Creative DIY Birthday Cakes in Less Than 30 Minutes

It’s only April, but I’m already thinking about what we’ll do for Mason’s second birthday in August. There’s been lots of birthday talk among the LIC Mamas–many of us have spring and summer babies–and it’s gotten me thinking about how I want to celebrate Mason’s big day. I had so much fun planning his bash last year (a safari-theme cookout) that I can’t wait to dream up this year’s plan. But first I have to come up with a good theme…suggestions welcome!

Although the details are still murky in my mind, I know I want to make Mason’s cake. (Last year I splurged on fancy cupcakes from Sprinkles because I was too overwhelmed with the prospect of planning Mason’s first birthday party to deal with making the cake.) But that milestone accomplished, making his cake every year is just something I want to be able to do for him.

Here’s the catch: I’ve never baked a cake. My mother wasn’t a big baker when I was growing up, so I never really learned how to bake, beyond a simple batch of cookies or muffins. And while a good part of my career has been in food, my focus has been primarily on cooking and wine-pairing, so I never really had to hone my baking skills. But now that I’m a mom I feel like I need to become a better baker. Chalk it up to my love of those Duncan Hines commercials with the mom baking and the kids smiling.

Anyway, Mason’s second birthday is probably not the best occasion for my first foray into cakes. But I’ll practice a lot before then, and I’ll get advice from my co-worker Erica, a trained chef who is also the food editor for Parents. She recently came up with six DIY birthday cakes, including the “Mini Smash Cake” (above, left), that are beautiful but not complicated. Mason loves dogs right now, so perhaps I’ll make him the Paw-Print Cake (above, right)–she used Necco Wafers and Smarties candies for the prints! And I think the Rainbow Cake (left) covered with jelly beans is really fun.

Wish me luck. I have this image in my head of me covered in flour from head to toe with splotches of frosting in my hair. But I’ve got faith that I can do it. My baking process might not be pretty, but the smile on Mason’s face when I serve the cake will be totally worth the effort. (Plus he’ll only be two–too young to judge me if the cake is lopsided!) Stay tuned for pictures of the whole debacle adventure.

Is your tot’s birthday coming up? What kind of cake will you make (or buy)?

Happy National Cupcake Day!


Mason tried his first cupcake last June, and the moment couldn’t have been any sweeter. We were in Columbus, OH, visiting my family and my mom made cupcakes to celebrate Bug’s first birthday a little early. She went the simple route and used yellow cake from a mix and vanilla frosting. Mason was tentative at first. He gingerly licked the icing for a minute or so and then he picked up the cupcake and shoved the entire thing in his mouth. I was snapping photos with my iPhone at first but it got so good I switched to video. We were cracking up! (We also served cupcakes at his safari-theme birthday party in New York City; click here for photos! For great recipes, check out these Parents favorites.)

Any great cupcake memories with your babe to share?

Cuties in Costumes & Toddler-Friendly Halloween Party Recipes

(From left:) Maurice, rocking a pirate romper; Lina, as Alex from Flashdance; Charlotte, a Jack-O’-Lantern; Zann, a golfer; Sal, a shark; and Mason, my dragon. Photo by Florence Liu (Charlotte’s mom)

Late on Saturday afternoon we got together with a group of LIC Mamas, their husbands, and their babes to celebrate Halloween. My friend Diane hosted the party at her place, which offers a panoramic view of the East River and the Manhattan skyline — the ideal backdrop for our babes’ first “real” Halloween party. The two little girls, Lina and Charlotte,  played quietly with toys while the boys chased each other around Diane’s apartment, in hysterics. The difference in the way our girls and boys play is amazing! Is it just that way with our kids, or do all boys and girls play so differently? We’re all first-time moms so we haven’t had much experience with this dynamic.

Mama and Mason: Growl all you want, Bug, that’s what little dragons do! Photo by Florence Liu (Charlotte’s mom)

Mason randomly hugged me while I was chatting. Totally. Awesome. Thanks for capturing the moment, Kerry Discioarro (Sal’s mom)!

Diane channeled her inner domestic goddess and went all out with the menu. We started with wine, smoked salmon, cheese, crackers, and pigs in a blanket (the later being her hubby’s special request, could you tell?). For dinner we feasted on two different kinds of stuffed chicken, basil-pesto cous cous, Parmesan broccoli, and macaroons (pics and links to recipes below). Maybe we can talk her into hosting the Halloween party every year?! I made a second dessert, a simple apple-cherry crisp. The babies loved everything on our plates but they were too exhausted to try dessert. Gotta love the power of hard-core play time! Mason passed out as soon as we got home and didn’t make a peep all night.

As Chris and I were driving home — yes, we wimped out and took the car since NYC was a snowy-rainy mess on Saturday — we were chatting about how much fun we had at the party. It was very different from the wild and crazy  Halloween parties we went to before we became parents, but it was so much better for so many reasons. For starters, we have our son who is without question the love of our lives. I also feel myself getting reflective and sentimental whenever all of the LIC Mamas are together. I feel really bonded with these women and this occasion was just one more reason to celebrate our children and each other. We’ve been able to watch our babies turn into toddlers together and we will move on to the next chapter together, too.

Diane, our awesome hostess, dressed in pink-and-green golf pants to match her son Zann’s golfer costume.


