The summer birthday season in our family began with my husband's birthday, just before July Fourth. He never enjoys celebrating his birthday, but he likes cake and plenty of it.
This year I ordered one with fudge icing, as he had enjoyed a friend's fudge cake this spring. I requested a big, 10-inch cake, so he would have plenty to enjoy in the days after. He offered to go with me to pick it up; he pictured me dropping it before it came home.
When he lifted it from our car, I saw him put his nose to the box. He likes paper and is fond of smelling pages of books.
"The box smells like crabs," he said holding it up for me to whiff. Raw clams, I thought. Either way, the odor was fishy and revolting.
In the kitchen, we opened the box. I grabbed a knife and sliced off a chocolate swirl and handed it to him. He could not detect any fish flavor. I tried a dollop, and mine was fine too.
We decided to refrigerate the cake until dinner, putting plastic wrap between the cake and the cardboard box as an odor barrier. Since he was still worried the briny flavor would penetrate the box, he washed the cardboard with a sponge, not once but twice. The cardboard still smelled of fish.
Imagining dozens of boxes going home with fishy odors, I called the manager of the store where I purchased the cake. The manager went to the refrigerated locker where cakes are kept. He reported no fish in the locker but a definite odor the minute he opened its door.
He offered another cake, but I knew they didn't have one that big. I told him that if at dinner the cake tasted like fish, he could give us a new one the next day.
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When I hung up, we decided the cake should come out of its box. In the pantry closet was an ancient aluminum cake carrier my sister and I bought 50 years ago with S & H Green Stamps. When I opened it, I found a small chocolate cake covered with mold. That moldy cake was not 50 years old, but this year's Valentine cake.
After scrubbing the carrier, I put the cake inside and then in the refrigerator. My husband was still grumbling around the house, recalling previous birthdays, when a homemade cake fell off the windowsill while cooling and another was inadvertently made without sugar.
Then there was a cake my sister made after someone dumped salt from all of the salt cellar dishes on the dining room table into the sugar canister in the kitchen. This was in the days before salty caramels were popular. That cake was declared inedible.
Another year I requested an orange cake for my birthday. When my husband went to pick the cake he ordered, the bakery handed him a cake with orange-colored icing, not orange flavor.
When my sister's godchild was small, her mother ordered a "Sesame Street" sheet cake for her daughter's birthday party. The family Labrador grabbed it first and took a big bite out of one end. My sister and the child's mother grabbed the cake away from the dog, sliced it in half and carried the undamaged end out to the unsuspecting children.
Another young child, with a spring birthday, was made a cake decorated with garden flowers. When the child spotted a few ants on the icing, the cake lost its magic. Ditto the year her birthday cake turned out flat, just a quarter-inch per layer, because baking soda was used instead of baking powder.
The Internet is full of other birthday cake fiascoes: cakes melted, thrown, dropped and on fire. None, however, are in a crabby box. Welcome to Baltimore, hon.