(Or: A Birthday Lagniappe featuring Elyse Manning)
This year, for my birthday, I decided to come to New Orleans to visit my friend and baking and spiritual advisor, Elyse Manning.

I had forgotten, since it has been over a decade since my last visit to New Orleans, what an incredibly beautiful, friendly, and otherworldly city this is. And I am struck at the resilience of the people here who refuse to live their lives without ample goodwill and copious celebration, every day. The culture here is uplifting and I’m grateful to be here. I’m especially lucky to be here for my birthday! Yesterday, July 28, I turned 33 years old.

In New Orleans, I discovered, birthdays are even more special than on other planets. Elyse pinned a two-dollar bill to my shirt and explained to me that, in New Orleans, on your birthday, PEOPLE PIN MONEY TO YOUR SHIRT ALL DAY LONG.
I was amazed. Because not only did we end the night with a giant pin on my shirt full of dollar bills, but everybody knew it was my birthday, and was giving me hugs, and drinks, and free dessert, and well wishes all night long. I felt so special! Here my birthday Banana Caramel Cheesecake from SukhoThai in the Marigny neighborhood:

And this morning, I have been hanging out with the good folks at the New Orleans Cake Cafe and Bakery, where Elyse (and former Ashevillian Anais) works! I’d like to tell you a little bit about this lovely cake shop (that is also a wonderful restaurant and full-service bakery, but we’re going to stick to the cake part of the story).

This is Steve Himelfarb.
Steve began his life in cake by baking chocolate cake every day, and selling it by the slice, door to door, in the French Quarter, for four years. Eventually, he had built enough of a clientèle to open a shop in the Quarter. He specialized in cake, but also made breakfast and lunch, mainly serving the locals that worked in the Quarter, because there were few options for affordable meals to the service industry workers. His shop was a success, but within a year, Katrina hit. Steve lost his space in the Quarter, and left for New York to regroup. Soon enough, though, he was back in NOLA, putting the Cake Cafe together in a new location. New Orleans Cake Cafe and Bakery officially opened on August 29, 2007, the second anniversary of the tragedy of Katrina, in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans. I’m happy to announce that business is going great!

Anais makes the bread, Elyse and Robin work the counter (Robin is pictured on the right, and she shares my birthday! Although she made alot more money than I did yesterday, due to working all day with customers pinning dollars on her shirt)
And Steve, Allison, and Darren work the kitchen, cranking out the cakes and sandwiches. Allison and Darren slicing some bread:

And here is the bakery’s, ahem, CAT, Maître d’. I did not ask questions. I’m sure Maître d’ is a wonderful cat that does a great job, um, here at the Cake Cafe.
But, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to our featured cupcake:

The Sazerac Cupcake from NOLA Cakes!
What is Sazerac, you ask? Well, I will tell you. According to Wikipedia, Sazerac is: “one of the oldest known cocktails, with its origins in pre-Civil War New Orleans, Louisiana. The original drink is based on a combination of Cognac and bitters created by Antoine Amédée Peychaud in the 1830s, and is reported to be the first cocktail ever invented in America. Since its creation, many different recipes have evolved for the drink, usually involving some combination of Cognac, rye whiskey, absinthe or Herbsaint and Peychaud’s Bitters.
The Sazerac cocktail was named by John Schiller in 1859 upon the opening of his Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans. Both most likely derive their name from a popular brand of Cognac, Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils.”
The Sazerac cupcake, bearing New Orleans signature Fleur-De-Lis, is a delicious anise-flavored yellow butter cake with cognac, and bitters in the buttercream icing.

New Orleans Cake Cafe and Bakery is a perfect example of the kind of business we aspire to at the cake shop: creating honest cakes for celebrations, in a unique way that serves a community need, and celebrates local traditions. Horray for Steve, Elyse, and the crew at NOLA Cakes!
I look forward to baking Flan with Elyse when she gets out of work, getting my birthday astrology reading from DK Brainard (author of the very excellent astrology blog Words for the People) and riding bikes around this stunningly lovely and lush city. And then, I look forward to coming home to Asheville and our lovely cake shop with a renewed and inspired heart.
See you soon!