Date night with a side of caketastrophe

Otto and I don’t get out enough as a couple. This is a subjective assessment, of course; what is “enough,” really? Whatever it is, we aren’t there. This is because we have jobs and other commitments and needy teenagers and a fairly comfortable couch and also because my natural inclination is to be a hermit. Otto, however, as both the extrovert and better wife in this relationship, periodically insists that we leave the house together, just the two of us. (And apparently when we go grocery shopping together, that doesn’t count. Sheesh.)

Last night we went to the sort of artsy-fartsy thing college towns are known for; there was black-and-white photography! There was poetry! There were figs stuffed with fancy cheese! I very nearly felt like a grown-up, right up until people started packing into the tiny seating area and a woman planted herself next to me and set her wine glass on the floor. “I’m going to try really hard not to kick that over,” I told her. “I’m sort of clumsy.” I thought I was just making conversation, but she looked at me like I’d just confided that I both had Ebola AND sometimes I tongue-kiss the nearest stranger. So that was nice.

But I should back up, a minute, to earlier in the day.

First, you have to understand that Monkey starting over at the high school has rendered me completely useless this week. (I’m not blaming him; it’s nothing he’s done. This is 100% me being my usual, neurotic self.) We are not yet into our new rhythm with this schedule of getting both kids to school, but picking one up early, but some days one stays late, and OOPS maybe some days the other one needs to go BACK and stay late, and that’s not even mentioning all of the bracing for A Bad News Phone Call during schooling hours (which, it should be noted, hasn’t come). To be crystal clear: Monkey is having the time of his life, and his teachers report that they are enjoying him. Everything has gone better than I’d dared to hope it might. I am just trying to find my footing here in this new and somewhat alternate reality.

Second, you need to know that yesterday was fuller than usual even before considering our planned date, because I had an out-of-the-house meeting, and that morning, Chickadee had announced that she needed to make a cake that afternoon and wanted my help.

[Digression: Is there an age at which children finally realize that 6-12ish hours of lead time on special creations/requests is really just not enough to keep their parents sane? Because here we are, firmly entrenched in the teen years, and still the phrase, “Oh by the way, Mom, I need…” strikes a special kind of cold fear into my heart. Maybe someday I’ll tell you the story of how three months of haranguing in the form of “GET YOUR CONCERT DRESS, MAKE SURE WE HAVE TIME TO ALTER IT” led to a one-hour-before-the-concert frantic fabric-taping of the hem while we argued over whether wearing heels would make the hem more likely to last the evening (less shortening needed) or more likely to destroy the tape-MacGuyvering (via a heel hooked on it). Wait. Never mind! I just told you. Spoiler: Everyone lived. No one even tripped. I am, however, out of fabric tape.]

Anyway, the POINT here (I had one, I swear) is that yesterday Chickadee wanted to make a cake. When she brought this up at breakfast I said that was no problem, I could help her that evening, and moments later, Otto was sniping at me like a jilted lover because I had managed to forget that we were supposed to go out that night. Apologies were given. Jokes about early Alzheimer’s were made. And I did that thing I do, that NO WORRIES, I CAN TOTALLY FIX THIS AND MEET EVERYONE’S NEEDS sweeping of my arm to accommodate everyone I love because 1) I care and 2) I hate being wrong.

The kids went to school, Otto went to work, and my day unfolded in a flurry of work/phone calls/email/driving everyone everywhere/getting to my meeting/etc. It was clear around about lunchtime that the only way I was going to get to go on a date with my husband AND help my daughter would be to bake a cake before leaving for my meeting, and then letting Chickie know that she could go ahead and do the frosting/decorating that evening while we were out.

Feeling like a loving mother, I texted my daughter to explain that I would need to bake off the cake before she got home, but that I would leave the rest to her. In a startling turn of events, my daughter was actually paying attention in class when I sent this message (and not glued to her phone), so the cake I made was actually cooling on the counter by the time she saw the message and began frantically texting me that NO NO NO she wanted to make it herself.

This is where the old me and the old her would’ve produced nuclear fission. A few years ago—heck, even just a year ago—the downward spiral here would’ve been ugly. She would protest, I would get bent out of joint that I’d taken time out of my busy day to do something for her and she was ungrateful, she would be frustrated that I didn’t understand, I would say something uber-helpful and mature like FINE I JUST WON’T EVER TRY BEING NICE, and down we would’ve gone. Splat!

Time and hard work and a lot of therapy has been good for us both. As soon as she started protesting, I texted back to say that was fine, she was welcome to make her own cake and I would just freeze the layers I’d made for another time. At this point her argument changed to BUT I JUST— WAIT WHAT? REALLY? and that was that. Crisis averted.

