Posts tagged ‘birthdays’

Eight Things About Eight

It looks the same upside down and right side up.

On its side, it’s the symbol for infinity.

It’s a power of 2.

It’s a homophone (remember the old joke, Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven ate nine.)

It’s a Fibonacci number.

It’s the number of notes in an octave.

It’s the number of planets in the solar system (sorry, Pluto, we still miss you).

It’s the age of my firstborn son. Happy birthday, Ben!

image credit

The Stuffies’ Birthday Party

Bedtime was not going well.

I’d already marched down the hall three times to put an (albeit temporary) end to the boys’ conversations and waited through Eli’s long explanation for why he was still up: it was the stuffies. Moosie goes to bed at 8:30, he explained, but Bunny stays up till 9 and Ringo the lemur is a night owl with an 11:00 bedtime. Eli wanted to keep Ringo company, but his chatting was bothering his brother and driving me to distraction. I was at the end of my rope when Eli held up Moosie.

“Mama?” said Eli-as-Moosie.

“Moosie, I can’t hear it!” I snapped. “You’ve been talking way too much tonight! It’s bedtime!” (You know it’s bad when you’re shouting at stuffed animals.)

Eli crumpled and started to cry.

“Oh, Eli,” I said, instantly chastened. “Please don’t cry. Tell me what Moosie wanted to say, just this one more thing, and then we all need to stop talking and go to bed, ok?”

Well. I should have known that given an opening, Eli would jump right in.

Through his tears, Eli told me it was Moosie’s birthday, and we had forgotten. We hadn’t done any of the special things we’ve done during the recent run of birthdays: Ben’s in March, Tony’s in April, and Eli’s just last week. We hadn’t hung the birthday letters, nor baked a cake and served it on the family-heirloom musical cake plate. There had been no special breakfast, no gifts, no singing. As Eli spoke, Ben sat up, his annoyance gone, and started to chime in along with me, trying to comfort Eli.

We would celebrate Moosie’s belated birthday (Ben helpfully explained to his little brother what “belated” means). We sang Happy Birthday right then, to make Moosie feel better, but we would sing it again in the morning. We would hang the birthday letters and set out some treats. And we would celebrate Bunny’s birthday, too. Bit by bit, Eli’s tears stopped and his sniffling slowed. Both boys were excited (but not too excited) about our celebratory plans. They snuggled back down in their beds. They stopped talking.

When Tony got home from his meeting, he set to work making cut-outs of Moosie and Bunny. I got out the cake plate, a relic of Tony’s childhood, and set it with small bowls of peanuts and carrots. We felt silly and indulgent, but why not? It doesn’t take much to provoke a smile, to send a kid to bed with happy dreams, and this was one of those times it felt pretty easy to say yes to a happy, silly plan.

The next morning, Eli announced it was Ringo the lemur’s birthday, too, and that Ringo likes to snack on eucalyptus leaves. With some quick work, we expanded the celebration to include Ringo (Eli need never know those were bay leaves in the lemur’s bowl). When Eli saw it, he grinned broadly, and then sat the stuffies right down to enjoy their birthday snacks. Luckily, nobody asked for any presents.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

I can’t believe that with all my cake posts in various places I haven’t written about this cake yet, from the Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame in Nigella Lawson’s Feast. It takes about five minutes to get into the oven, is rich, chocolatey, but not too sweet, and (perhaps my favorite feature) it is an excellent vehicle for lots and lots of cream cheese frosting.

For the cake:
Butter for pan
1 c Guinness stout
10 T (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/4 c unsweetened cocoa
2 c superfine sugar
3/4 c sour cream
2 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t baking soda

For the topping:
1 1/4 c confectioners’ sugar
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. (I seem only to have 8 1/2″ and 9 1/2″ springforms, but the 8 1/2″ works just fine)

In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.

In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture.

Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth.

Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.

Meanwhile, make the topping:
Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners’ sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.

Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand.

Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.


Lucky 7

Ben’s been doing a lot of “greater than/less than” (>/<) exercises in school lately, so in honor of his birthday:
7 kinds of airplanes for which he knows the technical specifications

< 7 hours of labor (it actually felt more like 7 minutes) < 7 nights I have been away from him > 7 kinds of airplanes for which he knows the technical specifications

> 7 plane rides this past year

> 7 times a day he will happily build and rebuild the Lego mail plane I brought him from Chicago

< 7 items on his birthday party menu (he'd like to serve cupcakes, raspberries, kumquats, milk, water and orange juice) > 7 x 7 to the 7th that I love him.

edited to add: I am blogging about birthday cake over at Learning to Eat.

Best. Cake. Ever.

I had to pause a little bit when my friend offered to make Eli’s birthday cake this year–after all, I do kind of like to bake cakes. But then I recovered myself and said, of course! Besides, she wasn’t offering to make just any cake.

