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My hope is to inspire you to be fearless in the kitchen, to try new things, to take the time to make things the homemade way and most importantly, to have fun doing it!

Camp Andrew: A Backyard Summer Birthday Party

Each June for the past few years we have celebrated our sweet baby boy’s birthday.  But suddenly with the big FOUR, he’s not a baby at all – not even a little bit.  Not a toddler.  He’s suddenly such a big boy.  He talks to us all the time and he’s not only talking to us, but really interacting with us as his own little person.  It’s crazy awesome.  He has SO much personality, so many thoughts, emotions, questions, and is very opinionated (just like someone else I know…)  He never ceases to amaze us.

And so, when we asked our buddy what sort of birthday party he wanted this year he suggested an “outside party.” Thank goodness his birthday’s in the summer so this could become a reality!

Even though he had never actually been camping yet, within the past month or two he has been talking about camping in a tent and “roashing” marshmallows constantly. We decided to combine the ideas, and came up with Camp Andrew!
I set up this table at the entry area to display some photos of Andrew from the past year.  I used a bulletin board with maps of the forests and lakes in our hometown area as the background. The map of our little town is featured in the top corner and the lake where both of my brothers have worked every summer for the past several years is the main focus of both maps. Kind of fun :) I placed a few lanterns on this table, as well as plenty of sun block and bug spray for the guests. Sunblock is definitely a requirement for any outdoor summer party!

Not only is a camping-themed party totally summer appropriate, it’s one of the most low maintenance parties I’ve ever hosted.  (I mean, it’s still me so I overcomplicated everything, but you know what I mean.)  Since classic camping foods are mostly hot dogs and chips with the occasional side of baked beans, the menu was pretty simple.  Heck, the guests cooked their own entree over the fire pit – it doesn’t get much easier! Unfortunately the guests descended on everything so quickly that I wasn’t able to get a photo of the overall table set up, but that’s okay.  I would much rather everyone feel relaxed and enjoy themselves than worry about getting a perfect photo.

Our simple spread included:
Hot dogs, brats, and chicken sausages for roasting
Baked beans*
Caprese pasta salad**
Ants on a Log
Assorted potato chips
Dried fruit and nut bars (AKA homemade Lara Bars)

*First time I’ve ever enjoyed baked beans in my life.  Maybe making them homemade is the answer!
**Yes, this is the caprese pasta salad I mentioned last year and have since had the recipe requested at least 100 times.  It’s coming, I promise!  At least I wrote it down this time.


 It’s always important to have plenty of beverages but for a summer party in the heat, make extra sure your guests will be hydrated!

Ben’s face here just kills me.  One of my favorite pictures ever.

If there is one variety of cupcake I make that gets the most “oohs” and “aahs”, it has to be the s’mores cupcake.  Just the quick help of a star-tipped pastry bag and a kitchen torch make them look impressive, but it’s really not complicated at all.  I redecorated the cupcake tower I used from Caroline’s birthday with new card stock and ribbon to fit with the green and navy color scheme.  (I have updated this recipe and will be sharing the revised version next week.)

I thought it would be fun to have multiple s’mores-themed dessert items so we had a few of these s’mores pops ready.  Basically just a jumbo marshmallow on a stick with melted chocolate and graham cracker crumbs.  These were very popular with the kids.  I think they just love food on sticks!

Of course there was much more to this party than just food!  Since there were so many kids attending and since we were outdoors, lots of fun activities were in order.  My always-brilliant friend Amanda suggested an obstacle course and I loved the idea!  I wanted to keep it cheap, versatile, and simple since most of the kids were fairly young.  We made a sort of tunnel from foam noodles in weighted buckets, used play tubes we already had in our playroom, made a couple of balance beams, put out some hula hoops, and used the little basketball goal from our playroom.  We were also going to have a bowl of water balloons at the end but Andrew bombed them all in approximately 30 seconds.  Not so much with the sharing sometimes.  (And just in case you were wondering, I agonized over what to name the course for days.  Nothing that sounded good made sense and vice versa, but as usual The Office came to the rescue a la the Michael Scott Rabies Fun Run.  Bam.)

We also wanted to do a fishin’ pond (just a kiddie pool with bath toys) but as the day went on, it became a plain old swimming pool and Andrew kept calling it the “water hole”.  Haha!  (Side note:  Our yard might as well be the dessert.  We need rain!)

I’d say the kids enjoyed themselves.

Caroline celebrated in true Hoosier style and played some corn hole.  Too cute!

