Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ava's "You Are My Sunshine" 1st Birthday Party

"Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you."
(Walt Whitman)

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are grey.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.

Happy new year! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. We're about a week into 2016, and just a few days ago I received the photos from Ava's dol or doljanchi (Korean 1st birthday celebration), which took place on Saturday, November 14, 2015 in Central NJ. My husband and I didn't take our own pictures, partly because we were so busy, but also because we had a photographer, so right after the day came and went there truly wasn't much to show for it. Below, I'm finally sharing photos; I hope you like them! There were many cute shots of kids playing at the party too, which I will probably post more of on my personal Facebook.

I chose a "You Are My Sunshine" theme for Ava's 1st birthday party, because we've always sang that song to her before her naps and bedtime, and I wanted it to have a child-like tone, with a cute and cheerful look and feel. Also, since it was a DIY event that I planned and executed, I didn't want to attempt anything too fancy or lady-like. The colors were pink and yellow, with some white and pink ombré details, and minor touches of grey. Ava wore a Marmellata Classics pale yellow lace dress with yellow rosette detail, and a pink and yellow floral crown headband I made, for the first half of the party; and a pink and light yellow hanbok (traditional Korean dress, with matching headpiece), with multicolored striped sleeves and butterfly appliqués for the traditional aspects of the dol. I wore a berry-hued Catherine Malandrino dress with shoulder cut-out and twist drape detail, and Sam wore a light grey suit, blue and white striped shirt, and pink patterned tie.

We held the party at Pierre's of South Brunswick, an event venue and catering hall near our current home. It took place in the early afternoon, so we served lunch -- rigatoni vodka, farfalle with chicken alfredo, eggplant parmesan, and chicken marsala, with salad and rolls -- as well as beverages, including wine and beer, and of course birthday cake. We also had dduk (Korean rice cakes), and I made Fruity Pebbles treats and Golden Oreo pops with birthday cake filling.

Aside from the guest tables and food and drink tables, we had 4 additional table set-ups: 1) the welcome table, 2) the dolsang (traditional birthday table), 3) the doljabi table (doljabi is a fun custom where the baby is presented with various objects, and whichever one is chosen symbolically represent his or her future), and 4) the sweets table. More details on all of this below.

All images by Mark Chaird of Chaird|Photo, except for the invitation by AbbyReeseDesign.

Some highlights, including the "Soak Up Our Sunshine * Ava is One"-labeled white sunglasses
Us with my parents, sister, nephew, and niece
Ava's so sunshine-y, we need to wear shades!

Dolsang (Traditional Birthday Table)

The main table for Ava's dol consisted of a long table, with a small table placed in front of it for additional surface area. I used a backdrop stand to hang sheer yellow, white, and pink panels (the pink was ruffled), and hung a "happy birthday" banner -- with a photo of Ava wearing the outfit that her cousin Ellie wore over 2 years ago at her 1st birthday party -- across the panels, and Ava's hanbok on the side. I kept the larger table simple, with the tiered pink ombré and yellow flowers cake elevated in the center, and flanked by a painted wooden name sign I made; framed "You are my sunshine" and "You make me happy when skies are grey" prints; tiered servers holding dduk and Fruity Pebbles treats; and shorter then taller flower arrangements I made with faux flowers and fruits in clear glass hurricane vases. The smaller table displayed the doljabi items -- bow and arrow, thread, medallion, pouch, brush, and scrolls -- dduk cake, and dol goim (pillars or towers) -- with chuk dol (happy 1st birthday), a baby horse to symbolize Ava being born in the year of the horse, and Yejin, her Korean name -- which I also made. It was important to me to include traditional Korean elements -- such as the rice cakes, fruit, doljabi items, dol towers, and hanbok -- not only in the party overall, but also in the main table.

Dolsang with lots of yellow, pink ombré, white, and traditional Korean elements
Rice cakes and Fruity Pebbles treats (because there wasn't enough dduk to fill the servers)
Yellow and pink ombré painted wooden sign with white flowers
Little guests checking out the dolsang
Doljabi items and dduk cake
Dol towers, handmade with black and white beans, yellow and pink felt, and bright pink flowers
Ava's lovely little hanbok


Thank goodness for my MIL, who helped me put together the guest table centerpieces on the night, as well as immediately, before the party. I used white hydrangea, yellow poms, light pink spray roses, and pink alstroemeria, and arranged them in pint-sized mason jars fitted with flower frog lids. I used pink ombré paper lanterns to hold the arrangements, and hidden inside were wooden chopsticks which kept the paper lanterns from falling down. Unfortunately, I forgot to split the stems of the hydrangea, so they were already wilting during the party. I also didn't have enough flowers to make full arrangements, so each centerpiece definitely had a front and a back. But for a last minute, money-saving DIY project, I was happy with how the centerpieces turned out.

