Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Delusions of Grandeur

Post Edit: I added a couple more pictures of the birthday girls from my mom's camera. 6/27/10

It seemed like a good idea when I started out. I didn't mean for it to get out of hand. It's just that once the ball is rolling and I am pinched for time (which, let's face it, I always am pushing up against a deadline), I ignore that little voice that tells me "this just won't work" and push on. It's not that deep down I really believe it will work, but something inside me hopes that the vision in my head will become reality, even when all signs point to some other outcome.

I've been planning Meg's first birthday cake (and my 37th) for weeks. Chalk it up to the fact that I spent most of April and May on an uber-restrictive diet with carbohydrates and sugars being gradually added in this week. Oh, and consider that I adore birthdays AND birthday cakes. AND parties. How could I not think about this, the light at the end of the tunnel, while I was depriving myself of practically everything that is good? Needless to say, I planned it out several different ways, but a few weeks back I settled on white cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It was going to be perfectly Margaret and perfectly me.

Then yesterday, I started thinking about the fact that I was going to make 3 cakes. After all, the birthday baby needed one of her own, the gluten-free folks in my family needed to be included, and then there were the rest of us. "As long as I'm making three cakes anyway," I said to myself, "I might as well make it a tiered cake."

I imagined, of course, something gloriously wedding-cakish, each tier stacked perfectly atop the last, the filling between the layers thick with white whipped cream and sweet, red strawberries. It was perfectly Meg, perfectly me. I made the layers last night in 3 different sizes and then went off to bed, dreaming of cake.This morning it occurrs to me that there are 6 egg yolks in my fridge (since the white cake only called for the whites) and that sounds like a great start to vanilla custard. "Just what my filling needs!" I decide. I will just put the whipped cream on the outside and the custard and strawberries in the middle. I check out epicurious.com for a recipe and find one that looks easy, delicious, and fast enough to be chilled in time for my cake. Perfectly Meg, perfectly me.
When the custard was finished, it sure seems runny, but I had followed all the directions, down to checking the temperature before taking it off the heat, so it had to be right. I am sure it will thicken up as it cools. And it will be perfect.

Only it doesn't thicken much. I pull it out of the fridge at 11:00 when I can't wait any longer to fill the cake. I look at the recipe again, wondering if this happened to anyone else who had made it. NO REVIEWS? How did this happen to me? Whenever I find a recipe on line, I ALWAYS read the reviews of other cooks. I must have been too distracted by all my birthday well wishers on Facebook. I decide to whip up some heavy cream and fold it in. I am pretty sure that I have done so once before with success, although I can't quite recall where or when. But no worries, the cream will make it perfect.Okay, now it's 11:10 and the cream is folded in. Still a little runny, but the completely irrational and unreasonable side of me is sure that it will thicken on the cake somehow. It has to, because my family will all be arriving in less than 2 hours and lunch isn't ready yet, either. I split the first layer and attempt to spread the custard filling, but it's almost a pour. I add strawberries and some more custard, then the next layer. So far it's not leaking out the sides too terribly. I'm sure it will work because I refuse to listen to the voice in my head screaming, "ABORT MISSION! DITCH THE CUSTARD LIKE A REASONABLE PERSON!"

11:25 I put whipped cream between the next two layers and place my gluten-free layer on. A little bit of custard spills out the sides of the lower layer under the pressure. More custard and strawberries, then the top gluten-free layer and more whipped cream. I begin to consider that this cake might not sit perfectly straight and might even slide right off the bottom layer. I find some wooden skewers and cut them down to just the right height.
11:45 The top layer, the one that I'll take off for the birthday girl to let her eat any way she wants? It is next. By the time I place it on the cake, I'm starting to wonder if I'll be able to ice the sides after all. Maybe we'll just go for the torte look. Can this cake pull it off, or will it just look half-dressed? I thought it was going to be perfect, and now I'm facing the fact that it won't look anything like the cake in my head did. At least it will taste good. That's all my guests really care about, isn't it?

12:00 I finish the cake and very, very carefully find a place for it in my fridge. I wonder if we should have cake first and then lunch afterward, because at this point I'm sure that the cake will slide, melt, or both within a couple of hours. I decide to call it "whimsical". That sounds like I made it look like this on purpose, like I was never even going for the "perfect" look anyway.

