To the moon, Arvo! Man in moon birthday party
In June we celebrated my son Arvo’s second birthday and I lost my mind. After years of throwing very challenging birthday parties for my daughter (Madhatter tea party, fairyland party, etc & so on) I promised myself I would keep things simple for Arvo. I should mention that the parties I’ve thrown in the past weren’t extravagant in a consumerist way—no bouncy castles, limos or hired entertainers—but they were definitely extravagant in a craft/decor/cake baking/planning kind of way.
I have a powerful love-hate relationship with party planning. I love to come up with ideas and decorate. I genuinely enjoy making giant cakes and hanging twinkle lights. But I hate the fact that I never seem to have enough time to make it all happen. I hate that I’m a sweaty, grouchy nightmare the day of the party and that I never manage make into the shower before the guests arrive.
Let it be known there’s no shortage of people offering to help, but I have a bit of a delegation problem. To be fair, I know for a FACT that no one cares as much as I do. How can I trust my husband to put streamers up with the same love, affection and attention to detail that I would? I can’t, because sane people don’t care that much about streamers. And so I don’t delegate much. And I drive myself crazy. So, this year I planned a simple outdoor hotdogs and cake party. Just like in the olden days. No structured games. No fuss. Maybe, just a theme. A simple theme… Arvo loves the moon. I would make him a moon cake and hang some moon decorations. No big deal, right? A moon party! How simple. How understated. How easy! How silly of me…
I’d Google “moon birthday party”, steal a cake idea and call it a day. Feeling overconfident and a little smug over how easy it was all going to be, I decided I’d have more than enough time to build a paper moon photo booth. Riiiight. It would have all gone off without a hitch if it wasn’t for the fact that apparently NO ONE in the whole wide world has thrown the kind of moon party I wanted. When I started to research party and cake ideas (only a few days before the party – I SAID I was overconfident)— I found nothing. I came across a million space cakes (round mounds of cake with a toy astronaut on top), but Arvo’s knowledge of the moon extends to what he sees in the night sky and the Man in the Moon from picture books. I was going to have to, God forbid, come up with ideas myself. And since I’d been counting on someone else to do all the legwork, I was in the same familiar boat—too much to do and too little time. PLUS, I’d already started on the photo booth. In the spirit of full disclosure, I might have cried a little bit. Like, a lot. Then I got mad and then I got to work. Here’s what I did, step by step, so that no one else in search of a “Man in the Moon” party has to suffer the way that I did.
Paper moon photobooth
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This is a bit of work, but really not that big of a deal if you get working on it a couple of weeks before the party. Basically do as I say, not as I did.
What you need:
- Man in the Moon image
- 3 black disposable table cloths (or black fabric or big sheets of black paper)
- staple gun or small nails & a hammer
- wooden chair you don’t mind punching a few staples or small nails in to
- large foil stars (cut them yourself or buy readymade)
I found a classic Man in the Moon image online and sent it to my local printer asking them to print a 48″x48″ image on card stock. It cost $40, but if you shop around or have a friend in the biz you may be able to score a better deal. Cut the moon out with scissors and glue it on to cardboard cut to fit to reinforce it. Drape one of the plastic tablecloths over the chair and place the moon around the seat of the chair so when someone sits down it looks like they’re sitting on the moon. Staple gun or nail the moon into the wooden chair through the tablecloth. Make sure none of the chair is visible.
Figure out where you’re going to set up your paper moon and cover that wall with the remaining black tablecloths/fabric/paper. This is going to be your backdrop. If you have time (I didn’t) you can add some clouds to make it look a little nicer. But, really it doesn’t matter because you’re going to focus your photographs pretty tight around the moon. Decorate the backdrop with cut out metallic stars or sparkly ones you bought at the very last minute for far too much money from the craft store. Take a few test shots. I didn’t do this, either. But, hey, you’re not me and you’re starting this way in advance. You’re the best.
This is pretty much up to you. The sky’s the limit (sorry), really. I set up a table for the food and covered it with a bright coloured table cloth. I bought contrasting napkins and paper plates and scattered silver and gold star-shaped confetti everywhere. I then put up white lights and hung stars and moons here and there and tied up a few red helium balloons. Had the party been indoors, I might have done a little more. But the logistics of our back yard kept me in check.
The loot bags
What you need:
- black paper bags (available at craft stores)
- moon/space stickers
- bouncy balls
- Rocket candies
- glow sticks
- glow in the dark moons & stars
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Oh, the cake. I planned to bake a simple round cake. I would frost it with white buttercream and then stencil on a face to create a proper man in the moon. Sounds easy, right? Well it could have been. But I got it into my head that my paltry 10″ cake pan just wasn’t impressively moony enough. So, I decided I’d bake a single layer 16″ round cake. I reasoned that this would actually save me a lot of time as I wouldn’t have to fuss with torting and layers. And in theory I was absolutely correct. Until I realized that the 16″ pan didn’t fit properly in my lame old oven. I was able to close the oven door, but not without lifting the pan a little. This meant the cake cooked really, really unevenly. Like one inch thick on one side and several inches thick on the other.
