Ice Cream Cake that Gets the Job Done

March 1st, 2012 · 25 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

When I was in first grade, I remember my teacher handing me a notebook. Its cover was made of brown craft paper, and a piece of black fabric wrapped around the stitched spine. She distributed one to every student in class saying something about how we could use it as a journal or a workbook — whatever we wanted! This was about as exciting as it got for me, and almost instantly I had a creative vision. I am going to draw a sabre tooth tiger on the first page of this beautiful blank notebook. I don’t know why it called to me like that — why do any of these ideas ever call to us? — but I could picture it exactly, right down to the green eyes and sinister curly fangs. I grabbed some black and orange markers and began outlining my creation with the confidence of Henri Matisse. By the time I had finished, it resembled a forest fire way more than a mammal. It looked nothing like what I had pictured in my head.

This wasn’t the last time I’d be disappointed by the poor execution of what I felt was clearly a brilliant idea. As an editor often responsible for both conceptualizing a story idea and then figuring out the best way to tell that story, it took me a long time to learn how to prevent the inevitable letdown. But as a baker, I have yet to figure out how to reconcile the two processes. This past weekend, when my newly turned ten-year-old begged and begged me to make a homemade ice cream cake for her birthday, I pictured this in my head. And at some point I think I called up this beauty, too. But there were so many steps and instructions! And they both seemed so complicated and intimidating! They involved baking cakes the night before. Freezing. Thawing ice cream to an exact spreadable consistency. Freezing again. Thawing before serving. I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to follow their recipes by the letter, so after a feeble attempt at convincing her to order something from Carvel, I decided to just wing it and follow Phoebe’s vision. She would like five layers: one layer mint chip ice cream, one layer chocolate ice cream, a layer of crushed Oreos, and two layers of frozen chocolate cake in there somewhere. I followed her orders to the best of my abilities, but the cake broke into a million pieces before I could even start layering. And I didn’t have enough ice cream. And then the five layers of cake and ice cream sorta ended up mushing together to make one. That is why you are only looking at only the top — which, I thought came out kinda nice. Is it going to cause a pinning frenzy on Pinterest or garner a tweet from Joy the Baker? (Whose book is out, btw.) No chance. But after the celebration, Phoebe said her birthday cake was exactly what she had pictured in her head…and that it was the best cake she’d ever had. (more…)

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Sayonara Seven

November 2nd, 2011 · 41 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Favorites

Day Before the Eighth Birthday

Abby: Mom, I don’t want it to be my birthday.

Mom: What? Why not?

Abby: Because then it will be over and I’ll have to wait a whole ‘nother year for it to come again.

We have this same conversation every year — which is amazing to me, because between the classroom doughnuts, the annual restaurant-picking ritual, the party with friends, and the cousins-and-grandparents get-together, we seem to be celebrating Abby’s birthday all year long. All year long, it’s on her mind. “Where should my party be this year?” she’ll ask on New Year’s. “What restaurant are we going to on the night of my birthday?” she’ll ask in the middle of her sister’s February birthday dinner. “What should the theme of my party be?” She asked when I picked her up from camp one day in July.

I don’t want to pretend that this is hard work. All of us got into picking the theme this time, submitting our best proposals to the Birthday Boss.

How about an “almost-sleepover” party?
Too babyish.
An upside down party?
A British tea party?
Too girly.
A soccer party?
Not all my friends play soccer.
secret agent party, like Phoebe’s 9th?
We did that already.
A Drive-by Truckers party?

We wracked our brains. What did Abby love more than anything else in the world. More than her LaLaLoopsy dolls, more than Lemony Snicket, more than flying down a soccer sideline?

Once Andy threw out Japan as a theme we wondered what took us so long to get there. Abby’s idea of happiness has always been miso soup, shrimp shumai, and chicken teriyaki, followed by a private screening of Totoro.

