a simple slice
all it took, really, was a trip to the store, three eggs from the fridge, and a chance to play with my still-in-the-box old-fashioned hand mixer.
all i wanted, really, was to hold the real world at bay. buy one more day-pass before the return to non-fiction living.
a yellow cake, i figured, was enough of a ticket.
it was a two-layered salute to the end of so-called vacation, a sugar-tinged slide into the hard weeks ahead. and besides there’s little so dreary as a monday back home, when rain clouds and laundry are piled too high, not far enough in the offing.
thing is, though, given the fact that the mixer was many months old and had yet to see a speck of light from the kitchen, this, clearly, isn’t my forte. the two-step from batter bowl to oven isn’t one my feet know by heart.
i am not, sad to report, much of a baker.
oh, i dream of such things. wish sometimes that i had it in me, that gene that would make me long to be clouded in flour, my cheeks streaked with chocolatey smears, from yet another turn at the stove.
but, alas, i am merely pretender.
oh, if you opened my cupboards, you might see i’m amply equipped. why, i’ve got pans with bottoms that vanish and side-rails that spring. i’ve got cutters of cookies in so many shapes, from simple to odd to odder-than-odd, an architectural replica, among others, of the downtown tower where every tuesday i type. enough bent-metal skyscrapers, in fact, to cut out and bake a whole skyline.
i’ve got aprons, too. and a french wire basket filled to the brim with sugars in colors and all sorts of sizes of crystals, from silky like snowdrifts to chunky like hail. even a stash of those wee silver balls that look just like the beebee my brother once aimed and shot at a window, while my grandma stood back in stunned disbelief and i, truth be told, snickered.
sorry fact is: nearly every time i think about baking–be it a pie, or plain cookies, or surely a cake–well, i give up almost before i begin.
i get tired.
i get sweaty there in the palms.
i think of the mess.
i think of the cake going stale.
i think of the big old beater i used to have to haul off the shelf. how it pained my low back to lug it from pantry to counter. how i’d nearly once crushed the least of my toes–and that was only the bowl tumbling down.
yes, when it comes to the baking department, i am purely illusion. not much crumb to my cake.
and so, when, despite my deep disinclinations, i somehow manage to pull off two layers, with a blanket of fudge in between, well, i just can’t help but stand back and marvel.
can’t but think to myself, “i need to do this more often.”
who knew that cracking three shells, dumping oil and water, watching the twin set of whirly-bird blades whip round and round in two minutes of circles, who knew i could pour, slide, and crank on the timer, and then, poof, in a mere 35 minutes pull out two golden-topped coins that, at least for a moment there, made me appear the very model of domesticity?
why, the whole house let out a whoop, in the form of a cloud of sweet-scented, vanilla perfume.
by the time the little one bound in the door–shouted, he did, did you bake? (incredulously, i’m not too ashamed to admit)–i’d even gone mad with the chocolatey swirls.
as always, i like the frills as much as the substance so i practiced the TV-ready twirls of the knife that made for an ocean of waves all over the top, and right down the sides. then, leaving well enough not alone, i unwrapped a whole flock of kisses, hershey’s that is, and dotted them here and there on my mid-afternoon’s quick-rising escape.
ahh, the sweet holy triumph of a boy home from school staring in wonder at his mama’s hard-won confection.
it’s not every day that i witness such hero-like status. i mean, never before have i seen the boy–nor his big brother, as a matter of fact–stand in awe, drooling, at the way i pile a verb onto a whole string of nouns.
nope, never once has anyone marveled at the skill with which i ditch the drips on the toilet seat. nor the dust on the lampshades. nor how i clean and fluff and fold all the laundry.
not even how i stay up till late, late in the night some nights, sopping up tears, unknotting worries.
but the cake……oh, the cake. it’s two days later and still i am riding the wave of that yellow-crumbed glory.
sure, it’s all turned to hard-crusted bits there on the chocolate-smeared plate.
but i’ve not tossed it out, nor will i.
i’m thinking this kitchen alchemy is one i might want to return to. perhaps i’ll nudge myself a little more often. who knows, there might be a pie crust not far in my future.
