We are heading briefly back to Paris today in honor of this little guy…

That’s right, our little E is one year old today!

Usually I like to celebrate special days quietly, with just a few close friends. And when you move around a lot, it can be hard to gather even your really close people for those days, hence my history of semi-untraditional celebrations. With Elijah’s first birthday coming up, though, I found myself really wanting to do something special to mark the milestones of this past year. Since my sister the DIY queen was planning to visit in September, we thought it’d be fun to enlist her help in throwing an actual kids’ birthday party and inviting some of our Beijing friends who have kids close to E’s age.

Becca and I spent some time brainstorming what we could do in Beijing, given that we aren’t too familiar with what resources are available here. We also didn’t know whether the shipment of all my stuff would arrive before or after the party, so we needed to be flexible and creative in terms of supplies.

After tossing around some ideas, we decided to base the party theme on the classic French film, The Red Balloon. It’s a short film, with barely any dialogue, about a little boy in Paris who finds a red balloon that follows him around. He gets made fun of, excluded by various people, and even shunned for his balloon, but he never lets it go. It’s a simple, poignant story about childhood that can be appreciated on various levels. Plus, France has always been special to my husband and me (our wedding was inspired by another French children’s story), and we were glad to be able to share it with E earlier this year.

For the party, Becca did an amazing job capturing the spirit of a child’s imagination. (I knew I could count on her!) She created an invitation that was simple but fun and clever.

The childlike outlines on the invitation then served as inspiration for Becca’s wall sketches with black tape à la Harold and the Purple Crayon. This actually worked out really well, since we had a whole empty apartment at her disposal. (My stuff actually did arrive just before the party, so we were able to access a few more supplies in the end yet still work with a pretty much blank canvas of space.) You can read more about Becca’s creative process here.

For food, we decided a birthday brunch would fit perfectly in terms of baby schedules as well as the Parisian red balloon theme. So we put together a French-inspired menu…

(Click through links for recipes.)

Mimosas: We had a small little DIY mimosa bar with sparkling wine and orange, pink grapefruit, and pomegranate juice.

Vietnamese Coffee: I set up some French presses with a thermos of hot water and some condensed milk. I also set out my Earl Gray French Blue tea from Mariage Freres, as well as some Chinese jasmine, in case anyone preferred tea.

Quiches: These were the main dishes, and I ended up making three different kinds — a classic quiche lorraine, a broccoli quiche, and an onion tart. The broccoli quiche is actually a favorite of mine. It’s easy (especially if you buy a premade crust) and is always a big hit with guests. I especially like it with sharp cheddar. Sometimes I will make double and freeze the cooked broccoli and the grated cheese separately, so that I can put together a last-minute brunch just by mixing in the egg filling. I would’ve gladly bought premade frozen pie crusts this time, but I wasn’t able to find any (and when I did, it was ridiculously expensive), so I ended up making the crusts for these quiches. There’s a related story to that, so I’ll save the recipe for another post.

French Toast: This was the other main dish and another favorite of mine. I’ve made Talida‘s raspberry baked French toast many a time, and it also is a hit with guests. Truth be told, I make it even when nobody’s coming over. :) I love the caramelized bottom, as well as the aroma of the raspberries after they bake. I think it tastes amazing even without maple syrup.

We also laid out some slices of baguette with raspberry jam and nutella. And we cut up some watermelon and papaya as well.

Croque Monsieurs: Instead of making full-blown croque monsieurs, we decided to do something simple so that kids (and adults) could easily munch on these. So we basically just made grilled ham and Swiss-cheese sandwiches. And topped a few with cherry tomatoes to go with the theme.

Cheese Board: This included some Camembert, herbed goat, bleu, and a sharp white cheddar, as well as a few red round Babybels for the babies. :) Plus crackers, apple slices, and grapes.

At the last minute, we thought it’d be fun to include red hard-boiled eggs, which are usually reserved for a baby’s one-month-old party according to Chinese tradition, but it fit our red balloon and brunch themes so well (not to mention we are also in China) that we just couldn’t help adding these on.

Birthday Cake: My personal philosophy is that if I’m going to eat cake, it should be chocolate cake. I’m not typically a huge sweets person, but for some reason or other, I found myself loving chocolate cake when I was pregnant. At the time, my husband and I agreed that it was nearly impossible to determine what was a true pregnancy craving, given that I am often prone to whims of odd appetites at the slightest suggestion anyway. But if we were to pinpoint a pregnancy craving, it would have to be chocolate cake. For all these reasons, I decided to make this chocolate cake, minus the peanut butter frosting and chocolate glaze (I’ve done the whole thing before, and it is very intense but very good), just in case any kids should have any nut allergies. We paired that with a chocolate cream cheese frosting (I just added 4 oz. of melted unsweetened chocolate to that recipe). Because I only had one cake pan, and it was bigger than what was called for, I ended up having to make three layers (that is, 3x the recipe) for the cake not to look odd. It was a little crazy. In the end, I don’t know if I would call my cake effort a success, but it turned out fine for our purposes. Becca has more experience with birthday cakes, so she did the messy frosting. And we went with 12 candles — one for each month we survived. :)

Desserts: I made some chewy chocolate chip cookies, and we also set out some Pepperidge Farm strawberry Verona cookies and chocolate mint thins.

Favors: Lastly, we found some cute little Bonne Maman jams at Paris Baguette, a chain here in Beijing, which we gave out as favors.

I love how it all turned out! I think we adults might have had even more fun than the kids. But the kids look cuter, obviously. :)

I’m so thankful that we were able to mark Elijah’s first birthday in a special way. This past year for us has really been full of challenges, changes, and big transitions. I have to confess, at times I found myself longing to get to the next stage of E’s development (head control! napping for more than 30 minutes! SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT! — these last two did not happen until 7+ months). I wasn’t that familiar with the timeline for a baby’s development, and when I realized that for E to become a little more self-sufficient essentially meant for him to grow up, I really tried to savor each moment more. To be honest, I’ve been surprised to find myself more emotional over our little guy turning one than I expected. I think it may have something to do with how much he has changed just in the past few days. He suddenly can mimic things that we do and has picked up on a number of tricks we’d been trying to teach him for a while. We’ve been told from the very beginning that he has a lot of personality, and now we’re all the more delighted to see his personality grow. He’s really becoming a little person!

Here is our little E at 12 months, taken this morning. He can walk, blow kisses, wave bye-bye, and sometimes high-five. He eats everything I give him, including spinach, liver, and durian! (Really, sometimes he eats better than we do.) He has been to five countries and lived in two of them. And he speaks two languages: Baby and Monster.

Happy birthday, sweet Elijah! We love you!