Birthday Cake

My son turns 2 years old today. Two on the second! A golden birthday! He was born unexpectedly early–while we were out of town on an annual family weekend trip. So, for his first birthday, we returned. Because I didn’t have access to my kitchen, we simply ordered a cake from a nearby grocery store.

One of the joys of having kids is celebrating their birthdays. Not only does it feel like a personal victory (We kept this baby alive! I gave birth to a living creature! This kid, under our guidance, is growing into an amazing human!), but it’s fun to see their faces light up when those near and dear to them gather around and look right at them, usually singing the birthday song.

But then there’s cake. Out of all the cakes–wedding, retirement, get well, engagement, promotion, farewell–birthday, literally takes the cake. Maybe the addition of candles does the trick. Maybe it’s because it’s only eaten once a year (per person, of course), but also consumed as often as once a year!

A couple months in advance, I asked my 3-year old for creative direction when it came to her brother’s birthday cake. “A fish!” she exclaimed, connecting the dots that in this past year, he has shown a fondness for fish–one of his first words and interests.

So I made this:

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Fish Birthday Cake

It’s not exactly what I had envisioned. All my cakes look better in my head than on the platter. At one point, I cursed the cake for being so crumbly after I had cut it and shaped it. Midway, I thought I was going to have to scrap the entire thing and literally start from scratch–this cake was made from a mix and I had only bought one box, so starting over would have meant pulling out a recipe and flour and sugar and eggs.

Alas, it came together in an okay-ish manner. As my older sister pointed out via Facebook, it’s all about the target audience: a 2-year old. And, true to that, when I presented my son with the cake, he didn’t make mention of the design, but pointed and simply said, “Cut it! Cut a piece!” He is 2.

I’ve made my daughter 3 cakes. Her first was the face of Bumble, the Abominable Snow Monster from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t have a picture of that. But, here’s her second:

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Elmo & Animal Crackers

At the time she was digging Elmo and animal crackers. That Elmo is a spoon that I found online (Elmo is the handle).

Her third cake was a “crown” per her request:

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Bejeweled Crown Cake

I bought a special candy mold to make those gems. I let her help me put those gold ball sprinkles on top. They were really hard and had a kinda gross flavor, but I like the way they look. And, maybe having her help me was more special than the actual cake itself.

My hope is that my kids remember these cakes with the filter of childhood magic that tints even the most mundane points of life–that their memory of these cakes will be better than the actual cake. Because for me, the joy of celebrating my kids is much more better than any cake could ever be.

Morning-Changing Granola

Let me tell you how much I love cereal. It’s my breakfast of choice. This past September, we traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we stayed in a “just the necessities” kind of motel. Our philosophy is why pay a lot for a room you’re just going to sleep in? The cheap and dated, but tidy motel didn’t have in-room mini fridges. This meant, we had to wing breakfast (a lot of times, we’ll buy cereal and milk at our destination if continental breakfast isn’t offered). So, after three mornings of trail mix, granola bars and apples for breakfast, I was dying for a bowl of the good stuff. In fact, I told my husband that I would much rather have a bowl of cereal each morning than drive a cool car (like the Fiat we were rented) for the rest of my life.

My go-to cereal? Store-brand bran flakes with a handful of walnuts and a couple spoonfuls of raisins. It’s taken me 30 years to realize the only way to get the right ratio of cereal inclusions is to do it yourself.

Just recently, I stumbled upon this recipe for Banana Walnut Granola. Having a couple of bananas heading south on my countertop, I gave it a go. It’s good. It’s really good. I will tell you I omitted the cashews (totally unnecessary, but I’m sure a nice bonus) and I baked it all on 2 cookie sheets.

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Delicious on its own, this granola has revolutionized my breakfast.

Behold the tastiest bowl of cereal!

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Pour a base layer of store-brand bran flakes. Then add granola. Top with a couple spoonfuls of raisins. Finally, soak it with 2% milk or plain almond milk. Pure morning heaven.