I realized today that both myself and my dear friend Johanna Harness have children sharing a birthday. She’s asked me what kind of cake Biggest would be having to celebrate and that got me to thinking about all the birthday cakes I’ve made and eaten during my 45.5 years here.
The first birthday cake I remember being made for me was an angel food cake made by my grandmother. She’d put a new Barbie doll in the center and frosted the cake and doll to look like Barbie was wearing a pink dress. I don’t really like angel food cake and I wasn’t a Barbie doll playing kind of girl. But I was so appreciative of the fact that she’d made me a cake for my birthday. Four years old and already I’d learned one of life’s truths: dessert is sweeter when it tastes like love.
And so began my lifelong attempt to make other’s birthdays as special as I can–mostly by making them their favorite foods and birthday cake or dessert of choice.
I suppose that tradition really started with my father. His birthday is in November, just two days after my sister’s. So growing up, there was no shortage of cake and dessert in our home during November.
I must have been about 10 or 12 the year I decided to make him a different kind of birthday cake. Who knows what inspired my plan – it could have been a cooking show on OPB or a cookbook or magazine I’d read. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I decided to make my father a torte for his birthday.
It was the late 70s or very early 80s and we were farmers miles and years away from any store that resembles a Whole Foods, or even a Safeway for that matter. In other words, this birthday torte I set about making was made completely from scratch and from my imagination. Chocolate cake with layers of flavored whipped creams, apricot jam thinned with brandy, ganache, whatever struck my fancy. My creativity knew no bounds in my attempt to create a tasty celebration that would also give me the greatest gift ever: my father’s approval.
I can’t tell you how many birthday tortes I made my dad before I left home for college and adult life. I can tell you that my goal for building taller and taller cakes kept pace with my father’s age, at least somewhat. And while I haven’t made him a birthday cake in many, many years, I have made them for other people, such as the 3 dimensional airplane I made for my nephew’s birthday. (Thank goodness for buttercream frosting!)
For my immediate family, I actually don’t make many birthday cakes. Middlest has had me make molten lava cakes, and Littlest has asked for lemon cupcakes and jelly rolls. (I’ve had mixed success with those, let me tell you.) In fact, because Mister Soandso and Littlest have birthdays one day apart, I usually make at least one strawberry rhubarb pie to celebrate their birthdays.
There is something quite satisfying about making a disaster in one’s kitchen preparing a fabulous dessert to celebrate having had one more year with a beloved person.
Of course, for Biggest, the only implement I usually need to make his birthday celebration dessert is a blender.
Biggest doesn’t like cake. Or pie. Or most cookies. Or candy. Or most things folks typically eat. But he does like milkshakes, so a few years ago milkshakes became what I usually make him to celebrate having had the honor of spending one more year with him.
And I have to say, the sound of the last bits of milkshake being slurped up the straw is a pretty fantastic way to enjoy a year with a person – sucking it up to the very last drop. The only thing that sounds better is when Biggest wraps his arms around me and thanks me for making him a shake for his birthday.
45 years old and approval is still the sweetest thing in my life, aside from the people who will be gathered around my dinner table tonight slurping up chocolate milkshakes and time well-spent together.
ps. Biggest has a short list of meals he likes and one of the entries is tacos. One year we decided we’d go out for dinner to celebrate his birthday. As you might imagine, it was a poor plan. Dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Cinco de Mayo is a bit, er, exciting. So this year, I’ll be throwing some burgers on the Traeger and we’ll have tacos later on in the week. I figure I have seven too short years to figure out how to make a margarita milkshake. Until then, chocolate it is.