Monday, September 24, 2007

The Great Cake Caper

Trust is very important in a relationship for many reasons but one important one is so that, when you need to lie and sneak around, you have some credibility to fall back on.

For her birthday this past weekend, Jess decided on a bunch of low key, relaxing activities including breakfast with friends, the Mt Hood scenic railroad and a trip to the Bodyworlds 3 exhibit at OMSI. But I really felt like there should be at least ONE birthday surprise. I'd already given her her present (Ipod Nano, old school style) so that was out. Sure I'd get a card, but really she'd expect that.

So, at sort of the last minute, I decided I would try to make the cake entirely behind her back and present it at an unexpected moment. She'd already told me that she wanted a vegan chocolate cake but couldn't decide between the cream cheese or the chocolate frosting. I was hedging about making it because of the 'less sweets in the house' rule that got instituted this summer so as the weekend went on (her birthday was Sunday), if she asked about it, I had legitimate grounds to string her along.

Although I'm pretty pleased with how it all came off, I have to admit that if I'd been really smart, I would have thought of all this earlier in the week, when she was still working twelve hour shifts and I had plenty of time to plot. What was I doing with all that time? I don't even remember. But procrastination is in my blood.

Seeing as we were spending the whole weekend together, I had limited opportunities with which to pull this off. The first thing I needed were accomplices. I emailed Ali & Evan at the Red Bike where we would be eating Sunday morning and asked if they'd be willing to hide the cake and bring it out at the appropriate time on Sunday. Of course they said yes.

Next there was ingredient & card shopping to do. On Thursday, Jess went off to her dentist appointment. As soon as she left I tore out of the house. I had to go all the way across town to get our Bodyworlds tickets from OMSI. Then a stop at New Seasons for Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese--the kind with no partially hydrogenated oils (PHO), 'cause those are bad for you--and organic vanilla. Then off to Fred Meyers for a cake pan and cooling rack. Time would be of the essence. I also found a few appropriate birthday cards, so I bought them all.

By the time I got home, time was running short. I hid the new kitchen tools in the garage and the margarine (Earth Balance, also with no PHO) and the fake cream cheese in a brown paper bag and stuck in the drawer where the mushrooms usually go. She hates mushrooms so there was little chance of her looking in the bag. The rest of the supplies got hidden in the cupboard.

I had originally planned to mix all the dry ingredients too, to make prep time faster the next day but I was worried about running out of time. I sent her a text message asking,"What's your status?" but didn't get an answer back right away. That probably meant she was still in the chair, but the last thing I wanted was to get caught with a bunch of flour on my face. Still, life is risk. I went for it. I stirred up all the flour, sugar, cocoa and other dry ingredients and then transferred them to a freezer bag. That ended up being a pretty messy process but I got it done and hidden in the cupboard. Then I had to clean absolutely everything, dry and put away the dishes and wipe the counters really well.

A text message finally came in that said, "Almost home," but by then I was in the clear.

Now my only worry was that I hadn't been able to find a cake serving pan at Freddy's and I had no more time allotted to get one. I didn't know how I was going to transport the cake with no serving platter, but I couldn't worry about it then.

We spent the rest of the day visiting our friend Jess out in Beaverton. We came back to town around 5:00 and decided to see if the bike through window at LRBC was still open for ice cream. I really wanted to try the chocolate pudding flavor.

Ali & Even were still working away, but they had just served up the last scoop of chocolate pudding ice cream. I was disappointed, but instantly saw a way to use the situation. I faked a lot more disappointment than I really felt and vowed to go out later that evening in search of some chocolate that I wouldn't bring home (since that's against the rules now).

Instead of searching out chocolate though, I went straight to the St John's Fred Meyer and found a cake serving platter. Now I had everything I needed.

The next day I had scheduled us both for massages with our friend Davina. This was another piece of great luck, since I called at the last minute (in my blood, in case you weren't paying attention...), but she still had two slots open at 12:30 and 2:00pm. Perfect.

I told Jess she should ride her bike to her massage and I would pick her up in the car when I came to my appointment. This meant that she would have to leave the house earlier and I would have more time for baking.

Again as soon as she left, I sprung into action. Grabbed the cake server from the trunk of my car, preheated the oven and got moving. In 10 minutes, I had the two 9 inch rounds of batter in the oven. While they baked, I made two batches of frosting, one chocolate and one 'cream cheese.'

The cooling was really the nerve wracking part of the process. I only had about an hour and a half to get this whole operation done. As a result, I tried taking the first cake out of the pan a bit early, with predictable results. A big patch stayed in the pan, the rest practically broke in half and a big chunk fell off the side. It was a total mess. I managed to finish the transfer with some wax paper and left it alone to cool some more. As soon as I could I transferred it to the cake platter and basically molded it back together. I figured a little frosting would hide everything.

Fortunately, the top half came out of the pan much more willingly. At that point I put them both in the fridge and freezer for 10 more minutes, then took them out and frosted them. It looked good enough.

Once again I covered my tracks as best I could. I had bought extra ingredients of things we already had like oil and powdered sugar so that no unusual depletions would be noticed. I washed and dried the cake pans and cooling platter and hid them back in the garage. I had the windows open and the fan going to dissipate the chocolate smell. Jess would wait at the Alberta tea house while I was getting my massage so I figured the smell would be gone by the time we got home but I also have a terrible nose, so I wouldn't really know if I'd gotten away with it when we got home. I'd just have to see if she said anything about a smell. I didn't have an apron but I'd worn a brown shirt, so any cocoa that got on me would blend in.

Transport was a bit tricky because the only platter I could get was one with a skinny round base with the platter up high. It meant there was a high potential for the cake to fall over in the car and I had no one to hold it. I pulled the car out of the slanted driveway and onto the flat street, put the cake on the passenger side floor and then drove the mile to LRBC at 3-5 mph with my hand steadying the platter. Nerve-wracking doesn't begin to cover it.

When I got there it was 1:40. I handed off the cake to Ali, ran back to the car for the candles and took off for Davina's office. Seems I'm always running late with her for one reason or another. But at least I'd done it. When Jess asked why I was late to the appointment (supposedly I'd been on the couch reading), I said I'd forgotten my wallet, a common enough occurrence. She didn't suspect a thing.

When we got home, she didn't mention anything about smelling chocolate either. At that point I finally relaxed.

And sure enough, when Ali came out with a burning cake after breakfast on Sunday, her face showed she was totally surprised and all the scrambling was worth it.

I love it when a sneaky, diabolical plan comes together.

Birthday Cake

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