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Posts Tagged ‘cake is my love language’

My daughter turned seven a few weeks ago. Seven. All done with first grade, and off (or not off, depending on Many Factors) to second grade in a few short weeks. I cannot believe it. She is SO grown up.

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The Birthday Girl

At seven, she seems to enjoy “crafting” more than any other activity. She defines “crafting” as drawing; sculpting with clay; sewing; creating clothing for her Barbies and stuffed animals out of scraps of fabric, fabric glue, and Velcro tape; or making a wide variety of things out of paper or cardboard. A confetti of paper, fabric, and cardboard scraps follows her from room to room, and we have had to invest in a craft mat to protect the table and floors from glue, tape, and clay residue. (It is useful insofar as she remembers to bring it with her to various crafting spaces in the house. I sense multiple craft mats in our future.)

She loves to sing and to listen to music of all kinds. She adores any and all animals, and any time we go for a walk or a bike ride, she makes friends with any dog owner we pass. Her day is absolutely made whenever she gets to pet a dog. (It is hard to stay socially distant while giving a good dog some pats, but we are working really hard at it.)

She has grown four inches since last year. She still loves dresses, but prefers pajamas during these long pandemic days. She adores the Story Pirates podcast and listens to episodes until she has them memorized. It is really expanding her vocabulary; one day I said something silly about maybe a chair or something walking over to her, and she gave me a withering look and said, “Mommy, it did NOT walk, it is INANIMATE.” Delightful.

She can truly and honest-to-goodness read, pretty much anything. But she is still what I would call a reluctant reader; she prefers to be read TO, and she gets frustrated if she encounters a single word she can’t read. She’s an intuitive reader, and so can “guess” what some surprisingly large words are, but other words trip her up because they aren’t sound-out-able (or, more often, she doesn’t feel like sounding them out). I am hopeful that the phase where she constantly has her nose stuck in a book is right around the corner, but…

She loves being active as much as she loves making a cardboard house for her Barbie’s cats, but lately I have to exert a lot of persuasion to get her outside and moving. Once out, she loves riding her bike and her scooter, playing (large, plastic, no-net) badminton and (beachball) volleyball with me in the backyard, collecting bugs, and swinging on her swingset. Her uncle and aunt gave her a bug collecting kit for her birthday and she loves to put on all the accessories and seek out sow bugs and spiders and beetles from the darkest corners of our yard.

She still eats almost nothing. I don’t mean volume – she eats a good amount of food. I mean variety. She eats a lot of chicken nuggets and fish sticks and tacos. The exception is fruit; she loves almost all fruits outside of the melon family. I almost always have to order curbside pickup in between grocery store visits, just so I can get more berries and tomatoes; we go through three to four pints of tomatoes in a two-week period, mainly because of her.

She is kind and creative and enthusiastic and affectionate. She is super supportive and encouraging. She is FULL of ideas. She is still occasionally cuddly – right up until she puts her feet on my legs and I have to be DONE with cuddling because ew. She is a chatterbox who loves to talk and ask questions and learn things.

She is absolutely wonderful. I cannot wait to see what seven has in store for us.

The Birthday Itself

Her birthday passed this year without my usual weekslong lead up of Birthday Anxiety. Well, there was SOME Birthday Anxiety, because this is me we’re talking about. But it was very mild. Lest we all rejoice that I am finally mellowing out, consider these relevant facts:

