Another Birthday Already

He’s six. And the next chapter in the super hero story is Green.

These are the sugar cookies made for his classroom party at school. He ventured away from our traditional “birthday cake” this year and went all-cookie. It was a fun change. I made a giant sugar cookie cake for his family party…which was a total experiment as I’d never made one like that before. Based on the rave reviews at the party, I think it worked out well. Of course, it was mostly family, so maybe they were just being nice. (But the platter was totally empty at the end of the day – which rarely happens with a regular cake!)

I wish I’d taken a picture of the inside of it when it was cut…it was really chewy and moist with a kind-of-crunchy outside. In my house that is pretty much the definition of a perfect cookie. Sometimes my experiments work out!

We added a new birthday tradition to the mix this year. I’ve seen this wreath on Pinterest over the past few weeks and I thought it would be great to have one to pull out whenever we are celebrating a birthday. We already have “Happy Birthday” banners for each of the boys that we put up in the living room, so this is just an addition to the celebration decor.

It was a very easy little project – as long as you have nearly 200 balloons on hand!

Key points to making one of these:

Leave the plastic on the wreath so it doesn’t shed straw everywhere.

Use greening pins (found in the floral sections at craft stores) for an easy way to stick the balloons and pipe cleaners onto the wreath.

The original tutorial (linked above) says she used 144 balloons. I used about 200. It didn’t quite look full enough to me at 144, so I kept going. But the back is left bare.

I also thought about adding some ribbon to it, but I didn’t. I think that could be really cute…maybe I’ll add it next time we bring it out for a birthday.

And one more little piece of birthday fun was the early morning balloon gauntlet right outside the birthday boy’s door. Yet another thing I’ve seen floating around on Pinterest that was a big hit. I think the boys played in it for an hour when they got up.  Which was really nice for me while I was busy getting birthday breakfast on the table!

I highly recommend the celebration gauntlet the next time you are party planning!

I was quite happy to have all these projects to keep me busy…it prevented me from really thinking about the fact that he is already SIX. (insert deep sigh here.)

And here’s the cookie details for those of you who might crave a giant cookie.

Sugar Cookie Dough (especially good for icing and bouquet-type cookies)

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for the large cookie cake.  If making smaller cookies, use 5 cups.)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Chill dough in refrigerator at least an hour. Preheat oven to 400. (For small cookies, roll dough out to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness, cut and place 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet. Bake 6-8 minutes.) For the large cookie cake, press the dough into a spring form pan (mine is 9-10″ I think.) Cover with foil and bake for at least 20 minutes. (Now this is where it gets a little sketchy because I just kept checking it every few minutes and I’m not entirely sure how many more minutes it was in there. I’m going to say between 24 and 30 total.)  I was just waiting for the center to firm up…and the toothpick test was a good way to tell. The foil kept the edges and the top from getting too brown and too crispy, but you can take it off at the end for the last few minutes.)

Once it was completely cooled, I removed it to a rack and iced it with store-bought cake icing. I cut it like a pie…and, come to think of it, save one tiny taste I took while slicing, I never even got a piece! Maybe next time.



Gift Idea…A Family Cookbook

I have some friends who like to give me a hard time about my from-scratch baking and the sometimes-semi-gourmet nature of my kids’ lunchbox contents. This post is for them. This past weekend was my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday celebration. And there had to be cake. My husband wanted to decorate a cake with our four-year-old…so they just needed a canvas. I had a box full of decorations and some fondant…so I handed over three layers of blank chocolate frosting…and somehow a monster truck came to be. And yes, the first “N” is actually a “Z” turned on its side. We ran out of “N”s.  And the other “N” might or might not have gotten broken.   My husband placed the letters and our son did the rest. Fondant. Cookie cutters. Sprinkles.

Oh, except for the border on the bottom of the cake – I might have had something to do with that.   Now, some of these friends of mine might imagine I had a hard time with this being THE birthday cake. I did not. (OK, there might have been a brief flash of panic for just a few moments as those four-year-old little hands starting placing fondant…but it went away. Really.)

And there’s a good reason I wasn’t as concerned with the cake as I usually am.   I’ve been a little busy with something else…

This was so much fun to make. Easily one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever given.

“Kitchen Memories: A Collection of Favorite Family Recipes”

Months ago my mother-in-law was talking about some very old family recipes – things made by her mother and her grandmother – and she was expressing some concern that, one day, when she is no longer making them, no one will be making them.

So the simple idea to gather and save all the meaningful family dishes into one collection was born.

Family members sent in their recipes and memories about the dishes and the people who made them…and some great old family photos.

I made most of the recipes, photographed them and compiled everything with the family photos and memories. My husband had several weeks of eating food from his childhood that he certainly did not complain about.

