Mother’s Day and dad’s birthday, served up in one family feast

My mom and dad sure have a talent for celebration co-ordination.

Mom (don't mind the beached whale of a pitbull in the background)
Dad (sorry - I had nicer pictures but Garrett insisted I use this one)

Huh?  Let me explain…

As you know (if you are good little sons and daughters), yesterday was mother’s day, the holiday where you are meant to wine, dine and brunch your dear ol’ mum to her heart’s content.  Also accompanying the Sunday festivities, however, was my dad’s Friday birthday.  See, celebration co-ordination, requiring a double whammy of gifts and cards galore.

The other peak of festivity in my household falls in early September, thanks to my parents having decided to get married on my mom’s birthday.  A few years ago her 50th birthday corresponded with their 20th wedding anniversary.  Guess who played grade 10 party planner?

But anyways, NBD.  It’s fun, and it means that I can hit up two holidays with one hometown return.

It also gives me a shameless excuse to make food for my family.

What was on the menu? Check it out below.

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Happy Birthday Brittany!

Since March is the best month to be born in, it’s no surprise that one of my favourite people is also born during this time.  I’ve mentioned Britt several times on my blog in passing, but just to review, she is my roommate, best friend, and motivator extraordinaire.  She is also mature beyond her years and, despite her only just turning 20, she has acted as my mother figure in Ottawa since second year.  My learning to cook can also be accredited to Britt, who coaxed me out of my safe haven of grilled cheese sandwiches and George Foreman grilled chicken.  B, I owe you one.

I tried (and perhaps failed) to make this card as rad as Britt’s personality.  She’s into the whole rock and roll thing, and thought that sparkly paper from The Papery would suffice in meshing this musical genre into birthday card form.  There’s also some groovy, multi-coloured sparkle paper on the inside, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it was wicked.

PS: I PROMISE I’m going to start blogging about food again. I’ve basically been eating cupcakes non-stop for the past week, and am dying to eat healthy meals.  I made a great dinner tonight and am planning something extra-special for breakfast tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Vanilla Pavlova with Chocolate Mousse and Fresh Berries

I made this pavlova for my best friend and roommate Brittany’s birthday. She just turned 20 on St. Patrick’s Day, but is wise beyond her years.

Birthday girl Brittany, rocking a very Lara Croft-esque outfit (Nat lurking in the background)

But before I start, I believe the majority of you will need me to define “pavlova.” And by that, I mean you’ll need Wikipedia to define it. So here we are:

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. Colloquially referred to as “pav,” it is a cake similar to meringue with a crispy crust and a soft, light inner.”

So basically it’s a light, heavenly dessert with an initial crunch and a satisfyingly chewy middle. Delicious.

I have fond memories of many a dessert eaten in Ireland visiting my dad’s family (yes, this is how I’m attempting to tie this in with St. Patrick’s Day). Whenever there was any sort of a fancy or important event, like my Nana and Pop’s 50th wedding anniversary, my talented aunt and godmother Ann would make pavlova.  She made the best pavlova I’ve ever tasted. Alright, so technically I didn’t have a lot to compare it to, but I just remember it being good.  Also, back then I was a picky eater, so anything that a younger Hilary declared delicious must have been extraordinary.  Ann would always pile whipped cream and strawberries on top, adding to the already decadent value of the cake.

I decided to do the same, except with chocolate mousse and a variety of berries.

When Britt originally asked me to make pavlova, I was incredibly worried and hesitant. I’d heard several a pavlova horror stories, many of which involved the delicate pavlova shell simply shattering (this partially happened to me).  On the day that I was making it, I ran into my friend/foodie extraordinaire Ella who gave me some helpful tips. These tips included things like make sure there is not a drop of egg yolk in the egg whites, dry your bowl completely before using it, etc. etc. If you’re reading this Ella, please know that I took your advice extremely seriously, and that I full on give you credit for this pavlova being a success.

It turns out it wasn’t really that bad to make.  Sure I had to turn our powerful oven down to a mere whimper of the recipe’s ordered temperature (it was in at 150 degrees fahrenheit), but other then that, everything went off without a hitch.

