happy birthday, to the big man ::::
She told me that once she forgot herself and her heart opened up like a door with a loose latch and everything fell out and she tried for days to put it all back in the proper order, but she finally gave up and left if there in a pile and loved everything equally. –Brian Andreas
Having more than one child forces a parent to divide and multiply simultaneously. The above quote prods me to remember how I felt when I first brought Grub home from the hospital. A few days prior, I had gone into labor slowly, anticipating the next step easily. First my contractions were every 20 minutes in the morning. Then 15 minutes. Then 10 minutes. This happened over a course of a day, some of which was spent in an office of the notary public signing documents to make the sale of our condo in Chicago official. I had moved to California almost 6 weeks prior. I had taken my written medical boards one week earlier. I was ready for the next big thing. That night, the contractions came every six minutes and we headed to the hospital under a midnight blue sky.
I had a valiant attempt at a VBAC, resulting in late decelerations and ultimate emergent crash C-section at 2AM. But there he was, my baby boy, gloriously pink and chubby.
And so the latch of my heart was loosened by that little Grub. Neat multiplication and division was futile, those pieces of my love falling into messy piles. There was no order. There was no sense. This love was, and still is, a tangled collection of juicy, sticky, and salty. There is the hard thump of fear and joy rolled into the mess. There is trust. There are pins and needles balanced with eiderdown. Love is the texture of life and the rill of comfort.
I learned quickly that I could not have it all, at least not all at the same time. In those first few weeks as a mother with two kids, I often had to divide my attention between Peach and Grub. Or when I was multiplying, Peach was dividing. Or I was beside myself when all I needed was a juicy minute alone and was accosted by half-remembered nights spent with a crying infant.
Grub is now 5 years old, a long way from that chubby pink baby. He still smiles. He loves to give hugs. He’s obsessed with Ninjago and Lego Chima, Spider-Man, and Power Rangers. He is a trickster. He loves fart jokes. And, no surprise, he is messy.
I leave these piles in my heart, that latch still loosened, the mess evident daily. Just like my messy Big Man. We are undone and unfinished, cleaning up just enough so that we may fit into our embrace ever so tightly.
Happy Fifth Birthday, Silly Man. I love you.
And now the technical stuff. This cookie design was requested by Grub for his birthday — and I took it as a challenge, which I so often do when faced with the unknown. (For those of you who do not know me, I am tenacious, not stubborn, though my husband may dispute the definition.) Not knowing what Lego Chima was until just last month, I found a deep scour of the Internet helpful in finding various pictures of the characters. Since Grub had the Laval Lego piece from a friend, I decided to go with the lion face for the design.
I included the photo tutorial on royal icing decorating underneath my love letter to Grub so as not interrupt the mood. I gave myself almost a week to prepare the cookies and bake the cupcakes. Also choose your Chima picture (or see the one above) and study it for a few days. Think about textures. This will help you determine the firmness and runniness of the royal icing you use. Give yourself two days to decorate the cookies, to allow for drying time. Those two days will be loooooong: take three days to save your hand from cramping, if need be.
Use my sugar cookie recipe (without the food coloring in the dough). Below are the recipe for the royal icing and the process on how to decorate with it. Cupcakes complements of Duncan Hines. The whipped chocolate ganache recipe will come in a future post.
Here’s my general calendar:
Day 1: Mix up sugar cookie dough and chill. I made 53 cookies.
Day 2: Roll out and bake cookies. Cool completely and wrap well. Set aside in a cool place (no need to refrigerate though). Cookies must sit at least 24 hours before decorating to decrease chance of oil leaching out and discoloring the royal icing. Cookies can sit for 48 hours before decorating if necessary. Freeze for months if well wrapped.
Day 3: Mix up royal icing (one recipe to start) and tint accordingly. For the entire Laval design, I needed red, black, brown, yellow, orange, pink, blue and white (untinted). For the first day of decorating, I piped fur, yellow headdress, eyes, and nose (use yellow, brown, pink, orange, black, and white). Before thinning down the royal icing, set aside thick icing for fur, some white, and save leftover black for tomorrow. In general, when after you are done with one color, SAVE it until you are COMPLETELY done decorating the cookie. You never know when you need to add a detail or want to fix something.
Day 4: Mix up another batch (or half a batch) of royal icing to make the red headdress and blue sparklies. Use the royal icing you saved from yesterday to make eyebrows, white philtrum, black mouth, and white teeth. Allow to dry overnight.
Also on Day 4, bake the cupcakes. Choose your favorite recipe. After years of doing birthday parties for three children, I found making cake or cupcakes from scratch useless. The kids merely want a vehicle to shove frosting into their mouth. Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines cake mix is my go-to for birthday parties.
Day 5: Make the fabulous cupcake frosting. I used a wonderful whipped chocolate ganache — this tastes so much better than the *&%$ you buy in a can at the grocery store. You can do this early the day of the party or the night before and chill it. It will need to be re-whipped before using it in the refrigerator. (If you have extra, you can pass it off as a heavy chocolate mousse.)
