Wishful Baking

Deborah Cassell,
managing editor

20-10 (the age, not the year) came with little warning … or so it seemed. One minute, I was 18 and leaving home for college. The next, I was 22 and entering Northwestern to pursue a master’s in journalism. Exactly one year later, I took my first job, at a furniture industry magazine. Five years later, I joined the staff of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery. Before I knew it, 12 months passed, and the fateful day (Jan. 19, 2007) arrived.
Okay, so maybe turning 30 isn’t as dramatic as turning, say, 65 (just ask my dad). But it’s a milestone in my life and one that reminds me of birthdays past.
Like the year of my McDonald’s birthday celebration, where we played pin the nose on Ronald (among other McGames).
Or the year I received life-size Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, whose red yarn hair was almost as curly as mine.
Then, there was the year of my surprise party at Happy Joe’s (a once locally owned pizza parlor that now boasts 60 locations in six states … and home of the best taco pizza ever).
And I’ll not soon forget the year I got my first two-wheeler, complete with handlebar streamers and plastic flower-covered front basket.
But what I remember most about those birthdays past is the cakes. That Golden Arches-themed event aside, my mother baked all of my cakes, every year, including a geometric Mickey and Minnie model, a memorable candy-coated fairy princess variety and the famed three-layer checkerboard that remains my favorite. Although my mom deprecates her abilities as a baker, she made marvelous b-day creations, featuring homemade icing and fantastic decorative toppings, from astronauts to tennis players to Herky the Hawk, beloved mascot of the University of Iowa. (Mom also used to bake sugar cookies shaped like little birthday cakes, with my name written in piped icing across them. But I digress.)
Today, fewer mothers bake than in years gone by, but a birthday still isn’t a birthday without cake.
I am reminded of a scene from the film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” in which the lead character’s younger brother (played by an Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio) tears through the kitchen, knocking over the cake his sister has made for his big day. “We HAVE to have a cake, Gilbert!” she cries to her elder sibling (a troubled Johnny Depp). Thus, Gilbert is forced to pick one up from the bakery section of the big, new supermarket in town (despite the fact that it competes with the mom-and-pop grocery where he works).
Yes, a birthday isn’t a birthday without a cake, homemade or otherwise. It’s no wonder custom-made creations have become big business for caterers, as well as in-store bakeries. Then, there are specialty storefronts such as SusieCakes (www.SusieCakesLAa.com) in Los Angeles, which bills itself as “an all-American homestyle bake shop.”
Layer cake, sheet cake, bundt cake, cheesecake … pick your poison, and make a wish (but be sure to blow out all the candles).
Recent years have seen a resurgence in cupcakes, as well. Kids and adults alike love these mini marvels, which not only are easier to eat, but more fun (as are most things miniature). Hence, the rise of kingpins such as Chicago’s own Cupcakes (www.ChicagoCupcakes.com), whose flavors include key lime and pistachio. You also might know celebrity favorite Sprinkles (www.SprinklesCupcakes.com) in Beverly Hills, Calif., whose flavors include carrot, orange, banana, lemon coconut and chai latte.
Regardless of where this year’s cake comes from, it signifies a new era in my life, one that is hopefully as, if not more, rewarding than the last. January marks my one-year anniversary at Stagnito Communications. Who knows what 2007 will hold?
Come what may, happy birthday to me.