An expatriate of New Orleans – and professional chef – who has lived in Los Angeles since her childhood, blogs about the journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles back to New Orleans, and points along the way.

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A First Birthday Party- and Italian Cream Cake

By on Jun 21, 2011, 11:30 am in Family Celebrations, Personal Reflection, Recipes-Sweet | 15 comments

Mom and DadMom and Dad at his first birthday party


A combination of factors- Father’s Day, mentally rummaging through family photos for a guest post at (to appear on July 4th- yay!), and the 52Photos Project– got me reminiscing about my father’s birthday party.

In May of 1994, my father celebrated his 70th birthday at a grand party in the church hall of St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles. He had never had a birthday party before, and as the day approached my mother suggested to him throwing a big shindig. He grumbled about spending the money, but Mom says he went away for a few days, thought about it, then came back to her and agreed. It was the first and last birthday party of his life. At that point (although none but his immediate family knew it), he had already been diagnosed with the illness that would take his life.

I flew in from New York, where I was living then, to cook for the crowd. My Uncle Roy and Nanny Marion, my father’s brother and sister, and my father’s close friend Lloyd Gonzalez flew in from New Orleans to help him celebrate. The last image I have of my father, uncle and aunt together, was of them sitting on the deck of my parents’ home, their heads bowed in quiet conversation as they peeled shrimp for jambalaya the day before the party. I quietly called over my brother, Al, touched his arm and pointed to them. We smiled at the scene. Peeling shrimp was the first kitchen task we had learned under my father’s tutelage.

The church hall was full of umbrellas, a ubiquitous prop of New Orleans “second line”, and the walls and tables were decorated in purple, green and gold and covered with masks and crowns (Dad got to be King for the day), the colors and artifacts of Mardi Gras.

The day was a great success, attended by a couple hundred people. If one has never had a birthday party, there’s a lot of catching up to do. We ate jambalaya, roast beef, potato salad, and black bean and corn salad, an amalgam of Louisiana and California cuisine, mirroring our journey.

My father’s friend, Benji DeLille, dressed in his parade leader finery, led the “second line” through the hall as we waved our handkerchiefs and bounced our umbrellas up and down to the funky strains of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Dad, surrounded by his family and friends, spoke with a full heart. He thanked his parents. He thanked his wife and his children. He thanked his God.

A year and a half later, he died early in the morning on New Year’s Day.


King Dad and Uncle RoyDad and Uncle Roy

Dad with Birthday Cake


I made this wonderful Italian Cream Cake , a recipe I picked up from a favorite spot in New York, for his birthday cake. I thought it would be perfect for a New Orleans crowd, chocked full of pecans and coconut, and as I suspected, it was a hit. I hope you will enjoy it, too. Recipe follows-


  1. Wonderful story and thoughtful for posting a recipe that I’m sure will hold a special meaning to you for a long time. If I ever get the oven fixed here at home, I’m going to give a go at making one of these.

    Avatar Rob

    June 21, 2011

  2. Wonderful story about your dad! Great recipe!

    Avatar Dorothy

    June 21, 2011

  3. Mmmmmmm! Had one a couple of yrs ago–disappointing. Can’t wait to try your recipe!

    Avatar Hilary

    June 21, 2011

  4. Beautiful post, your father’s story and a terrific recipe.

    Avatar LiztheChef

    June 21, 2011

  5. This is wonderful, Gisele, I love the writing and the story, your passions and loves are nicely woven together here. A bittersweet story with great pictures of your handsome parents.

    Avatar Susan

    June 21, 2011

  6. I ditto Rob’s comments, and i love the big grin on dad’s face when he is looking at the cake…very cool…also, given the joy he had, it’s a shame he never had the opportunity to have more b-day parties in his life.

    Avatar Lisa

    June 22, 2011

  7. This is one of your best posts. Brought tears to my eyes. Now I need that cake to console me!

    Avatar Lentil Breakdown

    June 22, 2011

  8. Thanks for sharing.. Nice to see the pics also of Uncle Al. Daddy D (your Uncle Paul) always called him Painless Perez.

    Avatar Patrice

    June 23, 2011

  9. LOVED IT and LOVE the pict! They both look so happy.

    Avatar Ayana

    June 23, 2011

  10. What a wonderful memory to have and how special it must have been for your Dad. I can’t wait to try the recipe.

    Avatar Gerarda (Marine) Sarpy

    June 25, 2011

  11. What a moving post. It’s wonderful that he decided to have the party and leave all of his friends with fantastic memories of that day.

    Now about this cake.

    I had an Italian Cream Cake when I lived in Knoxville and I have yet to replicate it in my own kitchen. Your recipe just might do it. It looks delicious. It’s on my bucket list !

    Avatar Maureen

    June 26, 2011

  12. Very nice, Gisele! Love the smiles!

    I love your writing, Gisele. Got a little teary-eyed. Glad your dad got to have this b-day party. Such great memories I am sure.

    Avatar Denise

    June 30, 2011

  13. What a beautiful tribute, Gisele! You look like your Dad. We’re both blessed to have had such wonderful fathers.

    Avatar Ronnie

    August 7, 2011

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