  1. I have been spending SO MUCH time with Carla since March. So. Much. Time. We, like the rest of the known universe, have transitioned from enjoying plenty of time together during Not School to enjoying plenty of time together during Not Camp. Because we have no local relatives and because we are still Staying At Home as much as is humanly possible (read: almost all hours of every day) and because my husband is now back to working in the office most days at an almost regular schedule, this means that we are alone together for approximately ten hours every day. It has been wonderful and challenging. And I am missing NOTHING of her life, which is such a blessing. The result was that I experienced almost none of that Childhood Is Fleeting panic in the weeks leading up to her birthday. I am getting a front row, minute-by-minute experience of her life. And while there are many things about our collective present situation I would change, I would not change that.
  2. There was no birthday party to plan for! Well. We did have, at Carla’s request, a Zoom birthday party with all of her grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousin). But I waited until the absolute last minute to plan that and it was relatively easy: Carla opened presents, said an enthusiastic thank you after each gift reveal, blew out the candles on her cake, and the party was OVER. Easiest party ever.
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Gifts from relatives! All from Amazon, nearly all wrapped before they arrived. I am pleased to see that Amazon is experimenting with some different styles of gift wrap.

I admit that I did go a little overboard with the presents – and with overthinking the presents, and worrying that she wasn’t getting enough presents, and fretting over whether her birthday would be special enough. (At one point, I was wondering if I could pull off a Chalk Party, where her friends would come by in the now-familiar parade format and leave a chalk message on the driveway. I was researching individual boxes of chalk we could give out as a favors and trying to figure out how I could time it so that there was plenty of social distancing but not too much waiting in your car. Fortunately for all of us, Carla did not want so much attention.) You know, all the things that someone with no real worries can turn her mind to. But I think we hit exactly the right notes with everything: we had the party and the family presents to look forward to on the day before her birthday, and a special taco dinner. And then on her actual birthday, she got to open presents from me and her father, plus she had pancakes for EVERY SINGLE MEAL, plus she got to start (virtual) Story Pirates camp, PLUS, during camp and completely unplanned, she got to talk to one of the actual Story Pirates (Lee) and ask him a question which was like meeting a celebrity and made the entire camp worth the cost.

7 Presents

Gifts from her parents. I do love the flower theme.

The Birthday Cake

Anyway: cake. In the months leading up to her party, Carla went back and forth about what kind of cake she wanted. For a very long time, she wanted a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. At first, she wanted a tiger theme, and I was fretting over how to add tiger stripes to chocolate cake batter and chocolate frosting. But then she decided she wanted a flower theme, and the chocolate frosting would be the dirt out of which would bloom flowers made of icing. Then, she decided she wanted LEMON cake, but with chocolate frosting. I have never had that combination, but I found a recipe online and was all set to make it for her when she decided, at the last minute, that she wanted lemon cake with cream cheese buttercream frosting. Still with the flower theme, although I kept having to temper her expectations for what the flowers would look like.

7 Cake 1

I made this lemon cake with lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting. I also made my own lemon curd, which I put between the layers instead of buttercream; I thought it would benefit from a little extra tartness, to keep it from being too sweet.

7 Cake 2

I researched a variety of ways to create buttercream flowers. Yes, I know I could do them with piping tips. But I also know that I do not have a great track record of success with buttercream flowers. So I wanted to do something else. I discovered two really cool options – the first is the carved buttercream or scratch art technique, but my husband kindly and gently suggested that it might be a more advanced technique than I might want to experiment with on so fraught an occasion. So I went with the painted buttercream technique, hoping to evoke more impressions of flowers than actual flowers.

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The Cake Results

The lemon curd turned out great, but I did not use enough of it. I think I could have done a thin layer of buttercream AND a thicker layer of lemon curd in between each layer. Oh well.

Worst, I overmixed the cake. One of the very clear directions in the recipe is to mix the ingredients until just combined. And as I was mixing them together, I kept fretting: you’re overmixing! you’re overmixing! But it turns out that I have no idea what “just combined” means. And so I did indeed overmix the batter and it turned out to be kind of heavy and dense. Oh well. It still tasted pretty good. I just do not know how to make the light and fluffy cake of my mind’s eye (my mind’s taste? my tongue’s dream?).

The painted buttercream technique went fine, I think. The end product looked more clumsy than impressionistic, but whatever. I am an AMATEUR baker. Carla seemed to like it, so that’s all that matters.

