Fall, You are Dead to Me.

You read that correctly, fall was once my favorite season. I loved the changing colors of the trees, the slightly cooler weather that allowed me to bring out my 45+ scarfs and shawls once more. I loved going to football games. I loved my favorite fall-inspired coffee concoctions from national coffee chains that will remain unnamed.

I loved it so much that my husband and I were married in the fall.

Fall is dead to me.

I look at the window at my work and watch as fat snow flakes are dropping from the sky… today is Halloween. Today we will also have wind gusts up to 40 mph, and occasional snow. Oh yeah and it will feel like it’s in the 20s.

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Fall is such a fleeting thing. It’s beautiful for about two weeks in our fine state of Michigan. Then it crumbles into a rainy, cold, worn down version of its former glorious self.

Winter about ruined me last year. I felt there would never be warmth and sunshine and *gasp* exposed elbows and knees. I cringe at the idea that we are headed into the same type of weather, (5 months worth) and that once again fall is short and ends so abruptly.

Tonight we are going trick or treating, with possible snow, and wind, and winter coats. We aren’t native to Northern Canada. We aren’t meant for this.

How to Have a Dragons Love Tacos Birthday Party

I am a project manager by trade and a party planner by nature, so each birthday is a fun extravaganza in my world. Much of what we had at the party was done during my lunches and after my son was in bed (I took my sweet time and used a month to complete my tasks – this can go a lot quicker if you have more time or your schedule permits.)

This year my son, Henry, celebrated his 3rd birthday. As in previous years we needed a solid theme that would help us figure out food, decorations and fun activities both for kids and adults.  Here’s how we accomplished our mission with success!

1. Pick a theme. This was easy for us, we love reading in the Ramseyer Roost so naturally we are inclined to pick a book theme. Last year we celebrated a bookworm this year we chose Dragons Love Tacos. I asked Henry if he’d be interested (why bother developing a theme if the guest of honor doesn’t like it.) The result was a wide smile and “I like Dragons and Tacos.” Good.20140927_135741

2. Create invites. Most of our invitees were on Facebook, which is where we tracked party specifics, but I still love receiving a traditional paper invitation. We sent out taco invites featuring our favorite dragon on the inside. Cut out yellow circles of cardstock, match a slightly smaller white card stock invite, add some green bits and red semi circles (thanks office circle cutter.) and voila a cute invite to send! Now repeat this about 25 times.

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3. Figure out a menu. Again dragons to the rescue, our menu would mostly have beef and chicken tacos with plenty of fixings & mild salsa – dragons hate spicy salsa (we did include spicy stuff for the humans.) With our head count we calculated that 8lbs of beef and 8lbs of mild cilantro lime chicken would do the trick. Here are the original recipes I used to create our beef and chicken taco feast. Below is how I adjusted or modified recipes to fit our specific needs.20140927_135648

Tips for beef: I did cook the beef in a large pot before transferring to the crock pot. We purchased the taco seasoning in bulk at Costco (it’s got a fair bit of heat, but it’s really awesome.) Once we transferred to a crock pot we had steamy taco meat ready in about 2-3 hours on high. We then turned it to low to keep warm as the party rolled forward.

Tips for chicken: I did pour out most of the chicken liquid after it finished cooking – I would recommend leaving about 1.5 cups, it was a bit dry. I modified the recipe to add 1 jar of mild salsa (I would recommend 2 jars), two limes squeezed into the mix, and a nice bunch of finely chopped cilantro, a few tablespoons of cumin and paprika, garlic powder, some pepper and a pinch of salt. Don’t be afraid to add more spice, we needed a low-spice option for our dragons and guests.

4. Cake. Each year I challenge myself with baking/creating some edible masterpiece (read cobble together as best as my untrained abilities allow.) This year I research the internet for taco cakes (I still had some of my senses not to try a dragon shaped one.) It was fun and it turned out. Here is how we accomplished the taco cake.CAM01475

5. Taco Piñata. Yep this party didn’t feel complete without one. I found this project and it was my guide, it allowed me to use a left over diaper box for construction (we hoard enough boxes to build a fort). I purposely used scotch tape to hold it together – we don’t need Fort Knox, and even with multiple hits it held on for dear life. Lots of kiddos enjoyed it.SAM_4037

 

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6. Decorations! This was perhaps the easiest thing for me. I scanned pages from our copy of Dragons Love Tacos (I would have purchased some if those decorations existed in the market.) And proceeded to frame some with colorful sheets to add a bit of fun to our walls, I used the red dragon to feature as our 3D decoration, circles were once again assembled into tacos, I did a taco garland (50 small tacos, one knotted long piece of thick string and 4 hours of trying to untangle. Be careful how you create this, it looked like Russ’ ball of Christmas lights.) We added streamers and some Cinco de Mayo decorations courtesy of my mother-in-law. We also labeled all our food with taco labels (fold your circles in half and write in pen. It’s that easy.)20140927_135919

7. GAMES & CRAFTS, GOODIE BAGS! To be honest this is really more the icing on the cake, everyone had a great time just chilling out in the sun room, backyard, swings and slide as well as the sand table. A cold beer or margarita can make any party a fun place to be so you really don’t need much more. But that didn’t stop us from having a memory game (resize scanned book sheets and uniform cover sheet, cut out circles and glue stick together, make as many pairs as you wish.) I also found this fun project on Pinterest for making your own fire breathing dragon. The wee ones received assistance from the mammas but for the most part it was a simple craft a kid can do. Lastly, the evening can’t be complete with some goodie bags (yes in addition to the candy bags the kids received, we like to send our youngest guests home as sugared up as possible.) Goodie bags contained some bouncy balls, mini taco erasers – which were surprisingly hard to find, playing cards, stickers, bubble solution necklaces.SAM_4041

We had a blast celebrating our kiddo turning 3, our love of tacos and our love of dragons. Hope you have fun planning/partying at your next Dragons Love Tacos extravaganza!

