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Have you seen My Neighbor Totoro? I hope so. If not, please do. It’s the cutest movie EVER. Our daughter loves it, which pleases me greatly… because I’ve dreamed of throwing a Totoro themed birthday party since the time she was just a twinkle in our eyes.

Here are a few pictures of the simple Totoro-themed party that we threw for Cleo’s 2nd birthday party. Everything came together in the end very nicely, with a lot of help from grandparents and friends. We planned a late morning party, so we just had cake and coffee. It was really nice to have coffee talk with friends in the park before the day got too warm.

Look at the great cake that my friend Vince helped me make! Actually, this one I did by myself, but he came over and helped me make a trial run cake. The vegan “buttercream” frosting recipe (see below) that he came up with looked better than this one did, but it was so very tasty. I used a Dr. Oetker’s lemon cake mix, and instead of using eggs, I substituted 1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water for each egg, which is turning out to be my favorite egg substitute. It came out really well! There’s also a layer of organic blueberry jam in there between the cake layers serving as the filling. One of our guests wondered why I decided to make a cake that wasn’t vegan. He looked pretty surprised that it actually was. And there was barely enough for all of the guests. Oops.

Vegan Buttercream Frosting
1 c Earth Balance margarine, at room temperature
3 c vegan confectioner’s sugar
1-3 tbsp soy milk
1 tsp vanilla (Vince suggested flavoring it with fresh grated ginger! It was really good, but didn’t play well with the cake flavors we had planned here)
food color

Using a hand mixer, beat the margarine until fluffy. Slowly add the sugar; it’ll be crumbly. Add a tablespoon of soy milk and mix, adding more if necessary. Add vanilla, mix more. If you need more liquid, by all means, add more, but slowly. If desired, add food color. Now get to decorating! Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Soot Sprites are abundant in Totoro’s neighborhood.

I made about 40 of them, with fuzzy faux fur, felt for eyes affixed with embroidery thread. Very simple, too (see my instructions, below, to make your very own). Making them was a lot of fun, but seeing the looks on people’s faces when presented with one was even better.

To make the Soot Sprites, trace 5″ circles (coasters work really well as a pattern here), and cut out 2 pieces for each sprite. The eyes are patterned by a quarter, and then use embroidery thread to affix them in a star pattern to one of the faux fur pieces (if you’re into that. Dots would work too). After attaching the eyes, place the faux fur pieces right sides together, and tuck the furry ends in toward the middle of the sprite so that you don’t see any fur sticking out. Pin the pieces together. Stitch around the edges (if you use a sewing machine for this, you will want a bigger needle and a longer stitch length. And you’ll also want to dust it out really well after this project. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Soot Sprites can be messy!), leaving about a half inch seam allowance. Be sure to leave a 2-inch opening! Turn the sprite right-side-out, and stuff with the stuffing of your choice. They would make really great bean bags, but I opted for stuffing. Light and fluffy! Hand stitch them up. Voila! A Soot Sprite is born!

Acorns!

Acorns and seeds play a part in Totoro too. Cleo’s grandmother was so generous with her time and made a bunch of these! They’re about 2 inches from end to end, and made with such care. She is a crafty lady, and I think she really enjoyed the challenge of working on something so small, using a new pattern, and making them just right. She made almost 30 of them, and they’re amazing. They still sit up on our bookshelf to be admired. Here is the pattern she ended up using. There are a LOT of cute things going on on that site. I might have to learn to knit. Again.

It wouldn’t be a party without treat bags…

And our young guests seemed to enjoy them greatly. They’re just basic paper gift bags, filled with bubbles, Soot Sprites, the fabulous knitted acorns, and some stickers. The Totoros are made from heavy duty scrap booking paper. I sketched my basic  Totoro shape on one, cut it out, and then traced it to make some clones. I kept it very basic. Less is more, and when you try to do details on a reproduction, it looks so much more… reproduced. I did the same with the Totoro tummy, and then used a hole punch to do the eyes. After gluing them all together, I just used a felt pen to put on the finishing touches and customize them with the guest’s name. Finally, tape the Totoro to the full treat bag, and you’re done!
Our adult guests didn’t go home empty handed though. The night before, I cut down some flowers I got in bunches at the grocery store and grouped them in half-pint mason jars. So cute! I chose jars that would fit into a car’s cup holder. I’d hate for our party favors be remembered for the mess they made and not for the cuteness of the event!

Thanks to all of the help that we had, I was able to arrive at the party site just half an hour before the party started to unload everything. I enlisted a few friends to help with the tablecloths on the picnic table, and to arrange the decorations on top of them. My parents brought a huge party pot of organic coffee from a local roaster and coffee house, and I set up a little coffee station with a selection of vegan creamers and sweeteners. This party was a true lesson in keeping things simple so as to truly enjoy the day.
Here’s one of my favorite moments from the party- Cleo walking with my dad. At first she was really wobbly while maneuvering the perimeter of the now-unused wading pool at the park. By the time she got halfway around, she was feeling pretty confident; by the time she’d lapped it, she wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. She’s growing up so fast!

