Secret to the perfect party is cake, friends

We have a newly-minted 4-year-old in our house. He has been practicing being 4 since mid-October, but now he is the real deal. We have avoided throwing parties the last couple of years opting instead to set aside his birthday for a special family outing. A few weeks ago I offered him the choice, a special outing or a party with friends. Without hesitation, he requested a party with friends and chocolate cupcakes with blue frosting. Really that was all he wanted — friends to play with and some cake. But for some crazy reason I wanted him to want more.

Admittedly, I have a little bit of birthday party baggage. Those stories are for another day (or not) but I can’t help wanting to soothe those old feelings by making my kid’s birthday an event to remember.

Even before broaching the subject with him I was pretty sure he was going to want a more traditional birthday celebration. My mind’s eye conjured scenes of impeccable decorations, coordinated paper dishes, organized activities for his friends, an array of fantastic food to appeal to our guests of all ages, and a display of birthday cake that people would say was nearly to pretty to eat (because in my daydreams I am an accomplished pastry chef).

Reality has a way of chiseling and shaping our daydreams. Time restrictions, the size of our home and, most of all, the necessity to do things while holding a baby made its own imprint on the party. In the end my visions of hosting the greatest fourth birthday party in history were overridden by actual facts. Mr. Second Helpings and I staged everything in the hour and a half between arriving home from our trip to Macy’s for Johnny Iuizinni’s baking demo and when guests were invited to arrive.

Do you know what happened? Of course you do! Thanks to help from our very best friends, baking a day ahead and our six-quart slow cooker, we gave The Little Helping exactly what he wanted — plus chili!

A few dollar store decorations transformed the kitchen with their exuberant color and the kids were delighted by the bowl of Satsuma oranges I provided for an appetizer. We rounded up various beverages so everyone had their beverage of choice. The birthday cocktail was gin with pink grapefruit juice, seltzer and a sprig of rosemary (I had two since you asked). We even treated the kids to a juice box – an extremely rare treat for The Little Helping.

The cake was baked and ready to go but I ran short of the time needed to paint the inside of a pastry bag with blue food dye to pipe striped frosting onto the cupcakes. (I can’t believe I thought I could fit that in. It just sounded fun.) My very good friend arrived just in time to assemble the cake and did a stellar job. All the confections were given a generous showering of blue sprinkles and, with that, we were done!

Throughout the evening toys were rediscovered and played with by a small happy swarm of his dear friends. The meal we shared was semi-potluck and enjoyed by guests of all ages. The dishes were as glorious of a hodge-podge of designs as the people who used them.

Despite my hang ups a perfect party delivered, as requested, for a little boy who is not so little anymore. A lesson learned (again) by his slowly evolving mother. Don’t sweat the small stuff people — just give them cake and friends, heavy on the friends, and all will be perfect.

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