Some things I learned or was reminded of:

1. Most of people’s memories were only triggered by the food – the actual recollection was about the quality time spent in the kitchen or around the table. Grandchildren told of playing with bubbles in the sink and about making what seemed like a thousand batches of chocolate chip cookies (not necessarily about eating them!)

2. There was a strong theme of love demonstrated through the daily ritual of food preparation…the idea that this line of women dedicated a significant amount of themselves to the very careful and loving feeding of their families. Every day. Every meal. For years. And years.

3. I recognized that in the menus from two and three generations back there was such simplicity in the food. They ate what they had. Some of the old recipes literally called for the “canned tomatoes from the garden” and the chicken and beef came from their own land.

4. It also got me thinking about what my children and possible future grandchildren would submit to a similar project. And then I started to panic about not having enough regular “favorites” in the rotation…about not having holiday must-have recipes cemented into the line-up…reconsidering the notion of taco night or pizza night just to throw in another possibility for childhood memories…but then again, I tend to overthink those kinds of things and panic for no real reason. I know.

Mostly, I hope, my mother-in-law saw it as an expression of appreciation for the thousands of meals she’s put on the table in front of her family. And, as my husband put it, that she feels honored for “perfecting the tastes and smells that would help us define ‘home’ forever.”

Birthdays – I have to share now!

I’m not so good at sharing, really.  I know I should be better at it and I should be modeling it for my boys…but it’s hard for me.

And now I have to share my birthday.

This little guy came along last year only 2 days before my birthday. So this year on my birthday I was in the kitchen cooking and baking and getting everything ready for his first birthday party (lucky for me I love that kind of thing, huh?) I’ve decided that I’m just going to take a break from my birthday for oh, about 17 years, and then I’ll pick back up where I left off. I think it is a great aging prevention plan. And then I don’t have to share.

We have a couple of birthday traditions in our family. The birthday breakfast, of course, which was quite cute with this little munchkin and his fiery pancake that he wasn’t too sure about.

Big brother had to help blow out the candle, but the birthday boy didn’t have any trouble polishing off that pancake. The kid can eat.

The other tradition is the birthday letter. They each have a journal and every year on their birthday I write a letter to them.

The Birthday Books

I got this idea from a photo album and a letter box made by Once Upon A Family. I loved both ideas and combined them in these journals.

Lincoln's First Birthday Book Entry

I don’t think I’ll be handing them over when the boys turn 21 as suggested on the website, but maybe when they are in their 30s…or 40s…however old they will have to be to appreciate something like this. Probably if/when they have children themselves?

Whitman's First Birthday Book Entry

And for Lincoln’s second birthday I asked everyone to please include a letter for him, too.  My grandmother is in her late 80s and she adores these boys in a way only a great-grandmother can. My youngest probably won’t be able to remember much about her when he’s older and the idea of having something from her, in her handwriting, seems really special to me. (I know, I know, boys generally don’t care about this kind of thing…but maybe someday when they are old like me!)

The other must-have for birthdays in our house is red velvet cake. It’s the only cake that will do. (The recipe is in this post, along with a bunch of cake stands I still don’t have.) It was a cowboy theme this year so the cupcakes were decked out in the appropriate western wear.

As regular readers know, I can’t bring myself to put anything but cream cheese frosting on a red velvet cake. And unfortunately cream cheese frosting is pretty horrible for decorating with…so, I try to keep it simple. Slap on the frosting, top it with a hat and be done with it.

Whitman was more interested in playing with the cowboy boots than eating his cake anyway! I think he took two bites and didn’t make nearly the mess the grandparents were hoping for. Oh well, maybe next year!

Still to come…the birthday food, my birthday celebrations – there were two! And a birthday gift which will be featured here regularly in the future. I know, I know, you just can’t wait. 😉


It is safe to say that birthdays are a “gather around the table” event. They are honored with gifts and hoopla, cemented in our memories with photos and, these days, if the parents are really irresponsible, they can even make a TV show about your birthday.

We haven’t gotten crazy with birthday parties in our house…but I do make birthday snacks to send to school.

A little muffin with your monster truck?

This year was all about monster trucks, including the red velvet cake and most of the gifts. These monster-topped snacks were actually applesauce muffins with a thick glaze instead of cakes with icing.  The chocolate sprinkles helped make them look a little more like regular cupcakes.

And, let’s see,  last year I sent little mice. These were really fun to make.

Mini chocolate cakes with white icing piped on…mini ‘Nilla Wafers for ears, M&Ms for eyes, a mini kiss for a nose and long chocolate sprinkles for whiskers.

Let’s talk about birthdays…not the food part, but the other part. The tradition and celebration part.

The older our boys get the more I think about how much we, as parents, are in control of their experiences and memories…that the traditions we create will be the background for their childhood memories and the launching pad for their own adult perspective. Several years ago I was taking a class at our church and the instructor told us about the birthday breakfast tradition in her family. After hearing her explanation, I realized it was genius and promptly stole it as my own.

