Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pin the Tail on Sonic's Tails

Planning and implementing a birthday party is a team effort at my house.  The birthday boy or girl comes up with the theme (often months in advance) and the guest list, the siblings offer suggestions for food and fun relating to the motif, my husband offers lots of love and support and orchestrates the piƱata.  I do everything else prepare the cake.  

For our recent Sonic the Hedgehog party, my creative and gracious husband also whipped up an impressive "Pin the Tail on Tails" game.  Aside from the Sonic racing cake, it was definitely the hit of the party.  In fact, we love it so much that we have been unable to bring ourselves to take it down.  For the time being, our living room is accented with a poster of Sonic's foxy friend, Tails.

In order to create the Pin-the-Tail-on-Tails game, my husband first searched Google Images for pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog's buddy, Tails.  He found a few pictures that accented the tail portion of the character while still showing this fast fox's cute face and fun shoes.  He then sketched Tails onto a piece of poster board with a pencil.

Next her traced over the pencil lines with a black sharpie marker.  He used a dotted line for Tail's tail.  After he had the outline completed, he went back and erased the exposed pencil lines.  Finally,  he colored Tails using a combination of crayons and magic markers.

He also labeled the game poster with the clever title "Pin the Tail on Tails".

When the poster was complete, my husband created a template of the tail.  I cut out tail shapes from orange and brown construction paper.  I labeled one tail with each party guest's name.  Prior to the party, I hung the poster on a closet door in our living room, draped a bandanna around the door knob, and clipped the labeled tails onto the poster with a clothes pin.

During the game portion of the party we played Pin the Tail on Tails!  We blindfolded each guest starting with the birthday boy and his friends and ending with random siblings.  We checked for peaking and spun the player around three times.  I handed the blindfolded boy his tail with tape on the back.  Just like in the classic birthday party game, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, the slightly disoriented child placed his tail as close to the mark as possible and was encouraged with lots of cheers from the crowd. 

That tail that is closest to Tail's tail is the winner, although everyone is a winner at Pin the Tail on Tails.

I am a big fan of classic birthday parties that included classic birthday party games.  During the past fourteen years we have used Pin the Tail on the Donkey to inspire a variety of theme related games.  We have pinned the bow on Hello Kitty, pinned the spider on Spider Man's web, pinned the four on Mr. Fantastic, and now we can add pin the tail on Tails to our list.  I am grateful that my entire family pitches into the party planning and implementing process and I am especially grateful that I have a husband that is willing and able to do whatever it takes to provide his children with a memorable party experience. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sonic the Hedgehog Cake

Yesterday my baby turned six!  During this past summer he announced that he wanted a Sonic party for his birthday.  Due to the fact that my four children and I were pulled into a slot at 3:58 pm ordering half price beverages from roller skating attendants at, you guessed it, Sonic, I assumed he meant that type of Sonic party, a Sonic the-very-popular-in-Texas-fast-food-restaurant party.  My mind immediately went to visions of gum paste tater tots and fondant corn dogs dancing on top of a sprawling sheet cake and a good game of 'Pin-the-Straw-on-the-Cherry Limeade".  My older son, however, quickly clarified that he thought his little brother meant Sonic-the-Hedgehog from the cartoon and video game.

Oops, likely mistake!  I quickly shifted gears, although the other type of Sonic party does have it's appeal, and plotted my Sonic the Hedgehog party including the cake.  I followed my own tried-and-true birthday cake decorating tips.  I interviewed my son to find out what he envisioned for his birthday cake, I studied other Sonic cakes that I found on the internet, and I purchased a few Sonic figures from Toys R' Us.  I also decided on a cake and an icing recipe, gathered all of my cake decorating paraphernalia, and purchased an ample supply of baking ingredients and embellishments.  Despite all of this obsessing planning, as is usually the case when I create cakes, I had no idea how the cake would actually turn out until it was completed.  After the fact, however, I can share that these are the steps I followed to create my Sonic the Hedgehog cake.

