Posted by: workforcookies | April 7, 2009

Midnight Train


Once upon a time, dinner plus drinks—and maybe more drinks—seemed a good reason for staying up past 2 a.m. on a work night. Of course, after babies, the impetus behind any zombie-esque activity for me was more along the lines of nursing a crying infant all night. Today, it’s Thomas the Train.

My two-year-old is turning three. Instead of having a birthday party we’re going to see Thomas Live at the Beacon Theater, but I couldn’t let the day go without doing something to celebrate. I decided on something low-key, pizza with our weekly dinner companions followed by cake. Of course, it had to be a Thomas the Train cake! And why let a silly little detail like—um, the Thomas the Train cake pan has been discontinued—slow down my freight-train like determination to make my three-year-old’s birthday anything less than spectacular?

Last Friday I went to Party Express where I saw very few themed cake pans—Elmo, a football, a treasure chest. No train. I then headed over to Michael’s where I found one lone train cake pan buried under a surplus of  Elmo pans. I bought it, along with some no-taste red dye, yellow dye and sky blue dye (they didn’t have any royal blue). 

I made two batches of buttercream icing on Saturday, baked the train-shaped cake on Sunday and was all set to decorate on Monday, then I panicked! Suddenly, it occurred to me that the key to making this train-shaped cake look like Thomas was in getting Thomas’ signature blue just right. I called my husband who was running various other birthday errands before he had to be in his office at noon. I added royal blue dye from Party Express to his honey-do list. (In a pinch, green. I could always make a Percy cake!)

My husband arrived with blue dye in hand at 9:30 and I went straight to work. By 10:15, I’d mixed up a batch of royal blue and set the train-shaped cake in front of the TV where I settled in to cover it in it tiny dots of royal blue icing. My husband cued up this week’s episode of 24 on the DVR and I iced while listening to Jack Bauer fall prey to a terrorist-engineered pathogen. Meanwhile I began to feel a bit sick to my own stomach —even more so with each little royal-blue spot I squeezed onto the chocolate train.

“This blue all wrong.” I shouted.

“You should be using the sky blue,” my husband said, stating it more as a fact than something he felt any need to be concerned about.

“I KNOW I should be using sky blue,” I huffed, but it was 11 o’clock, so I chugged along with the royal blue treatment, thinking I could do the perimeter of the cake in royal blue and the top in sky blue. 

By 11:45, I’d started with the sky blue and realized there was no way around it, if this cake was going to look anything like Thomas, sky blue was the color it should be. So, I covered all the dark blue dots with dots of the lighter shade—double the icing, that can’t be bad right? About this time, I also decided to transfer the cake to a cake board—berating myself for not thinking to do this before. 

“Come hold this, please,” I said to my husband who stared at me in disbelief. “Really, please. Just hold this right in front of the cake.”

“You’re not moving the cake are you?” he asked.

“Please don’t talk to me right now, just hold this,” I said as I lifted the caboose and slid my hand underneath to support the center of the train.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, holding the cake board in a reluctant show of support.

“Why are you talking to me?” holding my breath and sliding the cake onto the board.

“Wow!” in unison.

By 1:00 a.m., Jack Bauer had long since left the TV screen, I’d listened to an episode of Jon and Kate Plus Eight, and I had covered 90 percent of the cake in Thomas blue.  Now it was time for the finishing touches. My husband held up my son’s wooden Thomas the Train to help me figure out the best place for the red lines and black accents. This part went quickly, and by 2:30 a.m. I was in bed, dreaming of a happy little boy celebrating his third birthday—with my alarm clock set for 5:30 a.m.

Now all I have to do on my way home from work is dial the pizza place with my fingers that are stained (possibly permanently) a shade of blue that’s decidedly Thomas. At 5:30 p.m.,  I’ll  walk in the back door and quickly toss together a salad then hope, beyond all hope, that my son will smile when he sees the Thomas cake——not tell me that he wanted a Percy cake instead!






What great lengths have you gone to for your child’s birthday?



  1. That is a great looking Thomas cake!! Did he love it?? I can’t believe you got 3 hours of sleep and then functioned at work AND home!! You are an amazing Woman and a very dedicated Mommy!!

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