In our house, birthdays are a big deal. And birthday cakes are a big part of that big deal. They are something to be thought long and hard over and then hand-crafted with lots and lots of love — and labor. If it doesn’t take hours and hours to craft that magical milestone confection topped with icing and flames and dripping wax, then you need to seriously reevaluate your relationship. Somebody doesn’t love you enough. Or you don’t love them enough. That’s my theory. (Not really… well, maybe really.)

A good solid relationship demands at least three hours of dedicated, uninterrupted baking. That’s the birthday cake rule of thumb. At least in my house.

It began when I was little. My mom is the master of birthday cakes from scratch: castle cakes with turrets and flags, yellow layer cakes with pink frosting and roses, maple pecan pound cakes…

I kept the tradition going when my girls were little. I wanted to give them some sort of celebration worthy of the love they had given me — and the cakes my mom had always made.  So I went all out when planning their birthdays. They had themed parties with dozens of attendees. We hosted murder mysteries, scavenger hunts, plundering pirate feasts, and ginormous movie premiers. I planned for months and baked in marathons. Their cakes were always homemade and, though hardly Pinterest-worthy, were fueled and filled with love.

Then came the boys… the twins. And the birthday-cake-stakes were multiplied – and way more than simply times two. These boys have been challenging for a number of reasons — the first being, there were two of them. At once. And they never slept. And did I mention there were two of them. At once…

But, then, to add insult to injury, when their first birthday rolled around, I had to come up with a way to bake up a super-scrumptious birthday cake worth all the love and laughter and sleepless nights the boys had brought into my life. And all without dairy — with nary a milk protein to be found!

Holy Mother of Ganache!

Bake a cake without cream? without chocolate? without butter? These are the key ingredients and foundations of layer cakes and healthy relationships the world over… They are the flutter in the belly, the dilation in the pupil, the surge in the heartstrings. They are the LOOK and TASTE and LANGUAGE of love — of deep, abiding love.

The way I figured it, a cake without dairy would be flat and leave you feeling unfulfilled. Like a song without accompaniment — no guitar, no piano, not even a tambourine. (I must confess this was prior to my exposure to the pure, acapella sounds of Pentatonix. I was so, so very naïve – about music and about cakes… You see, really good cakes – and really good music – CAN be made without the traditional accompaniments.)

…because I found a cake that is moist and dense and decadent and CHOCOLATE with absolutely, positively NO dairy ingredients. Instead, it uses almond milk and coconut oil and applesauce and cocoa and coffee. And witchcraft. Sweet, sweet sacharine sorcery. It is the best damn chocolate cake I’ve ever made. Or ever had. And from now until eternity, it is the only chocolate cake I will ever, ever make again.

Amen and pass the birthday candles.

So yes, the boys presented me with a birthday cake challenge, but I’m here to say my biggest, ongoing challenge has to do with my nay-saying, anti-birthday-establishment husband.

Somehow, I married a man who hates birthdays. No. Worse. He doesn’t hate them. At least there’s passion in hate. No, he just doesn’t care about birthdays. He proclaims, year after year, that “a birthday is just another day.”  He doesn’t want to be fussed over. He doesn’t want to be baked for.

Oh, the blasphemy! Oh, the shame!!!

A birthday is NOT just another day. A birthday is YOUR day (unless you’re a twin. The twins share their special day – which is kind of a crime, if you think about it. But then, so were those sixteen sleepless months they gave me, so I guess that’s the cross they must bear…)

But your birthday is YOUR special day. You get the birthday song sung to you. (Yes, I know it’s tedious and tired and half the people who sing it can’t quite hit those high notes – me included –  but still, we squawk it out just for you. So just relish in the disjangled cacophony of it all.)

And you get birthday cards and birthday presents. (Well, I may have forgotten to pick up a card this year – your 40th and one of the Big Ones — which probably means I’ve now got myself reserved seating on one of the deep-throated sectionals in the ninth circle of Hell reserved for the traitors of kin, but I DID get you a really, really nice, long-awaited birthday gift.)

But most of all, you get cake. BIRTHDAY cake. And I’m here to tell you I happily spent the majority of the morning hours toasting pecans and grating carrots and creaming butter and folding egg whites and spooning vanilla to create a veritable symphony of love and affection in the form of a three-layered confection made special just for you.

Because you see, you ARE a really big deal. And yes, I know you are a staggering six feet of pure, mountainous muscle and mixed genetics — a specimen of breathtaking beauty ( Don’t argue with me. You are.), but you are also a big deal for far more than your giant stature and gorgeous genetics. You have changed the course of my life for the better. You sent me spinning head-over-heels into a world full of football and do-it-all-over-again-motherhood, and a pure and perfect and birthday-cake-special kind of love.

So every January 7th, I bake up your favorite — carrot cake with toasted pecans and creamed cheese icing – in honor of all the hugs and kisses and laughter and toddler antics and frenzied football games and political discussions and passion and pure joy you give to me on a daily basis. A simple symbol of thanks for a complex, multi-layered love. Happy Birthday, handsome.