Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The One Where I Rave About My Son's Birthday And Also Swear Way Too Much

The birthday thing was not entirely unexpected (oddly enough last year he turned one at this exact same time) yet still The Day seemed to creep up and take me by surprise, shouting loudly in my ears, stamping on my school shoes, and then running away, laughing meanly.

And so, plans were made for a party for Tricky and toddler pals. This in turn meant horrible night sweats for Mumma and waking in panic over THE BIRTHDAY CAKE.


Last year, my sister in law N made the birthday cake and it was a triumph. The N does not stand for "Nigella" but frankly it may just as well. She used a Nigella Lawson recipe (as she does for all the birthday cakes for all her children) featuring the magical ingredient buttermilk which made it more robustly able to bear the weight of what appeared to be a tonne of bright red icing and several gazillion Smarties. This was then scoffed by everyone and in the case of the adult friends present, washed down with beakers of champagne.

It was, we all agreed, a simply marvelous party.


But that was a year ago and now my sister in law is gainfully employed and totally run off her feet and so if there was going to be home made Nigella Birthday Cake for Tricky the finger bun was pointing well and truly at me.


But see I don't make cakes.

Well I have made some extremely heavy fruit cakes, suitable for diabetics and people with MS who are not supposed to eat saturated fats, but certainly not things containing an entire stick of unsalted butter that must be creamed with half a sack of castor sugar.

I did toy briefly with the idea of buying a cake but the cloying chemical scent of a bought caramel mudcake which C purchased for my own birthday celebration (one of the three such events) was still lingering in my senses.

No, I told myself sternly. There is a well thumbed copy of The Domestic Goddess just waiting for me on the shelf downstairs. There are traditions in place, sacred rituals, and how rare is that in our secular, busy, just-buy-the-frigging-cake-mentality lives? And also, bearing in mind my current wrestles with Nietzsche, what would he say on the matter? Surely he would encourage me to climb that Nigella Cake Mountain?

And so, on the afternoon before The Day, I set aside my actual proper paid employment despite the fact that I am under the Deadline Hammer and had two murders, a mass drowning, an unhappy wife and a stalking barista to whip into submission ( that's right Nigella, try licking your pouty lips over that little recipe), placed All My Ingredients on the bench and took down Her Book.

Thence began The Muttering. I know about the muttering because my brother in law was working in the room next to the kitchen and he could hear me the whole time. Apparently it went like this:

Ok ok ok….plain flour, yes yes, big eggs, got them, vanilla extract, ha yes, castor sugar, butter milk, bi carb, bi carb, bi carb, baking pow......der. ...oh no...castor sugar, castor sugar...how much?...that's nowhere near enough....god! No No No!

Muttering briefly stops while I dash down to the corner stop for more castor sugar.

Muttering continues as above until I manage to compact the wussy beater thingys of the hand held mixer with hardened butter and sugar.

As the motor overheats I rush into brother in law’s room because, being married to N, he will surely have absorbed some cake-making wisdom via osmosis if not actual cooking practice. Luckily K has both and I learn that when one creams butter and sugar together one is aiming for a light fluffy cream like consistency, nothing like the greasy mess I am now waving about hysterically in the air.

At some point in the day C arrives home which is good as once the butter and sugar is properly creamed it has to be added to the sieved flour/baking powder mixture and alternating with the buttermilk/vanilla extract mixture and FOR FUCKS SAKE NIGELLA I ONLY HAVE TWO HANDS.

But finally, finally the cake is cooked and looks quite presentable.

Cut to next morning when C and I now have to do more butter/sugar madness to create delightful ‘butter icing’.

Except Nigella, whom I am beginning to hate, has thoughtfully not bothered to include the actual method of making butter icing in her book. She has the ingredients and some wonderfully charming anecdote about Barbie’s bosoms or somesuch but it seems that butter icing is like breathing or indeed breast feeding (ha bloody ha) and everyone is born knowing how to do it.

Eventually we do discover how to do it and yes it is easy but how much stress would we have avoided if she had just thoughtfully included these six simple words:


And now we must put aside our cake making hat and put on our cake decorator floppy beret.

A word on birthday cake decoration and shape. The Naughty Nephews kindly took me through both versions of the Women’s Weekly Cake Decorating Book and pointed out all their fabulous birthday cakes of the past: the train, the rocket ship, the caterpillar, the Sydney Opera House, the great fucking wall of China (some slight exaggeration here).

Yea verily they are all brilliant but require much sculpting and shaping and scalpel precision type shaving of the very cake that one has already lost sleep over the making thereof. Also, it seems, one needs a shitload of coloured popcorn and chocolate biscuits to adhere to the sides.

So the shape I decided on was a T.

