Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cultural immersion, and no, this isn't a food blog

I asked Anne-Marie, fiber star and all around great person over at Bouclee to do a guest post. More baked goods! Yay! And if you need me to bully any of YOUR Canadian friends when they are in town, I'm cheap.

Things I learned from Nora #1:The significance of cupcakes
by Anne-Marie

When Nora asked me to write a guest blog post, she suggested I write about cupcakes. Since we became friends a few years ago, I have learned quite a few things from Nora. Most of what I learned from her may sound trivial at first, but it’s all about the things we take for granted. We all have our own ideas of how things are, often based on how things were when we were growing up. Once in a while, you realize that others actually don’t think the same way about the simplest and most mundane things (shocking, I know!). Here’s an example.

Three years ago, Nora takes me out for dinner on my birthday. We went to a brewery, and they didn’t have cake on the dessert menu. I was slightly disappointed that I would not get to have a proper piece of cake for my birthday.

The next day, the phone rings.

“I found a cupcake place nearby,” says Nora. “I thought we could go since you didn’t get to have cake yesterday.”

“Great! Let’s go,” I respond.

In the car on the way there:

“It’s very nice of you to take me to this cupcake place,” I say. “But it’s not really the same as birthday cake.”

Sound of screeching tires, as Nora looks at me wide-eyed with astonishment:

“What do you mean, not the same? Cupcakes are the ULTIMATE birthday cake!!!”

This is how I learned about the significance of cupcakes. Where I’m from (Montreal, Quebec), we didn’t eat cupcakes. Not for birthdays, not for any other occasion that I can remember. To me, they looked like frosted muffins. My impression from countless American movies and TV shows was that cupcakes were a last-minute second-rate substitute for birthday cake, to be used when you forgot about someone’s birthday but wanted to make up for it with some sort of dessert with a candle on top. Like putting a candle on a donut. For example, in The Devil Wears Prada, the main character brings her boyfriend a cupcake when she shows up hours late to his birthday dinner. In Million Dollar Baby, Morgan Freeman’s character buys Hilary Swank’s character a cupcake in a diner when she tells him it’s her birthday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie character go out of their way to buy or bake cupcakes. I hope you can see how these depictions led me to think that cupcakes are a last minute, unplanned birthday cake substitute. Of course, now I know better…

Since Nora took me to eat that first cupcake, I have learned that cupcakes are actually individual cakes, with real cake batter and real frosting. I have learned that cupcakes bring up memories of childhood birthdays for many of my American friends… I have been told how cupcakes are perfect for kids’ birthday parties or to bring to school on your birthday, because you don’t need a knife, or even plates and forks... There’s something particularly enjoyable about eating cake with your fingers, and I can see why they’re so popular with kids. (I wonder if the fact that kids are given identical individual cakes instead of sharing a big birthday cake says something about American individualism, but I may be reading too much into it…) I have tasted classic cupcakes (white cake with chocolate frosting) and exotic ones (chai or green tea, anyone?). I now have come to appreciate cupcakes for the treat they truly are…

Since my first cupcake experience, Nora and I have taken every opportunity to taste new cupcakes, and we now have a definite favorite. If you’re in the Seattle area, try out the Triple Chocolate cupcake at Trophy Cupcakes. If you don’t trust my limited experience, believe Nora. She who always used to go for the simple and classic option (vanilla cake with chocolate frosting) now orders the triple chocolate cupcake… Just one bite and you’ll understand!


Vanessa said...

now I have something else I have to do the next time I'm in Seattle. This list gets longer and longer and I may need to stay extra days. Hmmm, or just move back!

ellen said...

What a fun post. She did a great job and you are such a sweet friend.
I just thought of another advantage of cupcakes...they cut way down on the opportunities to argue about who got the bigger piece!
Have a great weekend.

Jennifer said...

Mmm. Cupcakes!

What a fun post to read and the pictures...yum...

Mac and Cheese said...

You don't need to sell cupcakes on me! I'd eat a dozen right now if I had them