Whoah,” said Eli.


Chocolate Birthday Cake

This year, Ben requested a chocolate cake with white chocolate frosting and raspberry frosting. I was a little dubious (not being a huge white chocolate fan) but I bought good white chocolate (which is flavorful, not just sweet) and the cake turned out great. The frosting was not as bright pink as in the drawing Ben made to guide our efforts, but he was well pleased with the result.

This is what we did…

The cake is the Rich Chocolate Cake from The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook. It’s a good, easy recipe– no separating eggs, no fussiness–and it tastes delicious.

3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 1/2 c brown sugar
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature)
1 c sour cream (I used plain yogurt), at room temperature
3 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1 c water

Line the bottoms of two 9×2-inch round cake pans with parchment. Preheat the oven to 350.

Melt the chocolate and cool till tepid.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the butter and sour cream or yogurt and beat into a thick batter. Add the eggs, melted chocolate and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add the water slowly and mix just until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, spread evenly, and bake 30-35 minutes, until the tops spring back when pressed lightly in the centers and a tester comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the cooling racks. Peel off the parchment, put it back on the cakes, sticky side up, then invert the cakes again to get them right side up. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

To make the filling:

2 1/4 oz white chocolate, chopped
3/4 c confectioners’ sugar
1/8 c milk
1/4 t vanilla extract
3 T unsalted butter, softened
pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate and let cool. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl. Stir in the milk and vanilla. Add the butter and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in the melted chocolate.
Use to spread between the layers of the cooled cake.

To make the frosting:
(Vanilla buttercream is delicious but finicky, so I always make cream cheese frosting…)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 T unsalted butter, softened
2 T vanilla
1 c confectioners’ sugar
1/2 c raspberry jam (or more to taste), pressed through a sieve (optional, if you want to make raspberry frosting)

Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar and beat until creamy. Stir in the raspberry jam. Now frost the cake!

Now We Are Six

Six years ago today, I was sitting at my desk emailing with my writing students. It was Sunday night, around 11 pm, but they were all on line and a little freaked out that–despite plenty of warning (and the daily evidence of my growing belly)–I wasn’t going to finish out the quarter with them. The previous Friday, at my 38-week check-up, my ob had put an end to my two-hour daily commute. I went on maternity leave without ever returning to campus.

So there I was, typing away, when I realized my water had broken. I logged off with the students, emailed a quick note to my department chair, and called my ob’s answering service, where a weary nurse listened to my nervous answers to her questions about my symptoms (none, other than the water breaking), told me get some sleep and call back in the morning.

Tony emailed his new boss (he’s only been in the job about two weeks), and started packing a bag. He tossed in the Sunday paper and a crossword puzzle book — apparently we thought we’d run out of things to do in the hospital. We didn’t know anything yet about how all-consuming (and yet often quite boring) parenting can be. The cradle wasn’t set up, the car seat was in the car but we didn’t know how to use it. I went to sleep.

A couple hours later I woke up with a contraction, announced the news to Tony, and went back to sleep. A few hours after that I had a contraction that about kicked me out of bed. I spent the next hour or so moaning, counting down the time until we could reasonably go to the hospital. We were both so afraid of getting to the hospital too early; it had been drummed into us to wait until the contractions were a certain duration and coming at certain intervals. Mine were totally irregular and knocking me off my feet. I felt pathetic that I couldn’t handle them. Tony called the hospital and told them we were coming in.

We got to the hospital around 7:30 and the nurse who examined me said I was fully dilated. I could have kissed her. Suddenly full of energy, I managed to get through the admitting procedures and get into a room before pushing Ben out into the world just after 9.

Ben likes to hear the story of the day he was born when he is falling asleep or feeling sad, and this is the version I tell him:

“When you were in my belly I was a teacher. Every day I would drive to a school with long brick pathways and big green lawns. I carried a heavy backpack, bigger than yours, full of papers and books, from my office to my classroom. My students and I would talk about books together, and I would help them write essays about what they read.

“Until one day, my doctor said, ‘I think your baby’s going to be born soon. I think it’s time for you to stop working.’ So that day I went to the movies. And the next day, Daddy and I visited with a lot of our friends and told them how excited we were to meet you. That night, I felt you start to kick and wiggle in a new way, and I called my doctor, who told me to wait until morning to come to the hospital. So I went to sleep.

“But you kept kicking and wiggling until I couldn’t sleep anymore, so Daddy and I got up and he drove us to the hospital super fast. We parked the car and rode upstairs in the elevator, and when we got off the elevator, the nurse said, “You look great!” because nurses love to see a woman who’s about to have a baby.