And simple though that shape may appear, even this required C and I to sit down with pieces of paper and ruler and scissors and tumbler of whiskey, cutting and recutting, sipping and resipping, just to create a template that would ensure the correct T shape.

The next decision to be made was colour.

Last year was red. This year….what?
We could go blue or green or take a cake out of Nigella’s tea tray and go white on white. (Except of course we wouldn’t because that’s just ridiculous) In the end I decided to follow on with a theme (ie the chakras) and go for orange. This means that while last year’s cake honoured the base chakra ie the genitals, this year’s moved up the ladder a bit and would honour the bowel.

In years to come we shall go through things like heart(green) and throat(blue) chakras and eventually hit the final third eye/top of the head chakra (one or t’other, I’m a bit sloppy with the boundaries). The obvious benefit of basing your child’s cake on chakras is that the first seven years’ colours are pre-determined, all the way up to… violet.

Just to cover my bases I had a few weeks back bought every possible variety of food colouring, sprinkle shapes(including stars, moons, dinosaurs, flowers and internal organs) roll out ready made icing, tubes of garish ‘write on’ icing, little candy animal faces, smarties and mini marshmallows.

C did the icing, based on his experience with plaster rendering (which he declared to be easier) and I did the decorating based on my impatience.

At last we were done. A proper birthday cake, made from a Nigella book, iced orange, studded with smarties and marshmallows and decorated with a plastic tiger.

We gazed at it with almost as much pride as we had first gazed at Tricky and I looked at the enormous amount of left over butter icing and felt a sudden surge of Nigella directed energy and then immediately whipped up my sleeves and DASHED OFF TWO DOZEN NIGELLA FAIRY CAKES.

I added extra colouring to the orange icing and ended up with a plate of lurid pink and camouflage green cupcakes. Sadly this is the only proof I have that they existed.

This story began as a stressful and worrying experience but ended happily with eight bottles of champagne and seven home delivered Turkish pides many hours later after the children had been put to bed.

And I realised that Nietzsche was right all along with the mountain and the suffering and what makes the most fulfilling experiences and the good things coming from bad. And he was almost right about alcohol being the scourge of civilization and how we should all just avoid it like the plague except miraculously, the next day, apart from a slight seediness, there was NO HANGOVER.

It was, simply, a marvelous party.




Anonymous said...

What a Fabulous cake!
I went to culinary school for 2.5 years and I love to bake, but I will never ever be compared to Nigella. I swear she must have her kids helping her in the kitchen, (that would SO not work in my house)or perhaps she has more than the standard issue two hands.

I'm so happy that T's birthday was a smash and my God, does he get cuter every.single.day??

Betty F said...

GREAT Story! The cake is adorable! Tricky is precious!

Rebecca said...

Congrats on the cake, great stuff! Not too mention fairy cakes too. I found a great website with lots of kids' cakes on, most far too complicated for me to attempt, but - intimidating as they may sound - both the rocket and the pirate ship are dead easy and look great. One for next year! http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/special/specialfeature/cakefinder-birthday/

Jess said...

*standing up and clapping at this post*

'Beat the fuck out of it' - sage words, my friend, sage words!


Mima said...

That sounds like a major achievement, and if you have never done baking, then it really is an experience never to be forgotten. It also works in a really clever way, as when they are little, they don't really notice what the cake looks like, they just want to eat it, giving you a chance to practice as the years go by in order to produce something even more fancy next year!!

Very impressed that you made fairy cakes as well, a seriously culinary afternoon! I haven't had a fairy cake for years and have such good memories of them!

Grit said...

bravo! and tricky will now expect encore!

granny p said...

OF COURSE there had to be champagne - trumpets besides...you made the first letter anyway.

Not only Tricky but Lucky - and didn't HE look yummy too.

Em said...

How wonderful! Sounds like an awesome party. V. impressed!

Anonymous said...

Thankfully, the man bakes in this house. I don't think I'd be up for the challenge.

Beautifully done...

Unknown said...

Happy Birthday to Tricky!

A tardy, but nonetheless heartfelt, congratulations to you all (just don't seem to find the time to post comments - slack I know, but true).

LL said...

Yay... well done OG... very impressive indeed.

Maggie May said...

That was a very good looking cake & Tricky seemed to be enjoying it immensely!
Hope he had a very happy time!

lucky #2 said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the cake!!! Happy memories all around.

Betty M said...

Belated Happy Birthday Tricky!

Cool cake. I have found that it doesn't matter to the cake one little bit if the creaming of the butter and sugar goes wrong.

Nico said...

Brilliant cake OG! You've set the bar quite high, I must say.

And Oh. Do I miss Smarties!!! These M&M things the Americans have are just not the same!

Linda said...

It's a beautiful cake! Well done, you. And good on you for persevering in spite of it all. You should be very proud!