Tag Archives: Birthday Cake

Bacon, waffles, malteasers, birthday

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You can’t really tell, because he’s the eternally youthful type who probably has an ageing portrait of himself in our loft (behind the saggy maternity clothes and 20000 small empty cardboard boxes), but Tim finally turned thirty this month.

We were born in the same year, but I was first, so there’s a long eight months in the middle of the year where I am thirty and wrinkled and hobbling towards the grave, and he is gambolling along in the verdant Spring of his life at twenty-nine, so it’s always gratifying when he catches up. I have been telling him good things about thirty for ages. It’s been kind to me so far. I hope it agrees with him too.

Since it was a big one we tried to cram in all his favourite things. A boy-free night in a spa hotel in one of our favourite cities. A massage. Some huge dinners. The new James Bond film at the IMAX, in the squashy seats. Having arranged all this beforehand in secret, we left him a washing line hung with notes and sweets to follow from bed to the birthday table, to let him know what we’d be doing. Please imagine for a second pegging sweeties onto a piece of wool with tiny pegs and in the unrestrained presence of a ravenous two-year-old. At 6am. T thought Christmas had come early. I thought I’d panic-sweated out a full two pounds by the time we were done.

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Tim had specified a few techie presents I’d gratefully ordered from Amazon, so while he exclaimed over extra-powerful lights and a G-clamp (which sounds much ruder than it is, alas), the boys and I made waffles and bacon. He’d requested a Malteaser cake, and I’d rummaged all around the internet before settling on this one. It was a standard three-layer chocolate cake, made into a thing of wonder by pouring half a tin of Horlicks powder into the cake mix and frosting. Did you know the inside of Malteasers is basically solid Horlicks? I love them both, but now I love them both more.

We put an ice fountain on it instead of a regular candle. Because one thing we haven’t done yet with this house is burn it down, so we thought we’d have a crack.

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We had a quiet day while H was at school, spent mostly eating more cake, watching James Bond movies and weeping a little over Daniel Craig’s beautiful craggy face. Then we dropped the boys off with their grandparents and headed down to Winchester.

We haven’t been away without them all year. Oh, the bed. The huge, squashy-pillowed bed and uninterrupted sleep therein. The pizza-and-pie restaurant we found for dinner. The geriatric couple we made friends with in the sauna, until the lady ruthlessly stole my towel. After Tim’s massage the next morning he emerged smelling bewitchingly of lavender, and we popped into IKEA for a few bits before settling down to weep over Daniel Craig’s beautiful craggy face in HIGH DEFINITION. That bit where he drives the car into the oh my gosh I can’t even. Even Tim couldn’t even. The gentleman sat next to me couldn’t even, and this was despite Tim’s lavender oils drifting soothingly down the aisle. We haven’t been quite the same since.

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Anyway, he makes a good thirty. He makes a good basically everything. Ready for another decade, Mr J? I’ll bring the cake. You bring the G-clamp, now you’ve got one.

How a bear does birthdays

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Ok, ok, just one more about T’s birthday, and then we’re done. PHOTO AVALANCHE AHOY, CAP’N. So help me, I cannot narrow them down more than this.

(There’s something about having a birthday midweek and then a birthday tea at the weekend that seems to make it last f o r e v e r. Lucky T. He sees any old open flame these days and yells ‘happee birthdee day!’)

We are in the middle of redoing our little garden at the minute – more about that later – so we wanted to celebrate in ways that would be fun, but also relatively inexpensive. I found this balloon wall on You Are My Fave, and it looked perfect: five bags of heavy-duty coloured balloons from Hobbycraft cost £5, and boom, done. Or should I say, boom, much late night fiddling with tape, bicycle pumps and string, done. I’ll do a quick tutorial for this later in the week, because we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we found one that did.

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You should’ve seen his face when he saw it. His mouth fell into a perfect O.

The thing about being a second child is that basically everything you play with belongs to your older brother. One of the nicest parts of the morning was seeing him overwhelmed by opening new, exciting things just for him.

