Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A day off.

When I was five, I took ballet classes, like just about every other girl my age. After ballet class my mom would often take me to the Wallingford Center, a small shopping center in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. (Or perhaps after kindergarten classes were done for the day and the rest of the afternoon was still before us. After more than twenty years, it is hard to remember all these details). In those days (when I was tiny and cute and had bangs, none of which applies now) the Wallingford Center was as big as a world, big enough to get lost in for hours. I have not been back for many years, and it is with a shock that I find it to be so much smaller than I remember. Now it seems that there are only a handful of shops (selling fancy yogawear and children's toys and the sort of vaguely Asian home furnishings that people buy for extraordinary amounts of money so their houses look like they belong to someone cultured and well-traveled). The past rolls over me like a wave, and for a moment I am so drowned in memories I want to sit down and weep.

But I am hungry, and it is lunchtime, and I leave the past behind, heading downstairs to the Indian restaurant for buffet. There are only a handful of tables occupied in the large room; it is nearly one in the afternoon on a Tuesday. Two buffets are laid out; one with salads and other cold things, another with the hot foods. There are curries and rice dishes, all sorts of things in drippy sauces that I can't identify, flat half-moons of naan. I grab some chicken korma and vegetable biriyani, soupy dal and tiny beef meatballs in some creamy sauce, add some naan to sop up all the sauces. I eat my lunch - it is all very good, even if I am not sure of what I'm eating - and listen to the conversations around me, and watch the food network on the tv hanging over the bar. But the real reason for my pilgrimage to the Wallingford Center - not a visit to my past, not Indian food, not buying vast armoires made of dark wood and detailed with brass fittings - is upstairs. Cupcakes, from Trophy Cupcakes and Party.

Facing the entrance on the main level is Trophy, open to the main hall and another outside exit in the rear, a gleaming counter that curves around to display trays of cupcakes of all kinds. There are a handful of choices that are available every day - vanilla with chocolate icing, chocolate with vanilla frosting, red velvet, and triple chocolate - and another rotating roster of flavors, and I am dizzy with choice. I choose one peanut-butter-and-jelly one for myself, and a vanilla-frosted chocolate one for C., and then, impulsively, choose two tiny ones to eat immediately, a green tea one, and a chai-cardamom one. There are old-fashioned diner tables and chairs (upholstered in pale aqua) behind the racks of cards and party favors and games (they sell party supplies as well as cupcakes), each table sporting a little nosegay of fresh flowers.

The green tea and chai cardamom cupcakes are wonderful, one cool and with the slight dustiness of green tea, the other sweet and a little spicy. The cakes are moist and the frosting creamy but not too rich. I have to struggle to save the other cakes for later. It is not until after dinner that I give in and eat my peanut-butter-and-jelly cupcake, which has a plain yellow cake, with a dab of jelly and peanut butter at the bottom, and peanut butter frosting capped with jam frosting. Heaven. I wish I had not told C. that I would bring her a cupcake tomorrow. But I have had enough, perhaps more than is good for me. I will just have to go back again for more.

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