Yesterday was Rob's 35th birthday. And instead of feeling all happy and celebrate-y, I was hysterical. Over a raspberry chocolate cake. That looked nothing like this.
I should tell you that while I'm a pretty damned good cook (if I do say so myself), I am in no way a baker. All of that chemistry and careful measuring is not my cup of tea. I prefer to treat recipes as guidelines, jumping-off points requiring the addition of my creativity to produce culinary greatness. Or at least culinary "hey, this is really good!"-ness.
I was confident that I could throw together a birthday dinner that Rob would love - some tortillas, some black beans, seasonings, the countertop grill, big blob of homemade guacamole, we're done - easily. So I felt safe devoting my entire morning to the creation of the cake, which is the amount of time I figured I'd need to make something that would not only taste delicious, but look gorgeous and impressive. What I didn't factor into the equation was Westley.
Despite it being Rob's birthday - and therefore Rob's birthday cake - I had planned the dessert with Westley in mind. Somehow, in that way that children suddenly come to know things, Westley had made the connection between birthdays and cake. So Daddy's birthday coming up meant, of course, cake coming up. Rob and I agreed that having cake, instead of some other, less-traditional birthday dessert might save us a meltdown. (Incidentally, Rob's favorite dessert is pie.)
Except that if I'd thought about it for two seconds, I would have realized that you cannot say the word "cake" to a two-year-old if you're not ready with cake, like, right now. Because if you say the word "cake," he's going to want some. And he's not really going to get on board with, "We have to go to the store and get chocolate chips" and, "It's just batter right now," and, "No, honey, it has to cool."
By the time my mother came over to
wrangle Westley visit for the afternoon, I was practically in tears. I'd heard, "I wan' sum cake!" in a tiny toddler voice, on loop, for hours. I was almost done: my perfectly-measured cakes were out of the oven and cooled, my frosting was fluffy and delicious, all that was left was assembly. But just into the filling-and-frosting process, the cake started to crumble. And slide. The layers cracked in the middle and slipped away from each other, like tectonic plates on a river of chocolate-raspberry lava.
Meanwhile, on the soundtrack: "I wan' sum cake. I wan' sum cake. I wan' sum caaake!"
Snap. "If you say that one more time, you're not getting any cake!" I growled.
"Oh, Noelle..." My mom took Westley in her arms, out of the kitchen. "Really?"
I crunched my face up, fighting the tears. "I'm just trying to do something nice...for my husband...and I can't even make a cake, because I have this fucking...life!"
Somehow, my mother got me to calm down enough to cut Westley a slice of the quickly-melting cake. She encouraged me to put the rest of it (in pieces) in the refrigerator, instead of the garbage bin.
As I took some deep breaths - and apologized to Westley - I realized that I'd let this one baked good take on way too much significance. My life-dude-partner-person was turning 35, and I wanted to make a big deal out of it. Because we've known each other for six-and-a-half years, and he's an awesome guy, and those birthdays the end in fives and zeros seem especially significant, and...and...I wish I could do more for him than just make a decadent dessert. I wish I could throw him an actual party. Or at least get him a big, cool present to say, "Hey, you're really rad, and I'm glad that we have a kid together and that you were born and stuff."
And really - really - I wish I were a better wife. Because I'm not even close to being proper and put-together. I'm slidey and melty and messy, and sometimes I crack.
Self-portrait: a work in flour, sugar, and chocolate.
Rob laughed when he saw the dessert. He seemed genuinely pleased with its oddness. After being banished to the fridge for several hours, the whole thing hardened up into a textured, angular mass that Rob described as "sculptural." After a couple of bites he concluded, "This is one fuckawesome fierce cake!"
And of course Westley couldn't have cared less what the cake looked like. After finishing off a slice, all he had to say was, "I wan' sum more cake!"
(Happy Birthday, Rob. Thanks for liking me, cracks and all. Wait. That doesn't sound right at all... Oh, and I owe you a pie.)