I never wanted to be mainstream, ordinary and normal. Unfortunately, my cooking skills don’t reflect this desire to stand-out. Cooking. Grilling. Baking. All are feats that I have marginal ability in performing.
Nevertheless, on a 4th of July many years ago, I decided to do what every all-American mother does for her son’s birthday: bake him a cake from scratch.
When I told Max, whose birthday was the following day, that I was baking him a cake without help from Betty, he looked at me with a stunned expression. “Gee, Mom, I thought you only did mixes.”
I hit the book shelves in the living room in search of my seldom used cookbook section (that’s why it’s in the living room and not the kitchen) and quickly found the one I was looking for – a reproduction of Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook. I settled on the “three layer gold cake” illustrated on the cover.
For the next two hours, I measured, sifted, stirred, mixed, folded and beat well. Sighing with relief, I slid the three cake pans into my gas oven and sat down to greedily lick any surface that had any batter left on it – spoons, bowls, beaters and spatulas. I restrained myself from licking the counters in case someone unexpectedly walked in.
The timer buzzed. I carefully removed the cake pans from the oven, cooled them for ten minutes and then “expertly” flipped the cakes to cooling racks. I let them cool for an additional thirty minutes.
I started on the recipe for “creamy rich vanilla butter icing” that I found in the Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook too. I made twice the amount recommended to ice a two-layer cake, figuring if the kids weren’t home by the time I was finished icing, I’d polish off the remains of that too.
When the timer went off, with painstaking precision, I began icing the first layer of my cake. By the time I placed the third layer on top of the other two, I knew I was in serious trouble. The top layer refused to stay put on the second layer – the second layer refused to stay put on the first layer. And the top layers were hopelessly out of line with the bottom layer and with each other.
I looked around frantically. Surely I must have something in the kitchen that I could stick through the middle of the cake to serve as an anchor.
Coffee Stirrers! Ah – but I had none.
Pencils! Ah – but I’d give my family lead poisoning.
A thick holiday candle! Ah – but it would destroy the cake’s insides.
And then I spied my glass canister filled with very thin and very long angel hair pasta. Quickly I counted out six strands, measured them to match the height of the cake, broke off the excess pasta, took a deep breath and plunged the entire bunch right through the middle of my freshly-baked masterpiece.
It seemed to do the trick. It seemed to stop the slipping and sliding. So what if a few strands of angel hair pasta poked through?
My cake was lopsided and flawed, but authentic and original. It was created with loving care and held together with “a lick and a promise.” Kinda like me. And kinda like Max.