“I won’t be here to help,” I reminded her, “But I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Off I went to the rest of my day and off she went to the rest of hers. (Life is a lot nicer than it used to be, yes.)

As Otto and I gathered up our things yesterday evening, I reminded my darling daughter that as long as she cleaned up after herself, she was free to create whatever she liked. And then we left for our adults-only evening.

The event we went to was great fun, and it ended earlier than we’d anticipated, so we did that giddy thing that parents of somewhat self-sufficient teenagers can do and we looked at our watches and said, “Hey! Let’s go out to dinner!” We were heady with the freedom of it all.

Up to this point, I’d gotten just a couple of texts from Chickadee. “IF I WAS SUGAR WHERE WOULD I LIVE?” at first, and shortly thereafter: “Where are the beaters?” A bit later: “Are these round pans nonstick?” Nothing unexpected.

We were about halfway through dinner when my phone began to buzz repeatedly.

My fronting is terrible.
And my cake broke
And everything is terrible
It’s all ruined.

Old Me—the same one who probably would’ve made my daughter so angry earlier that at this point she wouldn’t have even been speaking to me—would’ve rushed home to take over and fix everything. New Me texted some reassurances and reminders to breathe and promises that we would be home within an hour and I was sure it wasn’t as bad as she thought. We took our time finishing our meal. “I like hanging out with you,” I told my husband, as we walked back to the car.

Later, when we walked in the door at home, it turned out that I’d told the truth: It wasn’t as bad as Chickadee thought in terms of still producing an edible cake, so that was great news. The bad news is that the kitchen was SO MUCH WORSE than I’d imagined, that the dogs were still jumping all over my kneecaps (OH BOY OH BOY YOU ARE HOME IT’S TIME TO KNOCK YOU DOWN) while I burst into hysterical laughter at the scene of carnage in front of me.

Chickie was on the verge of tears, and trying to explain. “I just figured that maybe if I whipped it more… or added a few things….” She was trying to justify the trail of green-slime-covered bowls housing what I assume was meant to be a cheerful green frosting, but in reality looked like someone had stuffed Kermit the Frog into our blender and pureed him only partway. Frosting should not be chunky. I stuck my finger into a nearby bowl and tasted it.

“Don’t eat that!” she said, alarmed. “It has flour in it!”

I dropped my hand and began laughing anew. “There’s FLOUR in the FROSTING?? What recipe did you use?” She showed me a printout of a recipe she’d found online. “‘The Best Frosting In The World,'” I read off. “This uses granulated instead of powdered sugar, plus it has flour in it. Honey, this woman is a lying liar who sits upon a throne of lies. Please throw away this recipe and whatever green gloop is still sitting out.” While she scraped it into the trash, I made a comment about how she’d tried to Swedish Chef her way through fixing it, clearly—I gestured to all of the dirty dishes and evidence of various additives—and before I knew it, I was doing a full-on impression (“Erdy deedy beeskey boody, makey da FROOSTING! Beepdey boody ADDA SOME FLOURY FLOURY!”) and we were both howling with laughter.

Eventually we composed ourselves and I had a look at her cake. Somehow she’d ended up with just one layer, and it had broken when she’d turned it out of the pan. “It’s really yummy, though,” she said in a small, mournful voice. “It’s just broken.”

“I’m thinking three-layer cake,” I said. “We’ll use the two layers I made earlier, put yours in-between, whip up some new frosting, patch it all together. Sound good?” She nodded, relieved. “Great!” I said. “Uhhh… how about you start on the dishes while I make the frosting?”

I discovered that we no longer had enough butter on hand for a proper buttercream, so we consulted La Google and settled on a cream cheese frosting that would stretch that last stick of butter, plus some mini chocolate chips because: chocolate chips. The recipe we’d settled on called for a brick and a half of cream cheese. I stood next to the sink, dividing a brick in half with a butter knife while holding the package in my opposite hand, and Chickie turned towards me long enough to say, “DON’T DROP THAT IN THE SINK, WE CAN’T RUN OUT OF ANYTHING ELSE.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m not going to drop it, plus we have plenty of cream cheese. It’s butter we’re nearly out of.” She nodded, and turned back to the dishwasher at precisely the moment when I tried to loosen the knife and, yes, flipped one half of the block of cream cheese directly into the sink, where it PLOPped right into a pool of frosting chunk-tinged water. I stood blinking at it, for a few moments. Chickadee turned back and looked at the sink, looked at me, and threw her hands into the air.

