Friday, August 21, 2015

Harry Potter Birthday Party: The Games and Activities #3

Games and Activities - Harry Potter Birthday Party

Don't you love those Quidditch brooms! Originally, they were just for the Quidditch game we had planned for the back yard but then we had the brilliant idea to turn them into a craft too.

The brooms were only $3 each and we also bought duct tape in a variety of colours and patterns. We set up the broom station in the backyard. The kids decorated their Quidditch brooms by simply wrapping as much or as little tape as they wanted. We also had a bunch of permanent markers in case they wanted to write Nimbus 2000 on it. They loved it! They took them home as part of their loot bags.


After they were finished decorating, they were separated into two teams for the Quidditch match.

The goal posts were made from hoola hoops and mop broom handles from the dollar store. We simply used more duct tape to attach the hoops and handles. The screw end of the handle was pushed into the ground and they stood up quite well. We made 6 hoops and placed 3 on each end of the field.

We based the rules of the game on this post. The kids were divided into two teams. Two balls were placed on the field. There was a medium size one, the Quaffle, that the kids tried to move forward by passing to team members and throwing it through a hoop. This earned them one point. There was also a second bigger ball, a Bludger, that the kids could pick up and throw. When the bigger ball hit you, you had to freeze for 5 seconds and drop the smaller ball (if you had it). All the balls were squishy so no one could get hurt.

Finally the snitch (a yellow tennis ball) was held by an adult and was thrown in at a random time. Whichever team caught it received extra points.
For the first few games the kids played the games while on their brooms. They had to keep the brooms between their legs to keep getting hit to a minimum. But they eventually placed the brooms aside and kept playing.

We printed out banners for each House!


The brooms also served another great purpose - photos! Each child climbed onto their brooms and then jumped off the seat bench of our picnic table. After the party, I photoshopped (very roughly) a Quidditch pitch background. We sent it to the kids after the party as a thank you.  It was a great surprise for them.

From this:

to this:

Ministry of Magic Memo Game

I found this great blog that showed how to make Ministry of Magic Memos in detail. At first, I was going to use the memos as decorations but then came up with the idea of using them into a game!

We reused a huge piece of corrugated plastic board that was going to be thrown out. We simply cut out circles in three sizes - big, medium and small. Next we printed out a bunch of names of people who worked at the Ministry of Magic including Delores Umbridge, Arthur Weasley, Mad Eye Moody, Bartemis Crouch, and four others. You can find a list of employees here. Pick your faves! Finally, I printed off the Ministry logo and "Ministry of Magic Mailboxes".

The game is simple enough - just make a line (we used a broom) and have the kids throw the memos through the holes. The smaller the hole the more points it is worth. We did it as individual players but you could do teams if you sort the guests into different houses.
Flying the memos threw the holes is harder than it looks!


This one was simply a Harry Potter trivial pursuit game I found on We used it at the party but it was also a birthday gift. 

It would be pretty easy to come up with your own trivia though and save some dollars, if you don't think you'd play it much.

After all the activities were completed, we moved back into the house for food and a trip to Honeydukes! Come back to read the next post for details!

And check out our previous Harry Potter Birthday Party Posts:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Quick and Easy Chicken Pot Pie

As much as I enjoy making my own stock, pie crusts from scratch and fresh farmers market veggies, there are times when I just don't have the time...or motivation, or time or desire or time to make a pot pie from scratch! This is especially true in the heat of the summer. 

So when my daughter asked for chicken pot pie for dinner, I wanted to say no, how about ... pretty much anything else. Instead, I went the quick and easy route - store bought rotisserie chicken, store bought pie crust, some fresh and some frozen veggies, and even gravy from a package. I know, some of you stopped reading at "store bought" but for the rest of you who don't mind the easy way out on occasion (and seriously, who hasn't earned an easy night now and then), you'll love how this pot pie reminds you of the ones your mom made when you were a kid (or the frozen ones she threw in the oven). They don't call it comfort food for nothin'.


