake and recycled the candle.  He is obsessed with Kinder eggs, so he was absolutely elated, and I was particularly proud of this idea that came to me as I was feeling sad about not have a cake for him on his birthday morning. Leftover Kinder eggs to the rescue!

I saved the largest confetti balloon for his birthday, and it was a smash hit with all three of my children, who happily bounced it around the living room all morning.  Even the moment it popped brought giggles and smiles as the confetti fluttered everywhere. 

It was a simple, lovely birthday for our four year old son, and the joy I felt in just celebrating made me realize that simplicity is good. I will always love to throw parties and plan all the little details, but it was wonderful to only do what was most important and forget the rest.

Happy Birthday, little son. 





Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Regent's Park Roses {London, England}

I'm so far behind with blogging, it's not even funny.  I'm still hopeful that I can get caught up a bit and show you favorite sessions and weddings from last fall (sheesh!), but in the meantime, here are some lovely English roses from one of my favorite places in London: Regent's Park.  It feels as if it's frozen in time, and it's off the beaten path, so I often find that I have the place to myself.   Of the Royal Parks in Central London, you'll find the least amount of tourists here.

The English roses in the gardens are absolutely incredible, and when topped with fresh raindrops, they are perfection. If you visit London, put Regent's Park on your list, and don't miss Queen Mary's Gardens or the Avenue Gardens. It's a tossup, but the Avenue Gardens are my favorite.

To see an evening in Kensington Gardens from 2012, click HERE


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Perfect Cupcake {My Favorite Dessert to Share}

Of all the recipes I've been asked to share over the years, this is the one I've shared the most.  I use this delicious cake recipe for birthday cakes that I bake for my family, but it works beautifully for cupcakes, and they are my go-to treat for gatherings with family and friends.   I posted about this a few years back, but decided to do a separate post with instructions for cupcakes, since the alternative is rather complicated, confusing conversation. "Go to my cake post, then half it.  Then half the frosting recipe, but double the powdered sugar" confusing.  This is much clearer!

For those of you who have never tried these, you will never need another white cake recipe.  If you make them, you'll find these cupcakes to be light and fluffy, yet they are moist and dense and just perfect.

If you use the 1/4 cup batter guideline, you'll make between 24-32 cupcakes with this recipe. I prefer using white batter, white liners, and white frosting, and then let the sprinkles or topper do the talking.  It's simple, but I love the way it looks.  

Everyone always comments on how they couldn't frost cupcakes that look this way, but the truth is, it's incredibly easy AND it's faster than hand-frosting each one with a knife.  Simply use a Wilton 1M tip (instructions below), and absolutely anyone can create picture perfect cupcakes that taste incredible too.  Yes, you can too!

White Almond Sour Cream Cupcakes:

[This is the recipe for approximately 2 dozen cupcakes, for more information on layer cakes, go to my cake post HERE]  Modified from the original recipe found HERE ]


1 box white cake mix (Betty Crocker or Pillsbury are recommended)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
2 teaspoon almond extract (do not omit this ingredient, as it gives the cupcakes amazing flavor!)
1 cup sour cream
4 large egg whites

  • Place all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir together with a wire whisk.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  • Fill cupcake liners with 1/4 cup of batter
  • Lightly tap cupcake pans on counter to bring air bubbles to top.
  • Bake in preheated 325° F oven until cupcakes test done (in my oven that's 20 minutes).  Cupcakes will be brown on the bottom, but may still be white on top, so keep an eye on your cupcakes and test when they look like they've firmed up.  Use your nose and monitor your cupcakes closely, because if they're browned on top, they're likely overdone, which means a dry cupcake.


Cream Cheese Frosting:

You can use your favorite buttercream or chocolate frosting recipe, just be sure it is a dense frosting that holds its shape when piped, if you plan to decorate your cupcakes as shown above.   I like to use Ina Garten's Cream Cheese Frosting recipe, but for only 24 cupcakes, I will half this recipe and use about twice as much powdered sugar so that it has more of a traditional butter cream consistency.   It's a very forgiving recipe, and with the vanilla and almond extracts, the flavor is wonderful!
With a Wilton 1M tip, you can achieve the look above with ease, by simply putting frosting in your piping bag and working from the outside to the inside of your cupcake in a swirling motion (like soft serve ice cream going into a cone!).  Wilton shows the step-by-step technique HERE
but I use far less frosting than they do.

Top cupcakes with frosting, then immediately add sprinkles, fresh berries, or a festive topper, and serve on your favorite platter (the one shown is from Old Town Imports)  Yours will be the first to disappear from your neighborhood potluck or school bake sale.  Promise!

And proof that these are my go-to dessert:

And just for the record, these tops are too brown :)