It is a scientific fact that babies cannot be born until a group of women gathers to eat brunch foods and compare epidural stories. And so it was, that I helped throw a baby shower for my little sister, the skinny, pregnant version of me on the couch, last Saturday.
I say helped because this was a joint effort by Jenn’s mother-in-law, her friend Michele and myself. The first big-time party I helped throw was a Christmas Gala which two of my best friends in grad school and I hosted. We ended up doing it three years running which was a great education in how to break down the party into its components: invitations, decorations, food and entertainment. Since then, I have done enough of these kinds of things, that I don’t even blink. Here’s what I do.
1. Decide on a color scheme and possibly a theme.
I have to start here. For Jenn’s shower, clearly we were going to use pink which is her favorite color and the appropriate color for a baby girl shower. As far as a theme, I know Jenn loves steampunk (Victorian/Gothic/Industrial Revolution/Post-Apocalyptic–just google image it), so I tried to think of an element of steampunk that would work for a baby shower. Hot air balloons! With the ubiquitous steampunk gears on them.
2. Choose a venue, date and time.
None of the hostess’s houses were really close enough to Jenn, so we had to ask another friend of Jenn’s for the use of her house. The size and style of the venue partially determined the decorations. I had initially thought to make hot air balloons out of actual balloons and hang them from the ceiling, but that would have overwhelmed the room.
3. Send invitations.
I really like to have the color scheme and theme chosen well in advance even if I don’t get going on decor until weeks later just so that the initial invitations cohere with the eventual decorations. My inspiration for this party was this free vintage image of hot air balloons
A few months ago, I spent maybe 20 minutes looking at youtube videos of how to create flyers in Microsoft Word, and it totally changed my life. I used this image in combination with some free steampunk fonts I found online and standard Microsoft Word clipart to create this invitation.
4. Plan the Food.
I sometimes try to get creative, but Jennifer requested my standard brunch shower food which is
- Sausage and Egg Casserole with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella
- Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon Curd (recipe below)
- Orange Mint Spritzer (Carefully push 3 sprigs of mint into a 2 liter bottle of Diet Sprite and cap it. Leave it overnight. Pour into punch bowl with one can of THAWED pulp-free orange juice concentrate. Gently stir.)
- Fresh Fruit Platter
To which Sondra added her own ham and cheddar breakfast casserole, the fresh fruit and these sweet cupcakes.
And Michele was talented enough to turn my suggestion of “balloon shaped sugar cookies” into these absolute gems.
5. Plan the Tableware
Here is part of the initial email I sent to the other hostesses. The “??”‘s are things I was asking for help with.
- Pink table cloth
- Lace tablecloth(s)??
- Pink or teal or floral napkins?? (If not, I have plenty of cream)
- Punch bowl and ladle
- Silver or white trays and cake stand
- Serving spoons
- Fancy silver cupcake towers (I have two) [which I painstakingly dug out of storage and then LEFT right beside the front door of my house. /facepalm]
6. Plan the Decorations
I wanted to make the decorations something maybe Jenn would want to keep and reuse in the nursery. More from my email:
- Hanging “hot air balloons” with ribbons and bows
- Anything Victorian??
- Pacifiers with felt cut out steampunk mustaches?? (I ended up just gluing silicone fake mustaches on paci’s. They were cute.)
Instead of filling the cozy room with balloons, I made one show piece hot air balloon out of a paper lantern and the ribbons left over from Jennifer’s ribbon-themed wedding.
And for the other seven balloons, I used cardstock which I had on hand, more of Jennifer’s wedding ribbon, and a pack of gears from Michaels. I free handed a template then traced them and cut them. Constructing these balloons was really fun because Flufferella helped me mix and match patterns and hot glue them together on a couple of evenings after the babies went to bed.
We went with a pink and lace table which seemed Victorian enough, and Sondra added a floral centerpiece. I know it’s the form to do banners spelling out something over a dessert/display table. It is so much the form that I almost never do it. A banner over a unidirectional display table might have looked nicer, but it was just too expected for me to even contemplate. Instead I strung the balloons separately on ribbons and used them to festoon the windows and doors.
Working as a team to plan this shower was terrific because I had to do only a small fraction of the work. The only downside is that I like to set up the table decorations at my dining room table well in advance to plan and design it. I might have tightened things, added things, created levels, added more color and so forth if I had pre-planned this one better. And yet, I am really happy with the result. It is elegant, but not fussy, pretty but not too precious.
7. Plan the Entertainment
Jennifer did not want any traditional or cheesy shower games, and instead requested a blessing bracelet. I had not heard of this activity before, but ended up really liking it. Each person chose a bead (provided by Sondra), and then wrote a wish or blessing for the mother and baby on a piece of paper. They read these good wishes to her as they gave her their bead all of which were strung into a bracelet for her to wear. Many of the blessings/wishes were funny, and some quite touching. The bracelet itself turned out beautiful.
8. Plan the Day-Of Schedule
This is where I usually excel by carefully estimating the time it will take me to hang this, cook that, curl my hair and so forth.
- 6:30 Get up take shower, do hair and makeup.
- 7:15 Pack car
- 7:30 Get Fluffy ready
- 7:50 Leave for Jennifer’s house.
- 8:30 Finish casserole and put in oven.
- 9:00 Decorate Andrea’s house.
- 9:30 Make pancakes
- 10:00 Shower starts
This is where I fell down a bit by forgetting the cupcake stands and initially forgetting the eggs. The trip home for eggs put me substantially behind schedule. Those finicky yet divine Lemon Ricotta Pancakes are really best served right off the griddle, so I had decided to cook them on sight. That meant that while the guests started arriving, I was still two doors down in Jenn’s apartment flipping pancakes. Bah!!! Good thing there were two other hostesses to man the show.
The pancakes were ridiculously awesome. Buy some ricotta and lemon curd and make them this weekend for yourself. You deserve it.
LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES (thanks Janelle Patton)
The batter is really thick – not much like normal pancake batter – but they turn our beautifully. Also, I HIGHLY recommend picking up some Wilkin & Sons lemon curd to serve with them. It’s in the jam section or English foods section of grocery stores. Mmmmmm….
2 cups ricotta cheese (about 1 pound)
4 large eggs, separated
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
1 tsp real vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus additional butter as necessary to cook the pancakes
1. Set an ovenproof platter or baking sheet with a cooling rack on top of it into the oven, and turn the oven to 200 degrees.
2. Beat the ricotta and egg yolks together in a large mixing bowl with the lemon zest, salt, vanilla, and sugar. Stir in the flour and 7 tablespoons of the melted butter, working the batter just until it’s homogenous and smooth.
3. Whip the egg whites with a whisk or handheld mixer until they hold a stiff peak. With a rubber spatula, gingerly fold half of the whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining half. Don’t worry if the resulting batter is lightly stripped with whipped whites — they keep the pancakes light and airy.
4. Heat a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet or griddle over the medium-low heat for a minute or two, then grease the pan with a teaspoon or more of the remaining butter. When the butter starts to sizzle, turn the heat up a touch. Use a large cookie scoop to ladle in pancakes and spread them out to 3.5″ or 4″ circles with the back of the scoop. Wet the scoop if it starts to stick too much.
5. After a couple of minutes, when the bottoms of the pancakes are somewhere between mottled and uniformly brown, flip them and cook another 2 minutes on the other side. Transfer the finished pancakes to the platter in the oven and repeat with the remaining batter. Put your serving plates in the oven to warm before adding the last of the batter to the pan.
6. Serve with lemon curd and maybe whipped cream.