For a brief stint of diligence, I had a gratitude journal. Daily, I would jot down three elements of my life for which I was grateful. Unfortunately, I fell into a rather lazy rotation of bullet points: my apartment, heat, employment, a roof over my head, etc. Of all the things I recorded, I never once thought to write “I am grateful to have had birthday parties to celebrate my place in this world.”
I never thought to write down “birthday parties” in my gratitude journal because these were celebrations I had taken for granted. Of course I had birthday parties. I had a BIG family who relished my existence, and even when times were tight, we had the resources for my favorite flavors of cakes and thematic decor. My older sisters channeled their creativity to make thrilling scavenger hunts and party games that stick out in my memory to this day! It should have been obvious, but I discovered recently just how blessed I had been/am on the birthday front.
It was this article that set me straight (and probably made me all misty-eyed too). In it I learned about Megan Yunn, who founded Beverly’s Birthdays. In 2011, Megan was volunteering at a local after-school program and helping 12-year-old Beverly with her homework. Discovering that Beverly never had a birthday party nagged at Megan and then eventually inspired her to start the organization that now provides birthday celebrations for homeless kids in the Pittsburgh region.
Imagine the effects of these parties! Reading through a few of the organization’s blog posts had me in tears. One child asked to keep a clean disposable birthday plate because he wanted to cherish the birthday party. He washed it and reused it. Another child just wanted her own bottled water- not even a fancy bottle of water, just one bottle. Another mother walked her three children to the party after a stressful day of doctor’s visits (to which she also walked) because she knew how important the celebration would be to her kids.
All these stories reiterated how much I have taken for granted. Theme parties and baking are two of my biggest passions, so I was so long overdue to contribute. I finally signed up and baked these cupcakes for a zoo-themed party. I chose this party in particular because it took place in the very neighborhood where The Urban Farmer started his farm. The community has welcomed him with such open arms, this felt like the least I could do to give back.
I’m not sharing these cupcakes to toot my own horn. My hope is this story will inspire you to find a similar outlet for your passions, whatever they may be. There are countless organizations that rely heavily on the work of volunteers, so whether you love knitting, power tools or cupcake making, there is probably an outlet for you. Also, these stories are worth sharing because they not only inspire us to give but to be grateful. I can’t applaud the folks at Beverly’s Birthdays enough, and I look forward to future themed baking!
Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch & Mint Buttercream Frosting
About This Recipe: These cupcakes may be green and feature traditional cookie flavors, but they are made from all natural and organic versions because playful party food can still have a wholesome spin to it. I used all-natural blue and yellow dyes (from India Tree) to create the green frosting.
Yield: ~4 dozen cupcakes
1 1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
2 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour (such as King Arthur Flour)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature (cage-free/organic)
1 1/2 cup organic evaporated cane sugar
1 1/2 cup organic packed light brown sugar
1 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup organic buttermilk, at room temperature
Mint buttercream frosting (recipe below)
~4 dozen organic chocolate animal cookies (available at Whole Foods)
12-15 Back to Nature fudge-mint cookies
For the Cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line muffin pans with cupcake liners. Set aside.
Whisk the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla together until completely smooth.
Pour half of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Then half of the buttermilk. Gently whisk – about 5 stirs.
Repeat with the remaining wet ingredients and buttermilk. Stir until just combined; do not overmix. The batter will be a little thin.
Pour/spoon the batter into the liners – fill only halfway to avoid spilling over the sides.
Use your hands (or a hand chopper) to break apart the fudge mint cookies, leaving several larger chunks. Sprinkle the cookie chunks on top of each cupcake.
Bake in batches for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Mint Buttercream Frosting
2 cups (4 sticks) organic unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
8 cups organic confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons organic peppermint extract
salt, to taste
all natural blue & yellow dyes (recommended India Tree)
For the Frosting:
With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy – about 2 minutes.
Add the confectioners’ sugar, cream, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed, and beat for 3 full minutes.
Add up to 1 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin or another Tablespoon of cream if frosting is too thick. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
Add the natural dyes,* and beat to combine.
*Note: Follow this color guide, and add drops incrementally to be able to adjust the color.
Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes.
Leftover prepared cupcakes can be stored covered tightly at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
Make ahead tip: Prepare cupcakes 1 day in advance. Keep cupcakes covered tightly at room temperature and frost the day of serving. Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before frosting and serving.
Use a chopper or the pulse setting on a food processor to make thin mint cookie and animal cracker crumbs to sprinkle on top of the frosting. Top with a chocolate animal cracker.