Baking is something that rarely occurs at our house. Neither Jan nor I find ourselves to be particularly good at it. Cupcakes, cookies, and all that stuff we were told our mothers made for us just doesn’t happen here. I’m not sure either of us really had died in the wool bakers for mothers. We love to eat baked goods but making them, well that is a desert of a different color.
There have been a few exceptions, however. I’m one of those guys that has a hard time remembering dates. This is a dangerous place in which a husband finds himself. I guess somehow I got lucky. My wife’s birthday and our anniversary are both on the 29th of the month. Different months, mind you, but I can remember one number. The 29th. The month is another story. Jan’s birthday is at the end of June and our Anniversary happens at the end of August. Somehow the second date can escape me. Is our anniversary in August or September? I always get it right but July often finds me wondering if I’m really sure.
Not knowing if I’ve got it right can be bothersome, especially when it comes to gifts. I’ve never been very good at that either. Usually once every decade I get it right but the rest of the time I just wing it. I did manage to get Jan a dragonfly necklace one time but that’s about it. This is where baking comes in. One year I was in a panic. Jan’s birthday was upon me and I had drawn a complete blank. I was bouncing around Kroger looking for something for dinner when I came across the answer to my predicament. Betty Croker and her cake mix. Had I ever tried baking a cake? No. But I was on the verge of a panic attack so why not. What could go wrong?
The icing. At the time it seemed like an easy matter. Get a can of the stuff and spread it on as you would butter on a piece of toast. The cake came out looking pretty good and I was pleased. All that was left was to put some icing on the top of the bottom piece, lay the top piece on top of that, and spread the rest all over my construction. I already understood that icing stays in place on a cake. I had no idea just how well it sticks until I started putting the top and bottom together. I thought I was being gentle but somehow the icing stuck to the cake as it was being spread. It came up enough that a large chunk of the cake ended up on my knife. Not a problem. I’ll just fill the hole with some extra icing and be done with it. It didn‘t work.
After several of these mishaps, I ended up with something that looked more like a wedge or a starting block than a double-layered chocolate cake. Fortunately, there was enough icing left to cover this mess and by the time Jan got home, it was finished. She seemed pleased and surprised but in her heart, I knew she was laughing. It was a chocolate cake so no harm, no foul. I’ve tried it a couple of times since and I have to say my cake baking has improved. Not by much but improved nonetheless.
And now on to Jan’s baking experience. She has a bit more experience than me at such an undertaking but not by much. So when recently she told me she was baking bread my reaction was, “you are doing what.” I looked at the butcher block in the kitchen to see a large bowl full of flowers and realized she wasn’t kidding. Jan was indeed getting ready to break bread.
Her mother was staying with us for a week and feeling a bit under the weather. There was not much she could eat and bread was at the top of the list. As Jan scurried around looking for something to feed her mother, somewhere in our batch of unused recipes, was one for bread. How handy. So off she went. There was mixing, kneading, and all the other steps I had heard about but never seen. I don’t think Jan had either.
There were a couple of times I was about to ask if there was anything I could do to help. Remembering my cake fiasco, I decided to continue watching the football game on tv. Soon the house was filled with the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. How much nicer, I thought, than the smell of a package of Wonder Bread in a grocery store. An easy comparison having not been a part of the ordeal that got it into the oven in the first place.
Dinner was served and Jan’s brush with emergency baking came out much better than mine. There it sat. A beautiful and very tasty loaf of homemade bread sitting on the butcher block on which it was made. Everyone came back for seconds and said she should do it more often. To that I say, “it will take another emergency for cake, bread, or any other baked good to emerge from our oven.” While Jan and I are “foodies” there are some things that are better left to those who know how to do it.
Eat well and be happy.