Assemble the cupcakes no more than two hours before the event as the ganache prefers cellar temperature to room temperature condition (and will soften a lot if the weather is hot and humid). Refrigeration is okay if you don’t mind condensation on the royal icing. This can disrupt the integrity of the icing slightly and promote color bleed. In my experience, kids eating the cupcakes and licking the frosting off of the cookies do not care one bit.
Notes on tinting royal icing: Red and black icings are difficult to make vibrant. You need a lot of dye to do so. I find the Americolor over Wilton color gels work best. Keep in mind that the color will darken with time (wet or dry). You can make royal icing up to a week before using, but will need to re-mix it to defeat water separation. It keeps at room temperature well wrapped. I used the brown, yellow, orange, and pink to make the brown fur color. The other colors are straightforward.
The photo tutorial on decorating:
This is my model, the Lego Chima character, Laval:
Picture from http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/shows/legends-of-chima/pictures/laval-2/index.html
Ready to go? To Chima!
1. Bake your sugar cookies and allow to sit for at least 24 hours before decorating. Cool them completely and wrap. Storing at room temperature is fine. If you plan on using them in a few days, the fridge is okay for a few days, the freezer for months if well wrapped. Thaw before using, about 30 minutes at least.
2. Prepare the royal icing (see recipe below). I needed 1 1/2 recipes for about 53 cupcake-diametered cookies. For the face, yellow headdress, eyes, nose, and mouth, eyebrows, and blue sparklies, I used a #1 or #2 piping tip. For the red headdress, I used a #3 piping tip.
3. Start with piping the fur/face and allow to dry slightly to avoid color bleed when doing the next step. Consistency note: I like to use a consistency that is between flood and stiffer icing, so I don’t have to pipe a border first, then flood. It’s preference (and I think it saves time). NOTE: Before you thin the fur/face royal icing color, put some of the stiff icing aside for eyebrows later. Once royal icing is thinned down, it’s hard to thicken it back up, unless you add more untinted icing….then you have to remix the custom fur color. Pain. In. The. Ass.
4. Next, pipe the yellow headdress. Consistency: between flood and stiff.
5. Finish the yellow portion of the headdress, after allowing the first part to dry slightly (this helps give texture).
6. By now, the face icing has crusted over, but wet underneath. Be very gentle when working so as to not rough up the smoothness. Move on to the nose. Consistency: stiff, but with a little water added. You don’t want a runny nose!
7. Eye time. You will need to use white and black royal icing simultaneously. I liked the #1 piping tip for the black detail. Consistency: white should be a little loose but stiff enough to hold a round shape. You also want it stiff but loose enough to “accept” the black eye detail. As soon as you pipe the white, pipe on the black so that it melds into the white. My photo here shows it wet and they two colors haven’t coalesced completely.
NOTE: I should have made the eyes yellow, like Laval’s picture. I was going to correct the color by painting on some yellow coloring with vodka but I ran out of time. This lapse really bothers me, as I had the stupid picture right in front of me! Eat told me that I was the only one who would notice.
I also made this the end of my Day 1 of decorating. My hand was cramping up and I needed a break after 4 hours.
8. Day 2 of decorating (and another 4 hours): See that? The eyes are dry here. The black and white are flush with each other.
Next, make the white philtrum (mouth area). Consistency: between flood and stiff, but a little on the stiffer side.
Another note: If you are planning on using these as cupcake toppers like I did, take a break from decorating and bake your cupcakes now.
9. Mouth time. Pipe the black mouth first, dry slightly, then gently add the teeth. Consistency: stiff for black and white.
I also added the red headdress here. This was my favorite part of the decorating. Consistency: stiff. I used a #6 piping tip.
10. Time for some angry eyebrows. Remember that stiff fur colored royal icing you saved from the beginning? Use it now!
11. And the dreamy blue sparklies are last:
Those white eyes are still bothering me! Arrgghh!
12. Then break out those cupcakes, whip up the ganache (remember to allow chilling time), and top the frosted cupcakes with these fabulous toppers:
I made an army of Laval. We are well protected by the Lion Tribe of Chima for now. Grub approves 100%.
One year ago: tomato-sunflower seed pâté and ninjago frosting redux (Grub’s fourth birthday)
Two years ago: turtle cupcakes (Grub’s third birthday)
Three years ago: turbinado sugar cookies (Grub’s second birthday) and no-knead bread and croutons
Four years ago: plum kuchen and pimento cheese and pear galette (Grub’s first birthday)
- 2 pounds (907 g) confectioner's sugar
- 5 tablespoons (about 50 g) meringue powder
- 2 to 3 teaspoons oil-free extract (I like vanilla)
- ½ to ¾ cups warm water
- Stir the flavoring/extract into half the water.
- Using a paddle attachment on a stand mixer, gently mix the sugar and meringue powder. No need to sift.
- With the mixer on its lowest setting slowly add the water/flavoring mix to the sugar/meringue. The icing will become thick and lumpy.
- Continue to add the remaining water, little by little, until the mixture reaches a thick, honey like consistency. You may not need all of the water, so watch carefully.
- Now, turn the mixer to medium speed and whip 2 to 4 minutes until icing is thick and fluffy. Mixing time can vary greatly so watch carefully and stop mixing when the icing forms soft peaks. This makes about 5 cups. This keeps for a week well wrapped at room temperature.