“I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT!” Cue the five-minute break for us to manage to stop laughing and resume breathing and our respective chores at hand.

We worked in companionable silence for a bit, interrupting for the occasional Swedish Chef proclamation and resultant giggling. Once the frosting was ready, I peered into the bowl, nervous. “I’m not sure this is enough for all three layers,” I admitted. Chickie’s face fell. “It’ll be fine,” I added. “We’ll make it work. It’s just going to be close.”

Together we readied the base, situated the first layer, set to work. When it came time to add the second, broken layer, Chickadee’s brows knitted together. “It’s fine!” I assured her. “I’m an expert!” (I am not an expert, but I do watch a lot of Cake Boss.) I grabbed a smaller spatula and eased frosting into the cracks, effectively gluing everything together. “Perfect!” I declared, as we covered that layer with chocolate chips. Once the third layer went down, well, who would know about the patch job? Only the lucky person who ended up with the bonus frosting piece, that’s who, and who was going to complain about extra frosting? Exactly.

In the end, we scraped every last molecule of frosting out of the bowl, but we made it work. I applied a few final swirls and then Chickie set to work with the rainbow glitter.

Glitter makes everything better, y’know.

We finished around 11:00. I think the designated recipient is going to be pretty pleased with it. There may have been some high-fiving before we headed to bed.

“Hey,” I said to my daughter this morning, as she stuffed papers into her backpack. “Is it okay with you if I write about the cake?”

She looked up in surprise. “Of course!” she said. A devilish grin grabbed the corners of her mouth. “One condition, though,” she added. I raised my eyebrows. “You have to include a picture of the original frosting.”

A deal’s a deal!

Alas, poor Kermit. Sorry about the blender, dude.


  1. Sarah B.

    ROFL!!!! I hope I can have that solid a relationship with my daughter when she gets to be that age. The dramatic texts just MADE the story. Those are my favorites.

  2. jodifur

    I want you to save this post forever and read it back and remember all those late night emails we had when things were terrible. At there worst really.

    And smile.

    Because this post is a testament to all the hard wonderful work the two of you have done. I know things aren’t perfect, but nothing really ever is.

    • Mir


    • RuthWells

      Thumbs way the hell up.

    • Midj

      Me, too. Exactly. This warmed me to the bottom of my soggy eyed soul…Love you, M…


  3. Heather

    That is really quite wonderful.

  4. JennyA

    This makes me happy. Even if the picture of the green… substance… makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

  5. Lisa

    ROFL, hey Mir – haven’t talked with you in YEARS, but read your blog quite regularly – this one ranks right up there – totally reminds me of me :-). I just wanted to say that your strength (and of course your humor) in the face of adversity is admirable – and, as you have also found out, it IS POSSIBLE to not only survive parenting, but to end up with some pretty great child-people at the end of it all!

  6. Deirdre

    Tears. Rolling down my cheeks as I try to get my breath back after laughing so hard. Maybe my daughter and I need to do some baking and Swedish Chef imitations to get past this stupid Model UN that has her tied up in knots.

  7. Kelly

    This post made me smile… and alas poor Kermit we will miss you.

  8. Mandy

    All the love

  9. mkw

    I recently came home to 17-year-old-decides-to-bake-again-kitchen-disaster. . . She gave up and went to bed. The note taped to the door said something like, “Don’t panic. It used to be much worse.” Ummmm. Well. It wasn’t good. The next morning part of the confession included holding up the beaters while still running and something about frosting on the fridge, ceiling, etc. . . three weeks later we still run across some elusive frosting. You handled your situation great. We might need to get the name of your family therapist!!!

    • Mir

      Oh, I left out the best part—she had taken a panorama of how the kitchen had looked before she started cleaning up. Our crime scene was of the “but it used to be worse” variety, as well!

  10. Diane

    Trying so hard to *silently* howl in laughter lest my office mates think I’ve gone round the bend. What a wonderful story to showcase the progress both of you have made. This is truly the three layer glitter cake of glory.

  11. Tenessa

    I LOVED this. It made me smile and smile.

    I *have* actually made that frosting with the flour. It is really weird to make, but AMAZINGLY delicious when done. When I have the time, it’s what I make every time now.

  12. el-e-e

    Evidence that the Muppets can fix anything. Kermie! Swedish Chef! Thank you, Jim Henson.

    And thank you, Mir and Chickie, for the much-needed laugh this morning!

