Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grandpa's Birthday Dinner

My father-in-law plays a big part in our lives, since he watches the boys three mornings a week while I work. I can never thank my in-laws enough for all their help, so I give what thanks I can in the form of cooking. Today was his birthday, so we invited uncles and cousins over to share in a meal that Grandpa would enjoy:

Deep-fried chicken(s)
Boiled new potatoes with farm butter and fresh dill
French-cut green beans from the Farmers' Market (I bought a new bean Frencher, and D loved helping me cut the beans!)
Corn on the cob
Birthday cake!

...and not just any birthday cake, but mixed-berry chiffon cake with almond cream cheese frosting. When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, he said, "anything sweet and gooey and not good for me." Not only does this cake fit the bill; it is also perfectly seasonal, since it calls for a huge mound of fresh berries.

I made the cake once before, but not since I got an awesome new kitchen, equipped with a Kitchenaid mixer. The recipe is painfully complicated—in particular, it calls for almond paste, which I have learned from experience is hard to find outside of the Christmas season. So I made my own. On top of that, you make a white chocolate cream custard filling, and the cake instructions direct you to put different amounts of batter into two cake pans so that one cake can be cut in half and the other left whole, to create three layers. I think the last time I made this cake, I just made three cakes. This time, I tried to follow the instructions to the letter, only to find that the recipe was assuming I had eight cups of batter, and I did not. It also assumes that the filling, when chilled for several hours, is quite stiff. My filling was not. So when I tried to 'fill' the cake, it just ran over the sides and the layers slid all over the place.

It didn't really matter in the end, because the cream cheese frosting is supposed to be laid on thick enough to create a bowl for the berries on top of the cake. The final product wowed the crowd in spite of the multiple moments of self-doubt I experienced along the way.

We had one minor technical malfunction on the day of the party, because the propane tank had to be moved to the turkey fryer, and I thought we had another one I could use on the bbq at the same time, so we could boil the potatoes and grill the corn outside. I discovered late in the game that the second propane tank was both empty and expired, so the potatoes and the corn ended up being boiled in the house. Thank God for air conditioning.

Grandpa felt appropriately pampered, which is what mattered, and D was super excited to present Grandpa with the first piece of cake. D got the second piece. And ate the entire piece, quite a feat after having filched a large portion of one of the chickens while I was cutting it into pieces.

Much of our focus for the rest of the week will be on planning and packing for a fairly major road trip to the Sunshine Coast (over a series of days, with several stops along the way). I'm sitting in front of a list of potential snack ideas that will be easy to hand to kids in the backseat:

Mini-Babybels/cheese sticks
fruit: berries, peaches, bananas, apples
trail mix (D's favourite)
veggie sticks: carrots, snap peas
squish'ems (apple sauce or baby food in resealable squeeze-packs)—discovered these first while traveling in Australia; rediscovered them at WalMart. May be the only thing I ever buy at WalMart. I'll be making a 'squish'em' run this week to stock up. Mostly these would be for G—relatively mess-free instant snacks—but I can guarantee that D won't let them pass him by.
I may give in and buy some yogurt tubes. I don't usually go for the sugar-packed yogurt, but depending on the mood I'm in when I reread the label, I might still get them for their novelty value.
Sardines (what?! you say? Yes, you heard me—protein-dense foods that are easy to serve are my goal, and while I wouldn't just hand a sardine over to my kids in their carseats, they do make a nice quick sandwich or snack at a picnic site. And my dad is traveling with us for the first three days (we've begged them to come along and bring their camper), and sardines are one of his favourite things. An unlikely treat for everyone.)

I'm open to other suggestions for travel snacks, too. Anyone?

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