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.