As the sun started to go down, a bunch of the kids reminded me of the s’mores platters that had been sitting inside taunting them all evening.  I quickly brought them outside and they got to work.  I wanted to make these s’mores extra-fabulous so I went for homemade marshmallows (vanilla bean and salted caramel varieties), homemade graham crackers, assorted chocolate, sliced strawberries, peanut butter and Nutella.  Aaand, we’ve definitely found what I’ll be having for dessert for basically the rest of the summer.  It was so fun trying different flavor combinations.

The raspberry Ghirardelli squares make s’mores that are out of this world.  Try it ASAP.  I’m not kidding.

You know I couldn’t throw a party with out somehow involving mason jars! I made some mason jar lanterns to help light up the area when it began to get dark.  I loved the way they turned out.  They added a nice ambience and were so easy to make.   We bought a few trellises and I painted them with leftover paint in the garage to make a nice backdrop for the table.

As guests left, we had a basket of “trail mix” to-go bags.  I use the term trail mix loosely here because what I really mean is caramel corn mixed with M&Ms, pretzel M&Ms, honey roasted peanuts and raisins.  Not exactly a healthy trail snack…more like a drug with addictive properties.  You’ve been warned.

All in all, my buddy had a totally fabulous time at the party.  After everyone had left and just family was left sitting around the fire pit, he said, “Mom, thanks for the party.  I just love my birthday.”  Seriously, this kid melts my heart every day.  I feel unbelievably lucky to have him in my life.  And to make a perfect end to his perfect day, he, Ben, and Uncle Steve camped out in the tent that night…and I got the king-size bed all to myself :)

Vendors
Invitations and party printables: The TomKat Studio
Cupcake liners, favor bags, striped straws: The TomKat Studio Shop
Striped table runner and plates: Sur La Table

This post is part of the BlogHer Summer Entertaining series, which includes 100 percent editorial content presented by a participating sponsor. Our advertisers do not produce editorial content. This post is made possible by Home Depot and BlogHer.

Do you have any great birthday party ideas for kids? Share them in the comments below.

  • Katrina

    I hope I can be the kind of mother you are one day. You are amazing. He looked like he had such fun :)

  • Liz N

    This was a highly anticipated post for me and you did not disappoint, Annie! I love everything that you did for Andrew’s 4th birthday. How long did it take you to do everything (paint trellis, make the hanging mason jars, homemade marshmallows)??!! My daughter’s birthday is five weeks away and I’d love to incorporate some of your party ideas into her day. We are having it at our home this time (it’s always a little nerve wracking!), but seeing your highly organized party makes me feel like it can be done! Well done, well done!

  • Sarah

    what an awesome party for a sweet little boy!–s’mores are one of my favorite foods in the world so i LOVE the idea of such a spread! thanks for sharing :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/chung.nguyen Chung Nguyen

    Are you kidding me? This party looks AMAZING! All the little details sure do come together nicely. And HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOWS for the smores!!! Eep! :) :) :)

  • http://www.madeinsonoma.com/ Kelli H

    I’m pretty sure you’re the best mom, ever!

  • http://www.foodiebride.com/ Shawnda

    You pulled off Andrew’s “outside” party perfectly!

  • http://chelsymaescreations.com/ Chelsy Mae

    I love all of your great ideas! You are truly Super Mom!!

  • http://thefigree.blogspot.com/ The Fig Tree

    This is fantastic! Such a cool birthday party. Love the “camp” theme! So much fun for kids and adults alike. Love the mason jar lanterns too!

  • Kim

    LOVE your parties!!! You are so creative and it looks like everyone had a wonderful time. Definitely trying some of the new smore combos out!

  • http://twitter.com/jillianmanger Jillian Manger

    “Best Mom” award definitely goes to you! Such a fun party and I love how your trellis + mason jar backdrop turned out!:)

  • Jackie Gonzales

    I just about died when I saw little Caroline’s legs!!! I love me some chunky baby legs :) Fabulous party as usual…and I LOVED the trellis backdrop :)

  • http://eatgood4life.blogspot.com/ Eat Good 4 Life

    Awesome. He must have been I really happy camper on his bday :-)

  • http://www.thedollbaker.com/ Kathi

    Oh Annie, I love when you share your birthday parties! When my two were younger, I totally enjoyed having themed parties for them. All the other Moms thought I was crazy because I was so into it. Over the years, we have had an alien invasion, a pirate treasure hunt, luaus, a diva extravaganza, etc, etc… Heck, I even had a first birthday party for my cat! My daughter and her friends had a blast!!
    I understand completely how you feel about Andrew being a big boy. My son is turning 20 tomorrow and I am in complete awe of the person he has become. I feel the same about my 14 year old daughter. Watching them both evolve and grow into their “own” is so amazing. Enjoy every precious moment with your children!! ♥

  • Donna

    I was just thinking that very same thing!