Cake age 7

See? I really AM mellowing with age and quarantine.

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We returned from our trip some time ago and man, is re-entry into normal life hard! Also, I have completely fallen out of the blogging habit and need to leap back in. Let’s try to jumpstart things with a little randomosity, yes?

  • On the way to Europe, I was fine. Very little jet-lag that lasted maybe two days. On the way home? TWO WEEKS of waking up at 2:30 every morning, my body insistent that no, in fact, it was 8:30 and I was done sleeping. Didn’t matter if I’d gone to sleep at nine or midnight the night before, and believe me, I tried both. Didn’t matter if I took melatonin. Just wide awake at 2:30.
  • And then I got a monster cold, from all the lack of sleep. Super fun.
  • There were so many things to love about our trip, and I was prepared to return home and pine for the walkable cities and the suffusion of culture and the beautiful mountains. I was not prepared to pine for asparagus.

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    We were in Vienna and Munich during spargel season (spargel being, of course, asparagus) and MAN was fresh Bavarian asapargus delicious. I wouldn’t say I’m a lover of asparagus; I like it fine, and will make it occasionally for dinner, and once in a while I’ll order it at a restaurant. Okay, once in a GREAT while. But during our trip, we had many many bowls of spargelsuppe and I even ate an entrée that was made up of asparagus spears dotted with hollandaise. AND THAT WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE MEALS. For this nacho-loving lady, having drooly fantasies about a plate of white asparagus is very off-brand. Anyway, I have been bookmarking recipes for spargelsuppe and eyeing the asparagus in my grocery store. I haven’t bought any yet; it’s just a sad facsimile of the beautiful bounty of fresh white asparagus we saw at farmers’ markets throughout our trip.

  • One thing I do NOT miss about our trip: the toilet paper. UGH. Even my cheapo Target brand toilet paper is like a angel’s kiss compared to the scratchy junk we used in Europe. Even the hotels had terrible toilet paper!!!
  • Since we’re already talking about the bathroom situation, can I tell you about a misconception I had? So, in the cities we visited, there were no free public restrooms. You had to pee, you had to pay. I never had the proper change on me, so anytime I needed to avail myself of the facilities, we’d either hike back to our hotel (which happened once, and only because it was on the way) or stop in at a café for some tea and cake and a bathroom break. I am really enjoying my bathroom-related rhyming in this paragraph. But one morning in Vienna, neither of those options was available, and I had to use a pay toilet in the middle of a market. I was dreading it. DREADING. I waited until the last possible second because I had visions of American rest-stop bathrooms in my head. Well! My half Euro got me into a PRISTINE restroom, with stalls that had been freshly cleaned, each with its own sink. It was a little weird that the attendant to the ladies’ room was a man, but once I got past that, it was a delightful experience. Well, as delightful as a public pee can get, you understand.

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    Here is a picture from one of the stands in the market; I did not photograph the restroom. I’m sorry slash you’re welcome.

  • I came to the conclusion on our trip that mankind has not yet invented a truly comfortable shoe. Either that or my feet and ANY shoes are the Princess and the Pea of extremities. Sure, we were walking a lot (ten miles a day), but my husband was wearing his years-old loafers and he had ZERO problems. I had to rotate between my new-for-this-trip Sketchers and an old pair of Børn riding boots that I packed at the last minute because the weather was supposed to be so cold and rainy (it was, which didn’t dampen our fun in the least, see what I did there). Even switching between them, my feet were in constant agony. Oh well. I think I kept the whining to a minimum; at least, my husband didn’t murder me for foot-complaint-related-reasons, so I’ll call that a success. And I only got one lonesome blister, from my dressy shoes, which I have had with no issue for years and wore ONE evening only and yet they still ripped open the skin beneath my pinky toe.
  • Shout out to Rick Steves — whom my husband and I affectionately refer to as “Ricky” — whose guides are super helpful and always include easy-to-follow city walks. My husband toted his Fancy Camera all around Bavaria and his camera bag had a pocket just big enough to stow our Ricky selection of the day — Rick Steves Vienna, Salzburg, & Tirol while we were in those places and Rick Steves Germany 2019 when we were in Munich and Nuremberg. While Ricky and I don’t necessarily have the same taste in food, I am very fond of him and his dad-style humor.

