This year I celebrated a milestone birthday which was feeling a bit unnerving – there were juxtaposed emotions (1) reality of mortality, (2) being ever so happy to actually be here since I am very aware without the miracles of modern medicine I could easily not have made it to this birthday and (3) the weight of carrying a big number as part of my identity and being vain.
In order to get my head into the fun, happiness and excitement around this year, I drew on inspiration from a few places. A few years ago my friend Maria celebrated her birthday in New Orleans with a lovely mixture of family and friends. True to her style it was perfect in every way, a celebration of all the things she loved – family, friends, travel and food. When I began to contemplate doing something along these lines, I resigned to the fact that it would be difficult for everyone to free up from their busy lives and travel, but I would extend the invitation with the theory ‘if you build it, they will come.” And while all of my friends and family were not able to be there, it was amazing that so many schedules aligned for this gathering, which made it an incredible celebration.
Then there was how to overcome the vanity aspect and to turn lemons into lemonade. I decided I was not going to be that person that ran from or hid my age. I was going to confront it head on. In my own way I wan to work to define what it means to be this age for people of my generation and make age acceptable to younger generations that struggle with this reality. My philosophy is to redefine what can not be changed and embrace every moment of it because I will never get those moments back. If I don’t appreciate things along the way, when I come to my senses I may realize I have missed the best parts. So I posted on social media- I did not run, I did not hide, and what I discovered is that it was a fear worth overcoming. So many women have reached out to me and thanked me for being brave and candid with the truth, making aging feeling acceptable.
My husband extended beyond his usual comfort zone and despite his reservations of hosting an out of town event, he with the help of our children, created an unforgettable weekend in one of my favorite places – San Diego. Even more amazing was that this was the first time I was on vacation together with my parents – EVER. To have my mother, father and bonus-mom all in one place, felt like another dream come true. Friends and family traveling from near and far could not have made me feel any more special.
And in case I forgot how special this weekend was, there were ‘crowns’ designated for each and every day. While I didn’t grow up in the era of the Disney Princess phenomenon I can say that it was a glimpse of that Disney magic. In many ways this party was even more fun for me than our wedding day, no pressure, fluid timelines, sun, sand, good food and endless smiles. Instead of it being a dreaded birthday, it is one that I will ALWAYS fondly remember (and wish I could relive over again).
There are many coveted recipes from this weekend >spoiler alert, expect another post on the savory side< but I had to start with this one. This post is to share the recipe that I have affectionately called the Suitcase Cake.
For years my childhood friend, Suzie, has been making me cakes on my birthday. I think I remember her making my first one when I was about 12. And even when I was away at college in San Diego, she would fly down for the day with a delicious cake as her only carry-on and we’d grab a bottle of champagne and head down to the beach for sunset and her scrumptious chocolate cake. Aside from my Ginny, she is the only other person to adorn me with this homemade gift of deliciousness.
As you might imagine from the name I gave this cake, this year when she offered to make the cake, she brought it in her checked luggage! She baked the cake, gingerly wrapping every layer for transport, made and packed the frosting and filling and then packed all of her favorite decorating tools to assemble the cake in her hotel room on the way to our most incredible Tamale Palooza Party (hosted by friends Veronica and Tom).
This cake does require a lot of steps, none of which are very complicated, but each bite is truly memorable and well worth the effort.
Suzie’s Cinnamon Kahlua Chocolate Cake
Note:Double the Recipe to make 4 layers with 11” in diameter
1 box German Chocolate Cake Mix
1 small box chocolate instant pudding
2 TBS ground cinnamon
1 cup sour cream
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup Kahlua
½ of a 3.5 OZ 85% Cacao Valrhona chocolate bar, chopped into very small pieces (can be found at Trader Joes)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, using a spatula, mix together all of the ingredients, adding the chopped chocolate at the end.
Pour into 2 round pans 11” in diameter, with the bottom-lined in parchment paper.
Bake at 350 for approximately 18-20 minutes. Cake is baked when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out dry.
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup cream cheese, room temperature (not whipped cream cheese)
8 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBS ground cinnamon
4-10 TBDS Kahlua, vary according to taste and consistency
1 tsp meringue powder (Optional, for a stiffer frosting for decorating)
In a large bowl, mix butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and some of the Kahlua and mix well. Next add powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well between each addition. Then add the cinnamon and mix well to combine. If mixture is dry, add more Kahlua, depending on the consistency. If using, add the meringue powder and mix well.
¾ cup cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
2-6 TBS heavy cream (or milk or half and half)
4 cups powdered sugar
1 bar 3.5 OZ 85% Cacao Valrhona chocolate bar, chopped into very small pieces
In a medium size bowl, using a hand mixer, mix butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Then add vanilla and some of the heavy cream, continuing to mix well. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add more heavy cream, depending on the consistency, being careful not to let it become to wet as you want it to hold and keep its firmness. Add chopped chocolate bar and mix well using a spatula.
Truffle Balls (optional, but not optional!)
Note: Make in advance (1-2 days or up to a week)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard or Ghiradelli, best)
½ cup heavy cream
½ tsp Kahlua
½ – 1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp instant coffee or espresso
½ of a 3.5 OZ 85% Cacao Valrhona chocolate bar, chopped into very small pieces
½ cup cocoa
1 -2 tsps cinnamon
Melt chocolate chips with the heavy cream in microwave for 30 seconds, take out and stir, put back in and microwave in 10 second increments stirring in between each increment until chocolate chips are melted and smooth.
Or heat heavy cream until scalding and pour over chocolate chips, wait 1 minute and stir together. Add Kahlua, cinnamon and instant coffee/espresso and stir until well combined.
Let set in bowl for a couple of days, until the consistency is hard enough so you can scoop into ½ “ balls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Let sit for a day, until you can handle without the ½’ ball melting in your hands.
Mix ½ cup cocoa and 1-2 tsps cinnamon in a shallow bowl.
Melt the chocolate bar.
With one finger dip into melted chocolate and smear into the palm of the other hand. Pick up the ½” ball with the non-chocolate fingers and place in palm with chocolate. Roll the ½” ball in your palm with the melted chocolate. When coated, drop the 1/2 “ ball into the cocoa and cinnamon mixture, roll to coat. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment. Repeat until all ½” balls are coated.
The melted chocolate will harden around the ½” truffle center and the cocoa and cinnamon will make it a little easier to handle for placement around the cake bottom.
(1) If making ahead of time, freeze the cake layers up to 1 to 2 weeks in advance. Do not remove the parchment paper on the bottom of the cakes before freezing. Wrap each cake layer in plastic wrap tightly so there is no air, but not squishing the cake either. Put into a 1 or 2 gallon freezer bag and be sure to take all the air out of the bag. Place in freezer. When ready to ice, take the cake layers out of the freezer about 8-12 hours before icing the cake. Remove from the freezer bag and let thaw out on the counts, do not stack the layers to thaw. Once thawed, remove the parchment paper on the bottom of each layer.
(2) You can make the filling or frosting up to one week ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator a few hours before using to bring to room temperature.
(3)If your cakes are not even, you can cut off the top portion to create an even top and bottom. This is easier for stacking.
(4) Fill each layer.
(5) Pipe the space between each layer on the sides with frosting to fill any gaps.
(6) Spread the frosting on the side and smooth with a long spatula.
(7) Use a large star tip to make rosettes on top of the cake.
(8) If you make more frosting (1/2 the recipe) you should have enough to decorate with rosettes on the sides of the cake as well as the top of the cake.