Wait, did I ever say that I would actually post here on a regular basis? Is that really what people do when they have blogs – post things regularly?
My bad. So anyway, Sarah turns three today – three! – and as you would expect we’re all pretty excited. Admittedly, the significance of this particular day might be stronger felt if we hadn’t been celebrating her birthday for a whole week already, but who am I to complain? The more parties the better, right?
Believe it or not, we’re the kind of parents who fully intend to keep these annual ceremonies small-ish and manageable. I’m looking for a word here – dignified doesn’t really work, not with children…tasteful, no… free of clowns, jugglers, balloon animals and bounce houses, too wordy…how about…underwhelming. Yes, that’s the word. We’d like to keep all of these parties underwhelming. The idea is that Sarah will grow up having learned the value of a nice, quiet evening spent with a small group of well-chosen, and ethnically diverse, friends. I’m thinking tapas. She’ll thank us, I’m sure.
Well, okay, so I’m kind of kidding. Bounce houses and jugglers are actually awesome, and Sarah has already shown an affinity for balloon animals (at least, those not attempted by me), so of course we’d never deny her the pleasures of a normal , whimsical childhood. We do still prefer to keep things small, however (and if a clown dares to come within 50 yards of us I will call the cops), but as any parent knows, what we’d prefer to do and what winds up happening are often two different things. Particularly when one factors in the needs of one’s extended family members, Sarah’s current schoolmates, and the kids and parents from her past “mommies” group – many of whom have already had you over to their kid’s birthdays so you know what that means. Well I don’t know about you, but there’s no way that we’re fitting all these people under one roof in one day, so it looks like we’ll have more than one party – in this case, make that four parties.
We had our first party last Saturday, and I have to admit it went swimmingly. And no, it wasn’t at a pool, smart guy, it was at a gym, specifically the “Kidnastics” in Los Alamitos. Kidnastics, as the name implies, is a pretty straight-forward and self-explanitory concept, and if you need any advice or guidance as to what it entails then for you I feel only pity. We have been going to this gym weekly, and it’s an absolutely fabulous time for all involved. This was actually a duel birthday party, an old playmate of hers having turned three a week prior, and was a co-production of the respective parents. You would think that that would lessen the workload, especially taking into account that both we and the other parents wanted to eschew all excessive elements (no gifts please, no decorations, and no party favors), but that would only have been the case if one parent hadn’t offered to make the cakes at home rather than buy one fully decorated, as is customary. That parent was a fool.
That parent was me.
I do all of the cooking around here, but baking cakes is not my thing. Oh, I’ve tried – I remember struggling two years ago on Lizzy’s birthday, hovering over a large mixing bowl with my cheap, Target-bought hand mixer, waiting what seemed like hours for the damned butter and sugar to cream. Well, I had no intention of doing that again, and vowed early on to use only store-bought cake mix, but I still wanted to do something nice. I knew there’d be at least 15 kids so I decided to make a double-layer sheet cake, which I could then frost decoratively. Both kids’ names would be written, in perfect script, with icing.
Figuring out how many boxes of cake mix would be needed for the sheet cakes was a trick – it turns out two boxes will fill one sheet tray with a bit left over, which means that I would need to mix up four boxes, eyeball how much to put into each sheet tray and then bake either a small cake or several cupcakes with the leftovers. There was also the matter of adjusting the cooking time (since most boxes include directions for a smaller cake), baking them without overcooking the sides or undercooking the middle, and then – if I were lucky enough to get this far – inverting the cakes out of the trays cleanly without destroying them.
And yes, ultimately I had to run back to the store for more ingredients – not only because I wrecked one cake by undercooking it but because I realized, after staring at the sheet trays and going over the numbers in my increasingly panicky head, that I would not have enought to feed all the kids and the parents. So two sheets of cake turned into four (plus the one that I had to redo), and the amount of icing I had planned to make doubled.
[On a side note – if you’ve made cakes from a mix you know that you still need some ingredients – the first mix I bought required lots of butter, eggs and milk; the second (when I went back the store was out of the original stuff, natch) needed oil, eggs and water. Add to that the ingredients required to make the icing – 10x sugar, margerine, shortening, milk, vanilla and food coloring – and you suddenly know with absolute certainty that anyone who says it’s cheaper to make your cakes at home rather than buy them fully baked and decorated is a complete ass.]
So ten boxes of cake mix, two dozen eggs, a bottle of vegetable oil, one pound of butter, a half pound of margerine, six pounds of powdered sugar, a half gallon of milk and an immeasurable amount of shortening later, and I had my two cakes. Each cake was decorated in light blue and dusty-rose pink (initially designed to be gender-neutral but ultimately looking very pastel), and each read Happy Birthday!!! Isaac and Sarah in purple icing. A large candle in the shape of the number “3,” purchased at the local Ralphs, would top off the ensemble.
As I said, the party went off without a hitch – the kids played happily while the parents chatted, we didn’t run out of pizza or drinks, and the wonderful staff at Kidnastics no only entertained and monitored the children while the parents gabbed, but also cleaned everything up at the end.
And, of course, we didn’t even touch the second cake.
So that’s one down and three to go. Sarah’s classroom is having a little thing today (another joint venture with a classmate), we’ll do something just the three of us this coming Saturday, and then we’re heading out to New England to visit the family where yet another party, this time with lots of alcohol and seafood on the menu (finally!), awaits us. At this rate I figure we’ll be done celebrating some time this coming August.
Oh yeah – anyone need a cake?