This was a bad moment. There were more tears and maybe some colouful language and then there was acceptance. I would bake another cake and double it up – matching the super thin side of the first cake with the thick side of the second cake, hopefully creating one even double layer lake. And I’ll have you know, it worked. I had to do a little creative leveling/cutting but it wasn’t THAT big of deal. Mind you, uneven 16″ sponge cakes can be a little delicate to handle, but I took my time and all was well. My advice? Go ahead and make a 16″ cake if you have a big enough oven. It really will save you time. Otherwise, use the biggest cake pan your oven can handle. If that’s only 10″, then so be it , but you may want to double up the recipe and make a layer cake, if you’re having a lot of people. Anyhoo, here’s the recipes & instructions:
Make a stencil:
I did a Google search for large-sized Man in the Moon images. Once I found the right face I was looking for I made the image full screen, taped some waxed paper over the monitor and traced the face features with a pencil. Then I cut out the features with an exacto knife. Really, quite simple. You’ll note that there is no image of this. At this point was starting to feel the pressure and documentation fell at the wayside.
Oma’s Sponge Cake (makes one 8″ single layer cake *Note, I quadrupled the recipe for a single layer 16″ cake)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp (1/8 cup) butter
- Preheat oven to 350
- Grease and line a springform pan with parchment paper
- Cream eggs and sugar well, add vanilla.
- Add half of the flour and all of the baking powder and fold in gently until mixed.
- Fold in the rest of the flour mixture.
- Heat milk just enough to melt butter (about 60 sec. in a microwave).
- Fold the warm milk and melted butter mixture into the dough a little at a time, until all ingredients are combined.
- Pour into pan. Bake 30 minutes ( or until toothpick comes out clean) at 350.
Decorating the cake
- Buttercream frosting (recipe below)
- your stencil
- Edible spray paint
- edible gold stars
- round measuring spoons or an egg to create craters
- chopsticks to hold down the stencil
- pastry scraper or plastic putty knife/scraper
Simple Buttercream Frosting via Apt2 Baking Company (Note* I tripled this recipe for a double layer, 16″ cake.)
- In the bowl of a standing mixer or with a hand mixer cream the butter until it’s well mixed, about 1 min.
- Gradually add in the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 min.
- Add the salt and vanilla extract.
- Slowly stream in the milk until the frosting is soft, smooth and spreadable. If you plan on finishing the cake with an ombre design it is helpful if the frosting is very soft, but not runny at all.
Because my cake was so big, I bought a piece of blue foam board to put it on. I lined it with tinfoil to keep it food safe. If you’re frosting a single layer cake, use an offset spatula or a flat knife to get the frosting as smooth as possible. If you’re creating a layer cake, cut the cake with a leveller or a sharp serrated knife. It’s always easier to cut frozen or cold cake, but I’m never organized or patient enough to accomplish this step. Frost between the layers and try to get as smooth of a finish as possible on the sides and top. Let the frosting crust by popping the cake into the fridge or by letting it sit an hour. You want to be able to gently tap the frosting without it sticking to your finger. Take a piece of paper towel and place it gently on the frosting, use a scraper to gently smooth the frosting through the paper towel. I am doing a terrible job explaining this, so watch this video instead:
Now, you’re ready to stencil on the face. I bought edible spray paint from the baking section at my local craft store. You can also find this in bake shops and maybe even some larger department stores. I chose silver because I was already a little bit grossed out by the whole idea of edible spray paint and I figured a less intense colour would mean less food dye. I could be totally wrong about that, but it made me feel better about spray painting what was up until that point a lovely, completely organic cake. Place the stencil on your cake, positioning the face where you want it. Use napkins to block off any areas of the cake that are still visible .Have a couple of skewers or chopsticks handy so you can hold down the stencil in case it starts to curl. You want it as flat as possible. Shake the edible spray paint and smoothly and evenly spray your stencil. Remove the waxed paper and voila! Pretty cool, right? I then added some craters using a combination of an egg and round measuring spoons to create a not-too-even effect. I also scattered some edible gold stars across the cake and onto the frosting clouds I painted onto the blue foam board. The effect was pretty cool. Totally worth the effort.
This is where I actually stuck to my original plan—hotdogs, chips, fruit…nothing fancy. I used a round cookie cutter to cut out “moons” from Swiss cheese slices, dumped some frosty cold cherries into a bowl and filled a couple of buckets with chips. I made lemonade for the kids and big mojito punch for the adults. Here’s the mojito recipe I pinched from Chowhound. To save yourself some grief, make the syrup the night before. I didn’t start making it until a half hour before the guests arrived. This meant shoving pots into the freezer and some mad mint chopping. Thankfully, I did juice the limes earlier in the day. Keep in mind, this is very delicious and very boozy. So, keep it far away from the kids.
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Of course, the weather started to turn as we got closer to party time. In typical West Coast form, it was a chilly June day and the skies were threatening rain. I was determined to have the party outdoors. Our place is small and it was a sty. There was NO way I was going to let people see how we really lived. Anticipating that there was no way I was going to get the house presentable in time, I planned ahead and borrowed a white, pop-up event tent from a friend. Decor-wise, the tent was awesome. We strung white lights through it and hung decorations and it helped make the party space feel more intimate.
We set up the paper moon photo booth against the wall and under the tent, taping two of the black tablecloths as a back drop. It looked a little dodgy at first, but Arvo loved it and so did the other kids. We managed to get some really great photos. The cake was a hit, the mojito punch bowl was refilled twice and the kids seemed to have a great time. Some family and friends stayed later and the guitars came out and the singing began. All in all a pretty fantastic party. Mind you, I say this in retrospect. Clearly, the happy memories have helped me forget my post-party exhaustion. Maybe next birthday we’ll go visit Grandma in Saskatchewan…