Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Birthday on a Shoestring

Have you ever thought about ways to celebrate your child’s birthday without breaking the bank? It’s not unusual for families to spend hundreds of dollars on a child’s birthday party including the gifts, gift bags, venue, and the cake. Does this sound familiar? Well, you think, “My mom always gave me a bash on my big day. If I really love my kids then I have to do the same thing.” Wrong! That is insane and we were insane for doing it to you in the first place.

In my lifetime birthday celebrations have gone from simple to extravagant. As a child I was just happy to be a year older. A birthday spanking with one lick for each year I’d been alive plus one to grow on, just meant I’d grow some more.

When my first two children came along in the 1960’s and I saw others celebrating with birthday cakes and company for dinner I embraced it with a twist. I made a special birthday cake—one pictured in the Betty Crocker Cookbook. How about a cat or a train?
In addition my child could choose the menu—no liver allowed—and invite their best friend. They got one special gift and didn’t expect one from their friend. Since birthdays were celebrated at home, expense and extravagance were held to a minimum.

By the time the 80’s came along things had changed. I was working full time and had two more children. We followed the crowd to Chuck-e-Cheese’s or rented the pool for a party. Not only did thy get a gift from us, but all their friends brought them too.

Thankfully retirement and a new century have knocked some sense into my head. My younger children were having parties for their children that matched their own—until this year.

Thank the Lord; we got off the merry-go-round at Granny-Nanny’s house (That’s me).
I provided dinner that I knew they’d like. The Princess helped bake the dirt cake with a dump truck on top for her little brother who loves anything with wheels. The gifts were purchased at a resale shop at a fraction of the cost that was spent the year before.

Dump Truck Cake

Our cake began with an idea we found online. Even with this I put a frugal twist. Logan already had a small dump truck that would fit on top of a small rectangular cake to serve Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, his sister and himself. I plopped the truck in the dishwasher and Wala! Like new!

When I’m going to cook anything, the first place I look is on the pantry shelf and next is the freezer. I found a box of yellow cake mix and a large box of vanilla pudding. Whoops! I needed chocolate. No problem, I had a box of Hershey’s cocoa. In the freeze I found a small tub of whipped topping. The only thing I had to buy was a package of Oreo cookies (With peanut butter filling), on sale! I did the victory dance!

Now down to business. The Princess and I made the cake according to package directions with ½ cup of cocoa added. We poured 2/3 of the batter into a greased floured rectangular dish and the rest in 2 large custard cups. We baked the cakes at 350 degrees until they sprang back when we touched them in the center. (Remember the little ones will be done first.) When done we cooled them for 10 to 15 minutes and turned the big cake onto a large platter, or I used a metal tray covered with foil. When the cake was cooled completely we prepared the pudding according to package directions with the addition of 3 tablespoons of cocoa, and the princess used a wire whip to beat it until it was smooth. We folded in two cups of the whipped topping and spread part of it on the cooled cake.

I placed the truck at an angle on one end and one of the cupcakes on the other end. I poured more icing on the cup cake while the princess smashed ½ the Oreos in a large zip lock bag (and only snacked on two or three) using a rolling pin. The other cupcake she broke into chunks and put in the truck bed with a final scoop of topping and more crushed crumbs. We sprinkled the rest of the crumbs on the cupcake that now looked like a pile of dirt. Lana sprinkled a few fall-leaf decorator sugars at random on the cake and we made a banner that said “Happy Birthday Logan”. We placed it on the dirt pile using toothpicks.

Our only party extravagance was balloons. Lana wants her party at Grandma’s next time. Now can you think of a better and more economical way to celebrate a child’s birthday? If you can, let me know or post it here so we can read about it.

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