This is the last you will hear of the Dinosaur cake and cookie saga, simply because in all of its ridiculousness, it borders on the sublime. On Saturday morning, our beloved Helicopter/Tiger Mom was due to collect her birthday cake and matching cello-bagged cookie favors. We awaited her arrival not because we wished to further engage her, but because we needed the refrigerator and shelving space.
Mom calls the bakery shortly before pick-up time to let us know that she has seen photographs of the dinosaur cookies on a social media website and her soon-to-turn four year old darling is (these are her exact words) “frightened by the squiggly smile” on the blue T-Rexes. He is not frightened by the grin on the pink Stegosauruses. Might I interject that nothing favorable ever comes from gender specific cookies. It is too late for the cookies, (Mom realizes there’s a time factor involved) but she admonishes us to adjust the expression on the gumpaste Rex that is lollygagging atop the vanilla buttercream. Holy Dinosaur.
I recounted this tale to my former roommate, the terribly sensible and talented pastry chef Betsy, who suggested we take the Soup Nazi approach, “No cake for you.” My brother and sister-in-law echoed the identical sentiment and added a footnote. Perhaps some new signage out front, similar to those found in school lunchrooms; “This Is a Nut-Free Zone.” I think both of these ideas are brilliant and will broach the subject at the next staff meeting. Until then, I’m crumpling up this piece of crazy and tossing it right over my shoulder.
The House of Dinosaur is not the only family celebrating July birthdays. This week we will mark (no pun intended) the birthday of Mr. Sweet As Pie. (Clearly, opposites do attract.) He is a classic Birthday Pie sort of fellow and lucky for him, he married into a family well versed in fruit and crust. Better still, the dessert of his choice is all the rage making him a bit of a trendsetter. Personally, the popularity of this dessert is a bit of a deterrent; I hate it when Foodies think they’ve invented something newer and hipper than anyone else. I’ve been told ‘pastry repeats itself’ which is the case for Slab Pie.
What a concept! What a Way to feed a Crowd! What it does, is serve gaggles of pie-hungry folks. What it is, is something my Grandmother and Jessie baked every summer and became in later years, July Birthday Pie. Forgive me if I quietly applaud this dessert without jumping up and down on the Slab Pie bandwagon. Been there, baked it, still love it. But it’s not new, nor is it the brilliant invention of the folks toiling away at food magazines and food networks. And why must every photograph of Slab Pie capture it resting on a hand hewn birch bark tray, dappled willow tree in the background?
Jessie’s approach was straightforward, boasting little more than fresh peaches and blueberries as its cover photo. The fruit is fanned over a pastry known as ‘Cookie Dough for Open Pies,’ a recipe found in any number of grandmotherly cookbooks. The beauty of the dough is the ease in which you can coax it into the pan, where it provides the perfect canvas for rows and rows of summer fruit. Hot out of the oven, a tangle of peaches and blueberries bubbling over the side, thick and jam-like, begging for a good lick of vanilla ice cream.
Traditionally, this is composed of July’s bounty; blueberries and peaches. Unless of course, someone in the house is unaware, such as the intended recipient of said birthday pie. Totally unaware that you have been saving the exceptional peaches for this very recipe and over several days, has consumed them for his breakfast.
I think I inherited the ‘Saving’ thing from Jessie. She was always earmarking various items for sundry uses and then relinquishing them when they were no longer of value. For instance, “Don’t eat those bananas! I’m saving them for banana cream pie.” The following day, “Why don’t you eat those bananas? They’re too ripe for banana cream pie.” The most famous of the Saving generally entailed a limited edition dessert (limited in that there were only two remaining servings) that Jessie fiercely protected for “the girls” (that would be my sister and me). Just ask my brothers.
As a result of the breakfast peaching, it’s quite possible that at this performance, the role of summer stone fruit may have to be played by sundry berries found lurking in the fridge.
