The Viennese Dessert Table, 25 Alston Ave

Now that I have gone to Walt Disney World for 4 consecutive years, I am willing to admit that I am out-of-step with many Disney goers.  I am now referring to those amongst the throng who stay “on campus” at a Disney Resort and revel in the at-hand dinning opportunities, more specifically to indulge in the insane desserts that are offered.  Regardless of whether the eateries are at a Resort, at a theme park or at the gastronome’s ultimate: Disney Springs… one thing is for sure, desserts… nay, fancy desserts are well covered.

I wish that I could say that this is also a pleasure for me.  But it’s not!  I have lost my desire for dessert years ago — glorious flavor and eye-appealing presentation notwithstanding.  I would rather have a tasty and savory first course, with a superbly chilled dry martini, and forego that after entrée sweet. As I say, I am out of step with many who would forego their entire meal to delight in something as wonderful as this artistic gem offered at Albert & Victoria’s at the Grand Floridian:

But there was a time that I truly did love the concluding course to a meal.  And that love could even extend to a late night raiding of the fridge to “steal” an extra slice of pie or a wedge of cake that had lovingly been prepared by Mom.

And nowhere was this love of baking on greater display than on Thanksgiving, when Mom made sure that each of us had his or her favorite dessert on the table.  The turkey & stuffing portion of the evening done, Mom would set a perimeter of pies and cakes before her, and she would then distribute the requested slices around to each of us.  Paul had Lemon Meringue pie.  Lynn, the Chocolate Cream Pie.  I loved the Chocolate Cream, too.  But I may have taken a slice of the Pumpkin or the Mince.  OR, as the case maybe, I may have circled back and enjoyed a slice of each.  She also made an admirable banana cream pie… but that may have been an “in-the-summer-pie.”

Stretching my memory, I’m trying to remember if Mom also made cakes for Thanksgiving, and while I can’t remember a cake attached to the Thanksgiving feast (maybe the Banana Cake w/Mary Oliver Frosting?  More on this later), there would be other occasions, beyond the Thanksgiving repast, when Mom would trot out an impressive collection of cakes/pies.  I am thinking of the many gatherings of the “Boopies” (the Lewis’, the Grants, the Deckers, the Jacobs, the Shures et al.).

These occasions could have been on a random Saturday night when the group would convene after the dinner hour for coffee, dessert and conversation.  OR, possibly for an elegant dinner party.  Mom’s signature dessert was her Chocolate Mousse Cake – smooth chocolate richness, spiked with bits of walnut, encased in lady fingers and topped with a blanket of proper whipped cream.  She also made a divine Vanilla Coconut Cake (I will return to this in a moment), and the aforementioned Banana Cake with Mary Oliver Frosting.

About the latter, I guess I was in my early teens when Mom asked me what I would like for my “birthday cake.”  And I chose the Banana Cake.  And so a brief tradition was created.  Mom or Bessie would make that cake for me on February 2… even thru my college years, and beyond.  When I turned 21, Ellen organized a surprise birthday party for me up at Union.  She and Gary drove up from New Haven, and brought up the “sacred” cake to add legitimacy to the celebration!

The Vanilla Coconut Cake, as brilliant as it was, is also connected to a deeply traumatic and life scarring episode in my life.  I was probably 8 or 9 (how do I know this?  Because I was still wearing pajama’s at the time, and at age 10 I switched to boxer shorts & a t-shirt for my sleeping attire), and Mom & Dad hosted a dinner party that extended beyond the regular “Boopies”, and of the night that I am thinking, it included at least the Al Small’s.  And I know that Al Small was seated to Mom’s immediate right.

I was invited to come down to say good night to everyone at about the time that the “Viennese Dessert Table” arrived.  So there I was in my PJs ready for bed, and there was Mom’s eye-popping “mile high” Vanilla Coconut Cake (amongst the several cakes presented) and positioned at the corner of the table between Al and Mom. Al must have taken note how impressed I was with the sight of all the cakes, and he said, “Jimmy, smell how good that vanilla cake is!”  I unhesitatingly leaned in to absorb the aroma, and Al, taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, pushed my face into the cake! I picked my face up coated with coconut frosting, and the entire table burst into outrageous laughter.

It may have appeared as if this was some vaudeville stage act, but to me it was a source of humiliation; and crying, I quickly retreated back upstairs. {see post script below}

There was another dessert that Mom made, in a non-cake/pie category, that I also loved.  It was her Jell-O mold.  She produced it two or three times a year?  Thanksgiving?  I think so.  Maybe when Mom & Dad hosted a “Before-the-Harvard-or-Princeton-Game” Party?  Or at a summer cook-out gathering?  I loved how she put different fruits into each of the Jell-O flavors that were layered into the mold. I can remember that pineapple went into the lime Jell-O, and cherries went into the grape.  Well, there you are: “There’s always room for Jell-O!!”

And since we are on the subject of Jell-O, I have to give a shout out to a “guest appearance” to the dessert offerings… Sadie’s “Cracked Iced Cake”!  A sinful concoction of tiny cubes of multi flavored Jell-O suspended in a vanilla cream! Off-the-charts great!

Desserts, desserts, desserts…. Wonderful to recall the memories; but as previously noted, no longer an active interest of mine. On the other hand, give me:

Charcuterie! At the California Grill

And of course, a Tanqueray Martini!

P.S. The cake “incident” at the table continued in the memory for both Al Small and me.  Whenever our paths crossed (at Racebrook, for example), Al would ask, “Jimmy, do you forgive me?”  And I would shake my head no!  And then he would laugh. By the time I reached mid-teens, I would fake my sustained indignation. By then I knew that Al was a wonderful and kind man. Regardless, our “set piece” would continue. Al never failed to ask my forgiveness, I always pretended to withhold it.  I learned of Al’s passing when I was at Union.  I asked Mom to send me his address so that I could write to Mrs. Small.  I shared the memory of that Saturday Night, and I told Mrs. Small that I never thought that God would take away Al until I forgave him.  Forgive him?  Why would I do something that would hasten his departure? 

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