Our sweet Etta’s birthday party was featured on Apartment Therapy Kids Parties!

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September 18, 2012 · 9:14 PM

Sweet Jelly Beans

In my family, Labor Day weekend has always been, to quote the VP, a big freaking deal. Traditionally, we convene at the cottage to mark the last hurrah of the summer, enjoying the sun and lake right up until twilight on Monday. But last year, my niece’s appearance in early September guaranteed that from then on, our Labor Day celebrations would be especially significant. And with her first birthday, we started a new tradition.

When Etta made her first ultrasound appearance, she looked so much like a little bean, we started calling her “Jelly Bean”. Back in December when we started making plans for her first birthday fête, the theme was a no-brainer. And so, my sister Claire strung the tent with tissue paper puffs and made centerpieces out of mason jars filled with jelly beans and pinwheels. She hung a ribbon clothesline above the fireplace with photos of Etta taken every month of her first year.

G was in charge of the menu – a classic barbecue spread with chicken, potato salad, baked beans, and corn on the cob. And like any adoring auntie with pastry skills, I made dessert.

For her first taste of sugar (ever!), it had to be simple – a vanilla cake frosted with thick, ultra-sweet classic buttercream. And not just any cake – it also had to withstand approximately 2 lbs. of jelly beans piled on top. After extensive internet research, I settled upon this cake from Sweetapolita, based upon a Rose Levy Berenbaum technique, and customized it for our sweet little jelly bean.

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Italian Roast Chicken with Vegetables

On a Sunday evening, there are few things I love more than cooking a fantastic dinner and eating it on the couch watching Mad Men. It’s a formula that can’t be improved upon – except for those Sundays when I am able, in between grocery shopping and vegetable prep, to squeeze in a Skype call with my increasingly mobile and perpetually adorable niece. Last weekend was filled with great friends and lots of wine, and by Sunday, I was fully ready for my weekly hibernation. And with unseasonably cold temperatures of late, something warm and homey sounded just right – a roast chicken recipe from Bon Appetit incorporating several of the vegetables from my most recent CSA box.

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Where I’ve Been…

… starting a new job that’s keeping me busy (in a good way).

… spending Christmas on the beach in Cozumel with my family.

Cozumel

… celebrating my Grandpa’s 90th birthday.

(That’s a 90th birthday candy cabin, complete with “flagstone” chimney and walkway, a fire pit, and landscaping, constructed by my creative aunt, uncle, and cousins. It was truly a family project - my aunt told me she would wake up in the morning thinking about what she could add to the cabin that day, and there were multiple Josie-directed trips to the specialty candy store along the way. The family that crafts together… makes some creative birthday gifts.)

… binge watching Game of Thrones, hanging out with my niece, etc, etc, etc….

Anyway, I certainly have not been starving while on hiatus! In fact, I joined a Winter CSA from Harvest Moon Farms, and have been reveling in a bounty of winter storage crops from their Wisconsin farm and seasonal citrus and greens from their partner farm in northern California. And eggs – there are always fresh eggs when I am involved.

As I wrote in my very first post on Big Fork Little Spoon over a year ago, the first rule of CSA membership is that any recipe must include multiple share box items. Luckily, my CSA has been hitting it out of the park in terms of providing with items that naturally pair together, and when I received kale and blood oranges in my first delivery, I knew there was an amazing Italy-via-California-inspired salad in my future. This Italian Kale Salad is super fresh and easy to prepare. Packed with power foods and just enough indulgent ingredients to make a filling meal, it’s an ideal weeknight supper.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

My friend Christine knows a surefire way to spur me to action. We were idly discussing her menu plans for the Thanksgiving dinner she is hosting for her family, when she said, “oh, I’ll just pick up some pies from the store.” Blame my long-sworn devotion to Martha Stewart, but those words are blasphemy to my ears. Homemade pies (and crusts) are a must! I immediately invited her over for a pre-holiday baking workshop.

Admittedly, my motives were not entirely altruistic. I spend the entire month of November poring over food magazines and blogs, inevitably with more recipes catching my eye than I could make if I served three Thanksgiving dinners. Perhaps I should thank her for providing an excuse to spend an entire Saturday in the kitchen testing pies.

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Food & Wine Entertaining Showcase

Reason #11,000 to love Chicago: sometimes you get to attend an event filled with amazing food (and wine) from your favorite Chicago chefs, at the MCA, on a random Monday night, for free….

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A huge thanks to Emily, aka Windy City Recessionista, for letting me bask in the glow of her winning ways, and to Billy Dec for the tickets!

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Birthday Spaghetti

It’s a little embarrassing to admit at age 29, but birthdays are still a big deal to me. As an adult, I have tried to dial back my enthusiasm to a respectable level, but as a child, being born the day after Halloween means your birthday is a culmination of a three day orgy of candy, glorious outfits, and presents. My mom, having been raised in a “birthdays are a BFD” household herself, implemented a firm policy of putting the birthday child in charge. The whole family would wake up early to have breakfast and open presents, followed by an afternoon classroom pizza delivery, then dinner and more presents with our grandparents. It’s easy to get used to that kind of celebration.

In keeping with my barely-concealed desire to be lavished with attention on the anniversary of my arrival in the world, this year I invited my besties over for a birthday feast. They brought copious amounts of wine and thoughtful gifts, and I in turn served up a coma-inducing spread of the ultimate in comfort food, spaghetti and meatballs.

It was the perfect menu for weeknight festivities. The meatballs and homemade tomato sauce required a little love and advance preparation on Sunday night, but there was no slaving over the stove on the evening of the party. Instead, I was in the dining room sipping wine and snacking on rosemary marcona almonds with my friends. A salad of arugula and shaved Pecorino Romano, tossed in a bracing red wine vinaigrette, and homemade garlic bread rounded out the meal. And for dessert, the best cannoli in Chicago, with a candle in mine, of course.

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