If you ask me, having four kids in six years entitles me to a silver medal in birthday party hosting. According to my calculations, by the time my youngest son, Kenny, turned 16, I'd given more than 60 parties. I feel qualified to write on the subject.
At best, birthday parties are exhausting. Just as you're ready to serve, someone has to go to the bathroom (or already has), someone has fallen in the mud, someone is pulling someone else's hair and someone is crying. To maintain your sanity and sense of humor, it's important to be flexible and keep the activities simple, the time short and the food easy.
Often parents tell me they don't spend time making homemade treats for their youngster's parties, because they think their kids are too young to appreciate them. Now that my children are grown up, I can assure you that the fond remembrances they have of their parties -- the fun themes, creative cakes, whimsical food and special decorations -- made a lasting impression. So do give it a try.
Since every child has a secret desire to swing from a trapeze, walk a tightrope and tame the lions, a party "under the big top" is the perfect theme for children between the ages of 3 and 7.
Tie a colorful note with the party's details to a paper clown hat and slip it into an envelope. The novelty of this simple invitation far outweighs the slight creases caused by the mail. Since every circus, as well as most families, has a clown, why not ask someone to dress up and help entertain the children? The busier you keep the little guests, the happier they and you will be.
If space permits, consider getting the youngsters involved in decorating their own funny-face pizzas. You can make the pizza dough ahead and roll it into individual rounds. Separate the crusts with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or freeze for longer storage. If you save some of the dough, the children can make clown hats by pressing a triangular piece of dough onto the top of the pizza "face." They will have lots of laughs watching their pizzas come alive with pepperoni cheeks, olive eyes and shredded cheese hair.
To bake several pizzas at one time, place each on a piece of extra-heavy foil directly on the oven racks, reversing their positions half way through the baking time, if necessary.
Pizza is such a popular entree that carrot and celery sticks are the only side dishes needed to complete the meal.
"Claude" the clown cake is the main attraction and deserves center stage on the table. Surround it with strips of brightly colored cellophane strewn with peanuts (in the shell).
The cake's dome shape is obtained by baking the batter in an ovenproof mixing bowl. Bake it for a very long time (1 1/2 to 2 hours) in a slow oven (325 degrees) -- this assures that it will be cooked all the way through without the sides drying out. The resulting cake is very dense, like a rich, fudgy pound cake. To cut down on the last-minute hassle you can make the cake ahead. It can even be frozen with all the decorations on it. Be sure to allow enough time for defrosting -- in the refrigerator overnight will do.
My daughter Caryn still talks about the cute peanut butter-ice cream animalwiches I made for her circus party 19 years ago. The ice cream is spread in a shallow pan and cut out with animal-shaped cookie cutters. The animals are sandwiched between matching pairs of peanut butter cookies and the ice cream edges are rolled in colored sprinkles. For an easier version, the cookies and ice cream can be cut into squares to resemble store-bought ice cream sandwiches. The completed sandwiches can be frozen for several weeks.
It only takes a little advance planning and organization to make a very special circus party. Take it from a birthday party silver medalist -- the extra effort and personal touches which go into making an afternoon of fantasy fun will create memories which last a lifetime.
Makes 6 5-inch or 2 11-inch pizzas.
2 envelopes ( 1/4 ounce each) dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
about 1/2 cup cool water
14- to 15-ounce jar pizza sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
4 ounces pepperoni, thinly sliced
1 can (5 3/4 ounces) colossal or jumbo ripe pitted olives, drained and sliced
1 small green and/or red pepper, seeded and sliced
optional additional toppings such as sauteed sliced mushrooms, onions, cooked sausage, cooked ground beef, sauteed sliced zucchini