1 rotisserie chicken (3-4 c chicken)
1 tbsp butter
2 packs instant gravy powder (or 2 cups gravy)
2 c water
2 c chicken stock
2 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 c grated cheese
1 c frozen corn
1 c frozen peas
1  double pie crust, store bought


  1. Pull apart chicken into small chunks.
  2. Set aside.
  3. Melt butter in large sauté pan over medium high heat.
  4. Add onions and stir . Cook for 3 minutes.
  5. Add garlic. Stir for one minute.
  6. Add spices. Stir for another minute.
  7. Add tomato paste. Stir for 1 minute.
  8. In large bowl or 4 cup measuring cup, whisk together gravy powder, water and stock.
  9. Add to sauté pan.
  10. Add chicken. Stir.
  11. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5-10 minutes until mixture starts to thicken.
  12. Remove from heat,
  13. Add cheese.
  14. Stir.
  15. Add peas and corn. Stir.
  16. Let sit while you roll out pie crusts.
  17. Line 9 inch pie plate with bottom pie crust.
  18. Pour in chicken mixture.
  19. Quickly top with remaining pie crust.
  20. Cut in vent holes in the top crust.
  21. You may want to wrap a bit of foil around the edges to prevent over browning (but take it off after the first 20 minutes of baking).
  22. Place in oven for approximately 40-45 minutes until golden brown.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Harry Potter Party: Decorations #2
Start at the beginning here. It describes the beginning of our daughter's 11th birthday party - Harry Potter themed obviously! My bit of advice this week is to start the decorating process as early as possible. If you have an idea of the type of things you'll need, you'll be able to find good prices on things as you're out and about in daily life instead of panicking at the last minute before the party! That's how I found the owls for the Owlery and potion jars.

This post will cover our decorations for our King's Cross Station, the Portrait Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Owlery, Potions and Herbology decorations.

King's Cross Station

Our front door was covered by a "brick wall". I found brick-wall craft paper at Michaels (it was in the school section - I think it was meant for bulletin boards or as class decorations) which I then taped onto 2 tarps so the kids could walk through it. If you have the time you could paint the wall on a sheet like they did here. At our party, the kids handed in their Hogwarts' Express Ticket (included in their invitation) and then went through the wall. Upon walking through the wall, the kids entered the Portrait Hall.

I just printed these off the net. 

Portrait Hall

To create the Portrait Hall we simply printed off many Hogwarts or Hogwarts-like pictures found in the movies. I found most of them on Harry Potter Wiki. Check  here for great pics.

In the same area we also posted Educational Decrees. You can find them here and just print them off.

A few owls on a window sill makes a great owlery!
(We added a few regular birds in cages but the kids didn't seem to mind!)

Our living room was a mix of areas. First, we had the Owlery. At our local Dollar Store we found a variety of cute owls - all under $5 each. We placed them on a window sill and I made an "owlery" sign to place underneath. Simple and cute!

We have a Harry Potter book with some potion labels so I just photocopied them and taped them to some little bottles for a Potions Class effect. We added food colouring to some water to represent potions.

We had potions in another window and in some glass cupboards. Most of these were jars that I already had or picked up at the Dollar Store and then filled with colored water. In a few of the jars, we placed toy spiders, worms, and other icky things we found! 

Gryffindor Common Room
The portrait of the  Godric Gryffindor,one of Hogwarts founders, was given a place of honour in our Gryffindor Common Room

The living room door also had a picture of the fat lady on it and, of course, a password was needed to get in when it became the Gryffindor Common Room.
I ordered this poster online. We used it as decoration in the Gyffindor Common Room on the day of the party but it looks great hanging in her room now.
In the room, we placed some posters that I had ordered on line, a Gryffindor Notice Board. The Board was my daughter's idea and I loved it! She wrote a bunch of notes and announcements for it and even added a few socks in case any House Elves wanted freedom!
Love this Notice Board! We found the Gryffindor crest online. It's removable and re-positionable so after the party we moved it to my daughter's bedroom wall.
Finally, we hung a portrait of Professor Dumbledore and one of his sister.

On the other side of the room was our Herbology section. I printed a bunch of plants descriptions from the books and movies and placed them in front of plants we already had. I loved the addition of the Mandrakes (which were really troll dolls found, of course, at the Dollar Store).

I found a Herbology Do's and Dont's list here that we stick to the wall above the plants.

Next post will describe our Harry Potter birthday party games and activities.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Harry Potter Kids Party: Invitations (#1)

Harry Potter Party for Kids

I love planning my birthday kids parties. The decorations, games, cake, food, and loot bags all get detailed attention. See our son's Plants vs Zombies party as one example and our daughter's Hawaiian party as another example of fun times! This year my daughter is turning 11 and she is also a huge Harry Potter fan. As any Harry Potter fan knows, Harry was 11 when he received his acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She was desperately hoping for the same! All I could do was give her a HP birthday party and hope that would be enough!

