My birthday is rolling around again in a few days. Because my husband, who dislikes all celebrations that involve gift giving, finds my birthday, where he is really expected to come up with something, the most painful of them all, I try to offer some subtle suggestions. He is really very lucky; a perfectly fine birthday gift is a good book, one that he took the time to pick out just for me, knowing me well enough to know what I like to read. He has now convinced himself that we are in grave danger of falling, all of us, into the apartment downstairs due the weight of the books in our home, so has mandated a moratorium on book buying, which has not affected, one bit, my personal book shopping, but it has his. Thus, I have had to be a bit more creative. In mid May I left the Williams Sonoma catalog on the dining room table, which he promptly tossed in the recycling. Last week I flipped through the mail while he watched baseball, casually pointing out all the amazing baking gadgets available at Sur La Table.
"You don't bake".
"I might if I had this bundt pan".
"Allyson, you have a bundt pan. When was the last time you made a bundt?"
We tried this about 6 years ago. While in Sur La Table I pointed out the most amazingly beautiful cake pan I had ever seen, a sheet pan with daisy outlines, which of course would allow me to make the loveliest cakes ever seen, all moist and delicious, each one with a hint of lemon, to be served at the tea parties I would soon be hosting with my daughters. To date I have made one cake, kind of. What I made was a dense scrubbing utensil which adhered to the daisies like super glue. It hinted not of lemon but of eggs and shook like jello when cut. I made an omelet in a cake pan, to the delight of my husband.
"I want to bake."
"Fine, and when you learn I will buy you a bundt pan, but for now, you are well suited for bundts."
For me, the bundt (which I now say as boondt, and will forever do so, as did the mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is the quintessential baked good, the one thing I feel I should be able to do effortlessly, as in, "oh I just whipped up this vanilla bundt with blueberry glaze, would you like a slice?", but I can't.
The reality is that I am a terrible baker. I'm a decent cook and pretty good at pulling out what I find in the refrigerator, mixing it up with pasta and calling it dinner, but I cannot ever prepare the next course, not if it involves heat, leavening agents and measuring spoons.
"Mom, can we have dessert?"
"Not tonight, you already had something sweet today."
"Didn't you have grapes in your lunchbox?"
Early on I lived with the delusion that if I served sweets casually, not as treats, my darlings would grow up similarly to French children who taste wine at a young age; that is to say that sweets would not be a big deal. The problem was that my sweets were not at all sweet, on the rare occasion that I actually baked something. So this theory was soon scrapped en lieu of don't give them sweets and they will not develop a taste for them and their precious teeth will not rot and fall out of their small mouths. That has not worked too well either. It turns out that children really liked baked goods, almost all of them.
We did not eat dessert when I was young. Occasionally Dad would take us for ice cream but my mother has never, not once in her life, baked anything that remotely resembled dessert. When all the other kids brought homemade cupcakes to school on their birthday, I brought Tootsy Rolls. I once took a bag of Milanos as my contribution to a school bake sale (they sold). When it was my turn to bring treats to the Girl Scout meeting, and I begged for something homemade, my mom whipped up graham crackers with pieces of a Hershey bar stuck in the middle (her specialty was graham crackers with applesauce in the middle but that didn't travel well). Things don't change. About every third time I talk to my mother on the phone she says, "I'm really on to this fabulous new dessert idea, you've got to try it! It's just a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a few splashes of Scotch on top, and then finished off with freshly ground pepper. Do you need to write that down Allyson?". Even I've got that one Mom. This is the same woman who routinely suggests that I serve buttermilk mixed with jarred salsa to my children, "honestly, the best soup I have ever had, serve it in mugs!".
The new summer catalog arrives; I leave it on the kitchen island, open to the cake pop pans.
"You don't bake. What would you do with these?"
"Think about summer, think about how cute those would be decorated with the little flags!"
"Who will do that?"
"You don't bake, you would make weaponry with these."
"How about a new cookbook?"
First image, courtesy of Molly's Cupcakes, the wonderful place that saves me when baking is required. The second, from my favorite Sur La Table.