Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Any Excuse for a Celebration: Half Birthdays and Ha-Cakes

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It’s holiday time in the blogosphere – everywhere I look I see recipes for Christmas cookies or Hanukkah cakes or generalized ‘winter holidays’-themed party food.  But I think you’re all forgetting the most important holiday of the year: my friend K’s half-birthday.

Yes, I said half-birthday.  I can’t tell you how many people have balked when I tell them I’m planning to make a half-cake for K.  “Half-birthday?” they ask, incredulous, “isn’t that just for kids?”  Well, yes.  It is.  But one of the things I love about K is that she is pretty much the definition of unabashed.  She wants to celebrate her half-birthday with a few friends, some tasty food, and a ha-cake (as in hapenny, jeez), and honestly I don’t see any problem with that.  It is a bit strange for a grown woman to count her age in halves, to be sure, but on the other hand, couldn’t we all use a little more whimsy and celebration in our lives?  I know I could.
My full birthday is coming up next week, and I’ve been dreading it for months.  Not because I’m unhappy about aging, necessarily, but more because it’s the first time in seven years that I’ll be celebrating without the man I love.  I have a feeling that’s going to be extremely difficult for me.  When I expressed this fear to a close family friend, she suggested I distract myself with a fabulous show – the most classically fabulous show in San Francisco, to be exact – and so I’m going to do exactly that.  I’ve been distracting myself from my loneliness for months now, so why should my birthday be any different?

I remember birthdays being something to look forward to as a kid: the gifts, the excuse for a party, the attention at school (although school was usually out by the time my day rolled around).  As I got older, birthdays became less of a source of excitement and more one of anxiety: plan a party, and maybe nobody will come; wish for a particular gift, and maybe you’ll get something just a bit wrong (and you’ll feel like a jerk for being disappointed); get calls from most of your immediate family, but not all, and you’re hard-pressed not to wonder why the one who didn’t call doesn’t love you enough.  It’s all angst and drama instead of balloons and cake – or at least it was for me.

Until I started celebrating with a boyfriend who loved me, a guy who was thoughtful and sweet and always found a way to make me smile on a day I wasn’t super excited about.  And now that that’s over… well, I’m determined not to go back.  At least not to the way I felt about birthdays as an adult.  I want to go way back, to childlike excitement, or at least the excuse for fun part.

So this year it’s a show with my girls and plenty of indulgent food (as if I need any more of that after Thanksgiving…), and maybe in June I’ll celebrate my half-birthday.  I’m sure K will make me a half-cake, or give me a half-bottle of something tasty, or just celebrate with me in full enthusiasm.

Life needs more excuses for celebration.  Happy half-birthday, K! 

Half-Birthday Ha-Cake Instructions (with photos):


Step 1: Bake a cake.  I used a mix (yes, that's right, I cut some corners to ensure the cake could come out right!) from Trader Joe's for Peppermint Chocolate loaf cake – K requested mint chocolate and while I had planned to do chocolate cake with mint icing, TJ's came through in a clutch with the perfect solution, as usual!


Step 2: Cut the cake in half, as equally as you can without getting out a ruler (we've established my principle of laziness, right?).


Step 3: Shave off the top of one of the halves, to make it a level base for the other, 'top' layer.  Eat the shavings.  Hey, I don't make the rules, I just follow them.


Step 4: Whip up an easy icing with powdered sugar, milk, and butter, or use a canned one.  This cake is about cuteness, not quality.  Tint the icing if you like (mine was kind of gray so I tinted it mint green, to match the cake's flavor).


Step 5: Sandwich the layers together with icing, then frost the top of the cake.  Use a butter knife to make scalloped edges if you feel like being particularly cute.


Step 6: Write a half-message for a half-birthday in a different (or in my case, darker) icing color – you can use icing pens for this, or if, like me, you are lacking in tools, you can use a different-/darker-colored icing in a sandwich baggie with a teeny cut in the corner.  My cursive needs work, but I still think this guy came out pretty darned adorably.

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