Happy Birthday Cleo. Next year you can pick out your party theme. xoxo Mommy

from Babycakes by Erin McKenna

3 1/2 c whole spelt flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 c coconut oil, plus more for the pans
1 1/3 c agave nectar
3/4 c unsweetened applesauce (there’s a recipe for homemade in this book! i took the slacker route and used store-bought…)
3 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 c hulled and sliced strawberries
vanilla frosting (recipe to follow)

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottoms of three 8 x 3-inch round cake pans with circles of parchment paper and coat lightly with oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add 1 cup oil and the agave nectar, applesauce, and vanilla directly to the dry ingredients and stir until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake the cakes on the center rack for 22 minutes, rotating the pans 180 degrees after 12 minutes. The finished cakes will be golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

Let the cakes stand in the pans for 20 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edges, cover the top of each pan with a cutting board, and flip over. Carefully lift the pan away and re-invert the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate or a cake stand. With a frosting spatula, gently spread vanilla frosting over the top. Scatter enough strawberries over the frosting to completely cover it. Place a second layer on top, right side up, and spread with more frosting. Add another layer of strawberries. Place the final layer on top, domed side down. Spread the top with frosting and arrange strawberries over it decoratively. Cover the cake with a dome and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes 16 slices.

Vanilla Frosting
1 1/2 c unsweetened soy milk
3/4 c dry soy milk powder
1 tbsp coconut flour
1/4 c agave nectar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c coconut oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a blender or a food processor, combine the soy milk, soy powder, coconut flour, agave nectar, and vanilla. Blend the ingredients for 2 minutes. With the machine running, slowly add the oil and lemon juice, alternating between the two until both are fully incorporated. Pour the mixture into an airtight container and refrigerate for 6 hours or for up to 1 month. (If you plan to use it as a sauce, store the mixture at room temperature for up to 1 week.) Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes.

I made this cake and frosting for my daughter’s smash cake at her first birthday party a few weeks ago. I was nervous that she wouldn’t be such a great sport and would be uninterested in whatever cake I put in front of her, thus thwarting my visions of a frosting covered baby I so desired for her party photos. I wasn’t willing to lure her in with too much sugar- I refuse to sacrifice her nap schedule for anything! Alas… strawberries. Strawberries shoved avocado out of the solid #1 position in my daughter’s food ranks weeks before the party, but would the position hold? Should I go with the first, tried and true love, zucchini? No, strawberries are delightful this time of year, and slabs of zucchini might look unusual in my prized smash cake photos. Hello Sweet Paradise Cake! Thanks for coming through for us again, Babycakes. She loved her cake, as you can see here:

The cake was actually quite tasty. Instead of the three 8-inch rounds, I did two 9-inch ones for the rest of the guests, and one 6-inch one for the smash cake. It worked really well! Of course the baking times took some serious adjustment, less for the larger pans, and much more for the smaller, and taller, one. I lost track of the time it took, but let’s say it’s a good thing I bought that extra box of toothpicks! My mom came over the next day to help, and I put her to work frosting the cakes. She did a lovely job! She showed me this great trick- before setting the unfrosted cake down on the plate or cake stand, put down some strips of parchment paper where the edge will meet the plate, that you can slide out when you’re finished frosting. That way, you don’t have to worry about keeping the plate clean! It was such a great idea. I hate a messy plate around a beautiful food item! We opted not to put the strawberries on top, since we didn’t want the frosting to get watery-pink before the party. Turned out I was too crunched for time to put them on just before serving it, having to make picnic sandwiches, decorations, and these cupcakes for the party. Who knew that preparing a birthday party for someone who won’t even remember the day would be so time consuming and stressful? Oh yeah, moms that have done it before, that’s who.
Like the cupcakes, this cake is not too sweet. But the flavor is sooooo good. At first when I sampled the frosting by itself, I swore it wasn’t sweet enough, and contemplated dumping confectioner’s sugar in. I’m glad I refrained! It was such a nice complement to the cake, I’m so glad I didn’t change a thing.
Overall, we had a really great day. The rainy spring gave us one sunny day in the middle of what seemed like a month of solid rain and cold. Here’s the dress that I made a few months back- perhaps you remember my very first project on this blogging adventure?

Well, it is still just a little on the big side, which is actually kind of a relief because it seems like everything else is too small for her anymore. Other than a skinned knee on her good buddy, and a skinned nose on the birthday girl (she’s new to bipedalism and got a little ahead of herself), I must say that her party was a big success.
Happy First Birthday, baby girl. Thank you for the best year of my life, with excitement of more to come. I’m so blessed to have you in my life. I love you more than I could have ever imagined!