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My 40th birthday was this weekend, and my teenaged daughters made me a special birthday surprise. I was expecting a cake, as that’s the traditional thing to bake people for their birthdays. I’ve been having birthday cakes since my first birthday- my Mom has a photo somewhere of 12 month old me, in the high chair, covered in chocolate frosting.
I don’t do so well on sweets these days. While I’ve continued to bake cakes for my children’s birthdays, I haven’t been indulging myself. I don’t even feel well if I eat too much fruit; it messes with my blood sugar. There are a few sweeteners that are compliant for me, and we do have them stocked in the house. But I can only have about a teaspoonful a day without ill effects, and you need way more than that per serving in a cake, A gluten-free, agave-sweetened birthday cake would be compliant, but I wouldn’t be able to have more than half a slice without feeling sick, and the taste and texture would have been “off” compared to the sugar and spelt cakes we normally bake for everybody else. So nobody would have much enjoyed the cake, and I would have eaten at least a whole slice and then not felt so good afterwards. I haven’t eaten dessert in months and I don’t miss it.
Fortunately, I have a couple of amazing daughters who know how to “think outside the box.” Instead of a cake, or even a dessert, they made a birthday side dish. They started out with some zucchini and yellow squash, cut into rings and hollowed out into “cups.” Then they made a sweet potato filling, and used a plastic bag with the end cut off to fill the zucchini cups in a decorative fashion.
I tried to stay out of the kitchen while they were preparing my birthday surprise, but I wasn’t completely successful. I saw them doing something with boiled sweet potatoes and guessed they were baking a pie. Then, during the mad dash to get everything ready before Shabbos, I was the one who put the sweet potato dish into the oven to warm up. But they still managed to surprise me.
The reason nobody was in the kitchen right before Shabbos is because they were busy working on other parts of the birthday celebration. They put up a hand-made birthday banner in the kitchen, minutes before Shabbos began. When it was time to serve the food, Leah put “candles” into the dish of sweet potato/zucchini cups. Since we can neither light nor blow out candles on Shabbos, she used toothpicks with little “flags” of paper taped to them. One said “40!” with the dot from the exclamation point becoming one eye of a smiley face. That one was in back. In the middle, in a row, were three toothpick flags reading “Happy” “Old-“ “ness!”
This was just as much fun as a real birthday cake; the kids enjoyed the preparation and decorating, and it was just as wonderful in the presentation at the table.
Who needs cake?
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