  13. Brenda

    I think my favorite part of this is such a concrete example of how much both of you have been growing. Being able to laugh together over disaster and patch it together for success in the end is so wonderful. And I’d just like to say, for the record, that the frosting doesn’t look so terrible apart from the strange color. :)

  14. dad

    Well done team…downright memorable.
    Only the image of puree of Kermit was disturbing.
    At least his demise was for a noble cause.

    Proud of you as always.
    Almost always.

  15. Little Bird

    You frost so much better than I do! Tell me your secret, you use an offset spatula, don’t you?

    • Mir

      I don’t, actually. My secret is… ummm… luck? I just use a nylon cake palette knife tool and go really slow.

  16. Brigitte

    Tears in my eyes from laughing!
    Sometimes, if I am running low on icing in a layer cake, I’ll use strawberry or raspberry jam (or lemon curd, or orange marmalade . . ) in the in-between layers. Too late for Kermit, but perhaps usable in the future. ;-)

  17. sassymonkey

    I want video of your Swedish Chef impression. Because that sounds like GOLD, Mir. GOLD.

  18. Jamie

    The PLOP… priceless! A great story for giggles on a Friday afternoon. Well done!

  19. Karen

    Awesomeness every way you look at it. Except for the green glob.

    Another icing tip – heat up a butter knife for a few seconds in hot running water and immediately run it along your icing… smooth as glass.

    I love that glitter! Never seen it in stores around here!

  20. Kathie M

    You made me snort laugh and now my coworker has put his headphones on so that he doesn’t have to listen to me!! roflmao

  21. Debra

    ‘Swedish-Chef’ is going to be my new internal reminder for when I come across a disaster, (caused by a well meaning child-person), to take a more Mir-like approach. Faced with this homecoming, I would have lost it on whoever created it. I would have ended up with a headache, a crying child and the intended recipient of the cake-gift would have no cake.

    Thank you for one of the most important parenting lessons I will learn this week, maybe this month! How I react to a well meaning child who creates an unintentional disaster can mean all the difference in the world to our relationship with each other.

  22. Alison

    So love the way you and Chickie are growing together. Kermit frosting is always good!

    But I have to confess that I most empathise with the bit about the wine glass….so many times I’ve made what I thought was a deprecating and mildly amusing remark to a stranger, only to have them look alarmed and visibly wonder when it will be ok to edge away…..

  23. liz

    I just peed myself laughing.

  24. Katherine

    I have a 17 yo boy teen who occasionally likes to bake. But only or especially when I’m not home. He is getting better and he knows where most things are (good since I am often unreachable via phone or text). But we have had some memorable baking incidents. Like the time where he misread the measurement and added 1/4 CUP of baking powder, instead of tsp. or the time he use peppermint oil in place of peppermint extract (very, exceedingly minty!). The kitchen still always looks like a disaster area, usually complete with flour or powdered sugar on my iPad!

  25. Barbara

    Swedish Chef and Kermit and cake in the same skit? Brilliant!!
    Nice job making cake-ade out of mess-lemons.

  26. Kira

    It’s that psychopath, The Pioneer Woman, isn’t it? The “frosting” recipe? I swear, she’s trying to kill us all.
    Max told me yesterday that he doesn’t intend to go to college, because he’s going to open a bakery instead. He would consider culinary school. Maybe. But he just loves to bake.
    I pointed out that he almost never bakes anything. He allowed as how he should really do more of that.
    So. Pray that I can take a page from your tolerant, loving book. Yeesh.

  27. Stimey

    I love every damn thing about this post so much that I want to hug it, EXCEPT for the fact that *I* wasn’t the recipient of the cake. Also figs shouldn’t be stuffed with things. Or eaten.

  28. Peggy Fry

    I didn’t think the green goop looked too bad. It was a cheery spring green. Frosting, though… if it doesn’t come in a can I don’t use it. (especially since it isn’t on WW). Good job, both of you! and it looks delicious!

  29. Kristin

    Okay, the Pioneer Woman’s flour frosting is frickin amazing but it has to be done EXACTLY right or else it’s crap. And yes, everyone on the planet laughed at the recipe but yes, it’s amazing.

    You know how I “frost” a cake when my frosting is crap? It’s called instant pudding!!!!

    That was a great.

  30. Issa

    Poor Kermie! Heh. Congrats to both of you on getting to this place.

  31. Jeanie

    So did you use the cream cheese that plopped into the sink? I would have.

    • Kate in MI

      I, too, was totally thinking “five second rule!”

    • Mir

      Noooooo! I used the other half of that brick and chucked the one that fell.

  32. Aimee

    haHA! This just made my day. You are made of awesome, and so is Chickadee even if she DID partially blend Kermit. Poor Kermit. I have to say, were I going to be blended, I would prefer to be a smooth puree, not a chunky half-puree. Is that politically incorrect? If you’re half-pureed, don’t email me!!!!