Here’s what we ended up doing…

Candy Sushi! For twelve girls I made two sheets of Rice Krispie Treats, cutting them into round and square sushi-size pieces. Then I proceeded to load two trays (one for each side of the table) with some world-class junk: Swedish fish, gummy worms, jelly beans, Airhead Extremes (the rainbows), Dots, chewy Now-and-Laters, green Fruit-by-the-Foot (which stood in for the seaweed and is truly, hideously repulsive), and sour peach strips that were a dead ringer for ginger. (I think as I type this a week and a half later, the girls are just now coming off their sugar rush.) To make things a little easier for everyone — I chopped up a bunch of the candy into bite size pieces so they’d fit nicely on or around the rice patties. (more…)

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The First Annual Dolly Awards

March 4th, 2011 · 13 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

In case you haven’t noticed — it’s awards season! I’d like to thank the Academy for reminding me how remiss I’ve been at following my #1 Get-Fired Resolution. (“See more matinees.”) And to the folks who handed out Michelin stars in France earlier this week — thank you! I can now afford to dream about all the cafes in the Latin Quarter where I might someday dine with my children. I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude to Babble who, through their Top 100 Mom Food Blogs Awards (Please See: #4!!!!) reminded me….there are a lot of Mom Food Bloggers out there. (Wow!) Anyway, all this blue-ribboning made me think — don’t you find it troubling that there’s no higher institution to turn to when, say, you are looking for The Best Movie to Put on For The Kids During a Dinner Party That Would Elicit a What a great choice! From The Parent Dinner Guests? Search no more, the First Annual DALS Awards are here! And are so prestigious that in certain circles — or around certain circular dinner tables — they have already garnered a cool little nickname: “The Dollys!” So with no further ado…

Best Kitchen-themed Coloring Book: Rosie Flo’s Kitchen Colouring Book I first held a Rosie Flo coloring book in my hands when I was an editor at Cookie — and back then, it seemed you could only find one if you were traveling to England during specific months of the year and had an appointment with the Queen herself. Now, thankfully, you can find them anywhere (translation: in Anthropologie or on amazon.) This one is food-themed  (can you see the dress made out of a cob of corn? The one made with ladyfingers and measuring cups?) but there are other themes — animals, garden, the original — that are decidedly less girly. The cool thing about them is that they provide sketches of the kooky clothes and accessories and it’s up to the artist to fill in everything else. My brother showed up with this batch of three for Abby’s birthday last year and was instantly anointed hero.

Best Cookbook for Kids That The Kid Actually Likes As Much As Mom: Kids Cook 1-2-3, by Rozanne Gold. If I was still working at Real Simple or Cookie, my normal reconnaissance to determine the winner of an award like this would include ordering in a ton of cookbooks from a ton of publishers, flipping through all of them, page by page, handing out the best of the first cut to staff members with kids who would be required to test and report back. Most of the (more…)

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Whose Party is it Anyway?

February 17th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

I didn’t make this cake for my nine-year-old’s Secret Agent Party. I had the local bakery write the birthday message in “code” (see if you can crack it!) but that’s where my confectionary contribution ended. I opted to buy the cake instead of bake one from scratch because by the time I was thinking about this last piece of the party puzzle, Reasonable Mom (Secret Code Name: Make-it-Easy-on-Yourself Mom) was losing to Unreasonable Mom (Secret Code Name: Who-Exactly-Are-You-Trying-To-Impress Mom). In fact, for this particular party  – with its three-floor, ten-clue scavenger hunt, hand-stenciled tablecloth, and late-night phone consultations with my friend Marcie, who threw her own spy party a few years ago — Unreasonable Mom was crushing Reasonable Mom. For this party, Unreasonable Mom was leaving it all on the field.

It was Unreasonable Mom who, two weeks earlier, forced me spend an hour designing the invitation for the party on my computer, even though the 9-year-old honoree herself was downstairs playing Angry Birds on the iPad. (A major violation in our house! Reasonable Mom always makes sure the birthday girls are as involved in the process whenever possible. Reasonable Mom does everything in her power to protect me from being on the other end of the silent accusation: Who’s this party for anyway? The mom or the kid? ) (more…)

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Guaranteed Crowdpleaser (For the Under-10 Set)

October 21st, 2010 · 17 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

It’s a miracle if I bake something from scratch even once during the course of my child’s birthweek. And if I’m going to do it, it’s going to be Rosa’s Mud Cake for the actual birthday party. But for the classroom party? No chance. A few years ago I debuted this Dunkin Donut Cake at school and was actually embarrassed by how slap-it-together it was. But the kids went bonkers when I removed the foil and pretty soon I started getting emails from parents. Sean wants some donut cake for his birthday and told me to ask you? What’s this I hear about a donut cake? My friend Sue told me that your daughter had some cool cake in class? Erin told me to ask you about the munchkin cake. Do you know what she’s talking about? If so, can you pass along instructions?