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We’d given H the day off from nursery, and planned to go into London and visit the Natural History Museum. First though, lunch. On your birthday you want to eat your favourite food, and the problem with this two-year-old is that there aren’t many grape-and-strawberry-yoghurt restaurants. But he does love…curry, of all things. So we found a fabulous curry house just off Covent Garden and had a grand old time. They had a children’s menu, and we introduced T to mango lassi, which as a combination of milkshake and yoghurt (two of his favourite things) blew his tiny mind wide open.

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We will pass over the Tube trains we took on the hottest day of the year. Nothing like marinating in a sardine-tin sauna, air shimmering with the sweat of strangers, hanging on to two overheated and angry boys for dear life.

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H, I bless the day you got yourself a photo face. HAHA.

It all got better once we got to the Emirites cable car. It was like stepping into another world: cool breeze, open sky, and the blue Thames glittering ahead. And I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the cable car, but you MUST. If you have a day travel card you get a discounted ticket, and it is so, so worth doing. The views are incredible, and it’s just thrilling.

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At the other side we found a few splash pads next to the O2, and what looked like a worldwide Salvation Army convention enjoying the sun and spray. The boys were desperate to pull off their shoes and get wet, so we shrugged, and saved the museum for another day. They spent an hour running in and out of the water, soaking their clothes and cooling down before we headed home. Honestly, it was wonderful.

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Then on Sunday we had some family over for a little birthday tea (I am firm in my belief that it’s pointless to plan themed birthday extravaganzas before they can remember it). Most of the food was low-prep and easily done: veg and dips, fruit and chocolate fondue, scones and jam, chips and cookies. I found these brilliant watermelon napkins and cups at the supermarket, along with cocktail stick forks, which I found far too exciting for someone who claims to be an adult.

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The cake – oh, my giddy aunt – was an unmitigated disaster. I wanted to make the cinnamon roll cake we love, but in round tiers rather than a single tray. But the layers were too dense after baking, and became even more so after leaving them in the fridge overnight. The cream cheese frosting I’ve made before with no problems went through a terrifying cottage cheese stage, where the butter refused to mix properly into the rest. Then it wouldn’t set firm. Then there wasn’t enough to cover the cake. I’ve had many a cake horror before (you know this, loves) but never one in which, twenty minutes before guests arrived, I sat in a corner deep-breathing and saying ‘he has no birthday cake. HE HAS NO BIRTHDAY CAKE’.

Anyway, it slapped together with minutes to spare. Good enough for candles. And T was thrilled. He was getting the hang of this blowing-out-candles thing by this time, and kept trying to get it done before we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

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That’s the main thing, isn’t it? Happy boy, covered in chocolate, running round the garden with a new helicopter. The balloons are still on the wall. We’re getting through the cake by heating it up into cinnamon roll pudding. The new toys and books are well worn already. It ain’t a bad life.

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A science-y kind of birthday

Just a quick one about Henry’s birthday, before August is properly over and all my posts turn into meditations on apple crumble.

I didn’t organise a party this year, because we thought we’d be moving house in the middle of it. Then we weren’t moving this month after all (and do not even talk to me about that) but by then it was too late to coordinate everyone’s schedules. So instead of one medium-sized family celebration he had… three small celebrations, one after the other. I think he came out of it rather well.

When I asked Hen what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted a chocolate cake, and to see his friends. So we held a Favourite Dessert party the night before, with all his best little people, to tick them both off. For the birthday cake, I made The Cake Hunter‘s Ultimate Chocolate Cake that morning. It is an INSANELY good, easy recipe, and I will never need another chocolate cake in my life. The cake actually tastes of chocolate – this is rare, I find – and even though I’m not much of an icing fan, there’s something fudgy and incredible about the frosting. I doubled the frosting quantities, as I wanted to frost all the way around the outside (my cakes tend to need hiding), and threw on gold and silver stars at the end. It turned out pretty well.

