Asian Girl Problem #6: Naked Birthday Cakes

My mom’s biggest vice is sugar, which is awkwardly offset by her obsession with health. To have the best of both worlds, she’ll have a salad for lunch and a huge bar of chocolate for dessert. Or she’ll go to a decadent bakery and ask if they have anything sugarfree. They look at her with pity.

So what’s a cake-loving, sugar-hating, baking-challenged mother to do? Living in the Bay Area today, she’s got a ton of options at Asian bakeries. Twenty years ago in Ohio, she had to resort to cake-scraping. A habit I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy.

I was raised on processed food like these cakes. No one really liked them, but she got in the habit of buying them two at a time and keeping our freezer stocked at the ready.


They were either coconut or chocolate, neither of which tasted very different from the other. Looking at this right now still makes me queasy. Dry crumbly cake with a super sweet, flaky icing that congealed into the layers. Often half-frozen because we were too impatient to wait for the whole thing to thaw.

You needed a strategy to eat this cake if you had any intention of enjoying it. My mother would place it on the table whole so it could thaw, so that she could skin off the entire coating of icing when it was soft enough. The sliver of time in between the thawing and skinning was when I had to pounce. When I could sneak off a slice with some of the icing.

No dessert was safe under her watch. Cheesecakes would be scraped of their red fruit toppings, and beautiful cakes would have their flowers beheaded because of the extra artificial colors. The woman was a birthday party’s worst nightmare. I still remember when I turned 16 and my friends brought over a cake they baked for me.

My first instinct was to throw a coat over the plate and smuggle it into my bedroom, because I knew my mother would banish it from the house. But you know when you introduce your parents to your friends an they’re so nice you suspect they’ve been invaded by body snatchers? My mom can be like that, but only when she’s in certain moods. When she saw it, she exclaimed and thanked them profusely, whisking the sheet cake into the kitchen to grab plates and forks. Two minutes later, she came back with the naked cake.

This is a great lesson for all kids who need a reality check. Buy a gorgeous cake and strip away all its glamour and frilly empty calories, preferably in front of their face. It ain’t pretty. My friends still remind me of that incident, but they’re sweet and sympathize. They also stopped giving me shit for not inviting people over to my house after that.


One thought on “Asian Girl Problem #6: Naked Birthday Cakes

  1. Even your cake had a birthday suit! Oh man. (How do I keep complimenting you on your stories without sounding like I have nothing new to say for each one?) I really like the contrasts in this story.. mostly how serious food obsessions can be and then actually demonstrating in front of friends (which sounds hilarious and mortifying).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s