I fully admit I go overboard with planning my kids parties. Take my advice and plan exactly what you will need...that way you won't end up with enough candy to open a real Honeydukes or wonder what you're gonna do with thirteen 'quidditch' brooms lol. Now, I'm not saying everything I do for the party was totally authentic by any means but everything was in the spirit of Harry Potter.

When planning a Harry Potter party my advice is to use what's already out there! Lots of people have had great parties and are willing to share what worked and what didn't. You can easily find Harry Potter inspired invitations, decorations, food and other ideas on the Internet.

Over my next few posts, I'll take you through some of the things we did including:

  • invites
  • decorations
  • cake
  • games
  • food
  • loot bags

We'll start at the beginning with our invites.


There are many great invites made by other party planners out there. I borrowed ideas, words and ideas from a few and came up with ours. I printed them on blank cards from Michael's that came with envelopes.

Here's the invite wording:

Dear Miss (name here),

We are pleased to inform you that you have been invited to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where we will be having a special birthday celebration for (birthday name here).

Term begins (insert time). Please make your way to (address here) in a Muggle mode of transportation and in Muggle attire to avoid suspicion. You will find your ticket attached. Please present it at time of boarding. 

We await your owl post response by no later than (insert date)

If you have trouble acquiring an owl, you may respond by Muggle phone or email.


Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress

P.S. Term will end at approximately (insert time here).

You can find Minerva's signature here.

Inserted into each envelope was a ticket for the Hogwarts Express. You can find them here.

Originally, we were going to deliver them attached to owl balloons but we ran out of time. Instead we placed a puffy owl sticker on each one.

The kids loved the invitations and most even remembered to bring their tickets!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Peach Cinnamon Ginger Freezer jam

I'm on a bit of a freezer jam kick! When I think of homemade jam I think of berries - raspberry, blueberry and strawberry. But every once in awhile I crave something different, like this peach freezer jam with cinnamon and ginger.
Chop the peaches quite small but don't completely puree - you can use your food processor for this or a knife.

My kids love this with yogurt for breakfast and with ice cream for dessert!


4 cups well chopped peaches (about 6 large peaches)
1 package freezer pectin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1-1/2 cups sugar


In a large bowl, whisk sugar, zest and pectin.
Add pureed peaches and stir for 3 minutes.
Divide among five 1-cup jars.
Let sit for thirty minutes to thicken.
Cover and refrigerate (3 weeks) or freeze (up to a year).

Here are some of my favorite freezer jams you can find on Within the Kitchen:

And my most popular jam recipe:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Homemade freezer jam is so easy. More importantly, it tastes so much better than store bought jam. The zest in this jam really brightens the strawberries. It's great with peanut butter sandwiches, or fresh buttermilk biscuits. It also makes a fantastic ice cream sundae topping!!


2 lbs strawberries
1 package freezer pectin
zest of one large lemon
1-1/2 cups sugar


Rinse and hull strawberries.
Place in food processor and pulse until crushed.
In another bowl, whisk sugar, zest and pectin.
Add strawberries and stir for 3 minutes.
Divide among five 1-cup jars.
Let sit for thirty minutes to thicken.
Cover and refrigerate or freeze.

Here are some of my favorite freezer jams you can find on Within the Kitchen:
Strawberry Rhubarb Freezer Jam
Strawberry Vanilla Freezer jam

And my most popular jam recipe:
Raspberry Lime Freezer jam

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Old Fashioned Banana Bread
There are lots of fancy modern banana breads out there. I'm sure they are all delicious but sometimes you just want something that reminds you of an afternoon spent in the kitchen with your Mom or Grandma or maybe those special care packages your family would send you when you went off to college. I'm guessing they weren't the fancy banana breads but just plain, basic stuff with the occasional chocolate chip thrown in. If you are yearning for a slice of THAT banana bread, try this. It's delicious, simple and will take you back to the excitement of opening those care packages or your Grandma's kitchen.

I can never wait for it to cool! So good with butter!


4 cups all purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 cups mashed overripe bananas
2 teaspoons vanilla


  1. Grease two 9x5 loaf pans and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. In a very large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  4. In another bowl, combine eggs, milk, sour cream, sugar, butter, vanilla and bananas.
  5. Add liquid to dry ingredients and stir until JUST combined.
  6. Place half (4 cups) in each loaf pan.
  7. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes until nicely brown and toothpick comes out clean.