    • Aimee

      Or Mir! Don’t email Mir, either!

  33. NTE

    Awesome ~ There’s so much happy in this post, that it makes me want to smile all night.

  34. Lara

    Awesome. Parenting win and hilarious blog post!

  35. Jessica

    I’m going to confess: I have tried to make this exact frosting many, many times and it always comes out as a greasy mess. I’ve discovered I was underbeating it (because my instructions said to so it for a certain amount of time), but i haven’t tried it again since learning that. (I have heard it’s delicious when it comes out right.)

    I feel a bit vindicated, though, because my MIL, who is definitely one of those people for whom recipes like this were created, made it for my birthday one time (no, I didn’t ask her to, but apparently it’s the “real” frosting in certain areas for red velvet cake, which is my favorite) and hers came out just like mine always does. She has made it before with success apparently, which I’ve never been able to do. (I’ve never had this icing made correctly, so I’m still speculating based on hearsay.)

  36. Chris

    That is a great story and kudos to all for making it through. Also interested to see how many of the child people make the biggest messes in the world – more fun for me when making gluten free donuts then when make regular flour cake for someone else but still.

  37. Rachael

    The. Green. Frosting… it sort of reminds me of the cold cucumber soup recipe you posted some time ago. It DOES look like Kermit hit the blender, though… the fuzzy puppet version of him.

  38. KG

    I have actually made that frosting and it’s ridiculously good. In fact, I feel like I want to go whip up a batch and just eat it after reading this post. But seriously, the ingredients sound disastrous, but done correctly, it’s heaven!

  39. Kirsten

    Am I the only one that broke into their own Swedish Chef impersonation trying to actually read your quote out loud? LOL

    Ah, Chickie. My feeble attempts at cooking sound scarily similar to yours….. and now I have a kitchen half the size of what I’m used to…. it only means I end up with twice the mess in 3x more of the house….. figure THAT math….

    • deva

      Nope, I totally did that and then started laughing so hard I think I pulled a muscle.

      Mir, this is a wonderful post. The green frosting made me giggle and the FLOUR? IN THE FROSTING? I agree that the author of the recipe does not know true frosting.

  40. Katie in MA

    I bet this story comes up a time or six when Chickie is teaching her cake-saving moves to Cake Boss: The Next Generation. How wonderful that you got to enjoy your caketastrophe instead – evidence of a lot of faith and hard work right there!

  41. Flea

    Oh. Mir. The relationship change. The original frosting. My sudden craving for cake. I don’t know what to say …

  42. Annie

    That’s what I’m hoping for in the future with my tiny tiny baby girl.

  43. Cran

    The frosting, as I made it last week for my daughter’s chocolate birthday cake, goes like this:

    Stir together one cup of water and 5 Tbsp of flour until there are no lumps. Cook over medium heat in a small saucepan until thickened. It gets pretty thick pretty fast. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
    Cream together 2 sticks of room temperature butter and 1 cup of granulated sugar until there is no grit. Mixture should be smooth. This might take a few minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and the cooled flour mixture and beat until fluffy and buttery and delicious. If it looks grainy and kind of separated, continue to beat until it comes together.

    I realize there are gluten issues but for anyone else who doubts, you should try it before recoiling in horror. It beats the cardboard-y taste of powdered sugar frosting. Not sure how PW makes it but this is how our family has done it since long before cooking blogs were a thing. It IS very rich and I can usually frost two 9 x 13 cakes with one batch of this.

    And what a wonderful way to spend quality time with Chickie. I should try harder with my fifteen-year old. Kudos to you, Mir, for starting the new year on a high note!

  44. crazyjane

    This is the only frosting I make. But I use shortening instead of butter. Because that’s how my mom did it.

  45. Liza

    Plop! I learned to hate electric stoves the first time I tried to make frosting on my own. Just turning off the heat doesn’t actually make the electric ring things not hot, in case you didn’t know. ;) And continuing to cook the icing after it hits the texture you want is also not good.

    For my daughter’s last birthday, I made 7 minute frosting, which is essentially soft meringue and absolutely delicious. But don’t be fooled by the name, it takes a lot longer than 7 minutes.

  46. Liza

    PS Substituting jello for part of the sugar can give you a pretty color and a little bit of flavor, without the Kermit puree factor. Raspberry meringue pink is an excellent choice, especially for 5 year old girls. ;)

  47. Ruth

    Isn’t it lovely when everything comes together like that? Wonderful story.

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