When I was growing up, birthday parties were a pretty standard, fairly simple affair……at least relative to the complex, expensive, “My party is going to sooo be better than your party” extravaganzas that occur today.
Old invitations: Strawberry Shortcake or Snoopy cut-outs that came 12 to a pack, bought for under five dollars at the drug store or gift shop uptown.
New Invitations: Custom creations printed on sparkly Crane paper, often rolled up, tied with a silk bow, and inserted into an eco-friendly paper tube along with too much confetti that ends up all over your floor.
Old Attire: Party clothes–duh!
New Attire: This is usually noted on the invite. Cocktail, casual, and semi-formal no longer apply. Today you’re more likely to see “Yacht Club Chic”, “Whimsical Urban”, “Flamenco Inspired”, or, if you are hip enough to be invited to P. Diddy’s annual Hamptons bash, “White and Expensive From Head to Toe.”
Old Venue: All of my parties and those of my friends were held at a handful of central New Jersey locations. These were: backyard, local pool, Sesame Place, The Ground Round, or the Kendall Park Roller Rink. You knew there had to be a roller rink in there somewhere, right? New Jersey and the 80s? Fuggedaboutit! To this day, I cannot hear Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” without thinking of roller skating. Throw in a few boxes of pizza and some Hawaiian punch, and you’ve got fifteen happy eight-year-olds.
Old Gifts: I could pretty much always count on a stuffed animal from at least half of my friends. From others, it was a mish-mosh of things like barrettes, Hello Kitty accessories, or books. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement among parents to not got overboard in the dollar amount department. Sadly, most of those stuffed animals fell victim to my German Shepherd, but they were nice while they lasted.
New Gifts: This category can range from a regifted “artistic” coffee table book — Hey! Didn’t I give that to her for her birthday last year?? — to something outrageously expensive from that smug looking person over in the corner. I mean, what do we really need anyhow? Another candle? Picture frame? More wine? Well, maybe more wine…..
Old Cake: Mommeeeeeeee!!! Can I please get a Carvel ice cream cake for my birthday party? PLEEEEEEEZE??? As far as I was concerned, cake just didn’t get any better than Carvel, which was essentially a big block of two types of ice cream separated by chocolate cookie crumbles and covered with frosting. Never mind that my mom nearly dislocated a shoulder trying to hack through the frozen cake with her chef’s knife–I was happy.
New Cake: You name it, chances are pretty good that a local bakery can build it. Yes, I said “build” it. Thanks to the Ace of Cakes, birthday cakes are no longer two circular layers, vanilla buttercream, and candles. Nooooooooooo. They are confectionery construction jobs. Husband like to bowl? Order him fondant-covered cakes replicas of the pins, his lucky bowling ball, the lane, and even his bag….if you don’t mind spending four figures, that is. I’ve seen some pretty incredible creations (That’s a cake??), and some……not so much. Check out this site and have a good laugh: www.cakewrecks.com .
While I’ve heard a few horror stories about some modern children’s’ birthday parties, most seem to be a happy medium between these “old” and “new” extremes. Having your own jumpy house in the backyard was inconceivable when I was a kid, but nowadays they are everywhere. Now, parents are often invited to parties along with the kids, which means that the aforementioned boxes of pizza and Hawaiian Punch likely won’t suffice. There is also a greater focus on themes and custom favors. (My theme was usually just “party.”) Coming up with a unique theme that hasn’t already been “taken” by a child with an earlier birthday is hard enough, so I am more than happy to help a friend out with some customized favors for her in the form of my favorite sugar cookies.
The Mission? Zoo-themed party favors. The cookie shapes? Lions, Monkeys, and Giraffes (oh my!)
I have been using this same sugar cookie recipe for about 7 years. Once I tried it, I knew that it was “the one”, so I now use it for all of my cookies. Some of you might have picked up that I love to add orange zest to recipes. That is what I did here, along with an extra dose of pure vanilla, which created that creamsicle-like flavor.
- I like to use a lemon royal icing on these cookies, as I find regular royal icing to be a bit flavorless. To prepare this icing, combine a one-pound box of confectioner’s sugar with 3 large egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until well combined. Add enough lemon juice until the icing reaches the consistency that you need to decorate the cookies. Use a thicker icing to outline the cookies and a thinner one to fill or “flood” the cookies.
- The prepared cookie dough can remain in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 days. You can also freeze the dough, double-wrapped, for up to 2 weeks. Thaw the dough overnight in the refrigerator before rolling out.
- After baking, these cookies tend to stay fresh for several days, even a week, so they are perfect for shipping.
- I like to use salted butter in this recipe because I think the extra hint of salt adds a nice contrast to the other flavors, but feel free to use unsalted butter as well (I have tried it with both versions.)
Creamsicle Rolled Sugar Cookies
10 ounces salted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
Zest of one orange
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Mix in the orange zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and continue to beat the mixture for 3 minutes more.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until well combined.
Divide the dough into 3 equal portions, and form each portion into a flat disk. Wrap each portion with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one of the disks of dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Cut shapes as desired, carefully transferring them to the prepared baking sheets and re-rolling scraps as necessary.
Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Transfer the baking sheets to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.
Decorate the cookies as desired using colored royal icing (recipe above in the “tips” section.)