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  • There is a very charming café culture in Vienna. Lots of cafes where you sit and have coffee/tea and cake. We ate a lot of cake. I miss the cake.

  • I also miss the beer. Beer and wine were plentiful and inexpensive AND delicious. Of course, the beer I loved the most does not seem to be exported to the U.S., but I guess that preserves its awesomeness a little more.

  • And the castles. I miss those too.
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    Hohenschwangau Castle, southwest of Munich

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    Fortress Hohensalzburg, which looms over Salzburg in a very intimidating fashion and can be reached by hiking or funicular. 

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    Neuschwanstein Castle, a stone’s throw away from Hohenschwangau. By the way, this photo was taken from a teeny rickety bridge spanning a crevasse between two craggy mountains. Was I certain the bridge would collapse at any moment? YES. Did it? No, I suppose not. 

  • Well, it was a great trip. Our plane didn’t crash (although the turbulence we experienced on the way to Europe was so severe I didn’t sleep AT ALL) and neither of us suffered any illness or injury. Okay, so I did fall down the stairs of our hotel in Munich, but it was the day before we left, so it didn’t put too much of a damper on things. And I didn’t break any bones, just got an enormous bruise, which, to be honest, is a fairly frequent occurrence anyway. I have skin like a peach.
  • And now we are home, and reintegrated into our lives, and trying to inject little snippets of our European fun into our everyday: we took Carla downtown last weekend and walked around the city (not the same as walking around Vienna or Munich or Salzburg) and meandered through the market hall (SO not the same as the charming markets in Bavaria) and bought some Bavarian beer. I am bemoaning the lack of easily accessible public transportation and charming (if renovated post-war) streets.
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    Streetcar in Vienna – my favorite mode of transportation

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    Adorable street in Nuremberg, which we knew to photograph thanks to the inimitable Rick Steves

  • Now that I am FINALLY sleeping again, I feel like I am getting back in the swing of things: coming up with meals to serve my family, thinking through Carla’s birthday party plans, tidying the house for my in-laws who will be visiting soon… Glad to have traveled, glad to be home.

 

What have you been up to, Internet?

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I am skipping today’s Dinners This Week post. I mean, there’s no need to plan dinners when you’ll be eating dinner on an airplane, right? Let’s have some randomosity. Join me, won’t you?

First, let’s have some medicinal nachos:

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Chips. Top with cheese. Melt for 30 seconds in the microwave. Top with black beans and frozen corn. Microwave for another 20 seconds. Top with copious amounts of my favorite hot sauce. Add avocado, diced onion, and sour cream. Cilantro if you have it/don’t hate it. Tomatoes if you swing that way. Squeeze a wedge of lime over everything. Add copious amounts of sriracha for good measure. DEVOUR.

  • A lot of my fretting about Leaving My Bayyyyyybeeeeee has been channeled into Shoe Panic. As in, how am I going to walk around Europe for ten days without reducing my delicate feet to bloody shreds? So I have purchased and returned approximately 90,000 pairs of shoes in the past week. Nothing like leaving an important aspect of your planning to the very last minute!

 

  • These are the shoes I have ended up with: Skechers Go Walk Evolution Ultra sneakers (why do all athletic shoes have such ridiculous names?) and Vionic Minna ballet flats (in color “sand”) because I wanted to have walk-friendly shoes that were dressy enough for a nice-ish dinner.