it’s a simple truth that these days i ought to employ: in three easy steps, plus 350 degrees, i can bring joy to the table, slice into two-layered heart of the matter.
there is little in life that so simply begins, and so deliciously ends.
i am struck, frankly, by the tangible construction and completion of something utterly swallowable.
i wonder, perhaps, if in our quixotic attempts to bring calm to our homes, and peace to the planet, some of us–me, in particular–might have missed the undeniable dump-stir-’n’-pour virtue of such bliss in a box.
the chance to exercise whimsy, to deliver up double layers of plain ol’-fashioned goodness, i’m starting to realize, is as boundless as the stash of sweet morsels tucked on my shelf.
in these endless months of not knowing our place on the planet, on occasion doubting our worth, so often dreading the morning, it seems that to whip up a cake, perch it high on a pedestal, well, so sweet a triumph it is, maybe i shouldn’t let the ovens stay cold for so long a spell.
it’s rather quite simple, isn’t it then?
sometimes little more is required than the goo it takes to fill up two 8-inch round pans. and the pure honest knowing that what comes to your lips on a fork is, well, much more lasting than the pile of crumbs turned hard on the plate after merely two days.
never did read that on the back of a box of cake mix.
some things you take a while to gulp. but when you do, you grasp forever their infinite wisdom.
do you bake for the joy of it? do you find deep delight in the simple stirring and pouring, letting your imagination and your recipes run wild? what have you baked lately? or brought home from the bakery dept.?
Who would ever imagine such happiness could come out of a box of yellow cake mix. Talk about a recipe for a little sunshine when the rains pour down. Delicious stuff.I don’t bake much. I learned my culinary skills (if you want to call ’em that) at my mama’s knee and she never followed a recipe. As we’ve all heard, baking follows formulas for success, but cooking is far more forgiving. I learned to cook by feel … taste as you go and stop when it feels right, so consequently, I never make things exactly the same way twice. I’ve had my share of true baking disasters … ones that I’m sure would give dear Ina nightmares.P. S. A sliver with a cup of blonde coffee, if you please!
LOVE TO BAKE!!! ALWAYS have a variety of box mixes in the cupboard, bought on sale in every flavor/style that strikes a spark but ‘scratch’ is most rewarding (if less fulfilled). We’ve got cake mixes, quick bread mixes, brownie mixes, even biscuit mixes on hand for any impromptu urge OR need (“Come for dinner, bring a dessert”– covered, “Sure, we’ll come help you with the new faucet installation”, “Great, I’ll make dessert”–covered, “You didn’t tell me about the class party tomorrow!”–covered). My oldest, who loves cooking/baking/FOOD, also likes to pour the gooey stuff into pans as evidenced by his baking my birthday cake this year. Then the youngest guy frosted it. Tweak it here, swirl it there, coconut on top or chopped nuts around the sides, mmmmmm, red velvet with white frosting, all sorts of homemade icings. Oh, love to bake even more than eating it, warm smells from the kitchen. The “ooooo, what’s in the oven?” when they come through the door. It’s a release, all at once creative and theraputic, comforting and rewarding, as is watching the loved ones enjoy….– or just the pleasure of a batch of fresh baked brownies sitting on a ‘special cake stand’ from a ‘special’ someone ;o) –BUT…..sinister music now please…… I must confess…..dunh, dunh, dunnnhhhh…. the last TWO cakes that have graced our table were ‘bought’…. the first was,.. no, I’m not proud, …my hubby’s birthday cake… BUT, BUT, there was so much to do!, surprise party, 25 guests!, …….and the second was for a concert reception, just as many people, SOOO much to do, and I did ‘buy’ the most wonderful carrot cake in the county…does that make up for the ‘boughtness’? I decorated it with homemade decorations? That must get some points…Kudos for your baking bravery and even more for the ‘just because’ reason…..that’s always the best reason, just because……..Now the next baking blog will feature a masterpiece of the Chicago skyline in all it’s baked to perfection splendor, right? : )Thanks for the beautiful cake photo…….Honey, get the pans down please…I’ve got a craving……….
