Of Cursed Birthdays (#220)

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 mom 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.

“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.

Exterior shot of actual cake.

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.

“Sponge” cake interior.

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.”

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

18 thoughts on “Of Cursed Birthdays (#220)”

  1. I can so relate to this. My Dad was buried on my birthday. Thirty years later my Mom died the week after my birthday. Every relationship I’ve ever had (except the current one) broke up in January. It’s freaking cold so no one wants to celebrate. I hate January and breath a sigh of relief when it’s over. No one has baked me a birthday cake since my Mom died in several decades ago but I treat myself to the best dessert I can find.

    1. He did. Also saw him watching a YouTube video on how to properly make a Genoise this morning. Then he told me how the recipe he used from my Cake Bible was completely at fault for Genoise jerky because it insisted he mix butter and flour in advance and according to YouTube, that’s bullshit and deflates the batter. He’s a man on a mission to reclaim his Top House Chef title.

  2. Haha awww this story is so sweet! The exterior of the cake looks beautiful! It wasn’t until you showed a photo of the actual cut cake I laughed out loud, haha.

    Still, your husband baking a cake for you–that’s true love, man. So cute.

  3. He should get some points for beauty. It’s really pretty from the top. I hope he makes a perfect cake for Mother’s Day.

  4. Sweet story 🙂 my bad luck month was August. Lost almost all my jobs in August, and some breakups happened in August as well. Other than August, few times September and October were my bad luck months. ( My birthday is in October.) But hope the cake will turn out well on mother’s day.

  5. That cake does look a bit flat, haha. But the intention is what matters most, right? Anyway, I haven’t baked a cake in my life so it’s not like I can laugh at Andy!

  6. Wait, nobody is picking up on the mention of “Mother’s Day”?

    I went back to the previous blog hoping that someone is asking you the recipe for the 6-hour cake. I’ve googled, but the recipes that come up are quite different, so I don’t know which one would be closest to what you make.

    Store-bought cakes are actually better than what we’d bake, at least in Europe. And I’ve discovered an “European layered cake” at a couple of grocery stores around here (New England); it’s quite delicious. Apparently, it is imported from Canada. Another favorite desert of mine is from IKEA, the frozen section. I must be one of their few customers who buys only frozen deserts and fish sauce from them.

    So… Mother’s Day?

    1. LOL, well, I think some readers know that as a “Pet Parent,” my husband makes a nice present and the dogs bring me slobber-covered gifts on Mother’s Day. I’ll have to repost that story.

      Oh, Europe completely crushes most of the U.S. when it comes to baking. Maybe there are fewer giant supermarkets and more of an artisanal approach to cakes?

      1. I really don’t know why the deserts are so … mediocre in grocery stores in US. Too sweet, too dry, too artificially flavored, the frosting feels like eating sand. Sometimes even the colors are a bit scary. Next time you go to IKEA, try “Bakelse Prinsess.” And it’s not an artisanal store 🙂
        As for European deserts, the best I’ve had were in Japan. I was determined to try every Japanese desert during my trip, but I soon discovered that all European classic deserts were an absolute art and so I quickly switched and tried every European cake I could find in Japan. With the occasional exception of matcha-flavored cakes.
        So pet mother you say. I’ve been trying to guess from different clues: she doesn’t mention work – maybe she is taking time off to raise a baby. No mention of Sunny for a long time – maybe she can’t write a story about the in laws without mentioning the baby. Pictures of sunrises – maybe she walks the dogs early before Andy goes to work, so that someone is home with the baby. I guess I’ll just have to wait.

        1. Somewhere along the line, Americans were convinced that a proper birthday cake had frosting made out of lard/ vegetable shortening and powdered sugar. The sugar lobby and Crisco probably share the blame.

          Ah, yes. Sunny. She will be back. All too soon, I fear.

          You make a good detective!

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