I have now celebrated seven of Mike's last birthdays and each year I ask what special birthday cake I can create for him. Before we lived together, when we lived in different states, I would mail a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies. One year, I surprised him with a cake inspired by Maker's Mark logo, complete with wood detailing for the barrel, the logo, and, of course, red wax. While he claims to enjoy each of these creations, his talk about his favorite childhood cake - a Carvel Fudgie the Whale cake - continued long after the memory of whatever I had made had passed. Last year, I decided I make him an adult version of his favorite cake - an ice cream cake of homemade bittersweet chocolate ice cream, vanilla bean ice cream, and crushed Oreos, encased in a perfect layer of chocolate frosting. Still nothing.
So this year, as our plans for dinner changed last minute and I faced the issue of no food in the apartment and no plan for the meal, drinks, or dessert, I finally caved. I trekked to Penn Station during evening rush hour and found Carvel between the rush of harried commuters. When they began writing his happy birthday message - in blood red frosting, off center, and outside the border - I bit my tongue.
The look on Mike's face as I emerged from our kitchen with his precious cake illuminated by candles was worth every second of hassle in transporting an ice cream cake across the city. As I set it down, he whispered, "Get the (bleep) out!". Of all the desserts I have made, nothing has ever yielded the sweet smile that crossed his face as he took his first bite.
And in an instant, I understood. It wasn't that I hadn't made a better version of this very cake or that he didn't appreciate my efforts. It was that I couldn't possibly compare to the memory of something associated with the simplicity of childhood. And instead of trying to make these things that transport us to our younger days into something better, I should just be thankful we both have great childhood memories to look back upon.