My husband's birthday was just a few weeks back. The boys and I were planning early this year and looking to make it extra special. I checked out Pinterest, and shockingly did not find much inspiration pinned about a birthday for Him, for Dad or for a husband. Everything was focused on creating the perfect kid's birthday, but isn't it always? My friend, Ciaran wrote about similar feelings regarding this while celebrating her own birthday. We almost forget sometimes how important it is to involve the children in the "making of a celebration" rather than just receiving. I want to raise givers, enthusiastic givers, not of material things but of love, kindness and admiration. I want my children to feel how good it feels do something special for someone else. It doesn't have to be elaborate, it can be something small or a bunch of small things created collectively as a family. It can be breakfast in bed or homemade coupons, as we have done in the past. Or it can be a dinner party with family, with a meal completely made from scratch.
I plan and plan and plan in my mind until I actually get a visual of what I would like it to look like and feel like. This is how I work creatively. Then again in the last hours, I always doubt myself about what was I thinking, then hustle to get it all done. Its chaotic, as anything with a house of kids would be, just keep reading to see how chaotic it became, before the enjoyable dinner.
The older boys and I sat down one morning at breakfast and made a list. I let them lead the discussion. They love meetings with me in the morning. Things like decorations, fancy table, his favorite cake, meal and soccer stuff topped the list. Then we decided to divide up some of the effort amongst ourselves. We knew the oldest loves to tool around in Adobe Illustrator with fonts, colors and type. We gave him the task of typing up a birthday prayer and designing the look for each place setting. We knew my middle son loves to paint, so we had him paint something to be used as a decoration for the table and prayer. They said I was in charge of cooking, baking and sewing (ha, yeah). And the baby, well he was in charge of water play in his mini kitchen without getting too wet.
We went shopping to the soccer store to pick something out, and the boys chose a Chelsea futbol, which they anxiously hid in their room until the big day. We made hand illustrated cards, as we do for every occasion these days.
One of the fun parts for me was creating a dinner menu for our small gathering with my husband's favorites. We love living close again to family and having the space for a small dinner party, kids included. We used to do this all the time, years ago before fancy cameras, blogs and such. I guess what I am saying is that we are dinner party people and have been for some time. And we do get fancy sometimes in our decorations or recipes. I was adventurous, and once whipped up souffles during and after a New Year's Eve dinner party at our home. I think the champagne actually helped in that situation. That was 2001. Not much has changed in the party planning, except now we include our children.
Caesar Salad, Roast Beef with Horseradish Mayonnaise sliced atop Ciabatta Rolls, Crispy Oven Potatoes, Roasted Carrots with Rosemary and Brussel Sprouts. Dessert would be Lemon Layered Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Buttercream Frosting. (He loves lemon!)
I decided to start with Jamie Oliver's healthy version of a Caesar salad recipe, then roast the grass-fed, locally sourced beef using Pioneer Woman's recipe. My husband loves horseradish, so I just mixed some with french style mayonnaise. My mom made the classic, English-style crispy oven potatoes and the brussel sprouts. I decided very nervously to attempt homemade ciabatta rolls after reading this recipe and watching this how to video. It really was easier than I thought and they turned out perfect in the end of a very long day. Every year we make a homemade lemon cake for his birthday, also his favorite. I use this recipe as the cake, and this as the curd and this for the frosting. We had wine and my brother in law brought over my husband's favorite Guiness beer.
The menu was equally rustic, masculine and classic like my husband.
The next part was really about planning out the baking, cooking, more cooking and more baking. It's a lot of work, truly. I love it and enjoy it, but it is honestly work and it creates a hell of a mess in my kitchen. I don't have a double oven or a big, fancy cook's kitchen, so I really had to figure out a schedule. That is what I have learned is key to a dinner party- lists and plans for cooking times. You don't need all the bells and whistles in your kitchen to have yourself one heck of a meal.
I also don't have a regular babysitter. It seemed like I needed a few days of prep, but with kids, a teething toddler, some upsetting events and tired 30 something parents, those few days before his birthday were lost and I really didn't get into my groove until the day before. Totally Joya-style, so have no fear. Coffee helps. And visualizing my husband's joy and happiness at the end of the day.
THE TABLE DECOR
I gathered up recent fabric purchases and scraps, and came up with a table covering. I layered a navy solid tablecloth, followed by two small runners of navy and white gingham. Then I stitched up a seersucker runner for down the length of the table. (The table runner and chair runners will be an upcoming DIY post!) We used our white cloth napkins, our newly found vintage napkin ring holders (exotic, bright animals from India) and a preppy green vase for a center candle. I layered our white dishes with yellow accent plates, mismatched, but all our every day dishes we already had. We printed out menus and the prayer for each place setting, each clipped together with a mini clothespin to a brown paper bag and finished with the watercolor illustration from our 6 year old tied with suede cord.
The table was set, the cake was baked, the bread was forever rising... waiting, and waiting for it to rise. I think I reread the recipe a zillion times. Why did I decide to make homemade bread again?
The beef was in the oven roasting. Baby was napping. All was calm. Then, the baby woke up. Back downstairs in the kitchen I felt some intense heat. The oven was only on 275 degrees? After sitting the baby in his high chair I went over to the oven, opened the door and boom-black smoke. Now the last time I saw black smoke was in a LOST episode. How fitting because that was one of my husband's favorite shows.
The kitchen seemed cloudy and hot. I realized in that moment that I was feeling nervous that I probably just ruined dinner. SIGH.
It was 4:00pm, so only a few hours away from my husband getting home from work. Other than turning the oven off, I was unsure what to do. I panicked. Then decided better to be safe then sorry. I called 9-1-1 and they sent the fire department. The boys were ecstatic that they were on their way. Ah boys and their firetrucks! The trucks and firemen were counted as they parked, sirens blaring as they all entered our house. Boys still smiling with all the action they were watching. Thank God that it was a minor grease situation in my oven. They asked me if I actually saw a fire, hmm no, just black smoke. So they checked out the oven, and the roast. They commented how "good everything smelled, and the table decor looked so nice, what kind of cake was that? Who's birthday?" It was actually all very sweet, but I totally was embarrassed, "I was just trying to cook a roast in the oven and have a birthday dinner celebration for my husband, that's all!" I'm not a novice cook, but really you can tell I don't cook beef often. I wasn't expecting the grease to run off my roasting pan to the point of black smoke.
"What about a slow cooker mam?" Yes, going to go back to my slow cooker next time around. Or a dutch oven. I really want one, now I have a great excuse.
Dinner prep continued, off schedule of course. But guess what? That extra heat from the stove helped the ciabatta dough rise! Finally! Hooray! I didn't waste hours of time staring at it after all.
As everyone arrived to celebrate, the story was retold from excited boys and an embarrassed mama. Everyone was helpful to get dinner on the table. I served an additional non-dairy salad for myself. Sadly I didn't grab a photo of the Caesar salad as I was serving them, but I heard it was tasty.
All turned out pretty perfect. We gathered around a good meal and we thanked God for the blessing that is my husband and celebrated a truly wonderful person. The warmth at the end of the night was not only from the oven and my kitchen mishaps, it was from love and thanksgiving for a great husband and father in our lives.