This month, my Grub turned six. Given our recent chaos of moving to a new home, the kids starting a new school, and life in general, I welcomed his cake request for something simple. No cupcakes, Mommy. Just a pandan-flavored frosting on a vanilla cake. Mommy, I want lollipops and I want to pick them out. Done.
Parent chaos is one thing; the kids still want to create more for fun. Enter the trampoline: a confined chaos, in mostly horizontal and vertical directions. This is the first year we went to an indoor trampoline park to celebrate a birthday. The entire floor is set up with trampolines tiled together, some launching kids into large pits of foam cubes, some allowing high jumps for impressive basketball shots, and some with other obstacle courses involving ropes and rings. Wherever a child may go, there is always something to keep him or her bouncing. Each one of our partygoers would run down from the trampoline elevated floor, sweaty and flushed, smiling as they rejuvenated with snacks and water. This was all I needed to be convinced to try it myself.
I recall Peach’s fifth birthday and having time to myself in a jumpy house, reveling in the ascent and descent of jumps. On the trampoline it isn’t just the up and down, but the speed with which I could race across the floor of connected trampolines. It’s the feeling you get when on an airport walkway, gliding with every step, a powerful grace, a spark in the smile that you cannot contain.
That is my sweet Grub. He melts and glides into situations easily, even when he is nervous. His eyes belie his smile at times; it is those eyes that make me ache as a parent when I see his sadness or disappointment. He consistently gives me a hug out of the blue, snuggling his face into my belly. He’ll take a deep breath. “Mommy,” he’ll say. “You smell like strawberries,” grinning with his eyes closed. I hope to always have moments like this.
There are signs of him growing into his own, though. It was when I called him by his nickname recently while he was frustrated about something. He exclaimed “I’m not Booba! I am me!” That actually made me kind of sad. There has been no other Booba in my life. His nickname developed from a haggard mother, quickly talking, multitasking situation. I often called him Bubba when he was a baby. Also called him Boo-Boo. One day the words got intertwined and Booba was born.
I’ve watched him this year, my lean boy with the baby cheeks, playing in gnaty motes of light in the new backyard, kicking a soccer ball and practicing his southpaw hits. Today, I watch him autumn heat of Georgia, gliding across a soccer field, focused and ruddy faced. He is a team player on the field, and off. Grub soars in the air as he runs, spirit-filled and bubbling. He is a fountain of knowledge, linking ideas better than some adults.
“Mommy, did you know that the sun is a star?”
“Mommy, did you know the moon used to be part of the earth?”
“Mommy, where did Buster go?”
One of the memories I have of you this year, sweet boy, is the concern you had for the one-inch long stag beetle you found in North Georgia this summer. “Buster” you and Peach knighted him when you spotted him outside the Folk Museum one afternoon. When we returned the next day, Buster lay barely moving and apparently injured. You somehow talked me and Dad into taking him home. In an empty water bottle. Sitting in a hot car while we brunched in Athens, Georgia. Which I was certain was the humid, peaceful death of Buster.
But you persisted and so did Buster. I couldn’t help but beam and smile when you erected the mini Stonehenge in our front yard, Buster cozied inside, grass for food, your hopes that he could recover from his bum wing and fly away. Tenacious Buster was there for days. You checked on him furtively. You asked me to check on him while you were at school. And then he was gone.
When you fly away, your soul injured as you discover the unfairness of life, it won’t be a mystery like Buster’s leave. I will know when you fly away. And I will soar with you. And away from you. And cry tears of mixed emotions.
Happy Birthday, Bud. I love my snuggly, caring boy. Keep caring about others and brighten their days with your beautiful smile. And whether you like it or not, you are still Booba.
One year ago: chima (laval) cookies (and/or cupcake toppers — a photo tutorial) (Grub’s fifth birthday)
Three years ago: turtle cupcakes (Grub’s third birthday)
- 2-1/2 cups cake flour; more for the pans
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
- 1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- 4 ounces (1 stick = 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk (or use 1 tablespoon white vinegar in a cup measure, and fill to 1 cup with milk. Allow to sit and thicken before using)
- 3 large egg whites
- 4 cups heavy cream
- a few tablespoons of powdered sugar, to your taste
- 2 teaspoons (at least) pandan extract
- MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place parchment paper on bottom of two 8-inch round pans, then butter and flour them.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, sugar (setting aside 2 tablespoons for the egg whites in a later step), baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, melted butter, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Next, whisk in the buttermilk.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with an ultra-clean, grease-free whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and a couple of tablespoons of sugar on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Pour the bowl of wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold them together with a rubber spatula until combined.
- Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter in three batches (I did two batches and it worked fine). Be careful not to deflate the egg whites or overmix.
- Divide the batter evenly between the buttered pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean or has a few moist crumbs clinging to it, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Transfer the cakes to a rack to cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then remove and cool completely on rack. Repeat for the other cake. Let the cakes cool completely before filling, frosting, or storing.
- Once cool, the unfrosted cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days. You can also freeze them for about 1 month if well wrapped with plastic and foil. I freeze first to make it easier to trim the cakes to prevent as many crumbly bits falling off.
- MAKE THE FROSTING: In a cold bowl, whip the heavy cream and sugar to formable peaks, then add in pandan extract briefly to mix. Store in the fridge for up to overnight if not using right away (you may need to remix briefly to soften). You can pipe the frosting if thick enough. I went with the simple flat minimalist look since the lollipops were the stars. We had enough kids at the party, they each got to choose a lollipop off the cake before cutting. Leftovers can be stored 1-2 days in the fridge.