08 October 2009

Monkey Surgery

Every year Gary and I host our (sort of) annual BBQ for all of our many family and friends (I say "sort of" because we always throw the BBQ at the end of August and last year, with a brand new baby, hosting 75 people in our backyard was NOT high on our priority list - so we took one year off to bask in the glow of new parenthood).

Now, because we always throw this party at the end of summer, Gary decided that this year we should take advantage of the timing and celebrate Sheridan's first birthday. So, we added cake to the BBQ so we could sing happy birthday to the little man.

But I didn't want just any ol' cake. I wanted one of Jennifer's cakes. See, Jennifer was my undergraduate student when I was a professor at Cal State Univ Long Beach, and my graduate student at Cal State Univ Sacramento. She is now working on her PhD at University of Utah, with the exception of all the time she spends making amazing cakes for her business Salt Cake City. And she is amazingly talented...

But, what to do about having her make Sheridan's cake when she's in Utah and I'm in Cali? Jennifer agreed to take on the challenge... make a fake cake, ship it to me, and it could be placed on top of the real cake.

Now for a theme. Sheridan's favorite song is Five Monkeys Jumping on the Bed so I sent Jennifer a video of me singing it to him, him singing along, flapping his arms, and loving every minute of it. That was her inspiration to develop the cake design. She did ask what theme we have in his nursery... we don't have a theme (on purpose). BUT, Sheridan loves the afghan of his own that CJ crocheted for him (he sleeps with it every nap and every night). So, when Jennifer wanted to know what colors he likes, I sent her a picture of the afghan so that she could get some ideas.

And then, the day before the BBQ the package arrived:

Yep. Therein lies the cake. And its many, many, many pieces. Oh you just wait and see...

I called Jennifer on the phone as I began to unpack everything because she had some very detailed instructions for me... as it turns out, everything had to be made and shipped in pieces. Requiring "some assembly" I was told.

You know those toys that say "some assembly required" and they have 100 parts in the box? Oh, yeah. That's what I'm talkin' about.

So here's how the fake cake arrived:

And then I had to carefully unpack each item to reveal... more packages!

Then came the beginning of the nerve-wracking part: unwrapping each monkey. I was so nervous, but I think Jennifer was more nervous on the other end of the phone. But she kept reassuring me that any broken monkeys could be fixed. No problem.

Here's what I had after Operation Monkey Extraction:

Unfortunately, none of the monkeys made it without damage. No big deal, Jennifer told me. I just needed to do a little monkey surgery. And monkey surgery I did...

I had everything Jennifer told me I needed:

No, the vodka wasn't for drinking (although by 2am I was ready for a good swig, yes - you read that correctly - I was up until 2am doing monkey surgery). Jennifer informed me that the monkeys were made of fondant and that I could use the vodka to stick them back together (and it would dry faster than water). You should have seen the look on the guy's face at the liquor store when I told him I needed a small airplane-sized bottle of vodka so I could fix my son's monkeys.

Okay, down to business... I spent hours trying to re-stick, re-poke, re-form those monkeys. No fault of Jennifer's at all... it was hot (so some had started to melt and took on the shape of the bubble wrap) and she did such an outstanding job trying to create monkeys in all kinds of active poses that the frail little limbs and tails just didn't have a chance to make it in one piece (good thing she predicted some monkey fatalities because she shipped a few extra tails and limbs - one whole baggy was full of spare monkey parts).

Sooooo, I finally got so tired I had to just put them in the refrigerator and let them harden and accept that I had done the best monkey surgery I could. You just can't save them all... or can you?

The monkeys literally took over our refrigerator...

Jennifer also made a little Sheridan... as evidenced by his amazing curl.

The next day I picked up two cakes (one big one for everyone and a little one just for Sheridan) from Freeport Bakery (I asked them to ice them in plain white with no piping, no edging, just plain - they thought I was a bit crazy, but less work for them!).

And I got to work recreating the song Five Monkeys Jumping on the Bed in cake form. Except Sheridan's little cake only had room for three monkeys.

Here's the result... I think Jennifer did a FABULOUS job making the pieces, and I have to admit I'm pretty proud of my final design execution. I love that the bed is covered by a fondant replica of Sheridan's afghan. And the monkey surgery was well worth the time, stress, sweat, and vodka.

Sheridan had a hard time with all the kids crowding him during singing (as a first-time mom I failed to predict that all children are drawn to a birthday cake with a candle like moths to a flame). Sheridan wasn't too sure what to think about that...

He did get excited at one point and grabbed hold of a couple monkeys... but didn't take a single bite of cake. Good boy! Mommy taught him right... he much preferred his fruit!

The other kids loooooooovvvved the monkeys. The cake was a big hit all the way around (and tasted delicious - you can never go wrong with lemon cooler cake during the summer!).

A big thank you to Jennifer for dreaming up such a great design and for being willing to take a risk on this. I loved it and it was well worth the late-night shenanigans on my end! Sheridan was pretty excited about the monkeys and his family BBQ debut.

And Dan's t-shirts were great conversation starters so we could increase awareness of Ds among our closest family and friends!


  1. Forget being a professor or a caker, I think you should look into being a surgeon. Well done there! I see that one of the monkeys ended up with a tail for an arm. Sometimes that's the best solution to the plan. Seriously! Great job! I didn't think they would get so banged up on the way over and I know it must have been very frustrating. I was so happy to help and glad that all of the monkeys were on the cake in some form or another. So did Sheridan actually eat any cake? :)

  2. Aw, how sweet! Literally, even!

    I appreciate the link to Dan's store, but I'm also wondering where you got Sheridan's?

  3. The cake and monkeys were adorable! Greta's not in the pic, but she's next to Jen's boys salivating... waiting for her chance to get a monkey... until she tasted it. Yes, fondant just doesn't taste like it looks. Oh well. Great party... you guys know how to do it up big.

  4. Wow what an awesome cake! Love his shirt too :)

  5. I found your blog from the T21 Afghan Project...what a great birthday party! I used to decorate cakes (having kids has halted that hobby!) but all the cute pics makes me miss it. Although the late-night surgery reminds me why I have stopped! Sheridan is such a cutie!

  6. Wow! How cool is that??? Nice job saving those monkeys!

  7. That is amazing! I used to make cakes and I think that Jennifer did an incredible job--only to be followed up by your skillful vodka glue!

    So cute!