Spring Birthday Celebration

Bethany's birthday celebration day was one of the first really lovely spring days that we've had. The skies were brilliantly blue with puffy, white clouds whooshing past, a lovely breeze, and the faint promise of warming temperatures ahead. Since she loves spring so much, I was very grateful the day was such a beautiful one!

A birthday party in the midst of illness is challenging, but we all pitched in together to make it happen. I did the easy tasks: marinating the chicken, arranging the flowers (click here for that post), and setting the table. This was a one-dish meal served in our wobbly-edged pasta bowls we love so much (click here), so we used dinner plates as chargers.

Tall goblets were for the adults and short glasses for the little ones. I kept the color palette very neutral, so the spring flowers would stand out as a bright pop of color. I assembled a vase full of the same blooms for the birthday girl to take home with her.

It felt wonderful to all be together again! Even though they don't live far away, their family went through one bout of illness after another all winter, people have traveled, and I've been sick, so it had been nearly three months since we've all been gathered at our home.

Carson and the kids were overjoyed to see each other again! I love it when kids and dogs are happily running and playing and everyone's chattering in the kitchen!

Julia and Dave did all the cooking. Bethany requested one of our family favorites, Half Baked Harvest's 20 Minute Grilled Jerk Chicken with Mango-Nectarine Salsa over Coconut Rice. It's a flavor explosion of sweet, savory, and spicy -- SO fresh! Click here for the chicken recipe. And click here for the rice recipe contained within a different chicken recipe. The rice recipe may, quite possibly, change your life!

We all feel like this is the "start of the season" for this meal. We'll enjoy it from now through the summer, and undoubtedly conclude its fresh, spring-summery goodness with it being requested for Julia's birthday celebration in September.

After dinner, it was present opening time. Bethany was thrilled with more white pieces for her kitchen from her sister.

And Dave, as a labor of love, made a "Little Free Library" for our author daughter. It was made to match their own home, and he spent many nights and weekends constructing it and cutting all the clapboards and shingles down to scale. Someday soon he will mount it in their yard, she'll register it with the "Little Free Library" (click here for more information), and she'll fill it with worthwhile books for other to enjoy.

Birthday cake time! Twenty-eight candles for our kindhearted, endlessly creative, nurturing daughter who blesses our family daily with her love and care!

If you missed the cake recipe, for our favorite, decadently rich, chocolate cake, click here.

Julia's Chocolate Cake

Whenever there's a birthday celebration in our family, I ask, "What type of cake would you like?" Honestly, asking that question is a mere matter of politeness, because we all know that the answer is a simple one -- Julia's chocolate cake. It's (just one) of her "signature recipes". And we all ask for it. Without fail. Every birthday. There are reasons for that.

Recently in our family, we were discussing the essential qualities of a good chocolate cake. First and foremost, it actually has to taste like chocolate. As obvious as that sounds, think of all the times you've eaten a flavorless chocolate cake. A good chocolate cake should not disappoint your taste buds by its flavor being overpowered by the frosting. The two should complement each other and yet hold their own -- like a good marriage. The cake should be decadently rich in chocolate flavor.

Another essential quality is that the cake be moist. As the narrow tines of your fork pierce the frosting and descend into the cake, the cake should not crumble like a sand castle poked with a stick. Rather, its rich, chocolate goodness should cling to itself and be capable of holding together all the way to your mouth.

Julia's Chocolate Cake will not disappoint! In fact, I'm pretty confident it will have your family and friends requesting it for their birthdays too! The original source of this recipe (nearly a decade ago) is unfortunately unknown to us, so if you know it, please do leave a comment and I'll happily give credit where it is due. But for now, here's the recipe for THE BEST chocolate cake:


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
3/4 c. cocoa powder
2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
3/4 c. brewed coffee
1 1/4 c. milk
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract

Sift together dry ingredients in mixer bowl. Add oil, coffee, and milk; mix at medium speed for one minute. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 2 more minutes. (Batter will be thin.)

Pour into two, greased and floured, 9-inch round cake pans (or two, 8-in. round cake pans and six muffin cups).

Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cakes for 10 minutes before removing from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

Frost with your favorite frosting.

Spring Flowers for a Spring Party

First off, I'd like to say a very sincere thank you for all your enthusiasm and encouraging words on my last posting! Secondly, I am immeasurably grateful to all of you who follow me on Instagram and have expressed your love and have prayed for my health. And for those of you who aren't aware of it, I have been ill since March 27th with bronchitis which turned into pneumonia. Each day I feel ever so slightly improved. We have long-standing plans to travel next week, so here's hoping I'm well enough to go.

In the midst of this illness, Bethany, our first-born and only spring baby, turned 28 years old! Spring is her favorite season -- when all the world is fresh and new, returning to life, and full of beauty.

As all the colorful spring flowers make her heart happy, I knew a vibrant and fragrant arrangement down the center of the table would put a smile on her face for her birthday celebration.

Julia did the shopping, (since I was too ill), and chose bouquets of: daffodils, grape hyacinth (purple being Bethany's favorite color), and white tulips.

I utilized a long, skinny, willow basket, some packaged moss, and a bunch of canning jars to pull the whole look together. A half-dozen, pint-size, wide-mouth jars were placed in a zigzag arrangement down the length of the basket and filled with water. (Not shown: I filled the gaps between the jars by placing half-pint canning jars upside down into the spaces to help support the moss.)

Then I cut the flower stems to length and divided them up evenly between each of the jars.

Small handfuls of moss were tucked gently around the edges and between all the flowers.

The pop of green and airy tendrils of the moss helped to provide just that organic, fresh, springtime look I was hoping for.

To recreate this look for your spring table, you will need:

- long, skinny basket

- half-pint and pint-size canning jars

- 5 to 6 bunches of springtime flowers

- pre-packaged, color-enhanced moss

- scissors

- water

Next time I write, I'll tell you all about the dinner we served and share our favorite chocolate cake recipe from the celebration!
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