12:30 My darling father in law, who had come early to help cut watermelon, tomatoes, avocados, and basically save my hide because lunch wasn't ready, tells me not to be such a chicken and shoves my sliding cake layers back to semi-straight. Hmmm. He says we should definitely eat our hamburgers first, that the cake won't perish in the meantime. I know he only has the nerve to man-handle a cake like that because he didn't put all the time, energy, and ingredients into it, but he's right. It looks much straighter now.
1:15 My husband opens the fridge and says, "What happened to the cake?" I hurry over and find that nothing has happened, I just forgot to warn him that it's "whimsical".

We feast on hamburgers, chips, fresh fruit, and carrots. I'm so glad I resisted the urge to do sweet potato fries and onion rings because when would I have found the time? Now it's time for cake. All eyes turn to Miss Margaret. Will she like it?

She does. And she doesn't seem to care that it's whimsical instead of perfect. In fact, I'm pretty sure that she thinks it is perfect.

As for me, I don't care what the cake looks like-- it's my little Meggie who is perfect. I think about that day, one year ago, when I spent my birthday being poked and prodded, injected and sliced, attached to monitors and praying for her precious life to be spared. It was not a fun birthday last year, but I received a wonderful gift then and it makes my birthday even more special now.
Happy birthday, my Margaret. You couldn't be more perfect to me.


Joyful Noise said...

Tasted Delicious! Looks like you might not have found the best custard recipe! Have you ever made a "stabilized" whipping cream? I'm not quite the "foodie" that you are, so I just heard about it this year. I just tried it on some cupcakes for Jonathan's luncheon. It was great. Don't think it would have solved your problem, but it does help a little.

Prudy said...

Awww, what a sweet birthday girl. Can't wait to meet her in person. I've made plenty of whimsical cakes, and as long as they taste good, all is well. Although, I have made some whimsical cakes that didn't taste good-like fat free carrot cake-blech!

Kimberly said...

Oh you're a hoot! I had a similar experience making Emma's cake this year and managed to 1) put it back together with lemon filling and 2) cover the mess with WAY too much frosting.

Pretty is nice, but tasty is the key! Personally, I kind of like the whimsical look!

Aubrey said...

Loved this post! The "Abort Mission" warning has gone off in my head before, too. So frustrating sometimes. But it looks like everyone enjoyed the cake anyway.
In our family we call a cake like that a Dr. Suess cake. My mother-in-law makes a strawberry cake for every birthday and more often than not it is leaning to the side or the layers are sliding off. But it's always delicious.

Sea Star said...

I've made masterpieces like that too. Always with a beautiful picture in my head that just doesn't quite turn out like that image.

It still looks cute and tasty!

Happy Birthday to you both.

The Stamps Family said...

It is the perfectionist in us, I hate those abort missions... I love the cake, it tunred out way to cute and cool and whimsical.

Jen H. said...

That whimsical cake looks pretty yummy to me.

Myrna said...

I love "whimsical" !! And the cake was delicious. I think I gained 3 pounds and I know I have a long lasting sugar headache. Thanks for a really fun afternoon and evening.

Anonymous said...

I love "whimsical" !! And the cake was delicious. I think I gained 3 pounds and I know I have a long lasting sugar headache. Thanks for a really fun afternoon and evening.

mindyluwho said...

Oh my goodness! Funny post! But the cake looks delicious. I LOVE strawberries, cake and cream!

I made cream puffs a couple of months ago and had the same problem with the custard.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Love your cake. And whimsical is a totally acceptable cake category. Happy birthday, by the way. We're closer in age than I thought.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I think your cake looks positively delicious! And I seriously mean that :) !! Glad you had a great birthday!

Kim said...

Oh, why does this story sound so very familiar? I'm glad to hear you were able to focus on the fact that Meg did not care what it looked like. And by the sounds of the reviews here, no one else did either! :)

Erika said...

I'm so glad you posted a birthday post.
Sorry we missed out on all the festivities.
love you guys!

Ashley said...

Why is it that special occasions are also so stressful? Thanks for posting this. I relate all to well. Happy belated birthdays to you and Margaret!

Sonja said...

Oh my goodness. You have no idea how reassuring it is to me that a domestic diva like your self, would have an experience like this. Man, it looks delicious, though.

I'm glad you had a happy day!

Martin said...

Happy birthdays.
that cake lookes like it belongs in a Carls jr. commercial.

"Don't bother me. I'm eating cake"