lundi 27 septembre 2010

The birthday cake

Checkerboard cake and presents

That's two books, an IKEA gift card and an iPhone 4!

Every year, the day before my son's birthday (most often) I release my inner David Liebovitz and make "the birthday cake". It is a baking extragavanza, a bakathon, an orgy (in the French sense, s'il vous plait) of sugar (several cups of two different types) and butter (4 1/2 sticks, or about 300 grs) and eggs (1 dozen plus 3 yolks) and chocolate (cocoa powder and a tablet and a half of dark chocolate; that's not so bad, now, is it?). I must set the better part of a day aside, because this cake takes hours. It would be faster if I had a second oven, but I don't. My husband would not understand this need.

He might were he to think about his surgical schedule and imagine having only one OR.

I also don't really have the room for it, but maybe I can find the motivation for the kitchen redo if I think about an Aga.

The day before my son's birthday is, you might know, my own -- Wait. I know. I ought not be spending my birthday baking, but listen and let me tell you: I choose to do this. It is my pleasure. Well, at least it is when I start out. The pleasure often starts to fade into the second or third hour of beating and folding and pouring and chopping and melting, when my skin feels permanently coated with a layer of fat, and I start to suspect that calories can be absorbed cutaneously, after all. --, and spending my birthday cooking and preparing for his became a tradition 19 years ago, when I was making my birthday dinner party for 13 and had my first contraction, 4 weeks early, at Balducci's cold cut counter.

I think I was buying mortadella.

From there, my brother accompanied me to Bruno Bakery on Laguardia Place, where I picked up my birthday cake. Seeing the wide smiles and doors held even wider open for me, my brother commented, "Pregnancy is like a platinum American Express card!"

My birthday cake read "Happy Birth-day!" The staff was delighted with themselves.

I was delighted with everyone.

My best friend from college came and took pictures of my big, pregnant belly in my bathroom, and I lost track of her after that evening. I sat Buddha-like on an easy chair in the corner of my studio, while my wonderful friends and family chatted, and I timed my contractions. If the baby weren't coming that night, it certainly wasn't waiting until my due date, even if I lie in bed and didn't move.

I am nearly certain that my cooking and other dinner preparations were not according to my Ob's instructions for rest. I did not take cabs, either.

Leaving later that evening -- Leaving! What! With the baby about to arrive, you're going 45 minutes back to Greenwich? Did I hear right? What if -- my mother assured me that there was little chance she wouldn't have time to make it back in, and drove home.


I went to bed, and in the morning, I called in to report that I wouldn't be coming to work, since I was likely to be busy having a baby, but I was going to try to stay prone in bed and see if I couldn't manage to delay a little longer. I never heard people so excited to hear I wasn't coming in, and the day passed. My mother figured that late afternoon was good enough, and around 6 pm, we headed to NYU Medical Center. At 10:24 pm, my Ob asked, "Are you sure we got your due date right?"

Sam was born. Eyes squinched shut against the bright delivery room lights, he looked just like his father, who would not be participating, and a little aggravated, and I burst into tears. Not because he looked like his father, of course, but because he was born. 6 lbs 9 oz and a proportionate length that I have forgotten; he was beautiful, and he was healthy. He was perfect.

In the years since, I have spent my birthday worrying that 24 young children might possibly not have the best time imaginable and find my birthday party planning wanting the next day, baking cupcakes and cakes, and, finally, this cake for the last few years. I will tell the truth; my mother discovered it, and I adopted it, after all, everyone has to have their special birthday cake.

Mine, you ask, what was mine? White cake with lemon filling and White Mountain Frosting (this involves cream of tartar and beating the eggs whites to stiff peaks, too) sprinkled with coconut.

Sam's wife will responsible for finding one for their children, but she will have to let me continue making this one for him.

Oh, alright. If she insists, I can be generous and retire.

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