Birthdays are for sharing homemade cake. I was not about to let a pandemic get in the way of my celebration. Sort of.

I love birthdays. Always have, always will.

I spend hours planning what to cook or bake for friends on their personal holidays, and when I plan my own birthday celebrations, what we’re going to eat is one of the most important details to iron out.

This year, our local officials in Durham, North Carolina, began advising us to restrict our activities just a week before my March 26 birthday. Relatively ridiculous problem to have, I know. Still, with little else to occupy my time after being furloughed from my serving job in the second week of March, I spent the days leading up to my birthday trying to figure out how to make it special. And, more importantly, what I would bake for myself. 

The thing I like best about baking is sharing what I make with others, watching them taste it, getting to see the joy it brings them.

I settled on Dorie Greenspan’s Lisbon chocolate cake, a flourless dessert featuring more semi-sweet baker’s chocolate than I care to admit and some daunting instructions for a whipped ganache topping. It had been sitting in my virtual New York Times Cooking recipe box for ages, and it was just the sort of time-consuming project I was looking for.

So I baked the cake. My roommate and I made the best out of the day and had a Lizzo dance party in the kitchen, drank gin and tonics decorated with colorful paper umbrellas and ate my creation.

But the thing I like best about baking is sharing what I make with others, watching them taste it, getting to see the joy it brings them. I’d intended to share a cake with at least 10 friends at a party I’d hoped would take place at a local roller-skating rink. I wanted loud music and nostalgic, carefree fun beneath swirling disco lights, then perhaps a move to our favorite bar near the middle of the city to end the night. Instead, I had to get creative.

I slid a piece onto each friend’s plate and backed away to watch them enjoy it from a safe distance. Everyone blew out their own birthday candles. Those deliveries are now one of my favorite birthday memories.

Restaurants started doing curbside pick-up and delivery, so I decided I could, too. I packed up the cake, a knife, some extra paper umbrellas and birthday candles and told my friends to be ready with plates. I visited three pairs of friends, in a parking lot, a backyard, and on a front porch, respectively. I slid a piece onto each friend’s plate and backed away to watch them enjoy it from a safe distance. Everyone blew out their own birthday candles. Those deliveries are now one of my favorite birthday memories.

We can’t meet for coffee, I can’t linger in their living rooms hours longer than I intended, I can’t hug them—but I can bring them some of the delicious things I’m making to occupy my extra time. I’ve since managed to land a different job working from home, but it’s pretty easy to pre-heat the oven or set dough out to proof between emails. When I bake now, I try to figure out if I need to double the recipe to cover all of my people.

Treat delivery quickly evolved to a treat trade, with food passed through car windows or left on porches. Macarons and a sourdough boule in exchange for crusty bread and vegan peanut butter brownies. Soft pretzels traded for craft beer, or some kombucha and sourdough starter for zucchini bread. I hope this persists long after we can once again hug our friends and family. Since the pandemic began, I’ve realized that one of the only things that really matters is having people with whom you want to share your cake.

Samantha Weber is a freelance writer and editor based in Durham, North Carolina. She's written for a variety of outlets including High Country News, The Atlantic's CityLab, Backcountry Magazine and National Native News. Baking is her love language.