Monday, March 14, 2011

Missionary baking

Recently we had some missionaries from a Muslim country talk to our Sunday School class and when asked how they went about building relationships with their neighbors, the woman answered, "I've found that baking and delivering treats is a wonderful way to get to know them. So, I bake a lot."

For one brief touchy feely moment I pictured a future beatific baked-goods-loving Eva Rose, sparkles glinting off her smile and her halo as she explained her secret to winning so many converts to Christ: "I'm ever so thankful that my ma-ma taught me to bake. My baking has done so much to advance the Kingdom of Heaven."

I vowed, again, to team with my daughter to bake every cookie recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook.

Which was simply one more sign of many that I am still in denial that I can't bake.

At all.

As in, epic failures have ensued.

Such as last week.

All my children are involved in a very schizophrenic affair with bananas, which means we are either completely out of them or have a bunch of rejected brown speckly ones on my counter. When I get tired of my husband asking if he can throw them out yet, I make banana bread, the one baking project I have mastered. Occasionally, I'll go a little crazy and make banana muffins.

Well, last week I decided to go REALLY crazy.
Like, wantin to spread the gospel to some Muslims crazy.

Down came Betty, and she promised me that a layered banana cake with cream cheese frosting would be heavenly. And easy! As two excited daughters and one messy son helped me measure and stir I hummed some Maria Von Trapp ...besides which you see I have confidence in me!

Two hours later, I asked myself, you attempted a layer cake? Seriously, Maria??

How do you solve a problem like Mariiia....

I have a long history of being bakingly challenged. Around middle school I began to branch out from chocolate chip cookies and my mother gave me full range in the kitchen. I'd pore over her cookbooks, choose a recipe, and commence to developing a delicacy that should turn out just like the picture.

The first disaster I recall my brother 'lovingly' titled Toothpaste Pie.  As I labored over a lemon merangue pie, I spied some lemon extract on the spice shelf, and thought a couple of drops would surely enhance the flavor. Problem was there was a bottle of peppermint extract right next to it that looked almost just like it. Mm. Fresh and minty.

Once at my grandma's, I learned that if you confuse cornmeal and flour, what would have been a beautiful poundcake will come out with a nice golden crust. A crusty, inedible, crusty crust.

And then there was the time I was twelve and tried to make chocolate mousse, a fancy schmancy dessert I'd heard about on TV. The fact that it isn't actually baked didn't stop me from ruining it. How was I supposed to know that when a recipe called for coffee, it meant brewed coffee? I remember my mom smiling at me pathetically as she tried to eat from the chilled champagne glass I had so proudly set before her. "It's good, honey," she said, as she picked the grounds from her teeth.

I gave up, and by high school had determined that cooking was my skill, since the directions didn't have to be followed so precisely and there was room for innovation (ie: I am not a rule follower.)

And then I had kids.

And denial reared her clueless head again.

Last summer I went through a "We go through a loaf of bread a day and surely I can make it for less money and it will be healthier made from scratch and taste so much better and I will be so freaking Proverbs 31 I won't be able to stand myself" period. Two bread makers, many confused hours, a small fortune spent on various glutens and flours, and a peculiarly obsessed toddler

and my homemade healthy bread still usually looked like this

or, if I got really lucky, like this.

It was immediately following the above raisin bread that I chunked my bread maker and my Betty dreams in the trash.

Problem is, my kids keep having birthdays, and they keep asking for cakes. For their parties, I don't even bother going homemade. I mean, please. But in December, Mags turned 5, and when I asked her what she wanted for breakfast on her birthday, she said, "Cake!" Strawberry cake, to be precise. With sprinkles, to be preciser.

Of course, Betty makes a strawberry cake mix. It looks just delightful on the box that Eva Rose put in our shopping cart. Then she chose pink and purple frosting for writing her little sister's name. After four year old Maggie went to bed on December 13, I baked the cake she would eat the next morning when she was five. The cake from a mix. That any idiot could make. From a mix. Betty's mix.

When I took it out of the oven and dumped it on the roasting pan for that extra fancy roasting pan effect, I noticed that it looked...flat. As in not fluffy. As in, only about half as tall as it should have been. Seriously, Maria? What kind of idiot messes up a cake mix?? 

Whatever, I'm sure it tastes just as good, I mumbled as I frosted it and then began to write Happy Birthday Maggie. Then I remembered what I always forget to remember: the icing tubes need tips. And squeezing the icing out of them without tips takes supermomhero strength. And tends to look, well, just flat out pathetic. By the time I got to Maggie my hand was aching so bad I could barely get the icing out. Whatever, I'm sure it tastes just as good, I mumbled, and laughed a little maniacally at what was surely the ugliest birthday cake a mom ever made.

Sweet girl did think it tasted good.

Last week, my sister-in-failure Melissa blogged about her sad attempt at making an ice cream cake for her daughter's birthday. I emailed her, "I win." and attached a closeup picture of poor Maggie's cake.

Melissa answered, "Only because you managed to make yours look like a crime scene."

The blood splatter analysis revealed very clearly: Maria can't bake.


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