Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why I Make Birthday Cake For My Kids

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on less than $10/day.

After all, my homemade cakes aren't exactly stunners.

And sometimes it feels like kids care more about frosting color than actual taste anyway.

And everyone who's ever hosted a birthday party knows that several of the kids take one or two bites and leave the rest (which is one of those delightfully healthy kid habits that we never give them credit for because it drives us absolutely bonkers).

And while a basic and delicious cake can be cheaper than a boxed one (think wacky cake), the cakes I make probably aren't even always cost efficient (think pounds of frosting).

So why do I take a couple hours out of an already busy day to dust off the cake pans and put something in them. 

Because my mother made homemade cakes for us. This meant something to me as a child. She asked what we wanted. We could make a demand (um, okay, I'm sure we made many and not just on our birthdays, but on this day with our cakes it was allowed, encouraged even. We got to choose the cake type and shape and Mom would make it). And even at that age, I had knew that Mom's cakes tasted better than store-bought ones. Even when they didn't turn out quite right. And sometimes they didn't.

Mom's homemade cakes had more, um, personality than other cakes. Sometimes (like that butterfly one, remember it Mom?) they were utterly perfect in both beauty and taste. Sometimes they were awesome and then someone (like maybe me, but I'm not admitting anything) sort of smashed an edge when the cake was in the car and turned them sort of less than perfect (sorry about that Wonder Woman cake, Rebecca). And sometimes Mom's cakes had so very very much personality that some might have called them a little, um, special. We may or may not have had a few years of jokes about ugly cakes. But they sure tasted good.

Yes, my mother could have slapped a store-bought cake down on the table and it would have been a definite rectangle and the colors would have been piped on just perfectly. And it would have tasted just exactly like the last store-bought cake that I got the year before. Yeah, that's just not for me. I'll take the lopsided thing that's trying to be held up by the long toothpicks and is nevertheless flopping over enough that the coconut icing is sort of slipping off. And then I'll stick a finger in that icing and you better believe I'll love every lick. Those cakes taught me a lesson too. They taught me that things given in love don't have to be perfect to be just right. 

Which is part of the reason that food means something. And food does mean something. It means something to me to make a cake. And it means something to my kids to receive a cake, even though they can't yet put that thing into words. It gives us things to remember. It gives us things to enjoy. It gives us things to laugh about or tell stories about. It is one of the avenues through which we can communicate to those for whom we care. It is not the only avenue. If you hate making cakes, or if you need to simplify a truly crazy birthday, this post isn't about how you should feel guilty and absolutely always make a homemade cake. It's definitely not the only avenue to meaning in life or birthdays. Maybe you like to throw awesome parties, or spend special time with your child/loved one, or visit Grandma's house, or buy a knock down gift, or whatever. This post isn't meant to impose guilt or extra must-do's. It's merely a jaunt down my cakey cakey road. And who wouldn't want to take a jaunt down a cakey cakey road.

Which brings me to my final point. I really love making cakes. I especially love making them for people I care about. I love the ritual of getting out the bowls, the pans, the flour, sugar, cocoa. I love the smell, look, and texture of a homemade cake. I love their imperfections (unless they're dry; then I weep). I love their dings and those places you have to fill with frosting. I love that things given in love don't have to be perfect to be just right. 

Thank you, Mom. And Happy Birthday, Mark.


  1. A very eloquent summary of my feelings about birthday cakes (and birthdays)! I always do a little cost:appreciation ratio in my mind when I am making a special cake, but then I still like to do it because mom did and it meant something to me!

  2. Just think of how much you're saving by not buying a pre-made cake. You get one with butter and cocoa instead of soy oil and undisclosed cocoa flavoring.



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