I’m here-ish. Long-short: house/pet sitting in undisclosed, private location. Lots of light, lots of solitude, lots of quiet; three things I all too rarely have. Add to those three, a triumvirate of dogs loving me. I have been in need of just such
ternions threesomes repair. Too, without revealing too much — which is unlike me, I know — a dear one got me a written invitation from one of my dream agents to send my novel. Now, I am 99% certain that invite was a nicety, but, I am going to send it. I had LIBERTYTOWN hard-copy-printed yesterday to the tune of $70 so I could tweak and cut and shape it ONE MORE TIME in an effort to make certain the story is told in as clean, as interesting, as truthful a voice as I can achieve on my own in this, my 675-double-spaced-page Bildungsroman. I understand that any decent agent and editor would also have suggestions and ideas — which I would welcome, but I’m hoping — not to be all Kander & Ebb about it — that maybe this time . . . . But, I wouldn’t want you to forget me between now and the day my dream agent signs me (in the Algonquin Lobby, I hope) and hooks me up with my dream editor (I have two of those, at least), so here is a blog entry on which I’ve been working. Not perfect — I work without a net or an editor — but, it’s one of the things about which I am thinking; as the cool-kids say: My feels.
SURRENDER TO THE MIX
If you are a follower, you know my rehabilitation from ostensible disownment by my family resulted in my having become designated birthday cake baker.
Sounds odd, but makes sense in ways far too complicated for a blog entry which – I am repeatedly told – no one reads past the first 300 words, so, here’s the elevator pitch version:
My disowning was tornado-like, unexpected and destructive, permanently altering the landscape, tearing off many a roof and bringing down many a wall, and we can never again live in the neighborhood we so long inhabited, it doesn’t exist (if it ever did) and some of us have gone missing, and while we might re-build, no one is fooled that it will ever again be the home it was. So, rather than pretend we are who we were or we didn’t do what we did (and didn’t) I bake elaborate cakes. The rest of the family eats them. None of us apologize or admit fault. I don’t think I will ever understand why they did what they did or how they could have done it, said it, whatever, and I have tried — really, really tried — and I am sure they feel the same way about their version of the events. None of which matters when what is left is this: Everything is blown away. Now, we survived to live in this tent-town, temporary shelter of “we’re all we’ve got” and it is as close as we get to healing.
There are worse ways to heal than a piece of cake. My most recent creation was modeled on a Take 5 Candy Bar (about which I wrote here) as requested by my niece, K, in a compromise meant to save me from yet another failed Red Velvet Cake. I have now attempted thirty-plus variations in pursuit of offering up on birthday altars the elusive perfect Red Velvet Cake of our childhood. (I was going to say 37, very specific that, but I am not entirely sure that number is real and the whole Brian Williams thing makes me nervous about in any way fudging story details. What? Didn’t you know? This blog is indeed a journalistic recounting of my life which is, isn’t it, all the news you want to hear?) I have tried — really, really tried — and none of them have come close to the Red Velvet Cakes we all remember.
I’ve tried recipes from the New York Times, antique cookbooks found in used book stores and at estate-sales, old family recipes gathered from other old families, the so-called “secret” recipe of legendary, local waitress and expert baker of Red Velvet Cake, Miss Betty, who, I am here to tell you, is the Mata Hari of baking. She first gave me her recipe and I tried it. Fail. Then her recipe was given to me by one of her relatives and it was NOT THE SAME as the one she’d given me. Fail. Then, a friend “appropriated” (it’s an ugly story) the supposed, top-secret “real version” which was handwritten with measurements crossed out and adjusted, brand names of flour and butter indicated, all making it seem to be the holy grail. A grail different from the first two versions. I tried it. FAIL AGAIN. I suspect Miss Betty has foisted multiple fake recipes on the world so as to protect her secret, which, I also suspect, exists nowhere but in her delightful head.
So, my niece, K, who loves Red Velvet Cakes but loves me even more, said she didn’t want to put me through it this year. Thus, the three-day Take5 cake. Which was a huge hit.
Fast forward. A few days ago. Dear nephew, C, bro of K, tells me that while they were visiting another relative with whom they regularly spend time, said relative made K a Red Velvet Cake for her birthday. I said, in that inappropriate but loveable way that has earned me the sobriquet “Uncle Potty Mouth”, “WHAT THE FUCK?”
C explained that not only was the cake delicious, it was — and I quote; “Not all dry like yours.” But, that wasn’t enough. C continued, “And he made it from a mix. It didn’t take three days like you. Just an hour. Icing too. From a can. Maybe you should just . . . you know . . . use a mix?”
Hmmm. From the mouth of a wildly-pubescent-hormonal, smelly-footed, unbearably unkind and yet at the same time ridiculously loving teen-boy nephew comes great wisdom. I mean, K loved the mix cake. So, while I know myself well enough to understand that I would not be able to resist some doctoring of it, like I do; substituting buttermilk for water, using an extra egg, adding some espresso powder and perhaps a little Dutch Cocoa to get it closer to the memory-Red Velvet, little adjustments, maybe, instead of the back to the drawing board, from scratch, new recipe every time, I could just, you know, STOP trying to understand the chemistry and alchemy and mystery of all my Red Velvet Cake failures, because I have tried — really, really tried — and accept defeat, let it go.
Maybe, just maybe, Red Velvet Cake is as great a mystery as why and how I was disowned and thrown under a bus (by family, by friends), and why I have never been in love with someone in love with me, and why I’ve yet to find an agent for my novel, and why I am so easily dismissed, and/or any of the other myriad things I cannot, do not, have not understood no matter how hard I have tried — really, really tried — and maybe, just maybe, the key to going on is for me, at long last, to sometimes, some days, in some things, just surrender to the mix?