 Steps for creating a Sonic the Hedgehog Cake
  1. Mix up a double batch of your favorite cake.  I used Anne Byrn's Birthday Cake for a Crowd from her book The Cake Mix Doctor Returns.  This is a moist yellow cake with a prominent vanilla flavor.
  2. Bake half of the batter (which is one batch) in a round 14 inch round cake pan.
  3. Bake half of the other half of the batter (which is half of one batch) in the 9 inch round cake pan.  I baked my extra batter into 12 cupcakes which my family enjoyed on our son's real birthday.
  4. Allow the cake to fully cool.  Either decorate the cake right away or tightly wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  5. Make a double batch (six cups) of your favorite Buttercream Icing.  Although I usually use the recipe that is on the side of the Domino's Confectioner's sugar box or one of the Cake Doctor's frosting recipes, this time I used the recipe for "Wilton Buttercream Icing" which was printed on the back of the 14 inch round cake pan insert.  The difference between the recipes is that the Wilton one includes a combination of butter and vegetable shortening and the Domino's one calls for just butter. Tint the icing blue using gel icing pastes.
  6. Place a dab of icing on a 16 inch cake round.  Edge the cake round with two inch strips of wax paper. Place the cake in the center of the cake round.
  7. Using an offset spatula, frost the 16 inch cake with blue frosting.  If you are a nonprofessional like me, read this article at Whisk Kid on "How to Frost a Cake".  I gathered many tips from this post.
  8. Center the 9 inch cake on top of the fully iced 16 inch cake.  Frost the 9 inch cake.
  9. Using a bench scraper and a offset spatula, smooth the frosting.  Remove wax paper strips from beneath cake.
  10. Gently press mini-oreos into the bottom edge of each cake.  
  11. Crush more oreos in the food processor until fine crumbs are formed.
  12. Edge the 9 inch cake with yellow M & M's.
  13. Place a 3 inch bowl in the center of the 9 inch cake.  Using a spoon, sprinkle Oreo crumbs around the bowl and spread to the M&M edge to create a road.
  14. Slowly remover the bowl.  Place more yellow M&M's around the inside edge of the cookie crumbs.
  15. Pipe yellow dashes along the center of the cookie crumb road.
  16. Using Wilton icing decorations spell Happy Birthday along the edge of the 12 inch cake.
  17. Place Sonic the Hedgehog figures on the cookie road.  Place candles inside the road.
  18. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Place in refrigerator if serving time is over a few hours away.
  19. Take lots of pictures!  Serve with a smile!
Add lots of icing for the crumb coat.  Remover excess with a bench scraper.
Use an ice cream scoop to place more frosting on the cake as needed.
Smooth frosting as much as possible with an offset spatula and bench scraper, but then accept that the imperfections add to the charm of the homemade birthday cake. 
Use mini Oreo cookies (like race wheels) to accentuate the edge and further hide any imperfections.
Use yellow M&M's to edge the race track.
Use a bowl to create the cookie crumb race track.
Take deep breaths and embrace imperfections.
Perch Sonic and his pals on top of the cake along with some pre-made letters to spell out "Happy Birthday!"
Bask in the glory of a homemade cake!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Buzz Lightyear Birthday Party

The table setting for the Buzz Lightyear Party
My children are experts at choosing birthday party themes.  Over the past 14 years I have gladly obliged each of their choices.  I have planned and orchestrated Wizard of Oz, Hello Kitty, Rubber Ducky, Mario, Bakugan, and Pokemon parties, just to name a few.  Last year I organized a Buzz Lightyear Party for my youngest son's 5th birthday celebration.

The Buzz Lightyear Cake
My son and I started the research portion of operation Buzz Lightyear party, by rereading his Toy Story books, watching the Toy Story movies, and perusing the toy aisle of Target for Buzz Lightyear items.  We also ordered Buzz Lightyear party supplies from Birthday Express.  Although we primarily focussed on Buzz, we threw in a few activities that related to the other characters of the movie.  We then planned the cake and games for the gathering.