Our first Birthday Breakfast in '08

Her reasoning for the family celebration happening at breakfast was that it becomes nearly untouchable. I mean, even when the kids are 16 and 18 and wanting to have parties with their pals and take trips…are you ever going to have to give up the family birthday breakfast? Probably not. Chances are good that’s a meal they’ll still have at home.

Birthday Breakfast in '09...getting fancier with the pancakes.

Breakfast is one of the easiest meals of the day, too…and it’s not a stretch to get most breakfast staples to feel like dessert.  Hello? Belgium waffles. French toast…  a la mode.   See?

Also, decorating is a snap because you can do it the night before and have it be a fun still-groggy-stumbling-into-the-kitchen surprise.

Birthday Breakfast '10 with monster truck pancakes, chocolate chip hubcaps.

And then really fast-forward to the years where there are girl/boyfriends involved, wives/husbands and kids of their own – chances are still good that the birthday breakfast tradition will continue, if they live close enough.  The instructor of that class was telling us about it because she had just had a birthday breakfast that morning with her oldest son and his wife and their three kids and she was so delighted the tradition was holding up.

A mom can hope, right??

Not so sure about this whole party thing...

We’ve extended the breakfast celebrations in our house to the adults, too. (Confession: I’m a more savory breakfast kind of girl, so I usually request eggs benedict instead of monster truck pancakes…but really as long as there is caffeine, I’m happy.)

So, I’d love to hear about other family birthday traditions…really, do tell. I’m not above stealing ideas from you, too.

Birthday Cakes

Martha Stewart's 1-2-3-4 Lemon Cake

The first year we were married, I made this cake for my husband’s birthday.  Yes, that’s homemade lemon curd and it was divine.

And here’s another cake I have toyed with making just because it looks so impressive:

Another Martha Stewart dessert

I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to make this cake in spite of my serious aversion to coconut. But I digress…

This year when I asked our almost-four-year-old what kind of birthday cake he wanted, he seemed confused by my question. I clarified, “Well, you can have chocolate or vanilla cake or we can do one of those ice cream cakes or you could even have a great big cookie cake…you know, for your birthday party…what kind of cake do you think you’d like?”

He was still a little confused when he answered, “I want a birthday cake.”

“I know sweetie, but what kind?”

“The birthday kind, mom. You know, the red one.” He seemed irritated to have to explain this to me.

I had to chuckle just a little.

For the last couple of years my husband has requested a red velvet cake for his birthday and now, apparently, birthday cake = red velvet cake.

There are worse things.

The crimson cake now deemed a birthday must-have.
The crimson cake now deemed a birthday must-have.

Perhaps another birthday tradition has begun.

Two years ago, it was a train.  And yes, that’s on the back of a large cutting board. I really need a large platter.

This year’s birthday theme was monster trucks. So we had a red velvet cake with tire tracks across the top, of course.

I can't bring myself to use a frosting other than cream cheese on red velvet cake...even though it is horrible for decorating...and sitting at room temperature.

And this year I bought a cafeteria tray to use for the cake. Again, the platter issue. I know, I know, I could cover a big piece of cardboard…but, I have just a little bit of a thing for cake stands, so it’s really hard for me to slap a cake down on part of an old box. If I had an absurd amount of kitchen space, I would own this:

and this

and also these:

OK, so maybe I think about cake stands too much. But, I was happy with my red, plastic, cafeteria tray because, aside from the fact the cake wouldn’t fit, monster trucks don’t really belong on these fancy things, anyway.  Oh and also this one:

There are more things about birthdays to post…like cupcakes that get sent to classroom parties and also my theory about a birthday breakfast celebration. But, for now, I give you red cake.

The key to this recipe is the cocoa powder and the amount of red coloring. Do not skimp on the red coloring. And yes, it is TWO of those little bottles. That’s what it takes to get a deep red color. Anything less and you’ll wind up with a wimpy, pink-looking cake.

Here's the red/cocoa mixture being mixed into the batter.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

from Cook’s Country

For the cake:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

pinch salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 TB white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 TB natural cocoa powder

2 TB red food coloring

12 TB unsalted butter, softened (that’s 1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

For the frosting:

16 TB unsalted butter, softened (that’s 2 sticks…I know, I know.)

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

pinch salt

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a smooth paste forms.

2. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally remaining flour mixture. Scrape down bowl, add cocoa mixture, and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. Scrape into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

3. For the frosting: With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.

4. When cakes are cooled, spread about 2 cups frosting on one cake layer. Top with second cake layer and spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days.

And for some fun, try these Steel-Magnolia-inspired variations:

Red Velvet Armadillo Cake from
Roadkill Cake from

OK, OK just one more.