IMG_0407Eschew this? Cake by Night Kitchen Bakery


I‘m processing books in the circulation office of the library where I work when I hear a sudden outcry.

“Oh, no!”  

“This is dreadful.” 

“This is just terrible!”  

What catastrophe are my co-workers, all middle-aged women, reacting to?  Have the library’s computers crashed again?  Has a letter from an irate patron just been posted on the bulletin board? Is there another new book by Joyce Carol Oates?  

Nope. They’re talking about cake.  

One of our patrons has baked us a scrumptious-looking chocolate cake, which sits invitingly on the counter in the circulation office. After taking a piece (“I really shouldn’t, but . . .”) I return to my work station and continue to eavesdrop as my co-workers respond to this thoughtful gift.    

“Oh my God!” 


“This is just evil.” 

You’d think that eating chocolate cake was the worst possible kind of calamity.          

“This is treacherous.” 

“I’m in trouble now.” 

“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear.“

I begin to wonder—isn’t anybody going to say anything positive? Like: “Chocolate cake? How cool is that?” Or  “I love cake. I’m having a nice big slice.” 

Not a chance. By afternoon’s end, not a single librarian has had anything nice to say about this unexpected treat. We’ve gobbled it down. But have we enjoyed it?  

You sure wouldn’t think so, listening to us.    

Last week, I helped celebrate my pal Lucy’s 40th birthday. As we all sang “Happy Birthday,” Lucy’s husband brought out a beautiful layer cake he’d made from scratch, lavishly decorated by Olivia, their 7-year-old daughter.

I try to avoid sweets, but I always make an exception for birthday cake. To turn down birthday cake, it seems to me, is just bad karma.  

So I had a slice. And I enjoyed it, too. But my pleasure was undercut by the guilt I felt about consuming all those empty calories.  

Lucy’s other friends also said yes to cake, invariably adding,  “Just a small slice for me, thanks.” or “Just a tiny taste.”   

But the kids at the party, a gaggle of little girls Olivia‘s age, had a totally different response. Drawn to that cake like moths to a flame, each child claimed as large a piece as she could get her hands on, then happily made short work of it.        

Seeing cake, they weren’t alarmed. They were thrilled. 

They were quite a sight, these little girls, beaming, with huge chunks of cake on their plates. 

And yet, sometime between now and adulthood, they, too, will stop being delighted by cake and learn to fear it. Rather than taking a big piece and loving it, they’ll ask for a tiny slice and beat themselves up about eating it.  

Is there a scientific name for this crazy cake phobia—the terror that strikes the hearts of otherwise sane and mature women when offered a delicious dessert? Yes, cake has zero nutritional value. Still, shouldn’t a grown woman be able to simply enjoy a piece from time to time?   

Listening to my co-workers kvetch about our cake, and remembering how much those little girls loved eating theirs, I resolved to attempt to shed my own fear of delicious pastry and get back in touch with my inner 7-year-old.

Call it Radical Middle-aged Cake Acceptance. 

When comes to cake, I’m going to give myself just two options. Either smile and say “No, thanks.” Or have a piece and enjoy it, without ambivalence or guilt, the way I did when I was a kid.

“Cake is not the enemy” is my brand-new mantra. (You can try it too. Just repeat after me: “Cake is not dreadful. Cake is delicious.”)

Is this an impossible dream?  

Invite me to your next party and let’s find out. 

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  • Beth Edelman April 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Temptation is part of the definition of life!

  • Rebecca October 15, 2014 at 11:49 am

    It’s called fat phobia, and it’s a result of the incredible hostility and bigotry directed particularly at women. It’s time to stop it.

  • Kayann Short April 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Ever since I was a little girl, I haven’t been a big fan of cake, with the exception of rich, creamy cheesecake, which is generally my birthday treat. Still, eating cake to celebrate someone’s special day is, for me, the sweet version of breaking bread together. I’m all for freeing any kind of eating from guilt, especially celebratory eating. If it involves chocolate, even better.

  • Kelly April 10, 2014 at 2:40 am

    I’ve never stopped eating large pieces of cake. I guess that’s because I’m still having trouble accepting that I’m an adult. But I think I’ll keep eating all the cake I want.

  • Carol Cassara April 8, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Count me in on this movement! I love cake! I have had it two days in a row!

  • Amy Edelman April 7, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    I have a dream that one day we will all enjoy cake side by side without fear(of calories)

  • Rena McDaniel April 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    My husband brought home a cake this evening and I didn’t eat any of the double chocolate masterpiece while I watched him eat two pieces…until I read this post…sorry I can’t talk with my mouth full! Thanks!