Arrival Game:  Guess-the-Number-of-Army Men
The first party activity was "Guess-the-Number-of-Army-Men".  As the party goers arrived at our home, my oldest son helped them record their estimate on an index card.  After everyone had contributed a guess, we revealed the actual amount of army men in the jar and the child who came closest got to pick one gift out of the prize bag.  We then added the army men to the block station.

Army Men Guessing Game, Prize Bag, Buzz Lightyear Tattoos
In addition to guessing the amount of army men in the canister, the party guests were also able to get a Buzz Lightyear tattoo when they arrived.  My daughter set up a little table with the tattoos, paper towels, and a small bowl of water.  The boys each chose a tattoo from her "tatoo parlor" and she applied it to their arm or hand.

Next we moved onto three party stations.  My husband and older children manned the stations and I divided the children into groups and guided the flow.  One of the stations was free play with blocks and Toy Story action figures.  Another station was Alien  Kerplunk that we purchased at Target.  This game was entertaining at the party and is one that we still play today.

Activity Station:  Alien Kerplunk
The last station was an alien fishing game that we also found at Target.  Although it was fun at the party, one of the grabbers and a few aliens broke after just playing a few times.  I ended up returning it to Target, but my son still asks about it.

Activity Station:  Alien Fishing Game
When we had finished the stations, the boys gathered in a circle to play my tried-and-true game "Pass the Present".  This activity is always a hit and can be adapted to any theme.  Prior to the party, I wrapped Toy Story ring pops (enough for every party guest) in a small shoe box. I then put that box in a slightly larger box and wrapped it.  I repeated this process until I had four wrapped boxes inside one another.  I placed this large box on the present table.  When we were ready to play "Pass the Present", the children sat in a circle with the birthday child holding the large wrapped box.  Next my husband played music as the children passed the box.  When the music stopped, whichever party guest was holding the box got to open it, only to find another box.  We repeated this process until the last box was opened (by the birthday boy, what a coincidence:) to reveal the ring pops which were passed out to every child.  

Pass the Present Game
Ring pops in hand, the boys proceeded to the party table.  For cake, ice cream, drinks, and snacks. 

Party Snacks
After the food, the boys picked up the gift that they had brought to the party off of the present table and gathered on the floor around my son who was perched in a chair.  At the start of the party I had taped a number onto each gift.  When my son was ready to open a gift, he reached in a small bowl that I had placed next to his chair and drew out a number.  The person who had a that number on his gift gave it to the birthday boy to open.  This method helps to minimize the inevitable present time chaos by keeping all of the children involved.

Presents Labeled with Number Shapes
As the party wound down and the energy levels wound up, we played "Hit the Aliens".  I placed a large piece of poster board that I had labeled with a target filled with alien stickers on the floor of our main level.  The boys took turns running upstairs onto our catwalk and dropping an army man equipped with a parachute onto the target.  We then wrote the boy's name where his army man landed and the next boy headed upstairs.

Departure Game:  Hit the Aliens
Overall the Buzz Lightyear party was a success!  My son loved his cake that I created for him, my older children enjoyed assisting in all the activities, and I was thrilled to watch the party guests laugh and play.  I barely had time, however, to sweep the cake crumbs up from the kitchen floor and gather up all the wrapping paper before my son decided that next year he wanted a Sonic the Hedgehog party.  All I could do upon hearing his request was smile and embrace my friend Buzz's motto, "To Infiniti and Beyond!"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day Teachers Gift

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For Valentine's Day, my children are giving their teachers colorful treat bags filled with People Puppy Chow.  People Puppy Chow, which we have also been known to call Snow Candy on occasion, is an easy to make snack made of Crispix cereal, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and powdered sugar.  We prepare batches of it for snacks, parties, and holidays.

Valentine treat bag filled with People Puppy Chow

People Puppy Chow a.k.a Snow Candy

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chocolate Play Dough Recipe

As tempting as it may seem:  
Do not eat the Chocolate Play Dough!