 

  • Building on some of your great ideas for making the trip easier on Carla, I have bought her some books and other little fun surprises to open while we’re gone. There is a real dearth of fun, story-based children’s books about the very specific locations we are traveling to, which is DISAPPOINTING, but I did find this book about one of the cities on our itinerary:

Munich

  • You know that one of my big panics is Death By Airplane, right? So I have been desperately trying to get our life insurance upgraded just in case. Of course, the process takes waaaaayyyyy longer than I thought it would, so we just squeaked our medical exams in at the last minute and there is no way the underwriting will be complete before we leave. (I use these terms like I have any idea whatsoever how any of this works, which I do NOT.) HOWEVER. Did you know that you can get provisional coverage, based on the assumption that you will get approved? So that’s what we’re doing. We can pay a premium as though we’ve been approved, and then, when we come back home, ALIVE, we can pay any additional amount as needed. And if we perish while overseas, we’re covered. (I mean, as long as we are approved and have paid the correct amount; I’m assuming my parents could pay any difference after the fact.) Cool, right!?! Okay, maybe my calibration of “cool” has shifted in odd ways.

 

  • In other morbid planning, I tried to record myself singing to Carla. There are two songs I have been singing to her at bedtime all her life – one I made up while pregnant with her and the other is “Moon River” – and I have this desperate feeling that I MUST record myself singing them so she can listen to the songs (but will she?) to comfort her (but will they?) after my fiery death. But I can’t record myself! It’s so ridiculous! In every recording, I keep SWALLOWING in the middle of sentences. Like, “Mooooooon river, wider than a mile, I’m crossing [gulp] you in style someday…. [gulp] Dream maker, you heart [gulp] breaker….” It’s really distracting and annoying and I cannot NOT do it. I mean, have you ever tried to NOT SWALLOW when your body is telling you to swallow? And then try to SING while not swallowing? It’s absurd and obviously some sort of weird self-conscious reaction to recording myself. Do not suggest that I ask my husband to record me actually singing to Carla, because then I would die of embarrassment and also we are out of time. I am going to choose the least gulpy of the options and THAT’S JUST HOW CARLA WILL HAVE TO REMEMBER ME.

 

  • Abrupt subject change: Our Amazon Echo (Alexa) has begun telling me to enjoy my day. “Have a nice day,” she’ll say after I ask for the weather in the morning. “Have a good afternoon,” she’ll say sometimes after I’ve asked for the news briefing. It’s creepy but nice? And she only says it to me. She has never once used any sort of pleasantry with my husband. Also creepy? But it makes me feel vindicated in using “please” and “thank you” when making requests of her. My husband may not be on the good side of the AI after the uprising, but hopefully Alexa will put in a good word for me.

 

  • While I’m worrying about wholly unimportant things (recap: dying on my totally voluntary trip overseas; the state of my footwear for said trip; singing lullabies without swallowing; the inevitable AI uprising; will I have enough nachos to last until we leave for Europe?), let’s add in some panic about Carla’s birthday party. I think we have the venue down. And Carla has shifted from Tiger Theme to Seahorse Theme to Mommy, You Choose A Theme From These Five Cat-Related Categories Plus Foxes. So I am leaning toward Rainbow Leopard Theme, mainly because I have found the perfect party favor:

Rainbow Leopard

  • And the perfect cake to torture myself with making. (My husband heaved a great world-weary sigh when I told him about it and asked if I might consider just BUYING a cake.) (No.) (Does he know me?)

 

  • But I can’t find any great theme-appropriate invitations; some decent ones, but nothing I LOVE. And, WORSE, because I will panic about LITERALLY ANYTHING meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I cannot find any theme-appropriate paper plates and napkins. I can order them via Zazzle for around $60 for 40 to 50 plates-or-napkins, but can we all agree that spending $60 on 40 paper plates for a single party is excessive? I’m not saying it can’t be DONE; I wouldn’t judge anyone for spending $60 on 40 plates if that’s how they chose to spend their hard-earned money. But I think $1.70 cheetah-print paper plate — PAPER, not even hard plastic — is excessive and I really want to avoid it if at all possible.

