Any Way You Slice It
King Cakes Missouri-style
I have never been great at job interviews. I come off, I think, as somewhere between mousy and ditzy, with a lot of social awkwardness and oversharing thrown in and way too many instances of the word “like.”
Finally, I went to what seemed like my 87th interview in a week. I was too weary with the process by then to be nervous, and so I managed to answer questions directly and with a minimum of rambly nonsense.
“Where are you from originally, Eve?”
“New Orleans. I really miss it. It’s a wonderful city.”
“And what do you like to do in your spare time?”
“Oh, I love cooking. I cook all the time. Baking, too.”
I drove home and walked in the door to hear the interviewer on my answering machine, not 15 minutes after I’d left, asking me to come in the next day for a second interview.
I went in the next day and got called into the head boss’ office immediately.
“It’s such an honor to meet you,” I said politely.
“Oh, my goodness, you’re every bit as tiny as me!” she yelled in a thick Southern accent. “I love you already! Karen told me she interviewed a girl from New Orleans whose hobby was cooking and I said, ‘Karen! Are you crazy? Hire her right now!’ Listen, Miss Eve, do you like figs? Because I’ve been looking for somebody to make me fig preserves …”
On and on she went, a charming Southern lady raised in rural Louisiana with a penchant for oversharing, a foul mouth and a size 5 shoe, just like me. We fell in love immediately.
On my first Jan. 6 there, I was surprised and delighted to find a King Cake in the front lobby. In the middle of freezing cold Missouri, the New Orleans tradition was alive and well.
I got the baby, and even though I was new to the office I didn’t need anyone to explain what was expected of me.
The following Monday, my boss poked her head into my office. “Where is my damn King Cake?” she demanded.
“I’m working on it,” I told her.
“No! Every Monday! King Cakes come in on every Monday until Mardi Gras!” she said.
“What?” I said, completely taken aback. “I’ve never heard that. I just thought I had to buy the next one.”
“You do,” she said. “On Monday. You have until tomorrow.”
In New Orleans that would be no problem. But in mid-Missouri? No such luck.
In desperation, I found a recipe for King Cake that didn’t look too hard. But still, 2 a.m. the next morning found me bleary-eyed mixing purple, green and gold sugar glazes.
I dragged myself into work for 8 a.m., tired but self-satisfied. I proudly placed my King Cake on the front table and went to pour my smug self a cup of coffee.
Within minutes, my coworkers were in my office, and they were unhappy.
“You brought King Cake,” one of them said. “Actual King Cake.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “Homemade, too.”
“We just had actual King Cake,” another one complained.
“What?” I said, feeling like I was part of some elaborate practical joke. “You told me – you all just told me – that I had to bring King Cake. I stayed up until the middle of the night making it! What the hell are you people talking about?!”
“Well, only the first one is actual King Cake,” I was informed. “After that, it would be too hard to get one. So we just make brownies or apple cake and throw in a baby, and we call it King Cake.”
“I could’ve just made apple cake?” I said, very quietly. “Apple cake? Apple cake takes like an hour to make. I was up until 3 a.m. Apple cake?!” I was not so quiet by the end of my speech.
“Well, now you know. Next time, make brownies or apple cake. King Cake is only good once a year.”
I think my mouth actually fell open. King Cake is always good. King Cake is good every single day from Jan. 6 until Fat Tuesday. Who on earth only eats King Cake once a year?
Now, I’m relieved to be celebrating back in New Orleans, where apple cake is its own thing and King Cake is never a disappointment.