Gatherings from The Kitchn

A Bright & Colorful Mother’s Day Brunch

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

My mother had eight kids and raised us well (in our unbiased opinion!). She homeschooled us in our early years, and taught us important things like how to make sloppy joes and fold fitted sheets properly, then sent us off into the world with good grace. It seems a little silly to single out Mother’s Day as just one celebratory moment, but this spring holiday is still a good occasion to gather the whole family and enjoy a meal together.

Here, I share a bright, colorful Mother’s Day brunch I hosted for my mother and grandmother, with simple food and one big special surprise — posters made of old family photos!

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First order of business when having a party: Tidy up the living room! (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Keep reading for more details about the party: what I did ahead, how I set the table, and what I served, including lemon sticky rolls and a breakfast potato gratin.

Posters of my grandmother and mother (on the left) and my mom and me (on the right). (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

The Party Plan

The plan was simple: have my family to brunch after church on Sunday. My grandmother, aunt, and uncle were also coming from out of town for the day. I had a busy work week leading up to the party, so I didn’t really begin to prepare until Saturday.

While a close family brunch in most cases means a small party, my family is a little unusual. With eight of us siblings, plus spouses and one grandkid, we fill up a room! (And yes, eight kids — does my mom get an extra corsage on Mother’s Day? I think so!) I planned on having at least 15 people to brunch.

I kept the menu simple — these were mostly dishes that I had made many times before, and several of them could be made ahead.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

My Mother’s Day Brunch Menu

For 17 people





Yellow freesia and pink ranunculus from Trader Joe’s. I literally just trimmed them and stuck them in a vase. Easy! (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

The Day Before (Saturday)

On Saturday I went shopping for the party. I did most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, and I stopped at Costco too to buy the ham and asparagus.

Trader Joe’s also had just the sorts of flowers I was looking for: bright yellow freesia and pink ranunculus. For just a few dollars, flowers were covered. Score!

I also picked up some new napkins, because I knew I didn’t have enough for everyone!

My husband hanging the posters. (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Oversized Family Photos

After I brought the groceries home I worked on the one special surprise for this party: the oversized posters. I’ve included more details and instructions for these, but the basics were simple: I borrowed a couple of old photos from my mother’s photo albums. One was of her holding me as a newborn, and the other was of her mother holding her as a baby.

I scanned these at a very high resolution, cropped them, and took them to Kinkos, where they printed them on their 36-inch-wide black and white plotter printer. The plotter is an inexpensive way to print really large posters; all together, both posters cost less than $20. The printers are not very high resolution, so up close the posters look a little pixelated and fuzzy, but stand back and they have this lovely dreamy quality to them.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

What I Cooked Ahead

After I worked out the details of the posters I did a lot of the cooking ahead. But first, before I cooked, I arranged all the flowers I had bought and put them in their vases with water.

I made the deviled eggs and the beet tahini dip, and stashed them in the refrigerator. I also made the juice mix for the Bright & Bitter mocktail, as well as the raspberry rose pudding and the lemon sticky rolls. For those, I made the dough and filling, cut the rolls and put them in the refrigerator unbaked. I considered making the potato gratin too, but it was getting late, and I knew I would have plenty of time the next morning.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Tip: Make a Morning To-Do List

Before going to bed I did what I always do before a big party, which is make a list on my kitchen whiteboard of everything that still had to be cooked, and what time I should start it. This helps me so much — having a visual reminder of each thing keeps me from trying to hold it all in my head at once.

The Brunch Party

I got up early on Sunday morning and did some last-minute tidying and cleaning. We quickly straightened up the living room (I set little dishes of candy out, just like my grandmother always did at her parties) and rearranged the office so that some of our guests could eat in there. Even with a 10-foot table in the kitchen, we can’t seat my whole family in one spot!

Setting the Table(s)

My husband hung up the big black and white posters behind the dining table in the kitchen, while I set both tables with a colorful runner and napkins and flowers, plus a few candles. I always love to have candles on the table — even in broad daylight I think they add warmth and a little something special.

I also printed out place cards quickly on plain white business cards; for a big party like this, I feel like it’s easier to give everyone a place to sit.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Finishing the Food

I took the rolls out of the fridge to finish rising, and I started the ham, which warmed in the oven at a low temperature for much of the morning.

I whipped the raspberry pudding one more time to make it creamy, then I divided it among dessert glasses and topped each with a raspberry and a little bit of whipped cream and white chocolate.

I assembled and baked the potato gratin just before everyone arrived. It needed about an hour to bake, so I put it in the oven just as the guests showed up.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

The Guests Arrive

My grandmother and aunt and uncle were the first to arrive, and after we greeted them I set out water, coffee, and the Bright & Bitter mocktail, along with the deviled eggs and beet dip, which I served with crackers and vegetables.

My parents and my siblings rolled in two by two after this, the house filling up with people and chatter. But the really exciting guest arrived just before lunch. “Where’s the baby?” my grandmother kept asking, until my brother and his wife showed up with their 9-week-old newborn. He was definitely the star of the party!

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Just Before Lunch

While everyone munched on appetizers I baked the rolls and frosted them, and I quickly threw together the radish and asparagus salad. I glazed the ham at the very end of the baking time, and then we were ready to eat!

Finishing up the ham. (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Time to Eat!

And then a good time was had by all! My husband carved the ham (It was already sliced, but he helped me cut it off the bone). My siblings trooped through the kitchen for big slices of the potato gratin, which I dished out.

After everyone had had their fill of ham, asparagus, and potatoes, I passed around the pudding and more coffee. The pudding was the perfect light touch for the end of the meal.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Everyone lingered well into the afternoon, passing the baby around, and talking. Gatherings with my family are never dull — we’re a lively sort, I think! — and it was such a sweet way to spend an afternoon with my mother and my grandmother. I am always grateful for the time we get to spend together and good food just makes it that much better.

As I said, I think my mom and my grandmother always deserve a treat (or a nice meal with their family, which is what they both always want!) but Mother’s Day is a sweet excuse to make it just a little extra special.

It feels a little extra personal to open up my own family gathering to you, but everyone was totally game for it, and I hope you’ve enjoyed all the details and perhaps found an idea or two for your next spring brunch or family get-together!

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)
The newest member of the family. (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Photography by Rachel Joy Baransi (Columbus, Ohio)