For every family birthday as far back as photographic proof goes, a heart shaped cake was front and center for the celebration. My mother was a superb baker of many things but cake was not one of them. She never did master the art of a fluffy crumb.
The batter was beaten until it was standing on its own. Baked at the right temperature and time, it still came out raw in some spots and little chewy in others.
Mom covered it with something reasonably close to frosting, but it was always a little shy on volume and barely stretched to fit – with the cake shining through in some spots.
But in the end none of that mattered; the cakes represented homemade love in a heart for anyone who was lucky enough to get one.
On our girl child’s first birthday we inaugurated the next generation of cake tin tradition. The girl’s first heart cake was a chocolate speckled thing called Dotted Swiss Cake complete with chocolate ganache that awkwardly slathered the top. Motivated by cake with a brightly lit candle, she began to walk on that birthday, heading straight for the chocolate confection. That would be my girl.
The arrival of the child the year before, however, was an entirely different matter. It was almost 11PM and the entire day had been spent attached to an IV drip containing drugs in one final attempt to induce labor. After 44 weeks of gestation, the child was simply not coming out unless someone went in there after her.
Once the c-section was a go, in a few short minutes I met my first child. Actually, I heard her first. She came out complaining loudly as she is still apt to do when unhappy. I was mesmerized by the stick straight hair that seemed to be falling in her eyes; the newborn baby girl needed a haircut. My own unruly short curls were jealous.
Our first year was spent in serious sleep deprivation. We took every opportunity to stop by the lemon loving in-law’s house and hand over the baby for some quality grandparent time. We would sneak off in search of a quiet space and fall asleep. We once napped for forty eight hours straight because they didn’t have the heart to wake us. Eventually we taught the child to read her picture books or play with toys in the crib at night and let us sleep. We finally got some rest, unlike the child who never seemed to need sleep.
35 36 years later and she still stays up all night. I have proof. In the book, My New Orleans, honoring the city post-Katrina, there is an essay written by Julie Smith, NOLA resident and mystery writer. Her chapter captures the night time sojourns of my child, who happened to also then be her neighbor. The essay, Portrait of the Artist begins on page 129. When someone doubts me that the child never slept through the night and does not still, I send them the book.
Or tell them to call Julie.
No matter how old she is or how far away the child lives, I still keep one ear open at night. Just in case. And on her birthday, we always have cake. Mighty good chocolate cake.
And I promise to provide the revised recipe real soon sans volume measures and gums – absolutely by her next birthday!
Happy Birthday, Annie – aka – Myrtle Von Damitz!
(A version of Dotted-Swiss cake, with Chocolate Specks and Heart by Lisa Horel was published in Salon, May 2010)