The Lemon Cake Incident

My daughter called me  the other day to tell me what she and her husband had had for dessert at a “posh” restaurant they’d been invited to. “The pastry part was lemon and listen to this, there was chocolate drizzled over it,” she said. “It was really really good. I think maybe that’s the new trend—lemon with chocolate.” She said the  lemon with chocolate part slowly and with emphasis. She was also laughing a little.

“Well there you go,” I responded. “I’ve always been ahead of the trends.” I knew exactly why my daughter had brought up the dessert she’d had. My daughter was alluding to our family’s lemon cake story. My children just loooove to bring it up. Kids seem to really enjoy seeing their parents in embarrassing situations or at least hearing about these situations. I’d like to think they also bring this story up because I’m such a great sport. Well here’s the story my daughter was referring to. The names have been changed.

My husband and I had been wanting to have some particular neighbors over for dinner for quite a while. Their kids were about the same age as ours and we enjoyed the Smithsons. Even though hostessing is hard for me and cooking does not come naturally, I decided I could handle it if I kept the meal simple.  Well, the main course must have turned out fine, because I don’t remember what we had. That’s always a good sign for me.  What I do remember very clearly was what we served for dessert.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve liked the flavors of lemon and chocolate together ever since I was small. My family members had never complained about this combination, and so, assuming that everybody else liked it too, I served a lemon cake with chocolate frosting. I’d just sliced the cake at the counter and my oldest daughter and my husband were serving it to our guests when our friend, Dan, said happily, “Mmmm, yellow cake with chocolate frosting—my favorite!” I smiled and was about to let him know that this was actually lemon cake, when he added, “Jaycee,” (referring to his daughter who was probably about eleven or twelve at the time), “made a cake the other day and I was all excited thinking it was yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Come to find out it was lemon cake, if you can imagine. Lemon cake with chocolate frosting?” Dan rolled his eyes, and pulled his head back in disgust. “What was she thinking, huh?” My daughter who had just served Dan his cake, looked over at me with saucer eyes. I froze, my mouth open, as Dan smilingly scooped a nice big forkful of the cake and slipped it into his mouth.

There have only been a few times in my adult life when I’ve honestly had no idea what to say. This was one of them. I opened my mouth, hoping something would magically flow out of it, but nothing did. I wanted desperately to come up with something witty or funny to ease any tension. But my brain had turned to putty, and I just stood there frozen as Dan’s grin dissolved into horrified surprise.

“Sorry,” I think I may have finally managed to mutter. “Sorry that it’s lemon.”

Dan, for the first time since we’d met him, seemed to have lost his tongue as well. I’m sure if there had been a “disappear” button handy, he would have lunged for it. Instead, he sat there quietly, blinking profusely.

It was his wife, Liz, who finally spoke. “Well, it’s certainly a very mild lemon,” she said helpfully.

I don’t remember what happened after that. I imagine Dan managed to eat the cake. I imagine someone changed the subject and we just all tried to pretend what had happened really hadn’t.

We saw Dan and Liz that following Sunday at church and politely exchanged greetings. They thanked us again for the meal, I think. I really don’t remember what we said. Liz and I continued taking turns carpooling our girls to dance, and our children still played together, and we all still saw each other at all the church events and talked to each other in between. I always wanted to think of a way to bring up what had happened, hoping we could laugh about the incident and hoping I could somehow let the Smithsons know that I thought it was funny and that my husband and children thought it was more than funny, but I never did figure out how to say it.

I’m guessing, like us, the Smithsons remember the incident. It was after all, probably even more embarrassing for Dan than it was for me. And who knows? Maybe the Smithson kids enjoy teasing their parents as much as ours do. Maybe it’s a family joke at their house as well. I may never find out. A year or two after they had dinner with us, the Smithsons moved away, and we lost contact with each other.

I continued serving lemon cake with chocolate frosting after that but just to my family. I never had the nerve to serve it to guests again. So I was glad that my daughter called to tell me (gleefully) about this lemon and chocolate dessert she’d had. Maybe now that I know these flavors are being combined in posh restaurants, I will have the courage to serve the combination to company again.  Then again, maybe I won’t.  Dan’s stunned face after he took that bite is still deeply engraved in my brain and maybe always will be. I’m still hoping someday to see Dan and Liz and finally laugh about the incident together. But maybe that will need to be in the next world. Maybe by then I will have thought of something clever to say.

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One thought on “The Lemon Cake Incident

  1. I loved reading this, Anya, and knowing Doug, I could picture his face! I always love reading your insights and pondering or chuckling. xoxo

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