“She took me to my hospital room, and helped me into my hospital nightgown, and I climbed into my hospital bed, and I pushed and I pushed and I pushed and out you came! And you had your arms spread wide, and I reached out to cuddle you up, and I said, “Benjamin! Benjamin is here! I am so happy that Benjamin is here.”

And I am still so happy that Benjamin is here.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

I’m forever tearing new recipes out of magazines and needing excuses to try them out, so baking birthday cakes for people I love — even if they aren’t here to share the cake — is one of the ways I work through the inventory.

This is a buttermilk caramel cake from the recent Gourmet. The cake is light and not too sweet; the caramel topping (and you know I’m all about candymaking right now) is easy and delicious. I think Dad would like it a lot. Ben and Eli certainly liked helping to make it, almost as much as they liked helping to eat it.

So happy birthday, Dad, and maybe next year we’ll be together on your birthday; for now, a picture will have to do.

Thirty, Forty

Tony, who’s easier with numbers than anyone I know, likes to quote thirtysomething’s Miles Drentell: “the decimalization of time is so arbitrary.”


And yet, with Eli having just learned to count to 10, and Ben interested in Really Big Numbers (“What’s a trillion times a billion?”), and of course my recent milestone birthday, I’m thinking a lot about numbers lately. So here I go:

30: I throw a party for myself with a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake (yum).
40: Tony organizes cocktails at the Top of the Mark and dinner at the Slanted Door with 7 other couples (some of whom, I’m happy to note, were at that 30th birthday party). I’m amazed we can all get babysitting. On my actual birthday, my sister makes me a delicious chocolate layer cake (the ganache alone uses nearly a pound of chocolate).

30: I’ve just met Tony (who meets most of my friends at that birthday party).
40: We’ve been married 7 years.

30: I’m just starting to write my dissertation.
40: I’ve just received the contract for my first book.

30: I haven’t any publications (but do have increasing anxiety about that as I wind up graduate school).
40: I’ve got my PhD (and no academic job), a regular column, one publication and a couple more forthcoming.

30: I have a niece (my goddaughter), a newborn nephew, and two close friends with kids.
40: I have Ben, Eli, and the more than dozen kids in our babysitting co-op, plus the niece and nephew, whom we visit as often as possible.

30: I’m renting a comfortable 2-bedroom apartment in North Berkeley with a grad school colleague.
40: I co-own a comfortable 4-bedroom home in San Francisco.

30: I’ve just started running.
40: No marathons or big running achievements, just the knowledge that running keeps me healthy, so I get out there two or three times a week for a run toward the ocean, into the park, or through the neighborhood.

30: I count my many blessings, happy to be out of my messy twenties.
40: I’m still counting my blessings, looking forward to what this next decade will bring.

Two Already? Two, Already. Two Already!

It’s taken me a few days to post about Eli’s birthday because after celebrating the day thoroughly and well (a party with many good friends and cupcakes; a party with just the four of us and a chocolate layer cake), the wheels sort of came off the cart there for a couple days.

First, there was the dislocated elbow–totally my fault–this has happened to both boys before; I should know by now they are too heavy for their loose ligaments and it doesn’t do to swing them around by their hands. Luckily it doesn’t take more than a minute at the doctor to pop the elbow back in place, and it doesn’t seem to hurt a whole lot either. (Or else Eli is just a big stoic). But still, you know, the guilt…

Then came the disintegration of the lovey blanket, which we’ve been watching for some time now, but couldn’t figure out quite how to address. Well, I bought a spare lovey, but I didn’t think that was really going to be acceptable, so it’s been sitting in the closet. And then yesterday morning the patch, the label that he particularly loves, came off the lovey. I put it in my pocket for safe-keeping, while I tried to come up with a repair plan.

Not an hour later, Eli went to his blanket, as he does periodically throughout the day, and started turning, turning, turning it, looking for the patch. I watched a moment, unsure, and then pulled it from my pocket and offered it to him. He stared at it, wide-eyed, then looked at me and burst into tears. He wailed. He cried the big, gasping sobs of a child whose puppy has just died.

I thought he was going to hyperventilate, or throw up. I have never seen either of my boys cry so long and so hard. He wept for a solid hour, until Ben (bless him, such a guy sometimes) picked his head up from his intricate drawing and came over to assess the situation: Eli sobbing, me ineffectually trying to distract or comfort him.

“Hey, little bear,” Ben said, “Can I read you a book?”

Eli paused, just long enough for Ben to decide that reading was probably a good idea, and so he began, and Eli listened, hiccuping a bit, and slowly calming down.

I kept the spare lovey in the closet. Turns out Tony can sew well enough, and he restored the patch to its former spot on the blanket, with a few extra, reinforcing stitches.

And Eli has had a taste of a couple life lessons (pain, disappointment, loss), but happily just toddler size portions of these lessons. I think the taste of chocolate cake is probably still stronger.