  • hillsmom April 6, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    The Night Kitchen Bakery is quite well known, but it’s still on the “wrong side of the river”…8-) Check out The Bakery House on Lancaster Av. in Bryn Mawr.

  • Mary Gissler April 6, 2014 at 2:22 pm


  • Stacia Friedman April 6, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Cake has always been at the top of my Nutrition Chart. Why not? It contains healthy protein in the form of eggs and Vitamin D from fortified milk. If you’re lucky, it also contains dark chocolate, an excellent source of anti-oxidants.

    However, there is cake and there is cake. If it doesn’t contain all natural ingredients, it doesn’t get past these lips!

  • jgolden08 April 6, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I bake cakes and I eat cakes!

  • Mark Lowe April 6, 2014 at 11:13 am


  • Ginger April 6, 2014 at 7:44 am

    It’s part of women’s communication pattern – say one thing but mean another. You always have to look at the behavior – not a slice left tells you that every one who went by wanted some. Forget what they say, watch what they do!

  • Pat April 6, 2014 at 2:01 am

    Though cake has zero nutritional value, it may be good for the soul. To share food in celebration of an event is as ancient as time. So go ahead and savor it. If calories are the problem, take a long walk later.

  • Lois Alter Mark April 6, 2014 at 12:44 am

    “To turn down birthday cake is, to me, bad karma.” To me, too! And the same with any delicious dessert you’re sharing with friends. Chocolate is a sweet way to celebrate life. Not turning it down!

  • Sharon Greenthal April 5, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    I admire those who can turn away from a delightful dessert. I am most definitely not one of them. But I don’t beat myself up for it – life is too short. Plus, I love to bake.

  • jody April 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Well now. Cake doesn’t really call me, so I turn it down usually. But pie! That’s my siren call. Fortunately I can’t bake and my spouse is not a big dessert cook, so I only get the occasional pie opportunity. I always take
    it, guilt free.

  • Toni Myers April 5, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I understand this completely. My name is Toni and I’m a sugarholic. If cake or ice cream, let’s include cookies and chocolates too, are anywhere in my vicinity, I will eat them, eat them all if nobody’s watching. I go to a birthday party determined to say no, but it turns into “just a little bit” and proceeds from there.
    Have pity, not scorn.

  • John April 5, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Children live more in the moment. We adults sometimes think too much or know too much for our own good. Cake is wonderful and should be enjoyed with gusto. Just do not have it on a regular basis. My favorite is the Praline Cake although the Lemon Curd is quite nice as well.

  • Tobysgirl April 5, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I listened to this from my mother throughout my adolescence. She wouldn’t even pay attention to my father, dying of colon cancer, who basically told her to shut up and enjoy her food. And what was all this guilt-ridden deprivation for? So she could lose 20 pounds and look 10 years older.

    This is just the contemporary version of Catholic and Protestant puritanism, and it’s just as boring and stupid.

  • Kathy @ SMART Living April 5, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Ha! I think you are hanging out with the wrong women! While I might choose my cake days selectively and not eat the entire thing in one sitting I would NEVER turn down a cake and most of the women I know wouldn’t either. it sounds to me like they are making the noises so they can feel good about eating it without guilt. Your friends and co-workers just don’t want to appear “too eager” to eat that cake, but like you say, they do anyway. Time to forget what other people think and just enjoy!

  • hillsmom April 5, 2014 at 10:18 am

    What! Turn down birthday cake…never! It’s especially delicious to have a big piece with a rose on it. Thanks for the reminder and the mantra.

  • Roz Warren April 5, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Stephen, when you and Alyssa come in to visit next month, I’m taking you to the Night Kitchen Bakery, where you can squander your 5%. (I hope Alyssa has a 5% cake allowance too?)

  • Estelle April 5, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Yes, what is it about cake that makes us throw our best resolves out of the window and go for it like gremlins?

  • Stephen April 5, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I think men do the same thing, or they should . . . . haha However, I recommend my approach of an account for useless calorie credits – which I peg to 5% of my intake and mentally (and completely without any actual calculations) ascribe cake and cupcakes to. I just breezily exclaim, “sure, I’ll take a piece, I’ve got unused credits in my 5% account!”. Just don’t ask me for an accounting . . . .

  • Roz Warren April 5, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Thanks, Emily. I really appreciate your support for my writing.

  • Emily Kelting April 5, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Sad, but true, Roz, our evolution from girlhood glee when the birthday cake appears at the end of the party–literally the icing on the cake–to an adult woman’s reaction of wanting to run the other way.

    Once again, you have brilliantly taken a small detail of popular culture and helped us see, by way of humor, how we as women stifle the girl in us. Touche’!