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We put up the bunting from Teddy’s party (I will be doing this until one of them is old enough to mind) and bought napkins, pots and dessert flags from the supermarket, which has seriously impressed me this summer with its party gear. In the middle of all this flour-tossing and sugar-inhaling we had a disaster: Teddy tripped over and smashed both his lips against a colander he’d taken for personal use. Oh, it bled like the River Styx, dear readers. I was about two soaked flannels away from taking him to A&E, rambling on the phone to NHS Direct with one hand, wiping nameless gunk out of his mouth with the other. In the end it dried up all of a sudden, and he seemed totally fine. So we all changed our clothes, cleaned everything up, and ate some desserts.

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The day after was Henry’s actual birthday. First, a few presents from friends and admirers to open over breakfast.

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Then we did as birthday celebrators do, and went to London. If our great capital consisted solely of a Tube network, and all you did was ride round and round till you were dizzy, he’d still think it was the best day of his life.

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As it was, we also had Shake Shack for lunch, along with a very serious conversation about whether Shake Shack or Five Guys do the better burger. Tim and I come down on opposite sides of this divide, like poor Littlefoot and his grandparents from The Land Before Time, and I’m not sure we will ever bridge the gap. We put a lit candle in his burger, because if you can’t have a burger cake when you’re three, when can you, eh?

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PS, I love Covent Garden. There was a chap dressed up in full costume and paint as the Mad Hatter, drinking tea from vintage crockery, all SUP GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR A TUESDAY.

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We’ve been to the Natural History Museum (‘dinosaur you-see-um’) a few times now, so we thought we’d try the Science Museum this time. He loved it. A word to the wise for parents of toddlers: you need to hit The Garden in the basement (the bit for under-sixes), the cars and planes on the ground floor, and then the Launchpad on the fifth floor (with all the hands-on experiments), and that’s all. Everything else is beyond them, and will only make your feet tired. We discovered this so you don’t have to.

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Know who else was hanging out in the Launchpad that Tuesday? STEPHEN HAWKING. ACTUAL STEPHEN HAWKING. It’s seriously impolite to stare at famous people, I know, but HELLO. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tim run so fast.

Happy belated birthday, Henny-Pen. Sorry I often call you ‘Hen’ in public and in front of people who don’t know your name. It makes you sound like a chicken. I know, I know. You can carry it off.

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Party for one

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I have decided that first birthday parties are the best of all possible parties. Really, they are.

First, the whole thing is basically a happy celebration of the two of you looking after a baby for a year. He grew some inches, he crawls and he’s eating food: you win everything, parents!

Second, the celebratee has no idea what’s going on, so there’s no pressure: no need to go all out with elaborate themes, bouncy castles or housefuls of sugar-hyped children if you don’t fancy it. You can make it exactly what feels comfortable, however big or small that is.

I have years of badly-made costumes and bouncy castle hire ahead of me, I know. But for now I can get by, oh, very happily indeed, on a nice cake, a small crowd and a bit of bunting. I always end up messing around with the bunting some time after midnight the night before — but then, commemorating a year of baby with a night of no sleep has a certain poetic resonance. I have kept many a midnight watch with you, little bear. Let’s do it once more for the memories, eh? And the bunting.

Speaking of, I got this exceedingly simple idea from the marvellous You Are My Fave. I am drawn like a moth to a flame towards things that can be made using only a pair of scissors. If you are the sort of dunce that is intimidated by buying fabric [raises hand], then here’s a tip: go to Hobbycraft, and look for fat quarters. My mother-in-law, who sews, tells me this is A Thing, and not a joke. It’s actually a little selection of small pieces of fabric. Cut them up into strips, tie them on, and hey presto! I kind of want to leave this up all year.

