Birthday cake is good. I recently discovered it tastes even better when you can’t remember the last time you actually ate cake.
By special request of the birthday girl, the dutch chocolate cake recipe I made for Greta’s eleventh birthday is my grandmother’s, and ends up making an appearance in our house at least once a year. It’s one of those funny old recipes that actually uses Crisco (gasp!) and instructs you to do all sorts of weird things like put baking soda in hot water before adding it to the batter and sour the milk by adding vinegar to it.
I love stuff like that. I love that my grandmother made this cake for my mom, my mom made this cake for me, and now I’m making it for my family. I love the weird instructions that harken back to an age when people thought nothing of taking the time to trace the cake pans with a pencil on wax paper to line the baking pans with. It’s nice too, that it somehow results in a remarkably moist and not-overly sweet cake that everyone seems to love. It is inevitably topped off with my grandmother’s version of buttercream frosting which is essentially a boatload of butter and powdered sugar thrown together with a teeny bit of vanilla. That part is awfully sweet, and every year I find myself wondering (heresy!) what another frosting might be like on my grandmother’s chocolate cake… but I haven’t had the nerve to try it yet.
Of course, you only turn eleven once; not to mention the fact that we only have one dessert a month around here these days, so we really did it up by putting a small ball of vanilla ice cream on top of each slice. I have to admit, in addition to being delicious, the total effect was achingly sweet to my recalibrated taste buds; I felt instantly jittery and got a dramatic sugar-rush to my head that lasted at least half an hour. Oo- yuck.
The next night, we ate the last of the cake- and once again I enjoyed it, but also didn’t. Now a full four months into our Year of No Sugar, I really do feel like a firm taste-shift has occurred, and sweets hold much, much less appeal for me. I enjoy our monthly treat, but now notice that I pay for it: I feel kinda icky. Had it always been so and I just never really noticed?
It wasn’t till later that it occurred to me to do the math: the cake recipe called for two cups of sugar, and the icing called for three cups of powdered sugar… the cake divided into twelve slices, so per serving that would be… holy cow! .41666667 -nearly half a cup of sugar per serving!! And that’s not including the ice cream. Well no wonder I got a headache. It’s a miracle my body didn’t stage a full-scale revolt.
A few days later some friends stopped by on their way home from dinner, and happened to have ice cream in the car for that night’s dessert. My friend Katrina said of course, they would wait till they were home- they certainly wouldn’t make us watch them eat ice cream while we ate our No Sugar “dessert”: a blueberry-and-lemon juice concoction Greta had invented while I made dinner.
Now, I was already proud of Greta’s inventiveness in the pastry department, but then she really surprised me: “You can bring the ice cream up,” she said to our friends, “Really! I don’t mind. I had birthday cake a few days ago. I’m good!”
Well, knock me over with a feather.