Let Them Eat Cake
Cake. Funny, growing up I was never a fan. I feigned loving it just to fit in with all the other children at birthday parties but would secretly take fork fills and tuck chunks into my paper napkin or offer it silently to any awaiting dog mouth under the table. I am still not a huge fan of cake but have now come to realize that most of the mothers of the 1970’s served box mix cakes with canned frosting and some horrible chemical concoction they considered to be ice cream, this combination was what my tiny sophisticated palate couldn’t bear. I have always been a bit of a food snob, surprisingly, even as a child.
My foray into cooking started a couple years after my parents divorced. My sister and I lived with our father. He did his best. Friday nights we’d go to the Howard Johnson’s and she and I would order chocolate chip pancakes for dinner. Saturday nights we would eat at various neighbors, friends, or his co-worker’s houses and on Sunday my dad would barbecue. Monday through Thursday was the inevitable single fathers’ go to: Swanson’s Hungry Man Dinner. Ugh! I still can’t eat a home-made Salisbury steak to this day. My sister, who is two years older than me, broke out first with trying her hand at cooking. She chose Tuna Helper and frozen Totino’s pizza and called it good. Honestly, she still can’t cook, I’m certain that her husband can’t either, they eat out a lot (and I cook on holidays.)
The onslaught of Tuna Helper finally forced my hand. I ordered my first cookbook at the Book Fair in our school library in 1972, I was in the second grade. It was the Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook. I was so excited when it arrived. It was a beautiful yellow and white hard cover book with a drawing of three kids happily cooking. And the boy was holding. You guessed it. A cake.
I spent hours slowly flipping through the pages. There were so many incredible delights to make and the knowledge of how to execute each dish was carefully laid out before my wide hungry brown eyes. It was almost too much. I took a week to plan and choose my first menu. I set my sights high: Bunny Salad, Tuna Burgers and Ice Cream Flower Pots for dessert. The book delivered all of its glorious promises of delighting my family. Well, close enough. The cheese from the tuna burgers that melted in the foiled wrap made them stick and they sort of fell apart, my bunny’s tails didn’t look like perfectly round balls of fluff...their eyes were askew and I forgot to get sliced almonds so they had no ears. But oh my, the delight in my family’s eyes was enough to encourage me to try more and more recipes.
I systematically went through the book and made nearly every recipe until I came to the dessert section and you guessed it...cake. Most were made from the dreaded box mixes (as it was a child’s recipe book) but I wanted something more...and then I found it on page ninety-seven: Cocoa Fudge Cake. It was made from scratch and it was divine. Moist, rich and delicious and no fake ingredients. Later in life I became a baker at a dude ranch, then the dessert chef at a Hawaiian restaurant, and inevitably held other various cooking positions while attending college. Eventually I owned my own restaurant, where I occasionally made cake. My specialty was a seven-layered banana walnut cake with a burnt buttered cream frosting (trust me it's like eating heaven.)
I no longer fear most birthday cakes as the dreadful dry chemical concoctions of the past, but if I spot a suspicious-looking confection, which I can easily do, I will turn it down politely as I am (not surprisingly) still a bit of a food snob.