Mixing egg whites with sugar is really quite a phenomenal experience. Seriously, it is magic. How can two seemingly simple ingredients create such a marshmellowy smooth cream? It’s wonderful, really. I am stunned and humbled everyday by the power of desserts.

Anyways, the recipes I used to make the pavlova and chocolate mousse and down beneath the pictures.  The only thing I would have changed would have been to make my pavlova larger in height, versus diametre. This would have lent itself more to that chewy pavlova centre I made reference to earlier. You want all that you can get of that good stuff.

PS: Be gentle with this one. Pavlovas are all about precision and carefulness. I kept the finished pavlova in my bedroom so it wouldn’t face torture in our shared dining room. Promise me you’ll keep this in mind.

Source, vanilla pavlova: Phe.MOM.enon (note: I didn’t use her mousse recipe)
Source, chocolate mousse: Joy of Baking

America the Brave Cake (aka Christine’s birthday cake)

This is probably the first and last time I will ever get to make a Fourth of July cake.  Or at the very least it will definitely be the last time I make it in March.

As you saw in my last post, my good friend Christine recently celebrated her 21st birthday (we were very nearly birthday twins, but she beat me by a day).  In honour of this USA-coming of age and her partial American heritage, she had a “Legal in America” theme, and with such I was required to prepare for my first ever all-American themed bash.

The birthday girl, looking fab (as usual)

I am not one to take party themes lightly.  I knew I had to bake something extra impressive for Christine and her birthday, since she has so patiently sat through stories of a variety of my cakes, cupcakes and cookies, without getting to eat a bite.  Hopping around on the Internet one night, I stumbled on this really cool cake concept on a blog called “17 and Baking.”  First, HOLY, this 17-year-old (Elissa) is a baking/blogging rock star.  She’s been featured on loads of websites, shows and EVERYTHING and she is still only in her teens.  I graciously bow in her presence.  Also, she’s a j-school student and half-Asian.  Other than the fact that she is way more awesome at the aforementioned two things, we seem very similar.  Anyways, the inside of her cake looked like an American flag, and I fell in love.  Check out the link here (I would feel bad posting one of her fantastic pictures on my blog).

As wicked as Elissa’s cake looked, her instructions were a tad time-consuming, and were not ideal since I had left the making of this cake until the morning of the party (all before I rushed to class at 11:30 a.m.).  And so, I decided to tone down the American hype just a bit and go with a checkerboard-like pattern, still embracing the good ol’ red, white, and blue of our neighbouring nation.

If you ever plan on making coloured cakes, you MUST invest in gel food colouring.  It is amazing.  Great, great, magical stuff that makes colours more bright than traditional food colouring ever could.  My cakes looked like colourful sponges that would be used in a kindergarten classroom.  After my initial disturbance by seeing such brightly hued cakes, I decided that regardless of their wonky colour, they would still be delicious.  Also, I LOVE that I’ve conquered my kitchen’s oven.  Not to brag or anything, but these cakes were perfectly baked…

Disturbingly bright cake colours, mid-frosting

FINALLY (I seem to be using a lot of unnecessary caps in this post, I’m channeling my inner Kanye West blogger apparently), white chocolate icing is really yummy.  I added twice as much chocolate as the recipe (see below) requested, and am so incredibly happy I did.  It was like eating a creamy chocolate bar.  Yum.

I officially award this cake the “most badass birthday cake award” and feel like I have finally topped (or at least tied) my pool party cake.  What comes next?  I’m thinking a rainbow cake (this girl is also 19, apparently I’m really far behind these talented American teens).

Enjoy the pictures and, I guess I have to say this, god bless America!

PS: see my adaptation of this recipe below the pictures.

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Happy Birthday Christine!

Christine, I know that this is a slightly belated post, so I apologize.  I blame the chaos of newsroom day/my own birthday for the delay.  If anyone is wondering who the small figures are in the poorly cut paper television screen, they are Tim Gunn and Mondo from Project Runway.  Talking about this show was kind of how Christine and I became friends at the beginning of the year, and I thought I needed to pay tribute to this moment through card-form.

Also, there will be a semi-related blog post coming in the next few days showing the cake I made for Christine’s Red, White and Blue bash (all-American theme, will explain more later).

In the meantime, all you need to know is that March is THE BEST month to be born in.