Cuisine or Chaos

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Some memories stick with you forever, for good or ill.  The mind is such so that even if you can laugh about sad moments a long time after they occur, often you still feel a sense of dread and sorrow whenever the event is called to mind.  That being said, I will never forget my first attempt at baking a cake.  It was one of my first baking experiences, and came close to being my last.

One day in April 2008, we were celebrating Mom’s and Dad’s birthdays.  We decided to throw them a double party, as it was already the end of April and we hadn’t celebrated Mom’s yet.  The boys undertook the task of wrapping presents (in construction paper and newspaper as we were out of gift wrap) and, as I was the eldest girl at home, I undertook the grave responsibility of baking the birthday cake.

A cake.  That’s all it was.  A little flour and butter with thick sugar and candles on top.  How hard could that be?  True, I had never made a cake before, and previously my solo baking had only amounted to cookies out of cake mix, but I had seen Mom make cakes at least a dozen times, and the results were always terrific.  Yes, I knew that my cooking skills were 30-odd years behind hers, so I allowed that the decorations on the cake may not look so professional.  But I make no exaggeration when I say that the responsibility was grave.  For when we knew that the birthday person wasn’t going to have any fun presents for us to play with after the party, the big thing to be look forward to was the cake and scraping the bowl of frosting between party games.  I was fully aware of the seriousness of the issue, but young and innocent as I was, I was completely oblivious to the consequences of my actions.

Accordingly, after we came home from Mass that day, Mom and Dad went to take a nap while we kids bustled around to make everything perfect.  I set off to the kitchen, with no clear idea of what I was going to do except I was going to make a cake, and it was going to be awesome!  Fortunately, I didn’t have the courage to attempt a cake from scratch, so I took out the cake mixes.  I decided to make two cakes: vanilla for Dad and chocolate for Mom.  So they’d be ready at the same time, the only thing to do was make them at the same time.

First step: empty the mixes into their respective bowls.  All’s well so far.  Cake mix dust got on the floor, my clothes, and probably the ceiling, but all’s well so far.  Second: 3 eggs per cake.  Well, let’s just say after all these years I still know how to scrape an egg off the floor and separate it from 2 other eggs before plopping it in its proper resting place.  Third: add water.  Instead of taking the time to measure twice, doesn’t it make so much more sense to measure once and sight-measure how much to add to each cake?  No matter the correct answer, that is the route I took.  Needless to say, the whole kit and caboodle wound up in the chocolate cake.  Meanwhile, I kept running back and forth from the kitchen and my parent’s bedroom to wake Mom up for advice.  Poor Mom was groggy from sleep, and she didn’t realize the chaos that was happening in the kitchen.

Finally, the batters had their ingredients as separated as I could get them, and were all beat up waiting to go into the oven.  Excited as I was, I hurriedly poured them into their pans and placed them into the waiting oven, only to remember I hadn’t greased the pans.  There is a breaking point for everyone, and this had broken mine.  The tears fell quickly as I took the pans out, emptied them, washed and greased them, and poured the batter back in.  I just wanted to be done with these cakes, but still make them perfect.

Pretty soon, the house was filled with the sweet aroma of chocolate and vanilla.  Having regained a bit of my self-confidence and excitement, I set about making the frosting (having woken Mom up to get the recipe), and started checking the cakes every four minutes to make sure I didn’t burn them.  I was in such a state of relieved excitement that I didn’t care so much when I dropped the opened butter on the floor and had to rinse it off.  The timer finally beeped.  After several trips with toothpicks to Mom’s room for consultation, I took the cakes out of the oven onto cooling racks.

There they sat, those glorious masterpieces.  To look at them, no one could ever have imagined the sweat and tears which went into them.  No one could have guessed that the ingredients had been swept off the floor before being mixed in.  No one could have guessed that the batter had been switched around so many times.  Because the cakes looked perfect.  Succulent is the word.  I was proud.  My head was high and my chest swelled.  All this labor wasn’t in vain after all, and soon they would be decorated and my parents would marvel.  But this wasn’t the end to my trials.

Being too excited and impatient, I didn’t wait for the cakes to cool properly and turned them out prematurely.  Alas! and Alas! they came out of the pans onto the cooling racks as a mountain of crumbs.  It was disastrous.  I was completely crushed.  I was at the point where I would’ve thrown everything out and begun again, except I knew that it wouldn’t turn out any better the second time around.  It was a sad day.

Within minutes of this sorrowful climax, people started appearing from their rooms for the party.  Mom and Dad came into the kitchen.  Mom almost laughed and Dad ate some of the crumbs.  They comforted me, telling me it still tasted good.  So as soon as they left I dumped the crumbs onto a huge plate and poured the frosting all over them.  When dessert time came, we stuck a couple candles into this glob and ate it.  I believe the boys came up with a name for my mess, but I was in such trauma and shock that to this day I can’t remember what it was.  As I remember, the cakes were well-received because they still tasted fine and since there weren’t any distinct pieces, the boys had an excuse to eat both cakes that night.  Despite the happy turnout, it was several years before I regained the courage to bake another cake.

Theresa Curley

Theresa Curley

Theresa Curley is currently taking pre-requisite classes in sainthood before her Final Exam at the end of her life. She hopes to meet you in person there. Until then, you can find her on her family's homestead in rural South Carolina, drinking tea, singing along with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and enjoying books by G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.

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