Best for Babies 12+ Months

Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Gouda and Spinach (left) and Chicken Breasts Stuffed With Apples, Cream Cheese, and Walnuts — both by Betty Crocker. Delish!

Cous cous tossed with purchased basil-pesto, green onion, and cauliflower — Diane cooked it all together so the veggies would be nice and tender.
Simple Tossed Salad — lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and red onion tossed with balsamic vinaigrette; ideal with any meal.
Parmesan-Roasted Broccoli by Ina Garten — one of the best broccoli dishes I’ve ever tasted. Even the babes loved it.
Golden Macaroons from Better Homes and Gardens (Diane’s macaroons look just like the photo with the recipe!).

Cherry-Apple Crisp from Betty Rosbottom — Serve it warm with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. I skipped the walnuts since several of the babes haven’t had nuts yet. The recipe isn’t online, so here’s how to make it:


6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup tart, dried cherries
1 stick butter (or half a cup)
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Vanilla or cinnamon ice cream (optional)


Combine butter, flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, and walnuts. Set aside. Grease a baking dish. Arrange apple and cherries. Top with dry ingredient and butter mixture. Bake on 375 degrees F for 30-45 minutes (until crumble is fully baked). Serve warm, topped with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.


What are you doing to celebrate Halloween?

Mason's 1st Birthday Cake + More Great Finger Foods

On Saturday, the day after Mason turned 1, we hosted a safari-theme cookout on our roof to celebrate his birthday. Sixteen of our friends, along with two babes Mason’s age, came over for the bash. We served burgers, classic potato salad, red coleslaw with grapes, heirloom tomato salad (fresh tomatoes with basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and black pepper), fresh fruit salad, and tortilla chips with tomato and pineapple salsas. Mason ate everything but the chips and salsa; bits of burger, potato salad, heirloom tomato salad, fruit salad, and grapes from the coleslaw all made excellent finger foods. But the cake was Bug’s favorite.

After weeks of debate, I chose traditional cupcakes. I’m not much of a cake baker so I ordered the cupcakes from Sprinkles, a cupcake bakery on New York City’s Upper East Side. I loved the idea of cupcakes because Mason could have his own personal cake and we could serve a variety of different flavors to our guests. I chose the classic Sprinkles design, which is very simple and elegant, but requested an M topper for Mason’s vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting. In addition to vanilla, our guests enjoyed chocolate, strawberry, banana, chocolate-peanut butter, and red velvet. Chris documented Mason enjoying his cupcake, from the moment he first saw it to smashing it all over himself and his chair. Enjoy our photos — and share your memories of your babe’s 1st birthday here!

Mason gets his first look at his cupcake as the group sings “Happy Birthday” to him.

Bug takes a taste of frosting — so delish! Plus, I have an audience cheering me on.

The cake part is yummy too, especially with the frosting!

Best. Thing. Ever.

The cupcake tower from Sprinkles, sans the ribbon that matched our party colors (we forgot it!). The “G” on the cupcake in the middle (front) means that it’s gluten-free for mommy.







Baby's 1st Birthday Cake: Traditional or Healthy?


Mason’s first birthday is August 19, which means I’ve been thinking about his first birthday party for the last six months. We’ve decided to have a rooftop cookout, and now I’m pondering the menu. Should we keep it simple and just grill burgers and veggies, or should we grill some shrimp and chicken too? Which cookout sides should I make?  What will everyone want to drink? I have tons of recipes in mind, so it’s just a matter of narrowing down my list. But what about the cake?  Should I make a traditional frosted birthday cake for Mason, or should I make him a healthier cake that’s more like a fruit muffin? What kind of cake did you serve for your babe’s first birthday, or what kind do you plan to serve?

Please weigh in — I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image from

11 Cookout Sides That Make Great Finger Foods for Babies

Lemon-Watermelon Bites

Best for Babies 10+ Months Old

Yesterday afternoon Mason, Chris, and I took the train to Cos Cob, Connecticut, for a 4th of July cookout. (Mason wore his fedora, pic below!) We had a fabulous time. Our friends have a beautiful home on an idyllic lake, the perfect place to relax and unwind. Everyone there was super friendly and the spread was amazing (these people knew how to cook!). Our contribution was a dry rose and an appetizer of fresh watermelon topped with goat cheese, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and lemon-infused olive oil.  Other yummies included a fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomato salad, classic macaroni salad, and tangy black bean and corn salad.

I made a finger food lunch for Mason out of the dishes the adults were eating, and Bug seemed excited to be eating the same foods we were. He also indulged in a slice of vanilla cake (he ate almost the entire thing!), and he was as enthusiastic about the cake as he was about his first cupcake. I’m looking forward to going to more cookouts this summer, and I’m planning on bringing a new dish that’s fresh and baby-friendly to each one. Here is the list of recipes I want to try. What do you plan on bringing to cookouts and potlucks this summer?

1. Lemon-Watermelon Bites (I made these for our friends’ July 4th cookout, pic above!)

2. Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

3. Macaroni Salad

4. Ina Garten’s Potato Salad

5. Green Bean Salad

6. Greek Pasta Salad

7. Tomato and Avocado Salad

8. Fresh Fruit Salad with Creamy Custard

9. Minted Watermelon Salad

10. Antipasto Salad

11. Potato and Olive Salad

(below) Mason, wearing his fedora, all ready to party