Nothing says “happy birthday” like a big-ass doughnut

Today is my elder son’s twentieth birthday, and I write this with a birthday songs playlist ready to start as soon as I hear him get up. His mom just left to get what we think will begin another tradition: The Pandamonium Birthday Cake Doughnut.

Panda logo
The Pandamonium Doughnuts logo, making mouths water since 2013.

Long story short, one of my co-teachers and her husband started Pandamonium Doughnuts (check out their Instagram feed), an artisan doughnut company, and now it’s A Thing. Their food truck is brilliantly awesome, and their doughnuts are spectacular. They cost a lot ($2-3 apiece) but they’re made from fresh ingredients daily, and each is a handmade work of art. Flavors include Bacon Maple Fritter, Fresh Raspberry, Earl Grey Tea and Meyer Lemon, or Nutella Royale. They rock.

Pandamonium doughnut truck
Kids in a summer camp I run visit the Pandamonium truck.

The Pandamonium truck visits sites around Champaign-Urbana on six days per week, most of them to the area of the University of Illinois campus. My elder son studies Engineering at the U of I, and he faithfully treks across campus for a doughnut at least once per week. He’s a fan. This morning, he’s going to get his first-ever Pandamonium Birthday Cake Doughnut. It is the first, but I am willing to be it won’t be the last. Next birthday up in our family calendar is my own (April), and I expect I might have one for breakfast too. And so on.

That’s the nature of tradition. We do things all the time, rarely thinking much of most of them. Sometimes, though, a Thingwedo strikes us as good, meaningful, and worth repeating. Then we repeat it and it becomes a tradition. That’s the formula; simple as that. Folklorists will stand by this. It’s gold.

Back to birthdays. I write this blog post while my wife treks downtown to get the big-ass doughnut. Will he wake before she returns? Will there be bites out of it before he gets to it? These are new things to worry about on birthdays in my household.


“What’s your desire in baked beans?”

You know, sometimes you get a text message from someone you love and it makes your heart go pitter-pat. The blood rushes to your cheeks in a warm blush. You feel warm inside. Amiright? Well, a text I just got a little while ago doesn’t look like one of those, but it is.

My wife texts me: “What’s your desire in baked beans?”

I mean, wow! That’s some sultry stuff, there. My woman texts me and it’s a come-hither-toned message about beans. But I’m glad she did it. See: Christmas Eve dinner is on the line.

So it’s Christmas in a few days, and in our household that means gearing up for our traditional Christmas Eve dishes. What we eat and when for Christmas is traditional for us though it’s not so common among most Americans. Christmas Eve is the more important date for us. It is when we do presents and enjoy wonderful, warm, intimate, reflective family time together. Likewise, our meal that evening is important to us.

First thing that’s a bit odd: We eat Christmas Eve dinner at about 10:00 pm, after we’ve opened presents and had a relaxing celebration together.

Next thing that’s a bit odd: We have no fancy dinner, despite the significance of the holiday. Dinner for us is hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, and cold cuts with cheese on rye bread. This tradition began before I was born and comes to us through my side of the family. My mother is German (where they celebrate on Christmas Eve) and always prepped a simple picnic-like dinner, knowing that we’d all be hungry after the evening-long celebration and the last thing she’d want to do (as sole cook) is prep, serve, and clean up after an elaborate meal.

And so our Christmas Eve feast is like a picnic lunch. It’s also one of our favorite meals of the entire year, eagerly anticipated and always eaten with gusto.

Back to the beans. Our baked beans are a simple concoction of canned baked beans with browned ground beef and sautéed onions added. Then they’re put into a pot in the oven and baked on low heat from late afternoon until dinner that night. They’re delicious. They’re an integral part of this special meal. And Christmas Eve dinner wouldn’t feel right or complete without them.

My wife was at the store, getting things needed for that dinner in a few days. From aisle four, she sent me the picture atop this blog entry. When she asked, “What’s your desire in baked beans?” I felt like she was taking care of us properly. And all was good.