well, the high-mountain contingent is certainly weighing in on the cakes. you two both dwell in the mysterious land i’ve always wondered about when i do glance at the back of a box: high altitude it says, in something akin to a whisper, then it lets you in the secret temps that only you are allowed. well what if one of us lowlanders decided to impinge upon your high-alt territories? would our cake turn to ashes? would it come out a battery soup? hmm. inquiring minds do want to know……oh, lord, changing the subject, i just glanced out my window and i see that the birdies are on the limb twittering all about, doing the dance, that surely will end with birdlings tucked in the nest right by the door. must be spring……when cakes and baby birds swirl in our heads.
Have you forgotten “Nothins as loven as something from the oven” and pillsbury say’s it best!!!?
No, I don’t bake. Oh, I can do it, sort of try my hand at it once in a while, but there is so much more to do than get out the mixer and clean up the flour spills. That being said, though, I did come across a blueberry and coconut cheesecake bar recipe earlier this week. Doesn’t that sound yummy? I may have to drag out the sugar and mixer very soon. And I can’t say I’m a regular at the bakery department either. Cakes and other desserts have never given me the intense feeling of joy that a bowl of vanilla ice cream does. The men in my life are also anomalies; they don’t do dessert. I should be so lucky! But, their lack of sweet taste buds does leave more Edy’s in the carton for me.
ahhh sure, a lowlander dares to inquire of the highlanders mighty baking secrets. Be forewarned, it is not a place for the faint of heart…… more of this, less of that… lower the temp…extend the time……. It’s kind of like the” i before e, except after c, or when sounding like a, as in neighbor and neigh” rule. It’s a rule “most” of the time…..just not always…. My first scratch attempt, up here where the eagles nest, was a rhubarb cake, a favorite of both myself and the patriarch of the home we were going to visit. Well, I was just so excited to bake my favorite and present it to our honored hosts. It smelled wonderful baking? (I thought) away in my newly acquired high in the sky oven and time was coming we would be carrying that plate of homemade goodness to an appreciative audience……..but wait, what’s this?? All around the outside was done to perfection and the middle was a puddle of rhubarbie goo…….Next day… me, online, ordering ‘the new high altitude cookbook”, then signed up for a high altitude cooking class offered at a local culinary store. Now every time a find a new recipe I wonder, hmmm. what will it take to make it the 5000 ft. elevation equivalent of a sea level masterpiece?? Water doesn’t even boil at the same temp! You know the 212 degree temperature that you are so used to? Not here. I think it is something like 207 degrees. Which means that you can’t boil an egg (and expect it to be hardboiled) the same length of time that you do at sea level… It takes longer because that boiling water isn’t as hot as it is when you’re down lower………. No, not for the faint……… BUT always an adventure : )
Yep, living at 5000+ feet does propose challenges, particularily to the baking-challenged like me (reference my comment above: see DISASTERS). Puddle in the middle of the pie while the crust is charcoal … uh, yeah.
uh-oh…here you and i have serendipity going ons again, layers. anyway-you know i’m not much of a baker either, i’m a soup builder. but the meanest best cherry pie and cobbler can be had from my kitchen, from my trees and from the addtion of loving spoonfuls of homemade ice cream atop that pie. july is the time for my baker genes, like hormones-to kick in.that cake there, up there…is a beaut, all laced with love and frosted with the same, in between the layers i suspect is a secret song you hummed along too…bet the boys whistled too, as if the centerpiece on mama’s table was a pretty girl. and speaking of pretty girls, any news yet?!
