I love perfectionism…when it comes to cakes.
I didn’t get one, but two cakes this weekend, my good fortune of a wife and daughter who know what they’re doing in the kitchen. I hadn’t expected that. But how did I rate two cakes?
I don’t have an answer, but the custom of birthday cakes got me thinking how did the practice get started, and why cake? Even more perplexing is the sharing of the cake. I’ve always been delighted by birthdays and the prospect of cake and ice cream. They make it a celebration. Yet, I also remember wondering as a boy why I was expected to give the cake away. Couldn’t I just make off with it as all mine?
Of course, I never attempted to do that, although there were birthdays when I was slow to do the polite thing and offer people seconds – especially when it was my mother’s cake with lemon filling and a snowy coat of coconut.
Google, the knowledge of all things, quickly provided some answers on the origin of birthday cakes, advising that the ancient Greeks made round or moon-shaped honey cakes for the moon goddess and that, during the Middle Ages, Germans made sweetened dough in the shape of a baby to celebrate the birth of Jesus that transitioned into commemorating the birth of a child called Kinderfest.
Some other bits of interesting trivia: the roundness of the cake symbolized the cyclical nature of life, and birthday candles were used to bring birthday wishes to the gods. How that morphed into a candle for each year of the celebrant’s life plus one to grow on was not explained. Nor, for that matter, was the superstition that your wish would come true if you can blow all the candles out with a single breath.
I got a clue of my cake when my daughter Diana returned from the market with five giant carrots with the diameter of bananas and nearly twice as long. I figured we were going to be eating a lot of carrots and despite Carol’s attempt at camouflaging what would take place that afternoon with the suggestion she would be making one of her healthy veggie drinks, I suspected they were the ingredients for a cake – a lot of cake.
The industry of kitchen is best left to those who know what they are doing, so I took leave of Diana and Carol. Besides they weren’t looking for assistance.
As the gig was up and I knew a carrot cake was in the making, pretenses were abandoned and I was called to move the completed wonder from the fridge to the car to join my son Jack and his family for dinner. The surprise was a second cake, made by Carol, with a thick lemon filling.
At the appropriate moment, Carol and Diana brought them out aglow with candles. Even placed side by side, there was no way I was going to blow them all out in a single breath. And then there was the matter that they were decorated with self-relighting candles. It was not going to happen.
No question the ancient Greeks started a good thing with cakes for the gods.
I went around the table filling cake requests and, naturally, filling my own plate with an ample sample from each cake.
Thinking back to that childhood impulse to save my cake for myself, I realized part of the joy of the occasion is sharing what you have been given. Indeed, I was richly rewarded. But better yet with two cakes there was lots to be left. So, I got my cake and got to eat it, too. A perfect gift.