By Joan Geary
I have a friend, Jim, who speaks often of his father and what a sweet man and attentive parent he has always been, although presently they live on opposite coasts.
One day, shortly before the holidays, he mentioned that his dad loved carrot cake. I said I'd bake it if Jim would ship it. If that was all it would take to make him happy, why not? Seemed pretty easy, right?
In the spirit of the season, I spent a couple of hours baking the cake. The task was pretty difficult here as the oven in my apartment has a mind of it's own. The thermostat is temperamental, and 300 degrees on the dial is probably closer to 500 degrees most of the time - except for the times when it's right on target. So you never know when you're putting something in the oven at what temperature you should set the dial. Keeps the dinner hour challenging on a daily basis! Eventually, after all the chopping, and mixing and sifting, etc., the baking actually turned out fine. It is, after all, the season of miracles.
Except that the phone kept ringing, which was irritating, and I kept answering it, which was even more annoying. Finally though, the cake was cooled, and I put it on a cardboard circle to ice it. I had it balanced on one palm of my hand - the way a cocktail waitress would do with her tray- and the phone rang again. SO I turned, forgetting (I guess) that the cake was in my hand, and actually threw it - smash - onto the floor.
It took at least 20-30 minutes to clean up, and by that time it was too late to start over as Jim was leaving on a business trip, and he was the one doing the shipping.
SO - a week later, I began again. I went to the store, bought carrots, nuts, etc, etc., put the Christmas carols into the CD player, tra-la-la-la-la, and baked another cake. This time it came out close to absolute perfection.
Jim arrived, and I asked him to cut a cardboard circle to fit the plastic cake holder I was going to put it in. As I was putting the cream cheese icing on the cake, it seemed to be melting which had never happened before, but which made it REALLY hard to work with. The cake looked a mess, more like a ghoulish Halloween creation than a holiday gift.
I stuck it in the refrigerator, deciding to finish it later especially since by that time I'd had 3 glasses of wine to enhance the baking process, and was trying to create the cake and make and serve dinner at the same time. I'm not very good at multi-task management.
About 10pm that night, I discovered that the table was directly over the heating vent, which seemed to have caused the icing problem. SO - I ran to the convenience store, bought still more cream cheese and sugar (3rd time now), returned home, took all the icing off the cake, made more, and re-frosted the stupid thing.
I estimated that I'd spent around $80 and 15 man-hours to make one simple cake. BUT it actually appeared to look like a cake - ready to appear on the holiday issue cover of Martha Stewart's Living.
So I put it away and went to bed.
In the morning I went to stick it in the plastic cake carrier to give it to Jim, and the top of the plastic holder wouldn't snap in. It finally occurred to me that the bottom of the container where I'd placed the cake to store was upside down. I reasoned "no big deal", and took a large spatula to lift the cake, making a large crack in it. I stuck the cake aside, cleaned the plastic holder, made more icing to fix the crack, but couldn't repair it the way I wanted.
So I said to myself, who cares? His father can get 1/2 of a cake. I cut the cake, discarded the cracked half, and put the other half in the cake carrier with some artificial flowers, and Jim and I took it to the shipping place, about a 14-mile drive.
I assumed there'd be nobody in the store - but there were several people, most of them stressed, all of them slow, ahead of us. Finally, it was our turn, and Jim explained to the man that our shipment was a cake, and that we needed it well padded in the box, with lots of arrows drawn on the outside of the package so it would be handled upright.
The man stared at us, and quite honestly replied, "That's not going to happen at this time of year - its going by conveyor belt."
Jim still wanted to ship it, so he paid the man, and off we went. By the time he backed the car out of the parking space, I realized that the receipt indicated that it was designated for UPS ground - 8 days travelling time.
Back into the place we went - back in line - this time somewhat shorter. Jim asked the man to ship it so it could get there in 2 days - paid even more money, and off we went.
All in all, it cost my friend over $50 to ship what was going to arrive in worse condition than the first cake which ended up on the floor.
The most expensive and time-consuming cake ever created was on its way to the West Coast, and doomed to disaster from the start. Reminiscent of booking passage on the Titanic when it already was in the process of sinking!
So, should you see my friend's father, and he has no idea what it was that he received, tell him it was a gourmet crumb cake or trifle, and if he indicates that he likes fudge, cookies, brownies or ANYTHING that can go into a tin, please let me know.
Meanwhile, I hope that your holidays are happy and stress-free, and your family has a wonderful New Year. And may those of us with few domestic skills find peace on earth by not attempting to emulate Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart, even in our most ambitious moments.
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