No, we didn’t make any funny brownies while we were in Colorado. And I’m not referring to the contact high we may have experienced at Riot Fest. Today we’re talking dessert and not just any dessert, a birthday dessert!
I remember as a kid, birthdays were all about the parties and the presents. We always had a kid party, a birthday dinner and an extended family party. We had sleepovers, pizza parties, scavenger hunts and lots of homemade cakes (including those special Cinnamon Swirl cakes). Sometimes it turned into a month-long celebration depending on when the parties were scheduled.
I’ve tried to carry that tradition on with Mr. N and Miss A because childhood birthdays are moments to be treasured. As a kid, it’s pure bliss. So around here, the kids get to pick their favorite meal (you can find several of these on the blog with a quick search of “birthdays”) and of course the birthday desserts. We have a party with their friends and another with extended family. We’ve had spy parties, rock diva parties, bouncy parties and laser tag parties. The celebrations are seemingly endless for June and July!
As for the grown-ups, well, it’s not quite the same, especially if your birthday falls on a holiday. Poor Mike has to compete with New Year’s Eve. But holiday or not, grown up birthdays are no less special in this house. The kids and I dote on Mike all day long. It’s his day right up until the late night hours, when we briefly shift focus to celebrate the New Year, before having more birthday festivities on New Year’s Day.
Drawing out the celebrations isn’t just about parties either. It’s about shining the spotlight on the birthday king, queen, prince or princess for that extra bit of love and attention. One of my favorite ways to do this, which seems silly and simple, but is very effective, is to wish them happy birthday for days, “Happy day after your birthday!” Or, “Happy day after the day after your birthday!” Sometimes for fun, I’ll even look up how many days it’s been since their birthday months later and bust out a “Happy 146 days after your birthday!” It makes their faces glow – even my middle schooler’s.
As for my birthday, well, they aren’t all about the parties or presents anymore. While I do still enjoy a good night out with friends to toast another year, it’s really about spending time with my family and being grateful for everything I’ve experienced and learned up to this new beautiful age. In fact this year, I didn’t even age! For the past year, I’ve been thinking I was 38. Then this year, I realized I was in fact turning 38. Somehow I missed 37 altogether! It’s like that feeling you get when you pull out the winter coats and find money in the pocket from last year. It’s a bonus!
Now while my birthdays are mellower than they used to be, they are still one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a time I let myself indulge in whatever food and dessert my heart desires – calories be damned! This year my attention was solely focused on dessert and it all began when I read about these beautiful no bake lemon slices on Hotly Spiced.
For anyone that doesn’t know Charlie Louie at Hotly Spiced, she too knows how to do birthdays right! Take a browse around her blog and you’ll see she’s not only an expert at birthday parties, but she has a gift when it comes to birthday cakes. From stilettos to roses, she’s a master. She even has her own category for birthday cakes! As someone that has neither the skill nor the patience for making cakes, she leaves me in awe every time.
Now if you’ve been following us for a while, you also know that I have an obsession with all things lemon – especially lemon bars. So when I saw these no bake beauties, I had to have them ASAP. And am I happy I did. They were perfectly sweet and full of that fresh lemon flavor I crave (truly crave in a scary animalistic way – translation: don’t touch my lemon squares!).
I’ve made this recipe several times already and I knew they had to be on my birthday plate this year. After some consideration (there are always these no bakes, this cobbler and this cake to contend with on my birthday), I decided to put a spin on Charlie’s recipe. Instead of a no bake bar, I wanted to try a half-baked bar! I have a go-to shortbread recipe that I love for its flavor, texture and simplicity (it also reminds me of Maine and that’s never a bad thing), and I had a feeling it would go well with Charlie’s lemony icing.
And it did! The buttery shortbread is a delicious complement to the tangy, sugary topping and the recipe is nearly as easy. Instead of baking the shortbread in a smaller baking dish, I used a 9-inch-by-13-inch dish to make them a bit thinner (and more plentiful). The icing, which I added a little more lemon to because I’m a lemon junkie, spread evenly over a cooled shortbread, but admittedly it’s a delicate process. It does require patience and a good rubber spatula otherwise the shortbread will break into the icing.
These are best served cold, so refrigeration after spreading the icing is recommended. They are also easier to slice once cold. Honestly, though, they’re delicious served room temp or cold. Obviously they are a 4 spooner for me, the kids too. Mike also voted 4 spoons, making this an all-around winner! To keep myself from eating them all, I brought some to my mom and dad’s for my birthday dinner. My dad also loved them and devoured several. Mom is gluten free so couldn’t partake, but instead she made me a special Cinnamon Swirl cake, in honor of my Auntie Karen, which she could eat too.
Print this recipe: Half Baked Lemon Squares
Although we weren’t part of each others’ lives for the last decade, and despite her passing, Auntie Karen was smiling down this year. I received this note on my birthday (my uncle didn’t realize the timing):
Enclosed was a card I had made for my Godmother years ago.
It made my day. Even as a grown-up surprises and gifts are still as special, if not more so, than when I was a kid.
And whether I’m eight, 18, 38 or 88, I’m planning to celebrate every wonderful year. Later this week we’ll share my birthday adventure to Chicago Gourmet and because presents are still fun – have a giveaway for you too!