Tangled was last year's Frozen in our household, even though Stacey was just 3. It was one of her first movies, and she fell in love with Rapunzel, just like all the other little girls that saw it. It didn't seem to have quite the marketing power behind it like Frozen does this year, but it is a total delight to watch. [Related: Did you hear the theory that these Disney movies are in cahoots? That sure does look like Rapunzel's haircut!] [Also related: Why does everything circle back to Frozen for me these days??]
Anyway, when Stacey turned four last June, I had been baking cakes semi-seriously for a couple years at that point, and I was feeling ready to tackle something pretty big for her birthday. Four is still a bit early to be forming long-term memories, but I felt like a big, fun cake might start to build the foundation for the memories yet to be created in her childhood and beyond.
I have a flashbulb memory about a cake that my mom made when I was little (and thanks to Psych 101, I also have a flashbulb memory of learning about flashbulb memory). Since my brother and I share summer birthdays, my mom had the brilliant idea one year for us to have a shared birthday party. We must have been turning 6 and 8, or right around that age. I don't remember being terribly thrilled about sharing a birthday party with my brother, but I do remember understanding that a shared birthday party meant a bigger, better party than I ever would have gotten on my own.
This party was at a skating rink in San Antonio, where we lived at the time. It was the early 80s, the heyday of roller rinks. This was a Big Deal to me.
And the cake. Oh, the glorious cake. Our mom made us an alligator cake, cut out of rectangular sheet cakes, piped with millions of tiny green stars with what must have been Wilton's 16 star tip. And he had candy corn teeth. I wanted those teeth most of all, but I don't think I got a piece with those candy corn teeth.
I wish I had a picture of that cake. I wonder what it would look like in comparison with the picture in my memory.
But back to where I was going with this, don't we all have memories and pictures of ourselves with our cakes? Pictures of our tiny, adorable toddler selves with our earliest birthday cakes, pictures of our painfully awkward teenage selves with our first boy-girl birthday cakes, pictures of our (nearly) grown-up selves with our wedding cakes, pictures of our gracefully aging selves with all those birthday cakes that span the decades of our lives?
Cakes help us mark our milestones. And cakes that are made and served with love are the best kind of cakes in the world.
I truly adore making cakes for friends and family, and I feel strangely honored and humbled when one of my cakes gets to be a part of a special celebration, because I feel like the cake is an integral, intimate piece of the day. I have always felt like this, even before I started this semi-serious baking hobby.
Before Jennifer Julie Cakes existed, my cakes (like so many people's) were simple Duncan Hines affairs, straight from a box mix and a can of whipped frosting.
I remember baking Stacey's 1st birthday cake ON her birthday. It was a Friday night, and we had invited Andrew's folks to dinner to celebrate her birthday (or, in my mind, to celebrate our new little family surviving that first year). I hadn't had the wherewithal to bake ahead of time, so after a stressful Friday at work, we rolled into the house at 6pm, and I threw a Duncan Hines cake in the oven.
But even though it was late, and even though I had company waiting, I was bound and determined to bake her first birthday cake. I wasn't about to give up that privilege just because I had had a long week.
I barely had time to let the cake cool before it was time to eat, so I plastered on a can of frosting (and sadly watched it melt around the sides of a cake still warm from the oven), and scribbled on Happy Birthday with one of those gel icing tubes. Look at that blobby B from where there was a bubble in the icing tube!
But after I pulled myself together, that's when the magic took over.
As it turns out, it didn't matter.
It was my girl's first birthday, and she was having her first taste of cake. Cake that I had made. We had all survived that first year, and we were all going to be just fine.
For her second birthday, Stacey requested a pink piggy cake. Here he his, with his little ear falling off and being supported by toothpicks:
Some of us sew our kids Halloween costumes. Some of us read favorite books ad nauseam. Some of us spring for live princess actresses to come to our kids' birthday parties. Some of us build our kids treehouses. Some of us hand-paint furniture for our kids' rooms. Some of us pick the nicest present we can afford. And some of us make our kids cakes.