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So much for bunting. For the cake, I made Nigella’s Autumnal Birthday Cake, from her How to be a Domestic Goddess. The title is not terribly self-explanatory, so let me tell you that it is maple syrup cake, with a meringue frosting. WHAT THE. My baking muscles are very rusty, and I started the thing at 11pm with a headache, but it still turned out alright. Because meringue frosting is the business. It keeps its swirly shape exactly, and sets with this slight crackle on top. I left out the nuts and threw in edible glitter. Teddy was a fan, and so was his face.

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(PS, is this where I throw in extra-casually, as per mummy bloggers, that this was Teddy’s first taste of cake and oh my gosh he loved it? Um, no. It’s not true. I have a feeling that will never be true of any of my children.)

Apart from that, I bought straws, nautical napkins and ice cream pots from the supermarket, strung up some photos, and that was it. The punch was a carton of cranberry juice mixed with a bottle of cloudy lemonade, with frozen raspberries floating on the top.

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We ate cold meat and salad brought by our family, then had birthday cake, chocolate fondue, and jelly and ice cream for dessert.  Note to self: find out how jelly moulds are supposed to work. Because right now you don’t know.

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We ate, opened presents and then went to the park. It was a sunny, gentle afternoon, and Mr Birthday had a great time. I have two more days till I have to really think about him outgrowing his babyhood, but for now this was a lovely way to ease us into it. And costumes can wait for another year.

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Party-planning the Pinterest way; or, how to go mad in an hour or less

Today I did that thing I said I would never do, and looked on Pinterest for reals.

I looked initially because I had to research paper globe lanterns for a girls’ camp we’re running in July. Everyone knows that if you want to see paper lanterns in their natural habitat (hyper-decorated parties), then Pinterest is where you look. And then I thought, hmmm. It’s Henry’s birthday in a couple of months. Perhaps I’ll just…

And then an hour later Pinterest spat me back out, with a confusing headful of pom-poms and vintage milk bottles and photobooths and ‘colour palettes’. Oh, my loves, your children have only been on this earth breathing air for twelve months. It’s not like they’re taking note of the date and thinking ‘This time last year, eh? I’d just entered the birth canal. Magic times’. And they’re sure as anything not going to remember the Etsy-purchased hand-sewn garden streamers at their birthday party. One lady started talking about her eleven-month-old’s ‘signature look’. Lawks. In case you’re wondering – and I know you are – Henry’s ‘signature look’ is generally the banana-crusted face. How very Vogue.

So, Pin-drunk, I found myself pondering what I might choose for a theme. Then I remembered that Henry is TEN MONTHS OLD. He doesn’t have favourites, so it’s pointless for me to run with cowboys or trains or pirates. If I were to decorate a room with the things he really loves, I’d fill it with breakable electronics and blown-up photos of Timothy’s face. And if you want to pay me to run with this, I will.

However, there are some things I really want to do for the big one-point-zero in August.

1. Make a good cake. 

I love baking – though I’m not great at it – and Henry loves eating cake, so this seems like a worthwhile thing to do. I watched Martha Stewart (yes, I went there) make this, this morning, and fell in love with it.

But something simpler like this might be better.

I’m a novice when it comes to frosting and frankly, children’s cakes scare me.

2. Invite good company, but not the whole world. 

Someone very wise once told me that, when it comes to birthday parties, a child can cope with the same number of children as their new age. Whatever the number – and given Henry’s cluelessness about the whole thing, I’m more likely to invite people our age as well as his – I’d prefer to keep it small and informal. It’s a big deal to us, but probably not to all of his seventy-six closest baby buddies.

3. Decorate a little, but not a lot. 

More ‘festive and colourful’, less ‘explosion in a bespoke stationery factory’.

4. Take photos, preferably with stupid props.

Because nothing’s more hilarious than making a baby wear something silly, amirite?

The bottom line being: keep it in your comfort zone. Do what will make you all happy for an afternoon, in a setting where you can enjoy being together (which is what you’re celebrating, after all). And probably best to save the extravaganzas for when he’s old enough to remember how fabulous you were.

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