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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Chocolate Cake Season is in full effect....


My big brother’s birthday was last week, and so began chocolate cake season, a time-honored family tradition which begins each year on January 7, and spans until the middle of February.

Chocolate cake season is a series of Friedersdorf family birthdays and holidays that results in a high-concentration of cake consumption during a very short period of time. With its start at the beginning of January, it creeps up on everyone just in time to sabotage any diet-related new year’s resolutions (yet another reason I have resolved not to make any).

Technically, we order the cake at other times of the year as well. I’m the Gemini outlier of the family, so my birthday cake does not arrive until June. And there tends to be a few other occasions that come up unexpectedly and warrant the purchase of a cake.
But the season is where the action happens.

At times, chocolate cake season can be exhausting. We have finally finished the leftovers from the first cake after several consecutive days of cake consumption. But as I was eating my cake on one recent night, it started to feel like our hard work would never pay off. I started to lose momentum, and my family grew concerned.

“Kristin, it almost looks like you’re in pain,” said one of my relatives.
“I know,” I replied. “But it’s the season!”

I had to press on, but it wouldn't be easy. And what did they expect? They served me a series of appetizers, an enormous dinner, and then followed it with a monster slice of rich, chocolaty fudge cake.
And not just any cake. A cake that brings with it all the nostalgia of my childhood, the years growing up when I ate it on every birthday, every special occasion, my chubby cheeks wide with grinning, frosting-stuffed delight. An exceptionally delicious, familiar after-school snack, a treat at breakfast, or a nibble after lunch.
(Not only does it taste great, but it's a food that I associate with so many happy memories, which makes it that much harder to resist. It's like getting the same feeling of warm and fuzzy association you felt on a summer day at the age of 9, when your grandma cut you a whole plate of juicy watermelon after you had been swimming in the pool all day. You were hard at work, diving for pennies, or neon plastic rings perhaps, and then she wrapped a towel around you just as you hopped out of the pool, just as the sun was threatening to go down. You were swimming so much, your hair took on the seasonal hue of chlorine green that is standard for every blond-haired California child at this time of the year... You felt as if you had never been hungrier in all of your nine years, after swimming so long and doing so many award-winning cannonballs. The Andrews Sisters were playing on your grandma's classic AM radio station, which never came in so well and always whispered and crackled ever so slightly with the sounds of talk radio interference in the background. But that moment was perfect. And no watermelon ever tasted as sweet. As much as I long for Europe with all of its delightful bakeries, there were some definite perks of a California childhood--and of living next door to your grandparents, who have a gigantic swimming pool and who never let you feel cold for a moment when you reluctantly climbed out of your chlorine playground. If anything ever made me realize how lucky I am to have these memories, it was living in Scandinavia, where the people are just as warm but the weather is most definitely not! Anyway, similar memories live on in my brain about chocolate cake season, memories full of warmth, family, birthday karaoke, a pony ride or two, and many, many, countless glasses of milk.)
Alas, my blogging has become sidetracked, consumed even, by long-winded expressions of nostalgia! I apologize for wandering like that. But I should have seen it coming. That's what chocolate cake season will do to you. It gets me every time!
Meanwhile, in 2007 --
for all you Wayne's World fans, insert scene transition waving hands and ridiculous sound effects [here]:
In the end, I was defeated that night, at my family gathering...which is discouraging since it’s only the very beginning of the season. I could not finish the thick, moist layers of cake, complete with two different types of rich frosting.
The season often includes cake for breakfast, cake for lunch, cake for dinner, and cake at every time in between. And as each holiday passes, the leftovers continue accumulating on our dining room table. So you can imagine my sense of weariness when one of my coworkers had an office birthday the day after we finished the first of many cakes to come. I'm usually never one to turn down chocolate cake after a hard day's work, after any day really, and free chocolate cake at that! But on this day, there was no more room at the inn:
(close your eyes dear readers, and imagine, if you will, an office birthday, complete with awkward singing, and inexplicably, no milk-- the obvious necessity in this situation--but so often an overlooked, ignored if I may be so bold-- aspect of the office birthday. It really is disheartening to someone who holds sacred the union between dairy products and baked goods. I suppose it's the thought that counts though. For what it's worth, good intentions go a long way in my book.)
Anonymous coworker #1: "Kristin, have a piece of cake."
Me: "You don't understand. I really can't. I simply can't."
I shook my head. How could they ever understand? It wasn't about the milk, it wasn't about that at all. Nor was it some health-related, nutrition-based decision.
Anonymous coworker #2: "New Year's Resolution?"
Me: "No. It's chocolate cake season."
I explained the season to them as best I could, I tried to tell them why another slice of cake was impossible. So, incredibly, heart-breakingly, gut-bustingly impossible.
I tried to explain.
Anonymous coworker #3:"So, are you going to get a cake for MLK?"
Me: "What an excellent question. Now that you mention it, I really think we should. I like the way you think, anonymous coworker."
Though it's never been done before, I really think he's on to something. Next year, it's on. There's many more cakes to come, and I am really going to try to power through it, give it some real heart this season. I want to make 2007 one to remember.
Here at The Great American Bakery Hunt, we play every season like it counts. When it comes to chocolate cake season, we know great cake takes serious commitment.

You can find the Friedersdorf pick of the season at French's Pastry in Costa Mesa. Ask for the chocolate fudge torte and prepare to be dazzled.
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