A Cake for Dylan
by Sarah Waldman
I remember talking on the phone with a friend while sitting in a huge armchair on the top floor of Children’s Hospital. She was at the Ag Fair. I could hear kids screeching and the low hum of carnival rides in the background. This was in strong contrast to the artificial overhead lights, steady air condi- tioning, and 24/7 buzz of our hospital floor. Three weeks earlier our baby had been born and now his eight-pound body was recovering from heart surgery.
During those first few weeks I was overwhelmed with the desire to have the chance to know our son. To see him grow, find out if his hair would be curly or straight, if he would like to paint or run, if his eyes would stay ocean blue. Now I know that at the dawn of 6 years old, Dylan loves dinosaurs, combing the cliffs for shark’s teeth, making his baby brother laugh, and, above all else, chocolate.
We savor the excitement birthdays bring each year—the creative gift requests (the Titanic ship!), party talk, and lightheadedness from blowing up too many balloons. But Dylan’s day is especially meaningful to me. It is a chance to pause and be thankful, to celebrate our good fortune and the happy fate of our family.
For the past six years I have baked Dylan a birthday cake featuring chocolate, his favorite pleasure, decorated by the summer berries that were ripe when he was born. For his first birthday it was a classic white cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, sprinkled with blueberries. His second year started with a layered date cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. And his third birthday had both summer berry cupcakes and a dense chocolate cake decorated (with the help of crumbled cookies, yogurt covered raisins, and a tiny plastic astronaut) like the full moon.
The party traditions don’t stop at the cake. Year after year we put on the same carrot paper party hats, lay his finished cake on my mom’s pink glass cake stand, take out the painted animal candle holders, and tell him the story of the hot summer night he was born.
This year, I have quizzed Dylan for months about the details of his cake—flavor, color frosting, should it include a dinosaur or volcano? Sometimes he’ll throw me for a loop, one day discussing a simple chocolate-vanilla cake and the next requesting one with purple—no no no green!—frosting.
Luckily, he always mentions chocolate. Our chocolate raspberry cake is rich, over the top chocolatey, and completely delicious. I use high quality, unrefined ingredients and local produce whenever possible. This cake uses coconut sugar in place of processed white sugar, coconut oil rather than vegetable oil, some whole-wheat pastry flour, and Island grown raspberries. The result is dense and flavorful but not overly sweet.
As Dylan gets older his birthday cake is no longer my project alone but ours together. We hunt out red, pink, and purple summer berries at the farmers’ market, trying not to eat them all before getting to work in the kitchen (not an easy task). At home he sticks the raspberries on the ends of his fingers and acts like a T-Rex as I grab the flour, vanilla, and eggs. He measures, dumps, and stirs. I crack the eggs and read our recipe out loud. His baby brother giggles at us while squashing extra berries into his mouth and kicking his bare legs in excitement. I couldn’t be happier. Later that night we light six candles and sing.