Sunday, December 19, 2010


For Alex’s birthday this week, I continued our tradition of making a special cake from scratch for him. Even though I have no artistic talent, I have tried to decorate birthday cakes that reflect his particular interests or favorites each year. For his first birthday, I copied a picture from a magazine, and the theme was teddy bears sledding, which worked well for his winter birthday since he liked teddy bears. Using a Bundt cake with white frosting to create the snowy hill, I then put icing scarves and mittens on Teddy Graham cookies. Next, I set the teddy bears on Life Savers candies and Fruit Stripe sticks of gum with rolled ends to look like inner tubes and toboggans. When he was little, his birthday cakes revolved around television characters he especially liked. One year I made an Elmo from Sesame Street cake, complete with a tangelo nose. Another year I baked a cake that looked like Arthur from the book series and the PBS cartoon show. When he was a fan of Bugs Bunny, his birthday cake was shaped like a bunny with big ears. The only less-than-successful cake during these early years was a Barney the dinosaur cake in which I dyed coconut purple to look like Barney’s fur. Although Alex was pleased with the cake, Ed remarked that Barney looked as though he’d rolled around in the lint trap of the dryer. The coconut had not dyed well, and it did look like lint. However, the cake did taste good.

Shortly before Alex’s seventh birthday, we discovered that he had sensitivities to glutens and caseins, which meant that I had to learn to bake without wheat flour and milk products. Fortunately, I discovered a fantastic recipe for yellow cake in one of Carol Fenster’s allergy cookbooks that is made with gluten-free flours and without milk products. Not only does the cake have a nice, light texture, but its flavor is delicious, enhanced by the addition of orange or lemon flavor. With Pillsbury or Duncan Hines vanilla frosting, which is gluten-free and dairy-free, the cake is easy to make and decorate. By that time, Alex was less interested in cartoon characters and more interested in vehicles, so his cakes were in the shape of a school bus or NASCAR race cars. After buying a Wilton NASCAR cake pan, I was able to make cars easily without having to cut the cake into the right shapes. One year, Alex had a Mark Martin AAA race car, and another year he had a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. AMP energy drink car. Both cars were made from the same pan; I just changed the details by making the different logos with icing.

Besides characters and cars, Alex’s birthday cakes have also reflected his favorite activities and games. Not surprisingly, with his love of math, one of his all-time favorite cakes was the calculator cake, which was one of the easiest to make since it was just a rectangle with candy numbers positioned on icing “buttons.” Another year, I took a round cake, iced it with white frosting, and drew red laces with gel icing to make a baseball cake for him. A square cake divided into sections became a Monopoly game board for a birthday cake the year he loved playing Monopoly on the computer as well as the traditional board game. Alex usually mentions the slot machine cake as one of his favorites. That year he had become interested in casino games, especially slot machines, so I decorated a rectangular cake and added a handle to make it look realistic. This year, I decided to try something different and made him cupcakes sprinkled with red sugar and placed them on a red three-tiered tray. Of course, his favorite color right now is red, so he was pleased with how this “cake” looked. As I lit all nineteen candles, I was pleased knowing that unlike when he was little and had oral motor issues, he could blow out his candles. For several years, he was unable to blow out his birthday candles; mastering this task was a big milestone for him. He is proud that he can do this seemingly simple task by himself without needing us to help him extinguish the candle flames, and we see this annual ritual as a reminder of the progress he’s made with each passing birthday, thankful for the improvements that have occurred over the years.

“Present a cake from the first of the flour you grind, and set it aside as a sacred offering, as you do with the first grain from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come, you are to present a sacred offering to the Lord each year from the first of your ground flour.” Numbers 15:20-21

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