I am bemoaning my fate to Sibling Baker from Seattle and she’s not particularly sympathetic to my plight. As a matter of fact, she gently criticizes me for chastising the consumer of the peaches. She suggests that one must create new traditions, variation on a theme and all-that-fruit-jazz. “It’s not your birthday,” I hear her saying. “What’s the big deal? You get so fixated with things- lighten up a bit.”
“That’s not the point,” I counter. “The peaches were in waiting. I know I made that perfectly clear.”
“No, you probably thought you said something to that effect when most likely you were having a conversation in your head, with yourself, while you were out running. It’s quite possible the poor man was not privy to this information. You do know that you do that, have conversations with yourself and think that others have witnessed these monologues?”
“Not this time- I’m certain he knew… How could he not? You know when the peaches are just perfect, and you cradle it in your hand, and there’s just the littlest bit of fuzz tickling your fingers? And it smells like summer…”
Sister cuts me off with “Have you ever considered there are people in the world, who actually wake up in the morning and think about eating breakfast? Before noon? And coffee doesn’t count. They may not view things through the same fruit colored glasses that you do. Dare I say, there’s nothing criminal about seeing a few peaches in the refrigerator and thinking, ‘that might be nice on my morning granola.’ As simple as that. There’s nothing sinister, no pre-meditated agenda. It was probably just breakfast.”
“Fine, fine, go ahead and defend the Birthday Boy. I don’t even care anymore.”
Sounding more and more like Dr. Frasier Crane, she continues. “But you know you do. You just can’t help yourself. It’s who you are. We’ve talked about this. How you’re just the slightest bit controlling in the kitchen. How you allow yourself to ruminate over the silliest little things. You will ask for an opinion or a suggestion regarding a baked good. You will listen, or appear to be listening. And then, in the end, you are just going to make what you planned all along. And if you have to take a slight detour enroute to the oven, that’s all we’re going to hear about.”
I believe I have heard this before.
“Good grief! There’s no crime in swapping cherries or blackberries for peaches and blueberries! You may just stumble on to something you like even better. Hmm? Might I remind you that you are not saving lives here. We’re talking about dessert.”
Maybe. There’s silence on my end of the line.
“For heaven’s sake, just bake a little something for the Birthday Boy. Stop playing the Peach Blame Game. If you don’t have peaches, consider another fruit. Or go in a completely different direction…”
“You know, I could veer in a completely different direction…”
“I just said that.”
“Doesn’t he love Boston Cream Pie? Make him a Boston Cream Pie.”
“Is that technically ‘pie’? It’s more cake than pie…”
“It doesn’t have to be pie. It’s his birthday...”
I interrupt with, “He doesn’t even like his birthday.”
“No, you’re the one who doesn’t like your birthday. This isn’t about you…”
I remind her that I do indeed like other people’s birthdays.
“So where are we? What did you decide?”
“I’m riding the struggle bus on this one. I’ve got so many beautiful blueberries…”
“You can buy another peach!”
“They won’t be as ripe. I’ll have to wait for them to ripen and by then, the birthday will be over.”
Now there’s silence from the Pacific Northwest.
“Are you there? Where’d you go?”
“Are you quite finished?”
“I suppose I am.”
“Feel any better?”
“Maybe. Not really. I’m aggravated, and now I have to go to work.”
“Sounds like a picnic to me. Now run along and have a good day.”
“Don’t let the Crazies get you down.”
“Promise. Oh no! Wait! What’s this? I just got a text from Blondilocks that there’s a recall on peaches!!!”
“That’s at Costco and Trader Joe’s. You live in the Garden State, for goodness sakes. Get some local peaches.”
“Right. I will. And I’ll bake what I had originally planned. You know, this pie and a little vanilla ice cream, no, maybe cinnamon ice cream; it’s going to be quite the party.”
“I’m sure it will. Just one more thing before I ring off…”
“You really should consider seeking professional help. Just someone you can talk to.”
“I don’t need professional help. I have you.”
“That will be five cents, please.”