A multicultural group celebrates their beautiful children
For a group of Des Moines-area friends, all mothers of young children, there is never a quiet moment in the conversation. Naturally, there are the requisite tales of soccer games and memorable "you won't believe what my child said" stories, but these women share a more intimate bond that triggers a topic close to their hearts. They've all adopted children--from Iowa, Texas, Florida, China, Guatemala, and Russia--in short, the world. On a glorious autumn afternoon, this multicultural group gathers for a luncheon to celebrate these beautiful children and the joy they bring to their families.
"Each of us has been blessed with such positive experiences from the adoptions of our children," says attorney Nicolle Schippers, who with her husband, Greg, adopted daughter Emma from Guatemala in 2007. "We've had many opportunities to celebrate these special additions with our own families, but it's fun to reflect with women who share similar experiences."
The table scheme is imbued with youthful spirit. An apple-green-and-white linen print topper on a tailored gray silk table skirt is the springboard for an exuberant palette. White faux patent-leather placemats edged with shimmering crystal trim catch the light (and the children's eyes).
Pewter is associated with masculine decor, but here the pewter-colored goblets were chosen for their modern edge and paired with gray-and-silver tinted crystal stemware. Glazed octagonal stoneware chargers set off plates that are decorated with painterly green flowers. The dinnerware complements the menu, which includes pumpkin soup, salmon with a soy dressing over salad greens, and scrumptious ginger cake.
The tablescape creates a sophisticated tension between invigorating apple green and sturdy pewter, one that is energized by roses and hydrangeas in bright jolts of contemporary colors--orange, raspberry, and green. Rather than offering the expected nut cups filled with nuts and mints, a lidded glass bowl at each place setting cups a bloom of green hydrangea. Elegant in their slender silhouettes, silver candlesticks nestled among the table decorations add sparkle.
In the corner of the room, a white-painted tray table displays a ginger cake that's irresistible--just ask the kids. Frosted art glass vases filled with roses and hydrangeas echo the flowers on the main table, adding color to this inviting dessert station.
"During the adoption process, you make calls to talk with others who are going through the same thing," says Erin Barfels, human resources manager for an insurance company, who with her husband, Chris, welcomed son Chase to their family in 2007. "This lunch was special because it was more party than process." Although their experiences varied, the mothers agree that any way a child comes to you is a miracle.
Photography: Kathryn Gamble
Is anything more fun than dressing a baby girl in ribbons and bows? Tara Essman shows off her new baby, Kendall, to Colleen Biegger.
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Nicolle Schippers hears a secret whispered by her daughter, Emma, who was adopted from Guatemala.
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Set a pretty table with "Watercolor Citrus" dinner and salad plates from Lenox (lenox.com ); pewter stoneware chargers and "Landon" wine glasses from Juliska (juliska.com ); "Bubbles" champagne flutes by Saint Louis Crystal through The Silver Peacock (212/426-2610); Lobmeyr crystal candy dishes and sterling candlesticks, Kneen & Co. (kneenandco.com ); "Bellini" silk table skirt and napkins, Schumacher (fschumacher.com ); "Burnet" linen topper fabric, Kravet (kravet.com ); "Milan" dining chairs from Century Furniture (centuryfurniture.com ).
Recipes begin here. 
A mini United Nations
Recipes begin here. 
Cinnamon Grapes and Peanut Butter Dip
. 1/3 cup plain yogurt
. 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
. Half of 7-ounce jar marshmallow crème
. 1 tablespoon finely chopped peanuts
. 1 pound bunch red seedless grapes
. Ground cinnamon or cinnamon-sugar
In bowl beat yogurt and peanut butter with mixer. Beat in marshmallow crème. Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with peanuts. Cut grapes into bunches; rinse. Dust with cinnamon. Makes 6 servings.
Kids' Mac 'n' Cheese
To inspire your children to eat their veggies, sprinkle fresh corn and tomatoes on top of this dish. To make it even more fun, sprinkle with cheese popcorn.
. 8 ounces dried cavatappi, penne, or elbow macaroni (2 cups)
. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
. 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
. 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
. 1-2/3 cups whole milk, heated
. 1 cup shredded American cheese (4 ounces)
. 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
. Fresh corn kernels and diced tomato (optional)
. Cheese popcorn (optional)
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare cheese sauce. In medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and pepper. Cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add milk in steady stream. Cook and stir over medium heat 3 minutes more or till slightly thickened and bubbly. Add cheeses, stirring till melted. Stir in cooked pasta. Transfer pasta mixture to 2-quart casserole.
Bake, uncovered, in 350°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or till bubbly and heated through. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Top with corn and tomato or popcorn. Makes 6 servings.
Cream of Pumpkin Soup
Shaking flour and half-and-half together prevents the flour mixture from lumping when stirred into the soup.
