1. Use box mixes to bake three cake layers in three circular pans: one 9-in., one 8-in. and one 6-in. Cut a 2-in. circle in the centre of each of them, then stack from largest to smallest, spreading blue icing between the layers. Insert skewers to hold the cake in place, and trim the ends of the skewers so they don’t poke out.
2. Using a serrated knife, trim the edges of the cakes to create a rounded dome shape. Add a crumb coat of blue icing around entire cake, and refrigerate until icing is firm, about 15 min. Place a doll in the centre hole (the top of the cake should reach the doll’s torso). Spread another layer of blue icing for waves.
3. Draw the shape of a mermaid tail on the icing with a toothpick. Starting from the bottom, fill in the shape with M&Ms, overlapping the candies slightly to resemble scales. Decorate the rest of the cake, adding brown sugar for sand and edible chocolate seashells. Use leaf-shaped gummi candies for the tail fins.
Tape green streamers (seaweed) to the top of a wall and twist; secure ends at the bottom. Add a few marine friends to your seascape with paper cut-outs of fish and sea horses. Above your food table, pin a big net (find one at a craft store or hardware store), and fill it with purple and turquoise balloons. Layer two or three inexpensive plastic tablecloths in shades of blue and green, and then use scissors to give the tablecloths scalloped edges at different heights, which will look like waves rolling onto shore.
For an on-theme main dish, cook up a big bowl of cheesy shells (shell macaroni). Kale chips, dried nori, or green grapes on skewers make for a delicious seaweed-like snack. Fill clean sand pails with “fish ’n’ chips” (Goldfish crackers and potato chips), and use a sand shovel to scoop.
Ordinary wooden craft boxes become bedazzled treasure chests with a little paint, stick-on rhinestones and glitter—sparkle is essential for mermaids. Fill with loot: novelty necklaces, Ring Pops, chocolate coins and seashells. (Dollar or craft stores usually sell a seashell mix.)
A version of this article appeared in our January 2017 issue with the headline, “Under the sea,” p. 12.