By SHANNON WATKINS
First of all, let me commiserate with my fellow January-born: we in particular know the feeling of throwing a party while everyone still has a hangover from the last one.
Which is to say, everyone is still suffering from the lingering aftereffects of the holidays and their demise, along with the stringency of following restrictive New Years’ resolutions, the guilt of not sticking to them, and the mounting bills from December’s extravagances. And because of that, your birthday celebration is probably going to feel less like a lavish and joyful commemoration of your arrival on earth and more like a cursory errand punctuated by the presence of sheet cake.
Some people are more bothered by this than others. To be honest, I’m mostly partied out. I had a huge birthday bash when I was 8 that will never be topped (you really can’t get away with throwing peanuts for sport after you leave grade school, which is a pity) and so I don’t mind not having another one. I already get a lot of phone calls and Facebook greetings and cards from geographically distant friends and family on my big day. This leaves me with plenty of time to celebrate in my own particular fashion; namely, taking myself out for a quiet dinner while reading one book, repairing to a bookstore to peruse other ones, and going home with a fancy cupcake from a French bakery. I like a blowout as much as the next person, but my birthdays are my personal introverted paradise.
So let’s say you, too, are naturally withdrawn, and also somewhat harried at diving back into work full force after a restful spate of days off, and the next holiday on the horizon worth mentioning is Valentines Day, which single or coupled is exhausting to even think about. And while it’s nice to have your friends over, or to go out with them, you’re just too tired and pulled in too many directions right now to work up a head of steam over any of it. You’re happy to have muddled through another year, but can you please not be asked to do a public victory lap? You’ve reached the age where the best present is getting to sleep in undisturbed. You’ll pull out all the stops for someone else’s birthday, you promise.
Perhaps you also will forgo a whole cake (your childhood birthday self would marvel at this) for something smaller. A fancy cupcake would be nice, but maybe you don’t even feel like going out to pick up one of those; maybe your ideal birthday is staying home in your fuzzy slippers and enjoying a hot shower, a delivered pizza, and your favorite TV show. But still, cake would be nice.
It’s at this point that we turn to a recent but welcome phenomenon in the world of baking: mug cakes. Your Pinterest board may be lit up with the things. Essentially it’s cake for one (or two) in the microwave, which is very gratifying and quick, and doesn’t leave you with a hulking amount of dessert sitting on your countertop, getting drier and moldier and more foreboding as the week progresses. And, of course, you don’t even need to leave the house.
These recipes, slightly tweaked, come from “Mug Cakes: 100 Speedy Microwave Treats to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth” by Leslie Bilderback. You’ll need self-rising flour, which you can make yourself by adding ¾ of a teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt to 1 cup of all-purpose flour and mixing it well. You’ll also need two regular sized mugs (10-12 oz.) or one large one (16 oz. or so), and a functioning microwave.
Yellow Mug Cake
2 Tbsps. butter
1 large egg
2 Tbsps. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup white sugar
6 tbsps. self-rising flour
pinch of salt
Hit the inside of your intended mug(s) with a squirt of nonstick cooking spray. Melt the butter in a small bowl and stir in the sugar. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the flour and salt and beat until smooth. Divide the batter between two regular-sized mugs or one large one; in either case, don’t fill more than halfway. Microwave separately (if using two mugs) for 1½ – 2½ minutes each, until risen and firm.
Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
¼ cup chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsps. sour cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sifted confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
pinch of salt
1-2 Tbsps. hot water, as needed
In a small bowl, combine the chips and butter and microwave for 30-60 seconds until mostly melted; stir till smooth. Stir in the sour cream, salt and vanilla. Add confectioner’s sugar and stir until smooth. Adjust consistency with hot water or more confectioner’s sugar. Frost mug cake(s) as you like.
Then stretch out on the couch with a nice book and the TV flickering in the background. Your phone will vibrate as friends text you best wishes. “Sorry we aren’t close enough to give you a decent party!” they type. “That’s OK,” you type back. “I’m having a great time!” And you are. You’d still sort of like to have a reason to throw peanuts, though.