My mom loves birthdays more than anyone else I know — other people’s, that is. More accurately, she loves the ingredients that make up a party: the people gathered together, the festivity, the memories to be made. She has spearheaded many a birthday party for her three kids, and even in my late 20s, my birthday is a thing, with gifts, cards and phone calls. There is no stopping the birthday bandwagon — it’s a love train bearing tokens of affection, full speed ahead. Let’s talk candy: if my mom’s good cheer and ebullience resemble a star bust, I can be more of a sour patch. Think “People’s Parties,” by Joni Mitchell, which speaks to the underwhelming way that we wallflowers like to socialize — listening, watching, feeling a connection to people through observation, but loathe to do too much talking. Except on random occasions in which we suddenly feel compelled to “be ourselves,” busting out a moon walk or a rendition of “Killing Me Softly” à la The Fugees, but that’s another story.
Wallflower tendencies aside, it’s mom’s birthday this Saturday, the perfect occasion to celebrate her sense of spontaneity and fun, her ease among people, her “joie de vivre.” It’s her turn to be toasted, celebrated, and embarrassed by outpourings of affection. In fact, mom’s love of birthdays represent many of her endearing traits: her demonstrative, generous way with people, her appreciation of good food and company, her creativity. Being a birthday enthusiast (and an excellent cook), mom is quite naturally a believer in birthday cakes. And I’m bursting — almost as much as these pistachio profiteroles — to share some of them with you.
Take this lemon angel food cake by Ina Garten. Light, classic, plenty of surface area for pink frosting and sprinkles, mom would dig (into) it.
How ‘bout mini pies, mum? One cook’s tedium is another cook’s playground, and these precious, slightly painstaking pie-bites are the kind of drawn-out, flour-dusted kitchen project that my mom whole-heartedly embraced when I was too young to execute them well. I’m sure it demanded patience, but it had the positive effect of cultivating a genuine, fearless love of cooking on my part. For example, we spent an entire summer of my childhood experimenting with pie and cobbler recipes, at my request. I don’t remember a single one, but to this day, pies are my favorite thing to bake.
Also, mom wouldn’t bat an eye if I hypothetically owned a cookbook solely dedicated to the art of mini pies. (Don’t hate a girl for wanting to master 20 recipes for mini pies! Maybe they’ll land on your doorstep :)) Mom gets that cookbooks are not only instruction manuals, but books, as much for reading as they are for cooking. This is reflected in her massive cookbook collection, and her penchant for giving me books centered on the art of grilled cheese or french fries or…
Cupcakes! She was all over that trend. I think coconut cupcakes take the cake on being festive, classy, and birthday appropriate. I made this version by Ina Garten (who else?) for a previous birthday. I happen to know that mom would appreciate a simple birthday sugar cookie. These are a Christmas tradition for us, a recipe from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook that yields a phenomenal amount of dough. Like mom, it’s hard not to like them. They’re so darn sweet.