Yellow, pink, and white flowers in pink ombré paper lanterns

Welcome Table

The welcome table was decorated with a pale pink paper parasol, various light pink, bright pink, and yellow chevron paper lanterns, a yellow pom pom garland, and a silver "welcome" banner. The right side of the table was closest to the entrance of the room, so the first thing that guests saw was the basket of white sunglasses, and the sign that stated, "Please take a pair of sunglasses and get ready to soak up our sunshine!" Next to that was a chalkboard-style poster with highlights of Ava's 1st year, a collage of monthly photos, and a collage of "the many faces of Ava," including happy, sleepy, cranky, giggly, messy, ornery, silly, surprised, and perfect.

Welcome table

Doljabi Table

The doljabi table was decorated with a pale pink parasol, various light pink, bright pink, and yellow chevron lanterns, a yellow pom pom garland, and a silver "doljabi" banner. It held 7 mason jars for each doljabi item, handmade flower pens and tags, and a "little pail of sunshine" prize for the winner of the simple raffle. The pail was chock-full of cheerful yellow/lemony/sunshine-y goodies, including cookies, candy, and sprinkles. Our little buddy Noah won!

Doljabi table
Doljabi raffle instructions
Handmade flower pens and tags
Mason jars to hold tags with guesses

Doljabi Event

The doljabi, when the baby chooses an item that is said to influence his or her future, is the main event at most Korean 1st birthday parties. Suprisingly, Ava didn't aggressively reach for any of the items, which were randomly placed on the traditional floor mat; the kids surrounding us were much more excited than she was! The first thing she eventually picked up was the bow and arrow set, which symbolizes a warrior's courage and strength -- very fitting for our little Katniss Everdeen's personality. She also went for the thread and the brush, which symbolize long life and being artistic.

So hard to move in a hanbok, and the headpiece kept falling over her eyes
This was after the bow and arrow, when she went for the thread
Smiling up at Daddy

Cake Cutting

Ava's birthday cake was a 3-tiered pink ombré buttercream-frosted one, decorated with yellow icing flowers, and embellished by me with a yellow glittered "You are my sunshine" pick, yellow "1" candle, and handpainted wooden peg doll of Ava in her hanbok (to add to the bride and groom cake toppers I made for our wedding, which I used here to cover up a frosting-stained spot on the white tablecloth). The cake flavor was half-vanilla/half-chocolate, with a strawberry cream filling. Pierre's bakery did a great job.

Family photo
Ava did well with the photography, or maybe our photographer was just able to share good shots!
A taste of frosting
Cake toppers
Full cake with our wedding toppers to the side
We're just warming up this spot on the table (actually, covering up a pink frosting stain!)

More Adorableness

Ava's cousins Christina, Ellie, Peter, Isaiah, and Micah had their own mini photo shoot using their white sunglasses as props, and I love how the shots turned out! (We tried including Ava but she just sat there wailing.) Also, my friend Brian kindly offered up his balloon-making services, which of course the kids loved.

How cute is little Micah on the right?
Mesmerized by Brian's balloon skills

Sweets Table

The sweets table was decorated with a pale pink parasol, various light pink, bright pink, and yellow chevron lanterns, a yellow pom pom garland, and a silver "sweets" banner. As I mentioned above, I made Fruity Pebbles treats, which I dipped in melted yellow and pink candy, and I also made Oreo pops using Golden Oreos with birthday cake filling, which I dipped in melted white candy and drizzled with yellow and pink icing. Finally, I wrapped large Hershey chocolate bars with paper that coordinated with Ava's invitation, birthday banner, and favor tags.

Sweets table
Golden Oreo pops
Thank you sign

Thanks to all for sharing in Ava's 1st birthday, whether in person or by catching up on the blog! If I can get around to it, I may do a more detailed post on the items I made, as I've already received requests for instructions. There are so many Ava updates I had thought I would be posting over the last year, but it has been beyond challenging to keep up ever since Ava actually came to town -- I don't know what I was thinking, or how other people do it -- and even this update has been difficult to finish! Ava is already almost 14 months old, and her baby days are starting to be behind her. Yesterday, I was doing some organizing around the house, and I decided that I was officially done pumping. Even though I rarely pump, and am still nursing, it felt nice to put those pump parts away!

