Made It Through The First Vegan Birthday Party!
Almost a month ago at this point, we celebrated our daughter's first birthday. We had a very, very small party a few days before her actual birthday. While her party was tiny, there was still A LOT of planning that took place in my brain and through Pinterest. I am not really into planning events, though I would really like to be. I figured this would be a really good introduction for me to see if I could do it. And I did! The party was a success. Not only did it go off without a hitch, everyone said the food was delicious. I should mention that there was not a single other vegan at that party. My daughter and I were the only two.
I have always known that any food-related event I would ever host would be vegan (obviously) and would consider the lowest common denominator. What I mean by that is that I would think about the most "meat and potatoes" person who would be in attendance. What would he or she think is good and not too "crunchy?" That might not be how others host or plan things, but that's how I've chosen to approach events where I would have people in attendance who are probably close-minded and likely have a negative opinion of what they imagine vegan food to be. I want people to see that vegan food is not really that different from food that's made with animal products, and I want them to see that it's actually quite delicious.
The theme was set from the beginning. My parents bought my daughter a really pretty dress in Hawaii, and it was blue with gold flowers. So I decided I would kind of go with those colors for the decorations. I also told my husband that, if the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, that would be the theme. Lo and behold, the Blues won the Cup, so the theme was settled. I didn't have to buy anything special because my husband went on a a merchandise-purchasing tear the night they won, and I knew we could just display some of the stuff we bought. Easy! All I had to work on, then, was what I would serve for people to eat. For some reason I was dead-set on serving baked beans. I really have no clue why! I loved the baked beans recipe I had found and made in the past, so I figured I would make it again. Most people like baked beans anyway, right? And I kind of based everything else I made around that. I know it sounds silly but baked beans were stuck in my mind. Having that on the brain had me imagining kind of a BBQ-type spread, but really only the sides you'd have at a BBQ. I wasn't going to grill anything or serve any plant-based burgers or sausages or anything like that. What I decided to make instead was something like a variety of pinwheels, pasta salad, fruit salad, hummus, and veggies/chips, etc.
Several months before the party, I started scrolling through Pinterest and initially looked exclusively for vegan recipes, but none of the stuff I was finding sounded that appetizing, at least from the perspective of a meat eater. I knew most people wouldn't want a spinach wrap filled with hummus, sun-dried tomatoes, and cucumbers. So I changed my strategy. I started looking for whatever recipe I could find and chose it based on whether I thought it would be easy to veganize. I also had a couple people with food allergies to consider, and I wanted to make sure they were taken care of, just like I would hope the same would be taken into consideration for my daughter (though I would never expect it). I needed recipes that would be tasty when made gluten-free, too. I pinned and printed TONS of recipes and started eliminating them one by one. I ended up with the baked beans, pasta salad, buffalo chicken pinwheels, chicken and avocado pinwheels, turkey and cheese Crescent roll-ups (this called for ham but I used Tofurky turkey), a spinach and cheese Crescent ring, and fruit kebabs. My mom made cookies and cupcakes, and I made my daughter a slightly-failed "smash cake" (which ended up kind of like a dense banana bread).
The morning of the party, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning. Not intentionally! I was having a difficult time sleeping, and I'm sure part of it was because I was anxious. As it turned out, however, waking up that early was the only reason I was able to pull everything off! I prepared the turkey and cheese roll-ups and the spinach cheese ring in advance so I would just have to bake it in the morning. Everything else I had to do that day because I did not have a ton of storage space to keep all the prepared food. So from 3:30 in the morning until 11:45 when the party started, I was a machine! I prepared the filling for the pinwheels and separated some out so there would be no gluten contamination when I spread the filling onto the flour tortillas. My gluten-free guest was bringing her own tortillas so I could roll them for her when she arrived. She brought these. The most labor intensive thing I made was the fruit kebab platter. There is surely an easier/faster way to make it, but I don't know what it is. It felt like that part took FOREVER. Everything else was pretty simple. While I made a lot of things and felt like I took a lot on, none of it was really that difficult or fancy. And everything I made turned out well, other than the frosting I tried to make for the smash cake. It was just a chilled can of coconut cream and some cream of tartar. That's it. But it wouldn't whip and there was only so long I was going to stand there with my hand mixer and the minutes ticking away trying to get it to work. Thankfully, my daughter has no clue what frosting is or whether she'd want it on a cake. She loved what she had!
For the most part, the food was devoured. The baked beans, around which I planned the rest of the menu, weren't touched. :) Neither was the pasta salad. However, I used gluten-free corkscrew pasta from Aldi (to accommodate everyone, including our gluten-free guest) and I think it just doesn't taste good cold. I heated it up as leftovers and I thought it was really good! But I don't blame anyone for not eating it. However, the turkey and cheese roll-ups, the spinach cheese ring, and the pinwheels were all a big hit. People also enjoyed the fruit skewers and even commented on what a fun take on fruit salad it was.
All in all, I was extremely proud of how the party turned out and that our guests enjoyed themselves and the food. I am glad I opted for an intimate first birthday party, and I plan to keep that going as long as possible. I think my girl would have been even more overwhelmed with more people all at once, and having to entertain more people would have led to fewer actual conversations. As we had it, everyone was able to converse somewhat meaningfully, and it was easier for me to keep my eyes on my baby, especially while she was eating. I'm proud of the planning I did so far in advance, even for such a teeny party, because that meant way less stress on the day of. Finally, I'm proud that I survived and realized that I could, in fact, put together a fun event with lots of simple and delicious food non-vegans could enjoy.