Last Thursday was my wife’s birthday. Birthdays are perhaps her favorite celebration of the year, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s her’s or someone else’s. Everything about it thrills her – taking the day off and going to a great lunch, wrapping up and giving gifts, reminiscing about the year gone by and thinking about the year to come.
But were you to ask her what really makes it a birthday, you would find that, since she was a little girl, it was never really a birthday without cake. These days, it can be any sort of cake – cupcake, layer cake, TastyKake (yes, this counts – unlike some producers of prepackaged cake-ish confections, Tasty Baking Co. actually bakes their treats). Crabcakes would even do in a pinch.
Go ahead and groan at that last one – I’ll wait.
We don’t usually have cakes for birthdays, though – it seems the more birthdays we each have, the less able we are to burn up such a fantastic number of calories without storing them for a rainy day. Sad really. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to have the real thing this year.
So, last Monday, I called to order a cake from our favorite bakery, in Glen Ellyn – a small, family operation that still does things the old-fashioned way – and it most definitely shows. I had a fairly extended discussion with them (much to the amusement of my co-workers, I might add) about what should be on the cake. Yellow cake, white buttercream. Colors? Purple and something that complements it well. “Happy Birthday, Ariadne” written on the cake. And a Jeannie bottle. “You know, from I Dream of Jeannie?” I said. “Sure, the woman said, no problem. Genie… bottle…” I waited while she wrote it down for the baker.
Yes, Ari adores I Dream of Jeannie, if you ever need a trivia tidbit about her for a party. I don’t mean to wander off topic, but I wanted to head off any comments to the tune of “what’s that yellow banana-shaped thing on the lower right?” To clear up any confusion, it’s the cake decorator’s idea of Jeannie’s bottle. I tried. I offered to email a picture, but they seemed confident they wouldn’t need one. Oh, well.
In any event, here’s what it looked like shortly after its arrival at our house (the poor cake had no idea what was in store for it):
The cake was out of this world, by the way. The most delicate, fluffiest yellow cake you could imagine, enrobed in the most incredibly smooth and light buttercream frosting. We started with a fairly tried and true approach to serving and eating this most scrumptious confection. That is to say, we used a knife, to cut the cake in slices, which we then placed on plates before eating them. Below, find documentary evidence that my better half played along in this cultural throwback to more civilized times.
The following morning, I went to work. I vaguely remember getting an instant message around 2 p.m. to the tune of “can’t…. stay….. away…. help… cake……….. danger….,” after which it sort of trailed off, in an eerie Twilight Zone sort of way. She was in trouble, I could tell. But there was little, in anything, I could do. Once cannot talk a devoted cake aficionado down off the ledge, when a perfectly helpless cake is left in his or her presence for a whole day.
One thing you need to know about this particular cake aficionado is that she has a fairly marked preference for cake over frosting. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I love sharing cake with her – I happen to like quite a lot of frosting, myself.
Upon my return home Friday evening, we sat down for some dinner. For my part, honestly, this dinner ritual was really just a prelude to cake. When the time for dessert came, she brought the box from the counter somewhat sheepishly, apologizing that she may have gotten a little carried away when left alone with it for so long.
After she opened the box, it was some time before I could stop laughing long enough to safely cut a nice even slice for myself. The horror! The carnage!
I’m happy to report that despite the non-traditional appearance, my slice of cake was delicious nonetheless. I was even so fortunate to get a fair amount of extra frosting out of the deal!