  • Uma Pillai

    That was really beautiful. I love the attention to detail, and your personal touch shows in each step…

  • http://lifeandkitchen.com/ Lindsay {Life and kitchen}

    Ridiculously cute! And how fun to have a big kid :)

  • http://www.coffeeandcannolis.com/ Angie @ Coffee and Cannolis

    I’ve already started thinking about all of the possibilities of birthdays in the future for my little guy now that his 1st party is over :( I’ve already thought of camping, and I’ll definitely be referencing back to this if the time ever comes. Which it will since we LOVE to camp and even considered taking him this summer, but not in these torturous conditions (our back yard is pretty much the same mid-west “desert”.

  • http://perpetuallycaroline.blogspot.com/ Caroline L.

    What a fabulous party!! It looks like so much fun and will definitely be a memory for Andrew to have forever :) You’re such a fun mom!

  • Caroline

    This sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing! You have a beautiful family.

  • http://twitter.com/ABitchinKitchen Maggie G.

    Your party posts are my favorite! I hope you share that salted caramel marshmallow recipe sometime – they sound amazing!

  • http://tideandthyme.com/ Laura

    I just love that picture of Ben! And, Ghirardelli squares on a s’more? Lord help me! I’m afraid we’re going to blink and it will be 16th birthday parties. Great throwdown, as always!

  • Erica

    I LOVE your party posts! They’re the best – so fun and unique! Thanks for sharing all the amazing photos :)

  • http://atthepatisserie.wordpress.com/ Ann P.

    It melted my heart, too, to see how much Andrew can feel your love! So awesome, when he thanked you and said, “I just love my birthday!” :)

  • http://twitter.com/ellysaysopa elly @ elly says opa

    Great theme, Annie. And everything turned out so great, just as usual! Loving the pics! Andrew’s shirt is awesome and Caroline’s outfit…well, cute is the understatement of the year.

  • Coby

    Stinkin’ ADORABLE! I love your attention to detail! You know, my birthday is in November…. ;-)

  • Stephanie

    I love your blog and read faithfully everyday. My husband knows exactly who ‘Annie’ is when I reference you. This party looks wonderful and I was a bit sad I am not able to actually try the S’mores. Wow, they looked incredible!

    What led me to comment was Caroline’s chunky little legs. What a beautiful baby girl you have! Thanks for being willing to share your family moments with us. I look forward to creating similar ones with my own family.

  • http://cupcakecrazygem.blogspot.com/ Cupcake Crazy Gem

    Oh my goodness Annie you have outdone yourself! the s’mores cupcakes look so perfect! and that s’mores bar is just to die for…everything sounded delicious! Happy Birthday Andrew!

  • Angela

    What a great party! Love the mason jars. :) Happy birthday, Andrew.

  • Kelsey

    Perfect, as usual, Annie! What a fun party for sweet Andrew. He is just so cute!

  • annieseats

    Aw, thank you so much :)

  • annieseats

    I plan to :)

  • http://www.mrsregueiro.com/ Krystal R.

    What a fabulous birthday party! Andrew is such an adorable sweetie pie, too!

  • http://www.mrsregueiro.com/ Krystal R.

    What a fabulous party and Andrew is such an adorable sweetie pie, too. Caroline’s dress and her chunky thighs are too cute, too!!

  • Jmposti4

    Great job Annie!

  • Jamie

    Diggin’ the IU cooler! This is Indiana! :) Go Hoosiers!

  • Joelyn

    Fabulous party Annie! It felt like Andrew was only celebrating his 3rd Sesame Street birthday last month. Caroline is so cute and it seems like Ben was trying so hard not to smile when you took that picture of him. Looking forward to the recipe posts…… hooray!

  • Tesei

    It looks like you all had a great time, I hope the b-day boy enjoyed it too (I’m sure he did). Happy birthday and congratulations to his mummy too!

  • carol jane

    The smores look so yummy. How did you melt them? I must try them. Love the green and navy colors too, So summery.

  • Chrisknits13

    Would love to know how you made the mason jar lights

  • Shannon

    Looks like a great party – love how it was so kid focused!

