There’s a little craftsman house on 42nd Avenue in the Madison Park nieghborhood that looks like many of the other craftsman bungalows on the street except that there is a wooden sign out in front of it that says Madison Park Cafe. Nestled among its quiet residential neighbors just around the corner from the chic Madison Street business district, the Madison Park Cafe is a French-style bistro that serves simple, tasty, legendary cuisine. It has been in business for 29 years. Angela and I went there once or twice before Mara was born but there is always a longish wait for the few tables crammed into the two rooms that used to be the front rooms of the house, and ever since we became parents we become hungry precipitously, without warning, so putting our name on a list isn’t usually an option. We suddenly look at each other and say “I’m starving, what’s the quickest way to get food in front of ourselves?”
For quick brunch (we’re serious brunchdogs — we live for eggs and French toast at noon), we eat at home or speed up the freeway to Leena’s in Shoreline, a Greek family diner where they know us and seat us quickly and the food is always delicious, arrives quickly, and is fairly priced. But a few days ago we did things a little differently. It was Angela’s birthday.
Those whose birthday follows directly behind that of the Lamb of God, even the Ancient of Days, get a raw deal. Everybody’s all about celebrating the virgin birth, that lowly but blessed event of yore, and a birthday coming just days later inevitably becomes something of a postlude. At worst, a footnote. You can’t compete with the Baby Jesus, so you’ll never be the main event. It’s a life of getting one present that’s supposed to go for both Christmas and your birthday. For a child it’s the worst possible fate. For a grownup, it’s still a bummer. Birthdays are supposed to be a time when it’s all about you, when you’re IT.
So making a birthday in the lee of Christmas seem special requires a little extra energy. Mara and I were up to the task. We got up before Angela and prepared tea for her and made a birthday card with crayons and pony stickers. Mara wrote the letters of TO MOMMY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOVE MARA by herself, though I had to write several of the letters first so she could copy them into the card. We brought up the helium balloon we had hidden downstairs the day before, and cued up John McCutcheon’s birthday song “Cut the Cake” — track 13 from his Water from Another Time album. After morning festivities and presenting of her gifts (a craft project from Mara and tickets to a production of Meet Me in St. Louis at Issaquah’s Village Theatre) we headed over to Madison Park and treated her to a brunch at the cafe.
Angela and I both ordered the spinach baked eggs (set before us in geothermally hot individual casserole dishes) and Mara had a pancake and eggs over medium, what she calls “yolky eggs”. The coffee was tasty and strong. The ambience is wonderful even on an icky day, but on this day of bright blue sky and low winter sun it was bright and festive. The wait was about a half hour, during which we stood just inside the door and glared at the people dining a few feet away. There were only two waiters — ours was the perfect balance of friendly and efficient. She did forget to bring the raspberry scone to start us out but the food came pretty quickly and so it worked out fine. We had coffee cake with our meals anyway. By the by, we recommend the coffeecake, and all the rest of it, too.
After breakfast we wandered into a few of the retail shops along Madison, then spent some time in the new playground at the center of the community. It had been quite a while since Mara had gotten to exhaust herself running and climbing outside. Then we came home and Mara and I made Angela a cake. Angela told us she felt sufficiently fêted, and it was great to see such a big smile on her face all during her special day.