The Cake

She was mainly the cook that week although she was many other things: the wife of a Frenchman, maybe a stepmother, although she didn’t think of herself that way as her husband’s children were grown and on their own by the time she came on the scene. She was a grandmother but not really to T and L, her husband’s twin grandchildren. She sort of came with the territory, like an added accessory in her husband’s life that was always with him. The Cook didn’t know if they loved her but she thought they liked her. She did know that they all liked her American brownies and chocolate chip cookies so she spent most of her time in the kitchen when they visited. Of course, since they were all French and she the lone American, there were moments of stress and indecision. She was always afraid that they, with thousands of years of world renowned cuisine in their backgrounds, would be dismayed at what they found on their plates. She had learned that the son hated cinnamon and couldn’t eat her apple pie if she added it and, once, when she offered to make him cinnamon toast he made a little gagging noise. Still, she didn’t always have confidence in her cooking, even though she had French women ask her for her recipes and no one can beat an American when it comes to barbeque. The Cook’s husband said she was the Queen of barbeque.
During the week the family of the Cook’s husband visited she cooked what she felt were successful meals. They were leavinging at the end of the week and the birthday of T and L, twins, was approaching. The Cook thought of buying a ready made cake since it is so easy to find fabulous cakes and desserts anywhere in France, but decided to make one instead. Cakes were not her best thing, but she asked T and L what kind of cake they wanted. They mentioned vanilla cake, marzapan and strawberries. She had never made a cake like that. Her husband brought home the ingredients from the store. What he brought home wasn’t the cake mix of dry ingredients, but one already mixed up that you just put into a pan and baked. (She wasn’t going to make the cake itself from scratch having often ended up with a too dry cake). She noticed that it was for a loaf pan, not a cake pan, and that there wasn’t enough to make two pans. Being a resourceful American, the Cook put the contents of the package into one cake pan, baked it and then cut it in half. She rolled out the marzapan and put it in the middle, cut up the strawberries and added a little sugar to them and left them in a bowl to top on the cake later but she wasn’t happy with what she had. The mother of T and L said she thought it would be a little dry and that maybe the Cook could whip up some merengue or whipped cream which would make it more moist. She was right. The cook thought about it all afternoon and finally got down her oldest cookbook, one from the 60’s, and found a recipe for a cooked frosting using egg whites and sugar. The Cook had to beat it in a bowl over boiling water until it was thick and it came out sweet, fluffy and rich. She put some between the layers and then over the whole cake. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with the strawberries and thought maybe she could spoon some over each piece. The Cook had a ballistic moment when her husband came in and asked why she hadn’t added the strawberries to the middle of the cake. Where was he when she was putting it all together? Well, it was too late. The mother of T and L, hearing the explosion downstairs came and decorated the cake with the strawberries.
So, it was finally time to serve it. T and L, now age 11, were running around, singing Happy Birthday to themselves and each other, wildly excited to light the candles twice and each blow them out. They dug into the cake and made happy mmmm sounds. Later their mother told the Cook that she, the Cook, didn’t understand how special it was for them–that no one had ever made a birthday cake for them before. No one has to when it is so easy to buy a fantatic one at the nearest patisserie. So, in the end, the Cook wasn’t sure if she was loved-and really why should she be?- but it did feel good to be appreciated.


13 thoughts to “The Cake”

  1. You post is SO timely for this household. It is hard not being “really” part of The Family and understanding all the ins and outs of their traditions, likes and dislikes. [If there truly are any].I’m facing it myself with husband’s British son [my stepson] and daughter and their children arriving on Sunday. For me it’s always “nervous wreck” time, which is so stupid I know. He and his wife are more nearly my contemporaries and their children not much younger than my own. What’s this “grandmother” presence I think I need to assume? Anyway, they leave and it was all a blur. Never fails. Maybe because they’re both catering artists and he the head of a big hotel chain. Just intimidating?

    But I’ve made a menu and I’m sticking to it. And I keep telling myself as THE DAY approaches how utterly ridiculous it is that even as an accomplished person in my own right I feel this way. I’m not a sous chef, but a theatre producer, a business person, for Pete’s…. And I’m trying not to myself into SUCH a bind this time. Case in point: my son Dan, also visiting right now, is making the cake. He’s happy to do it and I’m happy to leave him to it. He’ll make it from a box and they’ll like it he says. Brave….quelle courage.

    But I’m on the spot anyway because I care how my husband remembers the whole experience – we see them so seldom. He says he doesn’t care – and let’s face it men care far less on many of these matters. I keep asking and he keeps saying – NO, I don’t care. Why don’t I believe him? I know he’ll watch TV the whole time and can’t remember his grandchildren’s names on short notice. And what standard am I up against anyway? They are wealthy kids who have EVERYTHING. They’re just buzzing through here on their way to the Riviera. Nothing impresses. They pick at their food and throw half of it away. I know it’s a losing game.

    So why is it SO important to me? Pride? Self image? And then of course basic appreciation. Do I think I’m loved, even after eleven years of trying? No way.

    We generally spend weeks preparing for a three day visit. And it may take another week for me to recover as I mull again and again whether they were satisfied, whether I said and did it “right.” After a while my husband will ask me to please STOP, I’m interrupting an important television program. And certainly they’ve gone on too and never think about any of it – not any more than he does. How silly is that for me then?

    So this year I’ve decided, life is TOO short to spend worrying. I judge myself too hard while they [icluding my husband] barely notice one way or the other. I’ll put on the clean sheets for them, hand them a towel and cook my menu. I’ll smile and just be myself and not memorize every comment they make for later analysis. I’ll just relax…….. a word in God’s ear.

    Still, deep inside I’m really pleased yours was the only handmade cake in history for those children and somebody acknowledged it. Grandmother Hall of Fame territory there. That clarifies quite a bit. And their mother’s comment shows true appreciation for the efforts you make for all of them. Bravo! I’m enjoying the glow with you.

  2. Well done, Linda, from a re-partnered Down Under (I live with a Pom). Good on you, matey and love the “ballistic moment.”
    CB in Sydney

  3. Coming from this very kind of household, I really “get” this post. Your cake looks just fine and I am sure you are very appreciated.

  4. Always in the back of the mind….the doubt, will they like me or just tolerate me????? I hate that question and it rattles around in my heart like an old lost key dangling from the doorknob with no lock in sight.

    Love to you dearie. The cake looks great, will you make one like it for my birthday?

  5. Now how could T. and L. NOT love a beautiful American grandma who not only climbs tall mountains and scuba dives deep beneath the sea but also makes delectable, gooey birthday cakes with all of their favorite things?

    Great post, Linda.

  6. …………and now perhaps they’ll be expecting one every year because you did such a great job!! It must have been great – and I love anything with marzipan….and strawberries…..and frosting………

  7. You tell your story so well….and the cake does look very delicious. Bravo for going to the trouble of baking a cake instead of buying one. I’m sure they will remember their 11th birthday cake as something special.

  8. What a sweet, sweet story, Linda. Gosh, the things you do for kids and family, huh?
    But I gotta tell ya….I think that cake rivals many that I’ve seen in French patisseries. It looks fantastic and I’m sure tasted super.
    AND how neat….YOU were the first to ever actually bake a birthday cake for the girls. That’s special and I have no doubt that you are loved.

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