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The Saturday Morning Walk

I’ve talked about my Saturday morning walks with Maya before,  the ones where you stumble over an unexpected Pow Wow or witness a regatta. At this point in the year it’s cold enough that events are less likely so I feel more comfortable rolling out of bed and heading out.

This morning was no different,  but it was amazing.

Only the sound of my shoes beating on the pavement and Maya’s nails clicking along side me.  Our breath creating puffs as we pushed forward. That is when we came across some of nature’s finest work at sun rise.  It made the early morning timeframe and low temps worth it.

Riverside Park

 

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Firebreathing Dragon Taco Cake

When your son us a bookworm, your birthday parties tend to revolve around favorite book themes. This year was no exception. When I asked Henry if he’d be interested in a Dragons Love Tacos birthday party I was met with a huge grin, “I love dragons love tacos.” Oh we know buddy, we know.

After some searching on Pinterest I realized this idea wasn’t unique, but it was certainly awesome. First thing’s first. We need a cake. A homemade cake.

20140925_183347Did you know it’s actually hard to find a step-by-step process for making a taco cake? You either have the professionals offering their superb baked results (which is like comparing a couch potato to a marathoner. It’s not gonna happen, move on unless you train a year out.) And I wanted a BIG cake, not some flimsy 9in round (pfft, what is this JV?) So I researched cake sizes and methods.

Here is how I made it happen.

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My lovely assistant, Henry. Promising not to throw in the egg and shell this time around.

BAKE IT.
1. Obtain a 14in. x 2in. deep dish pizza pan
2. Buy 3 boxes of cake mix (I don’t do this from scratch. I’m not too good for boxed cake mix.) 2 white, 1 chocolate.
3. Buy a 6-pack of unsweetened applesauce. Proceed to eat 3 – or have you child do it, because it will inevitably happen.
4. Make sure your two 9in. round cake pans are still in good condition.
5. 9 eggs, you aren’t making a omlette for a giant, but close.
6. 3 cups of water
7. mixer, unless you have Pop Eye arms and don’t mind mixing by hand (not a good idea, friend.)

Mix the chocolate according to the packaging. Instead of oil add 1 snack cup of applesauce (semi healthy if we ignore the frosting.) Line the round pans with parchment paper, make sure they are slightly oiled (peeling these can be tricky.) Bake according to the packaging, allow to rest on stove while wafting amazing smells through the house. Extract by lifting the parchment. Allow to cool on wire rack. I then packed it up in tin foil for the night. Cold cake is easier to frost. Don’t doubt me.

Next whip up the double batch of white cake (use applesauce again, a cup for each box of cake mix). Decrease the temp of the oven to only 325. Line with parchment, oil paper slightly. Pour into 14in cake pan. Bake around 55 minutes, don’t open the oven unless you have to. Remove when lightly golden brown and the jiggle has stopped.

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FROST IT.
1. 8 sticks of unsalted butter (you heard me, this is how much I needed to cover this behemoth.) I had lots left overs, but in the wrong colors. Yeah plan a double batch of the yellow. And you can do a scoop of red, I promise it will be more than enough
2. 9 level cups of powdered sugar
3. 4 tsps of vanilla
4. 3 bricks of cream cheese (8 oz each) (I used 1/3 less fat. Delusional that this is “healthy”)
5. yellow, green, red, and brown food coloring (I am ambitious, but not so much that I need to also make chocolate frosting.)

20140926_222912My amazing co-worker/book clubber friend, Cait, gave me this easy and delicious cream cheese frosting recipe. I swear by it (I swear in general, but I am an ambassador for homemade frosting.) The canned stuff I think I am allergic to.

I made a batch at a time, 4 batches total. (2 sticks of butter, 3 level cups of powdered sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla, 1 brick of cream cheese.)

Cut up cold butter and whip in mixer (30 seconds), add the cream cheese and blend well, decrease speed, slowly incorporate powdered sugar (1-2 minutes), then add the vanilla (10 seconds),  once it’s mixed together increase the speed to medium for about 4-6 minutes, stop once fluffy, begin adding food coloring and continue blending until you achieve the desired color intensity.

Shove each mixture into a piping bag (the yellow I just spread right from the bowl with a spatula). Store your frosting baggies in the fridge until you are ready to use. You can keep the frosting in the fridge for up to 3 days.

 

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LOATHE IT.
I will call it the low point of the evening. Because after lifting out my cakes, letting them cool, marveling that nothing fell apart. After slicing the big one in half, then slicing the two chocolate ones on an angle to create the proper “meat” wedge of the cake. AFTER frosting it (which required Adam to run to the grocery store at midnight for an emergency butter/cream cheese resupply trip.) I ended up hating it. It was hard to frost and I was so exhausted that the thing I considered a challenge and something to look forward to accomplishing turned to something I hated. Well that and it was 1:40 in the morning.

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LOVE IT.
Yeah you read that right. I woke up in the morning and dreaded looking in the fridge. But when Henry heard that his cake was ready you couldn’t stop him from opening the fridge. “I LOVE MY TACO CAKE.” And that was that. At that moment, I went from loathe to love. Because having him happy was the most important part.

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CUT IT.
Much like carving a turkey I would recommend the right equipment. In my case it was wielding a long bread knife and a spatula. We sliced off parts of the cake then cut the pieces down further. For having 64-cupcakes worth of cake and only 30 guests we only had about 10-cupcakes worth left.SAM_4024

Conclusion

IT WAS A SUCCESS. Would I do it again? Ask me next year. 😉