It’s been an entire year. One year of onesies. 52 weeks of bottles. 365 days of diapers. My little Ethan was turning the big 1.

Photo by Erica Lynn Hang

We were in Norway for his birthday and though I didn’t want a big shindig for it, I wanted to mark the occasion with our Norwegian family. For Logan’s first birthday party, we had a bunch of friends over, some with kids, some without. I remember Hubby and I disagreed on whether to serve alcohol. He thought it was inappropriate, I thought it was essential. (Thankfully in the end, I won.)

For Ethan’s birthday, my mother-in-law asked if we should invite some of our friends with kids to come over for a party, but I really wanted it to be low-key and just family. The other thing I wanted was to bake him an American-style birthday cake.

I’d already picked out the recipe among the hundreds on and since I was making it from scratch, I just needed to work on rounding up the ingredients.

This was when the entire country of Norway ran out of butter. Yes, butter. My blessed sister-in-law, who lives in England, knew of my cake-baking hopes and smuggled a brick of it into the country.

Since Ethan’s birthday came a couple weeks after we arrived in Norway, that gave me time to prepare for my first from-scratch-cake-baking adventure. I did recon at the grocery store and in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. One unforeseen hiccup was baking soda.

I tried to explain to my mother-in-law what baking soda was and she kept asking if it was baking powder. I then asked my brother-in-law who is British and loves to cook.

He speaks Norwegian and English, so I thought he could help. I explained that besides baking you could also use baking soda as mouthwash, to clean your bathroom and to keep your fridge fresher. He began to look at me like I was an American whackadoo.

Finally after extensive Googling and more grilling of my mother-in-law, I got what I needed.

The next challenge was changing everything into metrics. They cook with deciliters and milliliters and the only thing I know about liters is that Sprite comes in a two liter bottle. So it was back to Google.

Finally, I had the recipe all translated and ready to go. Then came my mother-in-law. In case you missed my earlier post about her, we have a great relationship but, we’re still both very opinionated and vocal.

She, in a gentle way, was trying to get me to reconsider baking this cake. She could see that I was stressing over translating the recipe and finding the proper ingredients, so thought it would be fine to make these mini-waffle things that the Norwegians make when you come over for coffee.

I told her I wanted to bake the cake. In her typical Norwegian straight-forwardness, she said she didn’t think many people would eat it because oftentimes when super sugary, unhealthy desserts are served, the ever-health conscious Norwegians won’t eat it. (Funny thing about Norwegian honesty, they don’t sugar coat anything, but because they’re being so honest yet nice about it, you’re not offended. If an American were to tell me not to make something because no one would eat it, I’d be PISSED.)

I looked her straight in the eye and said that I didn’t care if no one ate my cake, it was simply something I wanted to do for my son. She smiled. She completely understood and asked if there was anything else I needed for the cake.

Then came Ethan’s big day. I began working my magic in the kitchen. My mother-in-law kept asking if I needed any help, I shooed her away. When I’m in the kitchen, I like everyone to be out. Let me do my thang.

I put the cake in the oven and took a breather and hung out in the livingroom with Hubby and my mother-in-law. Turns out she invited her sister and her family over to celebrate, and everyone planned on being there. I was floored and touched because “everyone” meant, her sister Eli, Eli’s husband, Eli’s son and daughter-in-law and Eli’s two grandchildren. All coming over for Ethan’s birthday.

I love big, supportive families and felt honored that they’d all come out for my little boy.

As the cake finished baking, my mother-in-law said she was impressed with how easily I moved around her kitchen, noting that it’s hard to cook in another woman’s kitchen. I admitted to my previous recon missions. She asked again if she could help. I could tell she wanted to pitch in, but also wanted to respect my need for space. Naturally, I asked for help with the frosting.

She jumped at the chance, but was stunned at how many eggs and how much powdered sugar and butter was used to make the buttercream frosting. The clock was ticking so my mother-in-law switched from frosting to making those waffle-thingys.

I took the perfectly golden cake out of the oven and it looked beeeyoootiful. While it cooled, I went downstairs to change my clothes. I couldn’t have the birthday boy’s mama looking rough.

Freshly dressed, I walked back into the kitchen, only to find that my cake fell a little. Damn. That’s never happened before. I sighed, and started focusing on giving the cake my finishing touches.

I decided to make the frosting blue because he is a boy. Then I wrote in green because it contrasted nicely with the baby blue, also I tried to make these little red flowers and added some candied silver balls on top.

The guests arrived, filling the extended table. My mother-in-law lit the tall sparkling candle on the cake and I proudly marched out of the kitchen into the dining area with my baby’s cake perched in front of me.

Slowly, I placed the cake on the table in front of Ethan. I looked at everyone, expecting them to be awed by my awesome cake. Instead they looked bewildered. I glanced back at the cake, what was wrong? Did it fall again?

It hadn’t, I just think the bright color was a bit of a shock because most of the food in Norway consists of colors you find in nature, not the baby blue hue of my cake.

“Wow!” One of our cousins broke the silence. “That cake is really… colorful!”

“Uh, thanks?” I said with a weak smile. Not knowing what else to do, I started singing “Happy Birthday to yoooooouuu.” Thankfully they joined in. I sliced the cake and we began passing out pieces to all.

They were hesitant to take the first bite and just kind of looked at the blue and yellow cake. Then it hit me. Blue and yellow. Those are the colors of the Swedish flag. The Swedes and Norwegians have a playful, but fierce and centuries old rivalry. It was the equivalent of showing up at a Fourth of July party with a Union Jack cake. Whoops.

But being the awesome family that they are, they ventured a bite of the Swedish-colored-American-made birthday cake. It was moist, rich and gooooood. All the plates were soon cleared and some asked for seconds. I was proud.

After the cake, Ethan dove into unwrapping his presents. And while unwrapping his gifts, I took a moment to take in the moment.

It meant a lot that here were me and my curly-haired boys, thousands of miles from America, but surrounded by people who love and support us unconditionally. Even if it meant horking down a piece of Swedish cake.

Gratulerer med dagen, Ethan.


Giving the Norwegians A Taste of A Happy Birthday — 7 Comments

    • You’re not a whackadoo woman! You would LOOOOVVVVEEE the waffle thingies. They’re spongy, light, wonderful. They serve them with jam or sour cream (or some kind of cream, I don’t know, I didn’t try the cream.) But I was dying to drown them in maple syrup. OMG, starting to drool on myself just thinking about it…

  1. I’ve tried to make a cake from scratch before – it was – well not very edible. I can’t IMAGINE making it with all the measuring conversions, butter “issues,” (LOL – really? I need further explanation on the lack of butter 🙂 !) and the other issues with baking soda (this being the biggest problem in my book because I confuse baking powder and backing soda myself!).

    Mad skills girl… you have MAD baking skills 🙂

    • Hey you’re right! I had my cake and they ate it too! The scariest part of this is that now I have the knowledge of how to make buttercream frosting from scratch. That’s very dangerous as I love frosting. LOVE it. The only thing that keeps me from making it is I don’t keep a key ingredient (powdered sugar) in my house. Praise be for small miracles.

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