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Jessica’s Garden – The Plight of an Only Child

Birthday Boy

This past week basically centered around our son Grayson.  It was his third birthday and we celebrated with a party over the weekend for family and all his little buddies.  The difference in Grayson between ages one to two was not nearly so pronounced as the transition between ages two to three.  At his second birthday he was hardly talking and still maintained many of his baby features.  At age three, his mouth is a running motor and a little boy stands before us.

Choo-Choo Cupcakes

This is also the first year that he was aware of his birthday.  It all began two months ago when he started asking me when his birthday party was, after a long string of several months attending many other kid’s parties.  I suppose he figured he had to have a birthday approaching shortly himself.

I decided that with everything else we are managing currently to take it easy on myself this year.  I kept the menu simple and so that I would be able to prepare an item or two each day leading up to the party itself.  Grayson is at the age where our family, his friends and their parents (our friends) join in the celebration.  When planning his parties, they need to be kid-friendly but also enticing to adults.

One of my favorite party foods to prepare is mini quiche.  You can add whatever ingredients you like to a basic quiche recipe.  This weekend we had spinach feta and cheddar bacon mini quiche.  The best part is that one recipe for a basic quiche generally yields approximately fifty mini quiche and stretches your budget quite far.  Not to mention they look adorable and tasty.

Cheddar Bacon Mini Quiche
Makes about 50 small

4 Large Eggs
¾ C Fat Free Half and Half
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
8 Ounces Cheddar Cheese
Salt and Pepper
4-5 Strips of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled
(4) 9-Inch Refrigerated Pie Pastry

Preheat oven to 350 and grease mini muffin pan.  Beat eggs and half and half; add nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in cheddar cheese and bacon crumbles.  Set aside.  Prepare mini muffin pan with pastry.  Using small biscuit cutters, cut pastry into circles to fit mini muffin mold.  Gently press pastry into each cavity and fill with 1-2 tsp quiche filling.  Bake for about 18 minutes until cooked through.

Spinach Feta Variation: Substitute bacon and cheddar for ½ C crumbled feta cheese and 1 C finely chopped fresh spinach.

Tips: I gave up on homemade pastry dough for this recipe.  It was a lot of effort and truthfully makes no difference; no one can tell that it isn’t homemade pastry.  The refrigerated dough scraps can be re-rolled up to two times without getting tough.  These can also be done weeks in advance for an event.  I like to freeze them on cookie sheets and once frozen transfer to freezer bags.  Right before guests arrive, pop quiche in a 350 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes and you will have crispy pastry and hot quiche to serve.

Another easy and favorite make ahead party recipe is Sweet Crockpot Meatballs; I have never seen leftovers of these.  Generally, they are made by combining meatballs with one jar of chili sauce and one jar of grape jelly in a crockpot for several hours.  I have never actually used grape jelly; I always use a jar of homemade jelly that I have on hand.  This time I made it using a jar of quince jelly.

I make my meatballs in advance and either freeze or refrigerate them until the morning of the party when I set up the crockpot  Usually I combine about three pounds ground beef with 2 large eggs, 1-1 ½ C breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, and an onion finely chopped or grated for my meatball mix.  Then I form about 1” meatballs and bake them in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, turning once and not cooking completely through.  If you cook them completely through, you risk tough meatballs and the chili sauce-jelly mixture won’t be able to permeate them in the crockpot.  I’ve also found that 1” meatballs also stretch your ingredients and people still eat the same amount of meatballs than if you make them larger.

For Grayson’s Birthday gift this year, we gave him his newly renovated bedroom.  We’ve been telling him for weeks that his bedroom was too dirty for him to go into and that he needed to stay out.  When we purchased the farmhouse, his bedroom was one of the darkest and dingiest rooms in the house.  It had badly water damaged black floral print wallpaper peeling off the walls, a crumbling closet, worn hardwood floors and a wallpapered ceiling.  After weeks of hard work and dedication, my husband and I are so proud of his room.

Graysons Room Before and After

It’s a fun shade of aqua blue and the room is bright and light.  We sanded and stained his hardwood floors a dark coffee brown.  His toddler bed from our old home was replaced with a cherry red race car bed.  My husband constructed a custom 6’x4’ frame on one wall and I in-filled it with chalkboard paint to make an area for fun and learning in his room.  To the side of the chalkboard, a rescued side-of-the-road school desk I refinished a couple of months ago now sits with a newly refreshed and painted child’s chair.

DIY Crate Shelving Unit

Grayson is also a bookshelf climber, so to avoid this danger in his new bedroom, I painted crates and fixed them together as a giant shelving unit and my husband Chris helped me mount the shelves to the wall, high up, so we can avoid nap time and bed time climbing shenanigans. We went to demo the closet and rebuild it when we saw that under all the crumbling junk was pine paneling.  For about $8 and a lot of elbow grease, I sanded the closet and stained it a white-wash colored stain rather than the several hundred we estimated it would cost to rebuild.  It now brightens a once dark corner of the room.

Impressed by the Race-Car Bed

His reaction on his birthday was priceless.  I waited in his room, camera rolling as Chris opened the door for him to come in, he walked into the room and slowly spun in a circle as he kept repeating ‘wow’ as he took it all in.  That first thirty-second reaction was worth the weeks of sweat and frustration that went into making his room perfect.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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