Today I added another recipe to my growing play dough repertoire!  I created a batch of  Chocolate Play Dough by adding cocoa powder to my basic salt dough recipe.   The result is a luxurious, pliable material that looks and smells like real chocolate.  My inspiration comes from a recent post on the blog "Counting Coconuts".  I will enjoy this dough with my own children and in my preschool classroom for Valentine's Day.

To further enhance the Valentine's theme, I have combined my Chocolate Play Dough with an empty heart-shaped candy box, heart-shaped cookie cutters, and my new dough roller from "Write Out of the Box".  This wooden rolling pin creates heart shapes while it flattens.  According to Marianne the creator of Write Out of the Box, this type of roller helps "strengthen the hard to develop intrinsic muscles in the hand."  According to my kids, it is "really cool!"

As with all of my homemade play doughs, this chocolate dough is less crumbly than store bought play dough and keeps well in an air tight container.  The dough cooking process clearly illustrates the concepts of liquids and solids and can generate a dialog about thermal energy and scientific solutions.  In addition to being applicable around Valentine's Day, Chocolate Play Dough could also be an enrichment activity while reading chocolate related literature such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Chocolate Fever.  Although play dough is extremely fun for young children, older kids and adults enjoy it too. 

Even though this Chocolate Play Dough isn't good to eat,  it is still a sweet thing to share with someone you love.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Chocolate Play Dough Recipe

2 1/2 cups flour (plus more for kneading)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
3 cups water
3 tablespoons oil
  1. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and cream of tartar in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan.
  2. Add water and oil.
  3. Stir constantly over medium heat.  The mixture will be soupy for several minutes and then suddenly it will stick together and can be stirred into a ball.
  4. When mixture thickens and forms a rough ball, remove from the heat and continue stirring.
  5. Turn the hot ball of dough onto a floured surface, and begin kneading as it cools.  Add extra flour if mixture is too sticky.  Continue kneading until flour is incorporated and dough is no longer sticky.
  6. Enjoy dough with rollers, cutters, and other tools.
  7. Store at room temperature in a large zip-lock bag or other air tight container.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Peanutty Valentine Cookies Recipe

"Listen with your heart."
"Do something spontaneous."
"Go where your heart takes you."
"Hold hands firmly, hearts gently."
"Exercise your heart today."
"Make someone melt today."
"Believe in those you love."

These are the messages that my children and I read to each other as we unwrapped our Dove heart shaped chocolates.  We all love chocolate and I love anything that brings us together.  These phrases, or "little fortunes cookie words" as my son called them, gave us an opportunity to discuss love and our hearts.

I used the Dove chocolate candies to make our family "Peanutty Valentine Cookies".  They are similar to Peanut Butter Blossoms which we always make at Christmas except that the peanut butter cookie dough is baked in a mini-muffin pan and the chocolate kiss is replaced by a chocolate heart.  Just like Peanut Butter Blossoms they are best straight out of the oven when the chocolate is warm and melted, but they can be cooled and enjoyed later.  Many of our Peanutty Valentine Cookies lost the heart shape of the chocolate as I transferred them from the muffin tin to the cooling rack, but they still tasted delicious.

This recipe comes from a magazine clipping that I cut out long before I knew about blogs, so I don't know the year or even the name of the magazine.  I do know, however, that this recipe is now featured on the Nestle website Very Best Baking.  The peanut butter cookie dough from this recipe is moist and flavorful and pairs well with the smooth Dove chocolates.  I loved enjoying these Valentine's treats with my children and I loved sharing the messages from the chocolates as well.  Have a happy Valentine's Day!

Peanutty Valentine Cookies
     from Nestle's Very Best Baking
     makes 36

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
36 heart-shaped chocolate candies, unwrapped
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In large bowl with electric mixer, beat sugar, brown sugar, butter and peanut butter until combined.  Beat in egg and vanilla extract.  Beat in flour and baking soda.
  3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons into ungreased mini-muffin cups.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.  Remove from oven; gently press a chocolate heart into each cup.  Cool in pans on wire racks for at least 10 minutes.  Remove cookies from muffin cups with a butter knife.
  4. Serve warm or cool completely on wire racks.  

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