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Sunday, February 18, 2007

About Cake

I always feel like I should do some deep reflection on my birthday, about the person I am and was and hope to be, about growth and challenges and blessings of the past year...crap like that. But usually, I've just done those things for the new year, a month and a half before, so I let myself focus on the confectionary aspects of birthdays instead, both literally and figuratively. It's a day for Pretty Things, for whimsy. Shiny packages, a museum exhibit of pretty blue objects, and sweet lovely cake.

I called La Provence yesterday morning. "Bonjour, bleu bleu bleu," a man answered the phone. He was speaking French, and I don't understand the lovely language of the Sun King, and the words I don't recognize all become bleu in my mind. "Bonjour, do you speak English?"

Man with French accent, slightly wounded: Yes, of course!
me: Oh, sorry--I thought maybe I called the wrong number. It's my birthday.
Man with French accent, now cheery: Happy birthday!
me: Thank you. I'd like a cake.
Man with French accent: Which one?
me: I don't know what it's called. It has lady fingers on the outside, and it's very creamy.
Man with French accent: It has cream on the outside?
me: No, lady fingers.
Man with French accent: Oh, the zuppa?
me: I don't know its name...
Man with French accent: It must be the zuppa! We have one left.
me, salivating and slightly nervous that I might not get my cake: Can you hold it for me?
Man with French accent: Yes. What is your name and phone number? And what time do you think you will pick it up--just an approximation?

I told him the info, with three tries at the phone number before he got it--and even then, he said a digit wrong, but I didn't have the heart to correct him again--and said I'd be there around 11 AM. I then left my folks a message, telling them I had a cake so they shouldn't bring one.

At noon, we were finally getting out of the house. We reached La Provence at about 12:15. Their lunchtime crowd was in full effect, happily eating quiche, jambon de Paris sandwiches, luscious salads, palmiers...

I waited in line, patient in the way of a sticky little kid trying to be good. Sure enough, the cake display case had no zuppa. I got the last one. I whispered in my head. Ooh ooh ooh, it will be so good. I noticed the other attractions in the cases--smooth, shiny croissants, deep crimson beet salad, whole wild mushroom quiches, dark green salads like miniature gardens, almond nougat on the shelf--and I won't lie, I was tempted to get a little treat. But I pushed on like a suitor waiting for his true love, next to whom all the other pretty maidens paled.

Finally I reached the front. A pleasant American teenage fellow greeted me. "I'm here for a cake," I whispered with something like awe. He asked for my name, ducked into the back. Returned.

There's no cake with that name on it, he said. Could it be under a different name?

A slight wave of panic, the crushing blow of defeat and deprivation hovering over my head. Could it be that we were too late at 12:15? I nonetheless pressed on. "No, it couldn't be another name. It's the zuppa, I think..." I squeaked.

"The zuppa anglaise?" he replied. "I think so," I said gamely.

He went to the back, emerged with a white box. "Fran?" he asked. I shook my head no. Then...a miracle...he read off my phone number, every digit correct.

"That's my number!"

I got my cake. It was elegant and cheery, cream top accented with a ring of raspberries, a pink ribbon tied around the powdered lady fingers.

Later that afternoon, picking up my sister from the commuter rail for dinner, I saw a dog that looked just like a grizzly bear, its giant giant scary giant head emerging from a truck's passenger window. No one was with me in the car, though, so no one believes me. It looked just like a grizzly bear. I think it probably was a grizzly, but I didn't know that it was legal to drive with one in Massachusetts.

My parents bustled in at 4:45...Cake box in hand. They didn't get my message! They had an altogether different sort of cake, delicious in its own way, from the bakery that helps us celebrate all family occasions, including my wedding last summer. It was an eggy, fluffy yellow cake, covered in sweet white buttercream and purple flowers, an exuberant "Happy Birthday, kStyle!" scrawled across its face. The kind of wonderful frosting that is slightly gritty in the teeth.

After enjoying Gerard's cooking, we reconvened in my living room for cake. Two cakes could not be more different. The zuppa was dense and moist, little layers of alcohol-soaked cake and custards backing up to fresh cream and airy lady fingers, telling a rich-but-subtle story punctuated by a few well-chosen raspberries. The yellow cake was forthright and sweet, wearing its heart on its sleeve.

I loved them both.


Blogger Narya said...

Several times a day, I wander into the cake room up front, rummage in the bucket of cake scraps for a good scrap (and, yes, of course I have my criteria for same), and sploodge some fudge icing on it. Mmmmmm. Cake on tap.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Happy birthday, Fran!

10:55 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Narya: I'm jealous.

Eric: Merci beaucoups!

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Ann said...

Ooh, I love a good cake story. And those sound like very good cakes indeed.

Jesse made my cake this year: pumpkin cheesecake. It's extremely good, if not quite as dense as I like it.

God, Narya. Cake scraps. I don't like living in a world in which I have no access to cake scraps.

1:54 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

My sister makes pumpkin cheesecake every Thanksgiving. It's good stuff.

7:34 PM  

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