I don't usually make new year's resolutions, but one of my existing and long-term goals continues to be to take time to, in the words of Becky Higgins, cultivate a good life and record it. Besides serving as a much-welcome creative outlet for me, I want to document our life for posterity. 

Finally, here are some fun facts having to do with Ava's birthday, November 12, 2014, according to
  • She was born on a Wednesday.
  • She is a Scorpio, and Asian year of the horse.
  • Her birth flower is the chrysanthemum, which symbolizes cheerfulness, friendship, and abundance. Hello, sunshine!
  • Her birthstone is citrine (or topaz). Also sunny!
  • The estimated population growth in the world during her lifetime is 146,351,959 people.
  • The Billboard top songs at the beginning of her birth year were "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry (pop), "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (hip hop/blues), and "Stay" by Florida Georgia Line (country).
  • The Billboard top songs at the end of the year she was born were "All of Me" by John Legend (pop), "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (hip hop/blues), and "This is How We Roll" by Florida Georgia Line (country). 
  • The winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 were Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. Malala Yousafzai also had the best selling nonfiction book in the US, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Please feel free to comment below or let me know if there is anything specific you would like more information on, and best wishes for the new year!

{Ava's party dress: Marmellata Classics / Ava's floral crown headband: Handmade with supplies from PrettyInPinkSupply via Etsy / Ava's hanbok: Gift from Korea / Invitation, sunshine printables & chalkboard poster: AbbyReeseDesign via Etsy / Personalized sunglasses: Beau-coup / Pink baskets: Michaels / Small stand frames: Michaels / Parasols, paper lanterns & pom pom garlands: Beau-coup / Backdrop stand: Fancier Studio / Sheer panels: Amazon /  Faux flowers: Michaels / Faux fruit: Amazon / Glass hurricane vases: Libbey / Tiered servers: Crate & Barrel / Dduk: Yedang / Wooden name sign: Handpainted and assembled with supplies from Michaels / Wooden peg doll: Handpainted with supplies from GooseGreaseUndone via Etsy / "You Are My Sunshine" cake topper: ConfettiCrownDesign via Etsy / "1" candle: Target / Doljabi items: Rented from EventAccessoriesByMJ via Etsy/ Paper tags: Amazon / Flower & ribbon embellishments: Michaels / Flowers for centerpieces: ShopRite of North Brunswick / Mason jars & flower frog lid inserts: Ball Canning / Photography: Chaird|Photo / Venue, cake & catering: Pierre's of South Brunswick}

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fall/Winter/Spring 2014/2015 Michigan Eats

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one."
(Mother Teresa)

Ever since we lived in Brooklyn, I've posted recipes and restaurants I've tried by season, but I skipped the past 3 seasons in Michigan ("Summer 2014 Michigan Eats" was the last such post) because I was on an unintentional blogging hiatus after I became a mom in November. Although I'm back, I'm still catching up -- now, not just on updates, but on life, since we moved! We left Michigan last Wednesday, stopped for the night in Youngstown, OH, and arrived at our new apartment in North Brunswick, NJ 1 week ago. More on that to come.

We were truly blessed to live with my mother-in-law, who prepared almost all of our dinners -- especially after Ava was born -- so that I could focus on breastfeeding and taking care of our new handful of a baby. The handful of recipes below were mostly from the end of my pregnancy, with the exception of the lactation cookies, which I baked a couple of months ago. Many of the places listed below were also visited towards the end of my pregnancy.

Just a Few Recipes

In early fall, new neighbors moved into the house on the left of us. They came from Germany -- father, mother, and 3 kids -- and with the dad taking a job with Daimler, naturally they had 3 different white Mercedes-Benz cars and SUVs. I baked banana bread and Sam and I went over to their house to welcome them to the neighborhood. In the summer, I had baked zucchini bread for our other next-door neighbors on the right, who have been there forever.

Swirly cinnamon banana bread prep
Swirly cinnamon banana bread

Being a Trader Joe's fan, I discovered a website called Cooking with Trader Joe's, which posts recipes using items sold at the store. I've tried a couple, including the soup below, as well as a veggie lasagna with grilled vegetables, artichoke hearts, and spinach that I posted from last summer. Another Trader Joe's blog I read is called What's Good at Trader Joe's, which posts detailed product reviews.