Here they are — make sure you are paying close attention because it’s kinda complicated: Cover a concave platter with tissue paper. Stack three Dunkin donuts in the middle and shove your candles in the top one. (The top one should be festive with sprinkles.) Dump 75 assorted munchkins around the stack.

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October 20th, 2010 · 15 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

When Phoebe first started pre-school I started a ritual. I’d pick her up after school every Friday (my day off from work) and take her and Abby to lunch at our local diner. Every time I’d walk into the classroom the teacher would say the same thing: “Phoebe! Look who’s here! It’s mommy!” I should note that this was about six or seven years ago, during the golden era of the Working Mother Manifesto — I was probably reading I Don’t Know How She Does it with my morning coffee and falling asleep with Perfect Madness splayed across my chest. So the way the teacher’s greeting registered in my overly sensitive ears was more like this: “Well I’ll be! Look who decided to show up today!? It’s your Mommy, Phoebe! Can you believe it?” Had I been a little less self-involved it might not have taken me four months to notice that she greeted all the parents with the exact same line.

But that was four months after the Friday Phoebe said to me in between bites of her diner grilled cheese,”Mom, I love Fridays. They feel more special to me than other days.”

“I know what you mean,” I told her. “I feel the same way.” Then I ate a fry and my heart began its rapid descent to dark, paranoid places. Hold it a second. Why exactly does she think Friday is so special? Cause I’m home? Cause we’re eating lunch together? Since when is Mom’s presence considered a special occasion? Is this bad? Is our diner ritual calling even more attention to the fact that I’m abandoning her the other four days of the week? What am I setting myself up for here?

And that was it for our ritual. From that point on — or at least until I matured a bit — the goal for Friday was to make it as routine as every other weekday. Lunch at home. Nap. Maybe a playdate. Let’s keep “special” where it belongs — on holidays, anniversaries, birthdays.

Birthdays. Maybe this is why in our house they are now more appropriately described as birthweeks. Because after the annual monogrammed pancake ritual (above), the classroom party, the “Pick a Country, Any Country” dinner ritual, the party for their friends, the party with their grandparents, and the sleepover with cousins after the party, we’ve logged some serious hours celebrating. So this week, since Abby is turning 7, you’ll be reading about the various ways I like to overcompensate for my maternal shortcomings make a bonafide special day…special. And then, I promise you, we’ll be right back to the everyday routine.

Monogrammed Birthday Pancakes

Fry up a nice stack of pancakes using your favorite recipe or mix. (We use a mix of Trader Joe’s buttermilk and Trader Joe’s Multi-Grain.) Monogram the top one with squeezable icing and decorate with appropriate number of candles. Note: you should probably not do this with piping hot pancakes because it might cause the candle bottoms to melt a bit into the top cake. If this does happen, just surgically remove the affected areas.

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Pick a Country, Any Country

April 16th, 2010 · 9 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

A couple of years ago, we started a birthday tradition in our house (and it only applies to kids). When it’s your birthday, you get to go to any restaurant you want. There’s only one rule — the restaurant you pick has to be specific to a certain country. For instance, on her sixth birthday, Phoebe chose Sweden. It’s not as random as it sounds: Abby’s best friend at the time was from Stockholm, and our kids also happened to be in the midst of a powerful Muppets obsession. (Remember the Swedish Chef?) Then, Abby chose Japan. Then, Phoebe picked… Morocco. (We gave her “Middle Eastern;” she never knew the difference.) Some of these adventures (Sweden, with its creamy meatballs…jammy lingonberries…whipped potatoes) were more successful than others (Japan, with its salmon roe…daikon radishes…fancy SoHo address…$200 price tag…what were we thinking?) but the meal is only half the point. The point is that this is one of those rare, special nights the kids get to orchestrate themselves. It’s a night that involves pulling out old world maps and our book of flags and thinking about where on earth they want to go, what they want to show us. It involves tasting something completely new, even if it’s only something as hard-to-hate as a falafel platter. And it involves dressing up and going out, getting on a train, and riding all 32 minutes to Grand Central Station in a window seat, watching Yonkers roll by. Which, to them, is about as exciting as riding a pink unicorn through an enchanted forest. –Andy

Head over to Bon Appetit, where we were able to convince the chef from Smorgas to hand over his Swedish Meatballs recipe.

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