 

  • So maybe foxes? I haven’t looked it up, but foxes could be a good alternative, right? It’s just that they are so Off Brand for my particular child, who wears leopard print probably three days a week (today she is wearing a faux fur cheetah print vest over a green dress and black leggings with faux leather patches; she has a very particular sense of style, this kid) and has leopard print boots and pretends to be a rotating cast of leopards/cheetahs/panthers on a daily basis. I am already exhausted by planning this party and I haven’t really even begun.

 

  • Please keep in mind that I KNOW that none of this is important, it’s a birthday party, not the Oscars or some other party that actually matters/has wide visibility, and really ALL parties pale in comparison to, like, climate change and gun control and matters of REAL IMPORT. I am not overlooking the absolute absurdity of wasting brainpower on this frivolity.

 

  • Frivolity continues: And what are we going to get Carla for her actual gift? She is fresh out of ideas, unless you count “more Barbies!” as an idea which I do not. The only things I can come up with are a) a new bike (although she has a perfectly good hand-me-down bike that will probably last her at least another year, in terms of being the right height, not to mention she staunchly refuses to let us remove the training wheels) and b) a doll, because she seems to finally be more interested in dolls than in stuffed animals. She has repeatedly asked for a basket for her bike, so she can collect things (acorns, pinecones, rocks) when she goes for bike rides… but I don’t think “needs a basket” is enough of a reason to buy a whole new bike… I don’t know. I am on the fence. What is the six-year-old set into these days?

 

  • I LOVED dolls as a child, and my mom got me a couple of Corelle (?) dolls that I cherished and played with for many years. (Oh wait, it turns out they are COROLLE dolls – Corelle is a type of dishware, it seems. My bad.) Is Corolle still a good way to go, doll-wise? American Girl dolls seem to be popular around here… although they are SO expensive I don’t think I am ready to travel down that road. I also used to love Cabbage Patch Dolls, are those still A Thing? (Ugh, I am cringing thinking about how the “preemie” Cabbage Patch Dolls were so coveted when I was a little girl. I guess March of Dimes used them to raise awareness about premature birth, but that went right over my head at the time. I can imagine it being a hurtful thing for lots of parents.) What is the current Doll Trend, is what I want to know? I thought, being a parent, this knowledge would sort of magically manifest in my brain but I WAS WRONG.

 

  • Speaking of brains: does your brain do that thing where, when overtired, it fixates on one word or phrase or song lyric to the exclusion of all other thoughts? Mine has been choosing “It’s raining tacos,” itself an agonizingly repetitive song, to replay ad nauseum in my head, at 2:30 am and beyond. Fun.  (No.)

 

  • My Inevitable Death Panic (which is both panic about my inevitable death and an inevitable panic about death) is manifesting in lots of cleaning, which is good, I suppose. But I have failed to take any Before photos, which makes it poor blog fodder. I just want you to know that I have done a LOT of work and gotten rid of a LOT of crap. I am kind of hoping my mom will open some drawers and marvel at how spare and tidy they are. “Maybe she died in a plane crash taking a totally unnecessary trip abroad, but, man, are her drawers neat and clean!” they’ll say at my funeral.

 

  • Let’s have one more photograph of medicinal nachos. These were yesterday’s, so I need to see if I have enough ingredients for another heaping dose before I make my way to The Land of Sausages and Schnitzel. DOCTOR’S ORDERS.

Nachos 2

Okay. Enough. What’s up with you, Internet? Lord knows we have enough Big Serious Issues at hand to ensure we never sleep again. But what utterly frivolous things are keeping you up at night?

By the way, my husband and I decided to limit ourselves to one phone while overseas, and it is his phone, so blog posting/reading is likely to be light/nonexistent while we’re gone. I promise photos of castles if when we return.

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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

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Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

Fifth birthday 7

Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

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Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

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Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

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Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.

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I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.

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