Shrimp and black bean chimichurri soup prep
Shrimp and black bean chimichurri soup

For another easy recipe, I used rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for pulled chicken tacos, along with a very simple tomato-bean salsa. We normally go for soft tortillas, but I was in the mood for crunchy taco shells.

Pulled chicken tacos with chili salsa prep
Pulled chicken tacos with chili salsa

Last but not least, some recipes for sweets. The brownie crackles were made with a boxed brownie mix and tasted like perfectly fudgy bites, and the lactation cookies were also delicious, containing oats, brewer's yeast, and flaxseed meal (galactogogues that are fine and very healthy for non-lactating people, too).

Brownie crackles prep
Brownie crackles
Oatmeal chocolate chip lactation cookies prep
Oatmeal chocolate chip lactation cookies, with a side of strawberries

Fall, Winter, Spring Meals by Local Eateries

Since I didn't have a lot of homemade food pics to show above, below are lots and lots of non-homemade food pics for your viewing pleasure.

American: J. Alexander's, Rusty Bucket Restaurant & TavernSweet Lorraine's Cafe & BarThe Stand Gastro Bistro, TownhouseVinsetta Garage, Zehnder's of Frankenmuth (Frankenmuth)
J. Alexander's at the Somerset Collection in Troy, MI
Sweet Lorraine's Cafe & Bar in Southfield, MI
Valentine's Day dinner at The Stand Gastro Bistro in Birmingham, MI
Brunch at Townhouse in Birmingham, MI
Those chicken tikka masala fries at Vinsetta Garage in Berkley, MI
Zehnder's famous fried chicken meals in Frankenmuth, MI
American/Bars & Breweries: Clubhouse BFD, One-Eyed Betty's, Rochester Mills Beer Co., Royal Oak Brewery
Hankering for grilled cheese at One-Eyed Betty's in Ferndale, MI
American/Burgers: Redcoat Tavern
I got my chicken pot pie fix at Red Coat Tavern in Royal Oak, MI
Apple Cider/Donuts: Franklin Cider Mill 
Hot cider donuts are the best at Franklin Cider Mill
Bagels: The Bagel Factory
Bakeries: Great Harvest Bread Co.
Great Harvest Bread Co. was right next to my OB's office in Birmingham, MI
Banquets/Conferences: Petruzzello's Banquet and Conference Center
Barbeque: Lockhart's BBQ, Slows Bar-B-Q, Union Woodshop
Had lots of BBQ when I was pregnant, including Lockhart's in Royal Oak, MI... 
...Slows in Detroit, one of the most prominent BBQ joints
...and Union Woodshop in Clarkston, MI, which was our favorite (best mac and cheese)
Breakfast & Brunch: Rochester Brunch House
Saturday brunch at Rochester Brunch House
Coffee & Tea: Biggby Coffee 
Sweet and simple hot chocolate art at Biggby Coffee in Bloomfield Hills, MI
Donuts: Knapp's Donuts
Knapp's pumpkin donut on the far right, the winner of my pregnancy craving pumpkin donut taste-test
Indian: Touch of India
Good Indian food at Touch of India in Birmingham, MI
Mac & Cheese: Sweet Lorraine's Fabulous Mac n' Cheez!
Sweet Lorraine's Fabulous Mac n' Cheez at the Somerset Collection
Mediterranean/Middle Eastern: La Marsa, Shish Kabob Express
Pie: Dangerously Delicious Pies
Detroit's Dangerously Delicious Pies on Pi Day (3.14.15) 
Pizza: Buddy's Pizza, Hungry Howie's, Jet's PizzaPizzaPapalis
More pizza places, including Buddy's Pizza...
...Hungry Howie's
...and Jet's Pizza (I had to try all the local pizza options)
Seafood/Steak: Eddie Merlot's, Ocean PrimeStreetside Seafood, Wolfgang Puck Steak
Wonderful dinner and dining experience at Ocean Prime in Troy
Dinner for Sam's birthday at Wolfgang Puck Steak at MGM Grand Detroit
Thai: No Thai! (Ann Arbor), Thai Taste To Go
Arenas: Joe Louis Arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills
Sports-watching food at The Palace of Auburn Hills (Pistons v. Spurs)

Now that we're settling into our new place in NJ, I'm starting to wonder how I'm going to juggle a demanding baby and cooking again. I'm still in the process of washing and organizing all of my kitchen supplies, and we've been subsisting on take-out and some Korean food from our mothers for the past several days. Time to scour my Pinterest recipe boards and do some meal planning!