I feel obligated to come back here and ‘fess up so that I don’t get the reputation of a table liar. I spent this morning baking. Didn’t want to, felt less than enthused as the project began, but I was recruited earlier this week to bake for a spring bake sale. And, when I was done, I did have 2 acceptable looking loaves of lemon poppyseed bread, complete with the glaze that came in the box, along with three rather delightfully decorated carrot cakes. I had the Easter basket theme going, green tinted coconut on top of the cream cheese frosting, dotted with jelly beans. So, yes, I suppose I do bake when I need to. And, yes, any news on the expected baby? :))
I do not bake. I find no joy in it. I think of it as one big mess. I am fortunate, however, to have a dear friend who LOVES to bake. She also happens to be my next door neighbor AND a coworker so I frequently taste the fruits of her labor. She makes the most incredible chocolate chip cookie. You’re thinking a chocolate chip cookie is no great culinary feat – everyone bakes chocolate chip cookies. But I am here to tell you that Lucy’s chocolate chip cookies are out of this world. Last week, Lucy’s finicky hot water heater was on the fritz once again, so she called the plumber to come have a look. She was baking chocolate chip cookies when he arrived and so she offered one to him. He gobbled it up and ate a second one on his way out the door when the job was finished. A couple of days later, Lucy received the plumber’s bill in the mail – right there on the invoice was a $15 credit labeled COOKIE CREDIT.
oh my lord, that is sooooo sooooooo funny. okay, so we have a strategy here, and something of a contest, all of us non-bakers try our hand at baking whenever, say, the water heater goes kerpluey. we see if we too can pull off a “slice o’ cake credit,” or “bundt credit.” biggest credit wins—–a free baking lesson at the hand of one of the better bakers ’round here. hh you make me laugh, you not-so-hidden storyteller you…….and nope no baby yet…..pink balloons will be found here, guaranteed! xoxox
Okay … it was decided today that I would bring a dessert to the Easter family dinner, so please, all you bakers … help! Jack, love the lemon poppyseed bread idea, even the cheesecake bars. Something that travels well since I will be leaving it in the car during church then traveling two hours to where dinner will be held. Any ideas?
Dearest Bam, This is Lucy Keating, HH’s neighbor, coworker, cookies supplier, hopefully friend. I just don’t get what the big thing is about baking. You read, you measure-end of story. The hot water discount was pretty funny but I was so grateful to have hot water again I would have happily given the guy the entire batch. Anyway I will be happy to give any and all a baking lesson. It’s the least I can do for the woman who inspired me this last January to clean out my linen closet–now that was difficult. Let me know. Lucy
pjv, my idea: pray for a cold arizona day. you know i’m not so good in the baking dept. but for some reason cupcakes leap into my head, covered in green coconut, tucked with jelly beans, handles made out of pipe cleaners, voila it’s an easter basket.how lame is that????heck, that was probably big in like the 1950s and here i am half a century later suggesting…okay, i see we have a missive from the famous cookie baker, but i didn’t even get to read it because i was leaping in to tell pjv to pray for cold………be back after i see this exciting announcement from hh’s famous baker friend. how thrilling is that? i was hoping we could get her recipe, but didn’t wanna be so bold…..
oh, man oh man, looks like we just scored the second annual chair outing. looks like we get baking class with LUCY!!!!!!!!!! ew, hooo! allright, now lucy, here’s the thing: we know that we should be able to whip out, oh, a coupla dozen cookies per morning. we know that it’s not THAT hard (although, excuse me, who wants to go first when it comes to piecrusting!?!?!?) it’s actually not the baking itself, it’s the getting ready, the muss and fuss, that’s the part that trips me up. i always think, ohhhhhh, and then i talk myself out of it. this actually gets at a fascinating little thing: why is it that some of us could cook till the cows come home, but the minute we need to set the oven to some precise temp, the minute the measuring spoons come up, we get all heebie-jeebie? yeesh. i think it’s a mindset thing we must get around. but clearly you have some alchemy up your sleeve, for how else could you create such cookies as to have all the plumbers in northern illinois knocking at your door, begging to please please let them fix your water heater, on a day when the chocolate-chip charmers are coming from the oven?!?!?! oh, lucy thank you for leaping to our rescue. clearly you possess powers you don’t know you have, and there are some of us out here wondering how oh how you do it?any ideas for our pjv girl, the one who’s gotta leave the easter dessert locked in her car in the arizona high country before driving down into the valley where it’ll be gobbled, melted or not???p.s. anyone else notice that when the subject is food we all have so much to say……pretty funnny, non?
