-or Smoked Cherry Cake for Everyone-

I was sure it would be the first of many perfect birthday parties.

As a young mom, I set the bar high for birthday celebrations. Not realizing how many children we would have and how many extravagant celebrations that would add up to over the years, I started with grand illusions about the best birthday parties ever. Well, five children and almost three decades later, I still enjoy planning a great birthday. Unfortunately, however, I have put myself through way too much mom guilt over this birthday party thing through the years. 

The worst example was when we F I N N N A L L Y celebrated my son’s long-anticipated tenth birthday with a very amazing Spy Birthday Party…on his eleventh birthday. If that’s not enough to make you cringe, I don’t know what is. He absolutely loved the party and appreciated all the work I put into it. He said he didn’t even mind that it was a year late. Sometimes, during a rough week, I still allow myself to feel bad about that ridiculous delay.

Growing up in a family that eschewed holidays other than birthdays, I came to love the anticipation of celebrating each family member’s most recent trip around the sun. I would spend weeks coming up with a theme and then planning a party designed to honor and delight the recipient.

baby’s first birthday party with a sugar-free twist

As a brand new mother with only one adorable little boy, I was much more excited about his first birthday party than he was. I bought a special cookbook to create a healthy birthday cake for him, avoiding all the foods not yet added to his dietary repertoire. The Sugar-Free Toddler was full of snacks and treats and, to my satisfaction, a first birthday cake recipe with no dairy, no eggs, and no sugar. YUMMY!

I prepared his special cake the day before and even iced it with some sugarless fruit spread. I was aware enough to realize that most guests would not be excited about this special sugarless birthday cake, so I sent my husband to the store to retrieve a cake mix and canned frosting for everyone else.

“Will this work?” he asked, holding a Duncan Heinz boxed cherry cake mix. I made a questioning face. “I’m sure it will be fine. I’ve never had cherry cake before. It looks good.” I shrugged. He had chosen vanilla frosting to go with it. I was glad it wasn’t chocolate. That would have been weird.

After the ordeal of preparing the fancy cake for the birthday boy, the cake mix was a cinch. I whipped it up the morning of the celebration and pulled it out of the oven when the timer went off, setting it on the front left burner of the stove to cool off. A few minutes later, I smelled something burning and turned to see smoke rising from the cherry cake! 

“OH No!” I cried reaching for the fan and a hot mitt at the same time.

mom’s resourcefulness shines in plan b

The burner had been left on. Flipping it off, I quickly moved the cake to a hot pad on the counter. The party was in an hour, and I didn’t have time to make another cake. Not even if it came from another box.

I am known for my resourcefulness. And this situation was no exception. As soon as the cake had cooled enough, I popped it out of the pan and carefully examined it. It was totally retrievable; only the bottom was burned. I deftly sliced off the dark crusty burnt bottom of the cake and placed the remaining portion on a plate. Covering it with the white frosting and a generous amount of sprinkles, it looked great. WHEW, problem averted.

The guests arrived. Families with young children of similar ages filled our living areas. We had some simple party games and then “helped” our one-year-old to open his mountain of gifts. As the youngsters began to fade, we moved into the kitchen where the sleepy birthday boy had to wait while we all sang the perfunctory birthday tune. 

Finally, he was given his very own cake to eat or play with. As he dove into his healthy rendition of a birthday cake, the guests looked notably relieved to see a more recognizable version of a birthday cake on the counter. Though smaller than intended, there was enough cake for everyone.

Tending primarily to my little guy, I failed to notice the partially eaten pieces of cake being discretely added to the trash can. After cleaning up the little ones, everyone bundled up and prepared to head home. It had been a perfect initiation into our first of many children’s birthday parties.

baby’s first birthday contentment

Exhausted from the preparation, both practical and emotional, I put our brand-new one-year-old down for a nap and settled comfortably onto the couch with my husband. He offered to get us each a piece of the yummier cake, and I did not refuse. With a sigh of contentment, I smiled at him and took a large bite of cherry cake. 

“Oh gross!” I sputtered, spitting it immediately back out onto the plate. “That’s terrible. It tastes like smoked cherries.”

“It’s not THAT bad,” comforted my husband taking a second bite.

“Oh my gosh,” my face was horrified as the realization hit me. “We just served this awful cake to all our guests, AND their kids!” My embarrassment was fierce. “Why didn’t they say something?!” 

I was puzzled. I thought we were close enough friends with most of them that they would have at least told me my cake was a failure. Picking up the phone, I called our friends Tim and Suzanne. Tim answered. 

“I’m so sorry for the horrible cake,” I started. “It was gross. Why did you guys eat it and not say anything? I feel so bad for serving this to everyone.” 

By this time, I had realized that even though I cut the burned bottom off the cake the smoke had permeated the entire thing leaving a strong burned flavor throughout.

“Oh it’s ok,” Tim kindly assured me. “We just thought it was supposed to be like that. We all thought you added something healthy to it, and we should just eat it.”

“Oh, my goodness. No. I am completely embarrassed. I’m so sorry.”

After assuring me again it was fine, we hung up.

the moral of the story

This one-of-a-kind cake has resurfaced a few times over the years to remind me to be less overconfident and have grace for both myself and others.

Thank you for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Much mom love,


Visit my author page for some of my other humorous stories. If you’re looking for a gluten-free birthday cake for a 1st or any other birthday, try this moist grain-free chocolate delight. For more recipes, download my FREE 30 Days of Dinners for Under $150 Meal Plan.

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