Lauren’s birthday is four days before Christmas, which makes for some interesting challenges around the holidays. Just when I’ve gotten through November which includes Sam’s birthday and Thanksgiving, we’re bearing down on the end of December, full-throttle.

I’ve never been one to throw big birthday parties for my kids. We usually go the homemade birthday cake + celebrate at home route. Lauren especially loves to spend the day with me in the kitchen making a big layer cake and planning her birthday dinner courses.

This year her selections are 1) chicken tostadas with guacamole (as Emma likes to say, “mock ‘n molé” and I will die a silent death when she stops referring to it as such), 2) beef and bean nachos, and 3) a candy cane birthday cake.

With 3 boxes of unwrapped Christmas gifts stashed in my room yesterday and my parents’ imminent arrival from Toronto, I felt like my head was spinning when we arrived at the lake for our 2-week stay. Holidays are challenging. The world’s tiniest violin is playing softly in the background, I know, I know. To be burdened with too many birthday dinners to cook and gifts to wrap. But the holidays always take me off guard. I know that they’ll be busy, but I never anticipate the kind of frenzy that sweeps through my home and keeps me on my feet for days on end.

Luckily the holidays come with a few perks. Yes, I’m the chief giver in the house, orchestrating a mass distribution of gifts that are seamlessly ordered through Amazon and then painstakingly unboxed, categorized, wrapped and given on Christmas morning. But I also receive a few gifts that put a smile on my face.

One of those gifts this year was a box from Quarterly. Quarterly sends a box of hand-picked items every three months (hence the name) from one of its well-known curators including Food 52, Chef Ludo of Top Chef fame, Grace Bonney, the talent behind the popular blog Design Sponge. If you’re still looking for unique holiday gifts, check them out at



(included in box: Ana striped tapers, Rifle floral composition notebook, Cotton + Flax coasters, A Heirloom cutting board, Kusmi tea, Furbish studio matches)

I received Grace’s Design Sponge box, which came just in time for Lauren’s birthday marathon, which aside from cooking more Mexican food than I have in the past year, included her Christmas-inspired candy cane birthday cake. I had reservations about the cake idea (vanilla peppermint buttercream anyone?), but it was her creation and it was surprisingly good. Sam had three slices, after claiming post-Mexican feast that he was too full for dessert. Perhaps Lauren should help me write recipes more often.

Fueled with tea, our day looked a little something like this…

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Candy cane birthday cake
Serves 10
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Prep Time
45 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Prep Time
45 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
For the cake
  1. 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  2. 2 cups sugar
  3. 4 large eggs — room temp
  4. 1 cup milk
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  6. 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  7. 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
For the buttercream
  1. 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  2. 8 cups of confectioner’s sugar
  3. ½ cup of milk
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
To top the cake
  1. 1 cup crushed candy canes
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease and lightly flour two 9×2 inch round cake pans.
  3. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  4. In mixing bowl, using medium speed of electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar
  5. until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Mix the milk and vanilla together.
  8. Combine both of the flours and add in two parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla mixture, beating well after each addition. Do not over beat, if you do, the cake will not be light and fluffy.
  9. Divide the batter among the prepared pans.
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  11. Let cake cool in pans for 10 minutes.
  12. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.
  13. While the cake is cooling, make the buttercream but mixing the buttercream ingredients in a large bowl on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  14. When cake has cooled, ice between layers, then ice top and sides of cake, and then coat the top with the crushed peppermint.
Feed me dearly
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