Cake vs. Pie
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly [pie].” — Michael Pollan
There is a book called Little Bear’s Friend; it’s the third book in the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik and it’s sort of weird because it’s about Little Bear being friends with a human kid. After having established the bear family and their all-animal friends in the first few books, introducing a human girl (Emily) feels like an inverse Calvin and Hobbes. It makes Kid Logic sense, I guess, but as an adult, it really pulls the rug out from under you because it sort of undercuts what you thought was permissible in the series.
It’s also super sad. It’s about Little Bear and Emily becoming friends and then Emily having to leave. On their last day together, with time running out, is this:
Mother Bear baked a cake. Little Bear made lemonade.
Mother Bear said, “Let us eat up all the cake. If we do, then it will not rain tomorrow.”
Now, I have never heard anywhere else that if you eat a whole cake it won’t rain, but this is pretty typical of cake, IMHO. There is a voodoo to it. If something looks that delicate and fancy and promissory, if you’ve read any folk tales at all, you know: it is going to fuck you somehow. Sure, maybe it won’t rain, but some monkey’s paw thing lurking in the corner is going to pop up, and it 100% will not stop the person you love from leaving.
After Mother Bear suggests the sympathetic magic about eating cake, Little Bear says, “Let it rain… Emily will not be here tomorrow to play with me.”
What I’m getting at is: Little Bear is Team Pie.
Because cakes mark personal milestones: birthdays; weddings; solutions to urinal odors. But time is an omnivore, and these personal milestones fade and are revealed to be the selfish things they are, and what’s left is a life that moves on with inevitability, the passing of each season, and these seasons are marked by pies: peach in the summer; pumpkin in the autumn; mincemeat in the no no just kidding even I won’t eat mincemeat that’s just gross.
Cake is a celebration, a victory, and the people who like it still feel like they can win; pie is for those of us who know better. (Which is funny because to me pie is forgiving; if you mess up a cake it is a disaster; if you mess up a pie, it’s just a “rustic pie”.)
Now, full disclosure, I guess:
I haven’t had much to celebrate lately. I’ve had a tough year: my father in law passed away in May. And while my wife and kids and I were trying to figure out how we were going to recover from that heartpunch, my actual father passed away on the actual same day. (Also, I am old and don’t like my job, but that’s everyone.) (Actually, the dad thing is also everyone: everyone’s dad dies; that’s why they’re called “dads”. It is totally mundane and commonplace (but fyi: that just makes it more terrible).)
It’s possible I’m not in a place where “cake” even makes sense anymore. Maybe there is a place where a cake is an appropriate response when someone you love leaves, but I sure can’t remember ever having lived there.
So that’s where I’m coming from when I say on Twitter, e.g., that I am #TeamPie, or when I highlight these troublesome advertisements put out by the American Cake Council back in the 60s:
Source: American Cake Council
(Note: Frank Lloyd Wrong has a quibble with one of these)
…or when I say I am Team Pie in the Streets and Team Pie in the Sheets (and have to withstand the attack from Avowed Cakers afterwards):
On top of that, too, and I know I’m mixing some seriousgum stuff and frivolous stuff and sort of not caring anymore about what that means, ON TOP OF THAT, TOO: I believe, literally not joking, in my heart, that the overwhelming majority of cakes are made from corn syrup and silica gel; I mean it! There are sooo many bad ones. And so many actually look like they’re going to be good, but if you remove the glamour (in a Neil Gaiman sense) almost every cake would reveal its soul and it would look like this.
Now, here is a surprise, maybe: my dad, whom I loved so much that lately I’ve been upset at everyone on Twitter because I’m the only person on Twitter who misses him*, was a cake person. Every year for his birthday, he would buy a “Funfetti” cake in a box and make it for himself and not let us do anything more than that for him (my sister called him Jim Martyrsen). He grew up in Idaho and California, he liked The Rifleman and The Twilight Zone and for some reason he liked cake.
Moreover, one of my own children is Team Cake (his name is Max); for the record: Max (6) is Team Cake; Sam (9) is Team Pie; Ben (3) is “Team False Dichotomy”, whatever that’s supposed to mean, does anyone here speak Three Year Old, LOL?
But let me tell you what happened on Saturday.
What happened on Saturday was a bunch of people came to my house. Internet Chums jarkrenshaw and faviator brought a chocolate sheet cake that from my past experience with chocolate sheet cakes should have been injurious in its lack of moisture; it was not, it was super great, and had frosting, and it made me do that thing that the critic in Ratatouille does when he eats the titular ratatouille, and moreover it was Team Cake Member Max’s favorite out of everything. Internet Chum Margaret “Too Good for Twitter” McGill made an apple cake that was maybe a tie for my all time favorite thing of the night, and as far as apple-based desserts go, shamed the apple pie that I made, which was too dry (= “rustic”), despite its having a cheddar crust which I thought was a good idea but was only a pretty good idea. I also made a coconut cream pie that did OK in the semifinals, but was not the best pie; that title went to Internet Chum shellbomber’s pecan pie, tied for first, I think, and I can’t even tell you how good it was, but quantified and put in Excel it would look like this: #########. Even as I’m typing this, though, I’m thinking: But wait also that chocolate cake, but wait also that apple cake, but wait.
Chris Trash brought some excellent cakes, but he is deducted ELEVEN FULL STARS because he literally tweeted Rick Bayless and asked him where the best cakes in Chicago were and went and bought those cakes (they were very good). We talked a lot about The House on the Rock and the Winchester Mystery House (Chicagoans talk a lot about architecture because we are pretty good at it) and then everyone left.
At the end of Little Bear’s Friend, Emily leaves too! See how I tied it all together? And he writes her with a pen she gave him as a gift. He tells her it is snowing and that he loves the snow. He does not talk about his birthday and any concomitant birthday cake (that was two books before; we are meant to be maturing from Team Cake to Team Pie as we read this series, understand)**. He signs it, “your friend” which is what bears write for “love”. And like the bible (HEARD OF IT?) says, “Now abideth cake, pie, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
I rep Team Pie pretty hard, but I get it. Some people like cake, and some of those people are people I love and will miss when they’re gone, and love is better than pie.
It is weird to type that, but it’s probably the truth.
* : /
** to be honest, this doesn’t actually hold up; in a later book some skunks get married and although no wedding cake is depicted, Maurice Sendak, who does the illustrations, is Team Cake like whoa.