Birthday Cake


It was indeed a labor of love that began on Thursday afternoon, with the construction of Ghirardelli dark chocolate ganache, and Ghirardelli white chocolate ganache. About ten o’clock this morning the cake was finished. In the 40 some hours interim, I baked four layers of cake (and two dozen cupcakes), two of Mexican dark chocolate cake (in a 10-inch square pan) and two of a kind of caramel-dulce de leche cake in 8-inch springform rounds. The cakes were crumb-coated with ganache and left to dry. There was ganache filling between layers, and chocolate ganache on the base, and vanilla buttercream on the upper two layers. Decorative bits were piped in buttercream, always a bit of a nightmare. I used a fondant plate on the top, on which I’d pasted an “edible” image of my grandmother in 1918, age two.

We put the whole mess in the trunk and drove 150 miles with our fingers crossed and the a/c blasting, hoping against hope that we wouldn’t get there and find that it had dissolved into a puddle of sticky buttercream.  (We had an animal carrier with the two bottle-fed kittens in the backseat with Julian, so there was no room for the cake in the cabin.) And when we got there . . . it was just fine. The relief made me a little weak in the knees.

Each year my father’s family gathers the first weekend in June for what my cousin Tyson has dubbed “Granny-palooza.”  Pandemonium reigns. Sometimes my uncle, an accomplished bluegrass musician, plays. Sometimes my other uncle, an accomplished schoolteacher plays. Babies coo and gurgle and cry by turn. Grannie, who at 96, has “imperious” down to a fine art, demands audiences, coffee, more coffee and kisses. That’s okay, age has some perks. I wonder sometimes if we don’t become a more distilled essence of our true selves as the years clock over, or if we just lose all patience by the end of it. 96 is a lot of years to put up with stuff.

Several years ago, in her early 90s, my grandmother struggled with the mere fact that she was still alive. She didn’t want to be alive. She wanted desperately to go “home” to her reward. So many of her contemporaries are gone, including her husband. My father, her eldest child, is gone. She says that she does not understand why God is not done with her yet. I’ve got no answer for that. She’s had health problems (a number of them quite serious) since before I was born. I guess she’s just made of tougher stuff than we know.

Today, as she begins her 97th year, we gave her a day of the things she cherishes most now: her family, many of us sporting purple (her favorite color) in a swirling array of which she was the center.  There was a pile of gifts for her, many of those purple, including ours– the Land’s End nightgown and the many boxes of Puffs tissue– because nursing home tissues are pretty wretched. And an enormous cake, 40 hours in the making, with  purple candles and a photograph from  a time long ago, when she was a much beloved child. .

. . .

Target number 55. Steps walked 2053. (I didn’t mean to be short today– but there was not a minute extra to walk.) Breakfast was yogurt and granola in the car. Lunch was potluck at my Uncle Kerry’s: 4 jumbo shrimp, a cup of spinach salad, quarter cup of Waldorf salad, cup of fruit salad, half a cup of pulled pork (no sauce), two tiny slices of cake. On the way home, a chicken salad sandwich and an iced coffee.


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