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"Cakes and Celebration” Personal Essay by Lynn Passmore
Illustration: Shari-Anne Gibson

I have never sat down beside you on a couch to peruse the pages of your family photo album. I have not had the opportunity to look at the collection of images that represent your life. Because of this, I can’t compare. I have no way of knowing if the way my family “does life” is something that might be considered typical, or if, perhaps, my suspicions are accurate and we possess a general penchant for celebration. You see, if you were to skim through the snapshots of my family’s memories, you would find mostly cake.

As a prelude to dessert, we have what we call “The Harris Family Celebratory Dinner.” Although the components are subject to change according to seasons and cravings, the idea remains the same. That is, a special day calls for a feast. We’ve been known to have two feasts in a single day, or even to stretch one cause for celebration into multiple days of indulgence. We sate ourselves on Caesar salad and garlic bread, twice-baked potatoes and smoked BBQ ribs. If we are celebrating my birthday, it’s spaghetti and meatballs, while my sister Liz’s August dinner always includes buttery and delicious corn on the cob. Dan, my brother, is partial to filet mignon, and homemade pizza is sometimes the star of the menu. But even as we loosen our belts, content in the knowledge that the world might just be a perfect place, we mustn’t forget the crowning glory of any celebratory dinner: the cake.

On the savory side of things, the Harris family members are all fairly easy to satisfy. However, we are each a little bit exacting when it comes to personal preferences in gateau.

It all started with my Mom and Dad. You should know that they take their cakes very seriously. For days leading up to August 21st, Mom slaves over “Seven Layer Chocolate Chiffon Cake,” but when October 18th rolls around, she becomes the fortunate recipient of the aptly named “Perfect Chocolate Cake.” Each year my parents push themselves to raise the chocolate cake bar, making their cakes a little bit taller every time, to the point where a ruler has become a necessary piece of equipment at every birthday place setting. One can be guaranteed to receive a toothpick or two in their little slice of heaven, such devices being required to hold these towering chocolate masterpieces together. In the case of these delicacies, it really is true that all you need is a sliver; they are so tall that even a thin slice amounts to at least three pieces of ordinary cake.

For us, then, a cake is an offering of love. My childhood birthdays were charmed with a complexly constructed creation known as “The Enchanted Castle Cake.” Betty Crocker’s 1971 edition of New Boy’s and Girl’s Cookbook holds the key to this gem. Turn the yellowed pages to 101 and feast your eyes on iced turrets, pink pillow mint crenellations, and even a chocolate drawbridge! Betty recommends serving the cake on a tray lined with blue foil to suggest a moat, and to make grass for the outer edges of the tray from coconut that has been dyed green. My Mom followed Betty’s directions flawlessly, and a fondness for special sweets was successfully passed down from parents to child.

 
 

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