Ben turned thirteen on Saturday. It’s a milestone birthday, to be sure, and while I have moments of panic over what the next five years might be like, I can confidently say that the past four days have been wonderful.
He’s a good boy, this kid of mine, and instead of taking control of the birthday party reins this year, I let him lead by telling me what kind of celebration he wanted. In case you couldn’t have guessed it, letting him take charge was no easy task, but I’m so glad I let him make most of the decisions. It was a good lesson in letting go of control, something I’m sure I’m going to have to do many times in the coming years, and it was fun to work with him to bring his modest vision to life.
One thing to know about my boy is that he’s a very simple person, with extraordinarily simple needs. He doesn’t like being talked about, he usually shies away from attention, and as long as he has a good book, a football, plenty of food, and an Apple product close by he’s pretty happy. As he enters this next phase of his life, he’ll probably take a bit of back seat here on the blog, and we’re currently devising ways of keeping him very much a part of Family Bites without sharing too much of him to the world, or at the very least the people who stop by here each day.
Lately, I’ve been reading about sweet sixteen parties, and over-the-top Pinterest-inspired events including catered celebrations for people who are still under the legal driving age, and while it may not be the popular opinion, I do think it’s all too much. As such, this month I’m sharing a few ideas for jazzing up your favourite adolescent’s special day in a simple yet creative way.
My favourite element of this small party was the balloon decorations (see top photo). Instead of scattering streamers and such all over our place, I ordered thirteen helium-filled balloons from the party store, one for each year of Ben’s life. To the bottom of each I tied a favourite picture from that year, and hung them in a grouping over the mantle. The effect was perfect. Guests oohed and aahed over how much he’s changed over the years, and it was an easy and fun project to put together.
The kids, however, were far more interested in the cute candy bar I assembled for the middle of the dining table. Flowers hardly seemed appropriate for a 5’10” teenage boy, but a balloon centerpiece flanked by jars of candy worked perfectly.
When I asked Ben what he wanted for his birthday meal he replied with “pulled pork. In a bowl.” We built on that idea just a little and ended up with pulled pork sliders, mac and cheese, and salad. For dessert, my non-cake-loving boy requested an ice cream sundae bar. We embellished it a little with homemade Nutella brownies and blondies, which held the candles (as luck would have it the word “Happy Birthday” has 13 letters in it) for the celebratory song. The meal was rounded out with some festive drinks: homemade pink lemonade for the kids and a pitcher of Pimm’s and beer for the adults in attendance.
Julie and I both had teen birthdays in our family this month, and we both created alternatives to a traditional cake for the celebrations. She put together a stunning chocolate chip cookie cake that I know my kids would go crazy for, and if you're looking for more non-birthday cake celebration inspiration we've also blown out candles with a donut cake and a "cheese" cake in year's past.
Adapted from Martha Stewart
We made both Nutella brownies and Nutella blondies for the party. The brownies were more popular and for good reason. The dense chocolate insides are enhanced with a creamy Nutella filling that blends seamlessly into the baked during the baking process, resulting in a double-dose of chocolate flavour.
For the batter:
- ½ cup butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the filling:
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- 3/4 cup Nutella
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8” square baking pan and line with parchment, allowing it to hang over on two of the sides.
Make the batter: put the butter and chocolates in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water and stir until melted. Let cool slightly.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk granulated sugar into chocolate mixture. Add the eggs, and whisk until mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir until well incorporated. Set aside.
Make the filling: stir together the butter, confectioners' sugar, Nutella, salt, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.
Pour 1/3 of the batter into prepared pan; spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Drop dollops of Nutella filling (about 1 tablespoon each) on top of batter, spacing about 1 inch apart. Drizzle remaining batter on top, and gently spread to fill pan.
Drop dollops of the remaining filling on top. Gently swirl filling into the batter with a butter knife, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise through layers.
Bake until a cake tester inserted into brownies (avoid center and edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Lift out; let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares.
Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.