Thanks bam … love the cupcake idea … my little Joey can help me with the task AND … someone quite wonderful gave me a cupcake cookbook with the appropriate accessories for my birthday to make the job easier … wink, wink. Thanks for rallying the troops on my behalf! I’ll take all the help I can get. Now … as for Lucy’s baking class … ummmm, perhaps I can videoconference from IL to AZ?????? Wouldn’t want to miss it!
My lemon poppyseed bread came from a box. No big deal. And, the cheesecake bars were found on-line. Don’t want to post something that I shouldn’t, but if it’s acceptable to cut and paste in the website or recipe, I’ll be glad to get the blueberry coconut cheese cake bar recipe up here soon. I’m a little leary of stepping on toes with that. Food talk is my favorite kind of talk! And, yes, it’s the mess, the clean up, that stops me in my tracks whenever someone mentions baking.
okey doke, this computer is playing tricks on me, and freaking me out. all the archives are empty, where oh where did three years of stories go? and i can’t tell if the comments are here. they appear not to be on the launch page. i am freaking out…..this is sort of a test…..
bam … I see the archives and the comments … maybe your computer is still on spring break …………..Jack … I think I know what lemon poppyseed box mix you’re talking about … no need for a link here … gonna give that a whirl along with the cupcakes … they are both perfect for our group. Thanks!!
don’t freak out, bam. I see the archives and the comments. so its probably just a wee little glitch with your computer.
Yikes PJV, ‘dessert duty’ with a minimum three hour layover before you even get there?? Call and switch with someone so you could make a nice challah bread instead, you know, the one where you shape it like a wreath and put the hard boiled, dyed eggs in it….OR go for some butter cookies. You could make them ahead and decorate them with really neat springy sprinkles, make bunny heads and Easter egg shapes, maybe some chick shapes. You could even color the cookie dough. I bet the little one would have a bunch of fun helping. They should hold up well for the ride too……just a thought….Ps….bam, don’t know if you’re still having computer probs but I’ve got archives and comments too………
dearest chairs (how ever do you like being addressed in such form–yeeks), anyway, was up half the night and recovered, with much fretting i tell you, the entire archives. you couldn’t tell it was missing unless you started poking around, which for some reason i did yesterday afternoon, only to discover that the achive listing was there, but NO STORIES. i had it backed up, but who wants to re-enter every one. plus just psychologically, to lose everything??? i mean this here is my lifework, right up there with my babies, you know???anyway, thanks to techno-manchild and the lovely people at apple, and sr. martha who lamcal put in an emergency call to, we are back in order. go ahead click on any ol’ story you want, it’s there again. phew.
hey vam … great ideas! I think my little Joey and I will have a grand time what with sprinkles, dyed coconut and frosting and all the fun stuff that goes along with it. Thanks for the inspiration everybody …
My, my. I’m coming in on the tail end here, but I thought I’d add that I LOVE to bake – and from scratch in many cases. However, I have come to realize that when one is trapped at college in a dorm, there is nothing like a nice pan of brownies from a box, or some cupcakes, or muffins to comfort and sustain one through many trials.
hey beautiful ivy!!!!!!!!! how heavenly to find you at the table, must have been that sweet aroma coming from the ovens…….ah, yes, the travails of dorm life. bless your beautiful from-scratch heart. that’s why you’re an inspiration. that and sooo many other reasons. i’ll bet you make the yummiest morsels with the milk from those goats of yours…..here is a big big big overdue hug. oxoxo
Of course I had to read this one and comment! You know how I love to bake, and when I saw this cake, my mouth started to water … but alas, then I realized it was from a box…they are delicious (I had a whiskey such one yesterday, which was one of the best things I have eaten, until I found out it was from a box) — so what is it about baking snobbery? If I didn’t know, I would happily chomp away. It’s probably just a way to put the controls on…”oh, I don’t eat something from a box.” Otherwise, everything would be fair game. A boxed cake can be an ink blot test for us all…