October 22nd, 2012
Subj: request for your child’s favorite cars characters
yup. that’s right. you’ll soon get confirmation that i’m throwing a disney themed birthday party. i’m the first. i’m going there. i stand proud.
in honor of this great event of parental resignation and humility, i ask that you please send me your child’s favorite character from the Disney/Pixar movie Cars by the end of the week.
if you have a child (ahem, a daughter) who does not have a favorite character from Cars, please know in advance that I will do the Disney thing and provide her with a Sally-themed goody bag in honor of the token spunky female character.
buckle up, bitches. you’re on my ride now.
That’s an email that I sent out on September 27th, in anticipation of the hungry baby’s 3rd birthday party, the theme of which I labored over for several weeks. When his birthday first came up, the baby mentioned Lightening McQueen. Dinsey?! We don’t do Disney parties. I pressed for other ideas. He half-heartedly mentioned firetrucks, but we did a firetruck birthday party last year. C’mon kid, get creative! Construction. I covered that on the hungry boy’s 3rd birthday party. Race cars? The hungry boy beat him to the punch on that one, too. And then guess where race cars led: right back to Lightening McQueen.
Why wouldn’t I just give the kid Disney? After all, I made a special trip to Anaheim this summer to take his big brother to Radiator Springs at Disneyland. (For reals, and it was awesome, too. Check out the hungry boy running up to Lightening McQueen, in the, er, flesh.)
So what gives? I can tell myself that I wanted to avoid branding, but I’ve taken the kids to Disney World and Disneyland. Plus, how many Cars cars do I have around the house? Too many to count, is the answer. I can also tell myself that I didn’t want the party to become a plastic trinket parade, but all I had to do was keep it from becoming one. The real issue was that I don’t fancy myself someone who has Disney-themed parties. Silly, inconsistent, hypocritical, even—but true. So I swallowed my pride, remembered that the baby’s birthday party was for him, not me, and announced that we’d be having a Cars themed party.
With my ego checked, I began looking up Lightening McQueen cakes like this amazing specimen by my friend Debbie. And dread set in.
I didn’t want to make a Lightening cake. And, frankly, after last year’s fire truck cake, I had nothing to prove. The hungry baby’s party is about the hungry baby, not about you. I repeated my mantra and marched up to my handsome boy. “What kind of cake do you want? You can have ANY flavor.” I was about to start listing options when he jumped in:
“I want cherry vanilla cake!”
“Cherry vanilla?! Really?”
Where’d that come from? Breathe. Repeat: The hungry baby’s party is about the hungry baby, not about you.
“Cherry vanilla, huh?”
“Cherry vanilla cupcakes! I want all of them.”
“You got it. Mama will make cherry vanilla cupcakes.”
At least I was off the hook for a Lightening McQueen cake.
I’ve been very open about sticking with trusted recipes for my kids’ birthdays. If I don’t have a tried and true recipe, then I will use someone else’s because. Developing baked goods takes me longer than developing savory eats. I simply don’t plan parties enough in advance to develop a new cake recipe. And besides, I could not stomach testing and tasting cherry vanilla cake after cherry vanilla cake. So I hit the books and our old friend, the internet.
I knew that after last year’s vibrant Red 40 colored firetruck cake, I wanted to leave food dye out of the picture. I know that it’s only one time a year but, honestly, food dye is gross and totally unnecessary. I also knew that I wanted to use maraschino cherries. But how to have maraschino cherries without food dye? And, now that I think about it, the food dye issue aside, I doubt I could have brought myself to tossing a jar of faux-leather textured “cherries” into the hungry baby’s cake. The only solution was to make maraschino cherries myself.
There are several recipes for homemade maraschino cherries floating around, many of which seem to be adapted from a book called Raising the Bar by Nick Mautone. The most significant change that I made to Nick’s recipe was to use sour cherries instead of sweet ones, like bing cherries. I did this to assuage my fear that the cherry vanilla cake would be too sweet. It turned out to be a good move, though I’m sure regular cherries would have been fine, too, plus they are easier to find frozen all year round. (Another reason that I went with sour is that I had sour cherries from my summer haul stashed in the freezer.)
If I thought that these maraschino cherries were only worthwhile for cake, I would have folded this recipe into the one for my cherry vanilla cupcakes (coming later this week). But they stand alone. They are delicious on top of top ice cream, mixed into plain or vanilla yogurt, plonked into your whiskey sour or plopped into kiddo’s club soda and pomegranate juice mocktail. You can even pop them into your mouth, one by one.
Think you’re someone who doesn’t do maraschino cherries? Just remind yourself: Maraschino cherries are about fun for the whole family, not just about you.
1/2-3/4 cup granulated sugar (I suggest a 1/2 cup if using sweet cherries, 3/4 if using sour)
3/4 cup all natural grenadine (such as Employees Only brand; you can substitute pomegranate juice)
1/2 cup water
2 cups pitted sweet or sour cherries
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon all-natural almond extract
1. In a small pot set over medium heat, combine sugar, grenadine and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.
2. Add cherries, lemon juice and almond extract to the pot and simmer on very low heat for about 5 minutes to bring all of the flavors together. Be careful not to “cook” the cherries by avoiding too-high heat.
3. Remove cherries from heat and pour, along with the syrup, into a jar. Allow to cool completely before sealing and storing in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. (Alternatively, you can process the jar according to proper canning procedures.)
*Note: While there is nothing in these that cannot be safely shared with children younger, I recommend this beginning at 12 months due to the high sugar content.