Steve and Sandy Throw a Birthday Party

Since the kids have grown up, we celebrate birthdays casually – cooking a special dish or getting takeout from a favorite restaurant, and picking up a cake or pie.

But yesterday, Steve and I threw a birthday party for ourselves, inviting a small group of friends. Chris was home from New York over the weekend to attend a wedding, so our whole family was together – another reason to celebrate.

From decorations, to gift bags to food, we spent many hours planning and executing our party. It always requires more time than you think, but with the whole family pitching in we pulled it off! (For all our party planning tips and pics, visit Special Fork’s Pinterest page.)

The Setting:
I dreamed of an outdoor lunch but San Francisco weather is unpredictable, and any day, any time of the year, can be chilly. We banked on September being typically warm and the weather didn’t disappoint. We set up tables and market umbrellas on the deck, with the buffet in the adjoining dining room.

The Decorations:
Perusing the Internet, I found a bright, punchy party idea at – a grouping of colorful, honeycomb tissue paper starbursts and balls above a dining table. Using the idea as a guide, I purchased similar items in cheerful colors – turquoise, lime green, yellow, hot pink – and Dave hung them over the table using dental floss, which is thin, light, strong and transparent. A bouquet of dahlias echoed the folds of the tissue paper decorations above and a scattering of confetti set the celebratory tone.

I set up the console for cake and sparkling wine. My daughter-in-law, Dave’s wife Lynn, in charge of the helium tank, blew up polka dot balloons in colors to match the dining table decorations; we marched the balloons along the length of the console. To secure the balloons, we turned paper party hats upside down, threaded the ribbon for each balloon through the cone of the hat, and tied a small fork to the end, hidden underneath the hat and grounding the balloon. A few ribbons spiraling through the champagne glasses and more confetti added the festive touch.

Out on the deck, each table held a simple bouquet of yarrow and field flowers, party hats, tooters and balloons tied to the seats. To designate each person’s place, we put their take-home goodie bag on their seat. The bags featured a childhood photo of Steve or me, which we printed on card stock and cut with a circle cutter. The guest’s name was affixed on the photo using a household label machine. Chris applied his graphic talents to scanning and reproducing the tags.

Guest Gifts:
Guests received a mixture of classic childhood party favors and some practical items: plastic water gun, bubble maker, magnetic animal bookmark and Almond Roca candy (our childhood favorite), and an Italian notebook and matchbook Post-Its from our favorite art supply store.

The Menu:
We built the menu around porchetta sandwiches and salads. Inspired by a porchetta party hosted by a friend last summer, I placed an order with Roli Roti, where my friend had procured hers. Porchetta is a delicious pork roll made of pork loin and herbs wrapped in pork belly, then roasted on a spit. Moist and tender inside and crackly crisp on the outside, a pork roll to serve 20 can be pre-ordered and picked up, piping hot, fragrant and ready to slice, at select farmers’ markets. We also purchased the embellishments: rosemary salt, caramelized onions and baby arugula.

For starters, we served tapenade, the Provencal olive spread made a minutes in a food processor, and our favorite, Curry Chutney Deviled Eggs.

Our salad accompaniments were Corn Festival Coleslaw, a recipe by Special Fork blogger Lori Powell, my Creamy Potato Salad and Zoe McLaughlin’s Panzanella, which she demoed for Video Friday. Since I tripled the Panzanella recipe, instead of toasting bread in a sauté pan on stovetop (too small a vessel for the volume), I tossed the bread cubes in the olive oil and toasted them on a sheet pan in a 375-degree F. oven for 15 minutes, stirring the cubes every 5 minutes until lightly golden.

Dessert was a gorgeous and sinful hazelnut chocolate cake from Bonjour Patisserie.

By using recipes from Special Fork’s cookbook database, with a few clicks of a button, I was able to make a shopping list from my menu and email it to Steve. When I tripled the recipe for Panzanella, I clicked on “add to your shopping list” three times and the ingredients were tripled automatically – no math needed. You can sort this list by category (produce, condiments, baking, etc.), alphabetically by ingredient or by recipe. Shopping with your smartphone, you can check off the ingredients electronically as you shop. Or print out the shopping list to take to the market.

While I printed all the recipes and planned to divide the cooking among our family work team, everyone was busy doing one part of the party preparation or another, so Lynn picked up the slack and prepared most of the food. All the while, Steve was doing the grocery shopping, washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen and with Chris, cleaning the deck; Dave did the glass for the sliding doors to the deck and the kitchen windows.

Are we exhausted? Yes, but we had a fabulous time at our party enjoying the company of our friends and the satisfaction of working as a family to accomplish a goal together. And we have delicious leftovers, sparkling windows and a clean deck.

Special Fork is a recipe website for your smartphone and PC that solves the daily dinnertime dilemma: what to cook now! Our bloggers blog Monday through Friday to give you cooking inspiration. Check out our recipe database for quick ideas that take no more than 30 minutes of prep time. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Posted: Sep 17th by Sandy_Hu