I love planning a party! And I love the planning of the party so much more than the actual party.
Next month is my daughter Nicole’s 21st birthday. We are both so excited! So this has to be the most fabulous party that I have ever planned.
When Nicole was a little girl, I used to throw the best parties! I know this because the other mothers told me so! There was always plenty of party snacks to eat; little fairy cup cakes, lollipops with sherbet centers, potato crisps with dip and sugary cool drinks in fancy party cups! All set out on a low table so that the kiddies can help themselves. Not a single healthy food in sight. It’s not every day that your child celebrates a birthday I would argue defensively. We would have giant slip and slides or jumping castles and there was also an entertainer, like a clown or a mermaid or wizards and witches who led the games and handed out lots of lovely prizes. All the kids used to come. Bribery and corruption works with little kids every time!
And the same thing could be said for their moms! I wasn’t necessarily the most popular mother at school but I had a reputation for providing delicious snacks and very drinkable wine so there was every reason for the moms to stay. Once I provided a full lunch because the venue was quite a long drive from our suburb and the parents had as much fun as the kids.
One of the most unforgettable parties that I threw for Nicole was when she turned 5. It was completely over the top and utterly indulgent. The party had everything that any little girl or little boy could wish for. We held the party at a little play park that had a small animal farm with lots of baby animals. The ducklings swimming in the pond attracted a lot of attraction. I had also organized a real life Barbie doll! She was tall, beautifully made up, long blonde hair and she wore a beautiful blue ball gown. She looked just like the Barbie cake that I had ordered! She painted faces – shimmery butterflies for the girls and superheroes for the boys and she posed for a photograph with each child. And then on top of all of that, I had arranged a lightning visit to the fire station next door! It was an educational tour with lots of fun elements. The children had a ride around the block on a real fire engine and got to use the fire hose to put out a flaming car. The boys were in their element! Barbie joined the kids at the fire station much to the delight of the firemen.
Now 16 years later, Nicole wants a say in the planning of her 21st party. It’s much harder because now she has wants! She is happy to have the party at home, me not so much. I don’t want the neighbors to complain about the noise, I say. Remember your 13th birthday party at home? The police were at our gate at just after midnight. And they didn’t leave until all the boys had been fetched. Plus, there is all the cleaning up to do afterwards. No, no, not at home. What about the restaurant down the road? Grace would be happy for us to bring extra couches so guests can overflow onto the pavement? And she doesn’t have a liquor license so we can take our own booze, a lot cheaper. I quite like that idea. Maybe, she says. Let’s keep looking.
We’ve considered roof top venues in the CBD, venues with sunset views to die for, venues with sprawling lawns and venues out of town. But all these venues require setup and strip down and once again I’m not so keen on having to clean up after a party. Eventually we found two restaurants close by which sounded like they may hit the brief. The brief was that it should be small enough so that we can hire the entire venue, provide food or their own caterers, be within a 15km radius from home, have a license to operate until at least 2 in the morning and suitable for both family and friends. We climbed into the car and went for a look see. We loved the look of both. But the one is directly opposite a very popular night club and I wondered out loud if we wouldn’t get unwelcome guests on the night. The second restaurant is the perfect size with a lovely outside deck for smokers. And although situated in a very busy area, it is just far enough down the road from the busiest section to feel secure.
With the venue secured, we are now turning our thoughts to birthday cakes. The birthday cake takes centre stage at momentous birthday parties and I would like this cake to be the best ever! Until Nicole turned 9, she used to have two birthday cakes – one for school and one for her birthday party. And I used to bake and ice at least one of the cakes every year. The birthday cake for her one year old party was a stack of baby building blocks. Each block was an iced fruit cake, decorated with little sugar animals or flowers which my sister-in-law and I made. We spent hours! It was a lot more difficult to make than it looks. For her third birthday, I baked and iced a toadstool house and decorated it with fairies lying on the roof of the house and sitting outside in the flower garden on top of a little toadstool stool. The cake looked beautiful but I remember that the cake itself did not taste so nice! I learnt from that and for a couple of years thereafter I made a variation of a chocolate cake covered in chocolate buttercream that was utterly delicious! There was a Barbie Rapunzel in a castle cake. The castle was made from a cardboard box with turrets made from rolled up cardboard and it stood on top of a slab of chocolate cake. Then there were ballerinas dancing on a stage, dressed in handmade tutus and flanked by thick red curtains; the backdrop was made from cardboard and the stage was made from the same slab of chocolate cake. I also made a few ice cream cakes. With Joburg being such a warm city, it can be a challenge to transport ice cream cakes and keep it intact and once or twice we had to transport the cake quite a distance. The first was a Barbie ice cream cake. I had bought the most gorgeous Barbie doll but didn’t make the hole in the middle of the ice cream gown deep enough, so had to break the legs of the doll off! I tried but could never put the legs back together again. Then there was Ariel the mermaid sitting on a rock at a sea made of blue bubblegum ice cream. And I just loved the snowman ice cream cake that I made for her 9th birthday. It had a real baby carrot for his nose and his arms were made from giant chocolate pretzels.
Of course I also bought birthday cakes! Because of the tradition of taking cake to school Nicole often had two birthday cakes every year until she turned nine. Once or twice she had three, but that just sounds like I have more money than sense and that is completely not true; I think I had just lost my ability to think straight at the time! There was an assortment of bought cakes; the Barbie doll cake mentioned earlier, a Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall cake, a cake with her photograph printed on the top which was trending at the time and an assortment of themed cup cakes. The cake that I personally loved the most was a witches cauldron for her wizards and witches themed party (she is, still, a huge Harry Potter fan). The cauldron was covered in matte black fondant icing, bubbling green stuff, a massive spider clinging to the side. The cat lying languorously at the base had green eyes to match and the young witch sitting on top of the cauldron holding her broom had a most cheeky smile on her face. The detail was extraordinary! A real work of art.
So this weekend we will decide on the birthday cake for Nicole’s 21st. I have suggested a birthday cake inspired by Harry Potter. She likes the idea but isn’t completely sold. So watch this space!
Until next time ☕️