    I have been searching for a baked beans recipe…please share!

  • http://www.whathefork.blogspot.com/ Erin@whathefork

    What an amazing looking party! Love all the variety :)

  • Jane

    That is so cute, Annie! And I must say, your son looks JUST like you!

  • rachelsmiles

    pretty sure you are the best mom on the planet! That party looked like so much fun and I’m sure everyone had a blast! Looking forward to the recipes!

  • Leah

    What an awesome party! I love the mason jar lanterns.

  • Meaghan

    Stephanie and Annie – That’s exactly how it is between my friends and family – all I have to reference is “Annie’s” when answering where a recipe or idea comes from :) And…they know exactly what I am talking about. Often times they can already guess.

    I love B-day parties at Annie’s house!! Thank you for sharing your personal moment.

  • annieseats

    We used the fire pit.

  • http://www.tablefortwoblog.com/ Julie @ Table for Two

    what a great birthday party! i love your party themes so much so I was very excited to see this post :) mason jars are going to be all over my wedding so I’m a huge fan of what you did with them! Caroline is ADORABLE in that outfit!! Such a cutie :) happy birthday to Andrew!

  • http://cakebatterandbowl.com/ Kerstin

    What a cute party idea! All the details are so cute, especially those cupcakes! Happy belated bday to Andrew!

  • KristinO

    I cannot take Caroline’s legs. My son just turned, two, my daughter four, and when they were both her age, they had the same little cute legs. I miss them now…

  • Sarah F.

    What a great idea! My daughter’s forth birthday is next week and I like to go all out with a theme as well :) so much fun for the kids (and Mommy)

    PS: I made you vanilla ice cream and hot fudge tonight.. Huge success with my hubby and in-laws. Thanks!

  • http://www.acouplecooks.com/ Sonja

    What a wonderful theme — everything looks beautiful!! Happy Birthday, Andrew!

  • Brenna J

    Hi Annie!! The party looks amazing!! I love how you did the smores!! Are you planning on sharing the homemade graham cracker recipe? I have been looking for a good from-scratch recipe!!

  • http://twitter.com/SewWoodsy Katie Jasiewicz

    ahhh! how adorable is this party? LOVE this super simple birthday concept!

  • Heather

    Love the idea of homemade graham crackers (and your whole party theme). Was wondering if the recipe was posted and maybe I just can’t find it. Thanks.

  • annieseats

    They will be posted soon.

  • annieseats

    Yep, I’ll post about them soon-ish.

  • http://twitter.com/_karihisa Karina H.

    Homemade graham crackers? Vanilla bean marshmallows? You are killing me!

    I look forward to your birthday posts- they are so clever and cute!

    Happy birthday Andrew!

  • Cari Griffin

    I have to ask…how did you make the Mason Jar Lanterns? Those are sooo cool!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002905793201 Tay Marie

    how did you make the mason jar lanterns and where can you buy those in bulk?!

  • Veronica

    I don’t comprehend how your in such great shape considering all the food you cook. Seriously how do you do it? I’d probably be like a giant balloon making all the fantastic recipes you cook.

    By the way, I loved the bags they look so adorable and the idea behind the party is really great. I have a question about the cupcake stand. It’s pretty awesome. Where you get it? Any specific brand shop or…? Plus cupcake boxes.. Hmmm… where’s a good place to get them (preferably online as I live outside the states)?

    I so want those smores, they look heavenly…..

  • Laurel Nippert Miller

    Hi Annie- I loved this party theme. I am throwing a shower for a friend and looking for the wood slab platters you used for food presentation. I thought you posted on this, but I couldn’t find it. Where did you get them? Thanks!

  • annieseats

    I’m pretty sure one of them is from Crate and Barrel (the round one, I believe) and one is from Target (the long one). Both were gifts, so not 100% sure but I think that’s right.

  • Katie Jones

    Hi Annie!
    I am interested in doing something like this for my son’s 3rd birthday in April. Unfortunately, many (almost all) of the pictures are blocked on this post! Any idea how we can see the images??
    Thanks :)

  • annieseats

    Hi Katie,
    I think I fixed most/all of them. Sorry for the issue. The site where I host my photos had some massive glitch a couple of months ago causing hundreds of my photos to disappear and I am still in the process of replacing them, one by one.

  • Katie Jones

    OH man, what a pain! I do appreciate it, though…I will be planning a birthday party with a 2 month old so I need some help…thank goodness for you :)