. 3 tablespoons butter
. 1 large onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
. 2 cloves garlic, minced
. 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
. 2 (14-ounce) cans chicken broth
. 1/2 cup uncooked orzo or wild rice
. 1-1/2 cups half-and-half, light cream, or milk
. 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
. 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
. Cracked black pepper (optional)
. Red pepper strips (optional)
In large saucepan melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 to 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in crushed red pepper; cook 1 minute. Add broth; bring to boil. Stir in orzo or rice. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes for orzo or 40 minutes for wild rice or until orzo or rice is tender.
In screw-top jar combine half-and-half and flour. Cover; shake well to combine. Stir into orzo mixture; cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly. Stir in pumpkin; heat through. To serve, sprinkle each serving with cracked black pepper; top with red pepper strips. Makes 6 to 8 side-dish servings.
Salmon with Warm Sesame-Soy Salad
. 6 (5-ounce) fresh salmon fillets, skinned
. 3 tablespoons orange juice
. 3 tablespoons water
. 2 tablespoons soy sauce
. 1 tablespoon honey
. 2 teaspoons olive oil
. 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, divided
. 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
. 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
. 1 medium yellow squash, sliced into 18 thin slices
. Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
. 1 medium red sweet pepper, cut into thin strips (1/2 cup)
. 6 cups torn mixed salad greens (such as spinach, Swiss chard, and radicchio)
. 2 medium oranges, peeled and sectioned
Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
For dressing, in small bowl combine orange juice, water, soy sauce, honey, olive oil, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, ginger, and black pepper.
Place salmon on the foil-lined baking sheet, tucking under thin edges. Broil 4 inches from the heat for 6 to 9 minutes or just until fish begins to flake easily with a fork, brushing with 1 tablespoon of the dressing halfway through broiling. (Or, grill fish on the greased rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 6 to 9 minutes, gently turning and brushing with 1 tablespoon of the dressing halfway through grilling.)
Meanwhile, in skillet heat remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Add squash; season with salt and pepper. Cook just until tender, about 3 minutes. In saucepan bring remaining dressing to boil. Boil gently, uncovered, for 1 minute. Add red pepper strips. Remove from heat; cool.
In large salad bowl combine greens and orange sections. Pour enough dressing over greens mixture just to coat; toss.
To serve, divide salad among 6 plates. Add three squash slices. Top with salmon. If desired, brush fish with additional dressing. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
Ginger Chiffon Layer Cake
This delicate spice cake with a luscious coconut cream filling, gets its subtle taste from crystallized ginger.
. 1 recipe Coconut Cream
. 3 tablespoons crystallized (candied) ginger
. 1-1/4 cups plus 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
. 2-1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
. 2 teaspoons baking powder
. 1/2 teaspoon salt
. 3/4 cup water
. 1/2 cup vegetable oil
. 5 large eggs, separated
. 2 large eggs
. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
. 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
. 1 recipe Vanilla Buttercream
Prepare Coconut Cream (see recipe below); cover and refrigerate. Heat oven to 325°F. Process ginger and 2 tablespoons sugar in food processor until finely chopped.
Sift flour, 1-1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Whisk in ginger-sugar. Make a well in center; add water, oil, egg yolks, whole eggs, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
Beat egg whites in large mixer bowl at medium speed until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Gradually increase speed and beat to very stiff peaks, 7 minutes. Gently fold one third of whites into flour mixture, then fold in remaining whites until smooth.
Divide batter among 3 ungreased 9-inch round cake pans. Bake 25 to 28 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Cool cakes 20 minutes; unmold and cool completely.
Meanwhile make Vanilla Buttercream (see recipe below).
Place one cake layer on serving plate. Spread top with 1 cup Coconut Cream; top with second layer. Repeat process with remaining cream and third layer. Spread Vanilla Buttercream over top and side of cake. Makes 16 servings.
In medium bowl beat 1/2 cup heavy cream with electric mixer until stiff peaks form; chill. Bring 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, 1/4 cup milk and 3 tablespoons sugar to boil in saucepan. Whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons sugar in bowl; add another 1/4 cup milk. Gradually whisk half hot coconut milk into cornstarch mixture. Return to saucepan; bring to boil over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Boil, whisking, 2 minutes; transfer to bowl. Cover top directly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cold; whisk until smooth. Gently fold in whipped cream; refrigerate until needed.
In saucepan bring 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup sugar to boil. Whisk another 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup cornstarch in bowl; add 1/2 cup heavy cream. Gradually whisk half hot milk into the cornstarch mixture, return to saucepan and bring to boil. Boil, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat, 2 minutes. Transfer custard to large mixer bowl; stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract. Cover top directly with plastic wrap; cool to room temperature. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Cut 2 cups softened unsalted butter into small pieces; beat in one piece at a time until blended and smooth after each addition.