When I was a kid, birthdays were a big deal.
As an adult? Well, after your 25th birthday, when your car insurance bill drops, there’s not a lot to look forward to. Besides, no birthday could ever live up to my 10th, when I got a kitten and pierced ears.
My husband tried, though. Andy made me a cake the first year we were together. It was beautiful: nicely frosted, with my name written across it, even. Andy is a fantastic cook. I know it. He knows it. Everyone knows it, probably because I brag about it all the time. I expected the cake to be delicious.
I took a bite. The cake was moist. It was sweet.
Other than that, it had absolutely no flavor.
I took another bite and asked, “So, um, this cake is really unique. What flavor is this?”
Andy groaned and said, “It’s supposed to be chocolate, but I forgot half the cocoa.”
I said, “It’s okay, it’s very pretty and not dry at all, and no one has made me cake in decades. Thank you, honey.”
The next year Andy planned an elaborate surprise party for me…only to have a an acquaintance give it away. Andy was furious for weeks.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “It’s not really his fault. My birthday has been cursed for years.”
“But you always talk about how great it was when you were a kid!”
“When I was a kid, sure. But my mom died right before my 15thbirthday. On my birthday, my Ex-Stepfather got me this gorgeous cake from the premiere D.C. bakery. Then, as we were eating, he read us a letter from a family friend telling us how wonderful our dead mother was and we all cried and couldn’t finish the cake.”
“Wow,” said Andy. “You and your siblings couldn’t finish dessert?”
“I know, right? Shows you how catastrophic it was. Anyway, every birthday after that was a reminder of her death. Since then, crap seems to happen the month of my birthday. Someone dies, I lose my job – and it’s not just me. It’s a miserable month for my whole family. It’s better not to celebrate my birthday.”
Andy didn’t believe me. Not when we when we ran into problems buying the house we wanted the week of my birthday. Not when the plumber’s apprentice made an error that sent sewage all over our bathroom. Not when we lost a beloved pet. Not when I spent 5 hours in a Houston airport or when his parents insisted on visiting for my birthday. Not even when Andy of the Iron Stomach got stomach flu for the first time.
Last year, Andy insisted on making a big deal out of my birthday.
“Don’t do it,” I warned him. “You know it’s cursed. The bigger the plan, the more likely something will go wrong.”
“It’s gonna be fine,” Andy insisted. “I’ll take the day off work. I’ll make you eggs Benedict for breakfast, poutine, and a cake. What kind of cake do you want?”
“You and cake and my birthday seems like it might not be the best combo—”
“Once! I only forgot the cocoa once! Just tell me what kind of cake you want. You make amazing cakes for everyone else’s birthdays, you should totally have a great cake on your birthday.”
“If you must, how about a single layer Genoise with strawberry whipped cream frosting?”
“I can totally make a Genoise,” said Andy, typing furiously on his phone.
“You’re googling Genoise, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely not. But is it spelled G-E-N-O-I-S?”
A few days before my birthday, Andy’s company had an important conference call scheduled with the East Coast. A shocking, unseasonal blizzard hit the Eastern Seaboard. The important call was rescheduled for my birthday.
“Give it up,” I told Andy. “We’ll go out to dinner on Saturday.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I mean, I won’t be able to make the eggs Benedict, and I probably won’t be able to manage homemade French fries, but I will be home by noon and make you a cake!”
Andy picked up a nasty respiratory virus the night before my birthday. He barely made the conference call. He came home and crawled straight into bed.
I had Campbell’s tinned tomato soup for dinner.
When he regained consciousness, Andy weakly said, “Sorry, honey, I’ll make that cake this weekend. We’ll have your friends over and celebrate.”
“Dude. What will it take to convince you it will never work out?”
“I’m making a cake, damn it,” Andy swore.
And make a cake he did.
The cake came out suspiciously flat. Andy refused to admit it was problematic. He gamely frosted it, decorated it, and sang “Happy Birthday” as he placed it in front of me.
I had to use my sharpest knife to hack through the bottom crust of what was supposed to be a European sponge cake, but I served it up to our guests.
Andy’s cake was again…unique. While the bottom was tougher than shoe leather, the middle and top of the cake were gooey. The frosting, however, was divine. The guests and I ate that and complimented Andy.
“Thanks!” said Andy. “Does anyone else want another piece?”
We demurred. Andy pouted, then declared, “Fine. I’m having another piece.”
The rest of us avoided eye contact as Andy served himself. But as Andy struggled mightily to fork off a bite-sized piece, I locked eyes with the guest on my left. He was red in the face, holding a napkin over his mouth.
That was it. I lost it, and the rest of the table followed me into endless gales of laughter. I didn’t quite pee my pants, but it A Very Near Thing.
Andy was a good sport, which was a good thing, because we must have laughed for five minutes.
Later that night, he mumbled, “Sorry about your cake, honey. I must have over mixed it.”
“Oh, don’t be sorry! That was hilarious, what with your pouty face and the Great Chef’s refusal to admit that his sponge cake could not be cut. I haven’t laughed that hard in years.”
“You’re not just saying that?”
“Nope. Frosted Genoise jerky is officially my most favorite birthday cake ever now.”
“Good. Because I’m gonna make it again for Mother’s Day.”