a piece of cake

I didn’t bake a thing yesterday. But I made a cake just the same. I took the raw materials of sheet cake and stark white frosting. Mixed tentative drops of food coloring and declared the end result just the hue I was thinking of. I sketched with intent and sliced deliberately, carefully. I stacked cake and considered pastry bag tips and how I could pipe and get what I was looking for. What I was thinking of. A thin slice or two for a cover, a column for a spine, thin piping to show the creases and a careful, slow serrated tip to trace the lines of pages along the side. And a bookmark for good measure. I walked the line between art and craft and ended up further along than I thought I would.

And walking down Guerrero with a small cake shaped like a book, I had no idea what to do. Even if it did taste good, I had fussed over it too much for it to be appealing. What I constructed, what I put together wasn’t for taste at all. Flavor had nothing to do with it. I tried to give it away on Valencia to a tattered man carrying a garbage bag. “Do you want this cake?” “No, but thank you.” I couldn’t leave it there, on top of a trash can. No one would know what the hell it is. Sculpture? Play-Doh? It has to be introduced. This is cake. It’s in my fridge, waiting for enough time to pass until I can throw it away with lessened guilt.

It’s a start. I might make a cake again. Maybe craft a mustache cake for my dad’s 75th birthday next February. Or make a bacon cake for my brother. Maybe.


kitchen evolution

I haven’t been cooking a lot lately. I have a fridge full of thrilling produce: chedder cauliflower, romanesco, rainbow chard, Japanese sweet potatoes. And I want little to do with it. Last week, after a particularly grueling commute home, I could only find the energy to make a call to Giorgio’s for a mini Hawaiian pizza and then hurriedly steam some broccoli and pour a glass of wine before I sat down. When I finally settled in front of the tv, I made it through most of the broccoli only to realize that in my rush I hadn’t seen the extra protein that I’d steamed along with the broccoli. Maybe it’s the bugs that have turned me off to cooking for the minute.

And it’s probably the fact that I did a lot over Thanksgiving. Brussel Sprouts, mashed potatoes, homemade bread and butter. All this while dancing around a crowded, overburdened antique oven and counter space taken over by excessive collections of kitchen tools.

In the last couple months, I’ve been cooking in my mom’s kitchen a lot. Many of the pictures I’ve shuffled from my camera to my computer are flush with the terra cotta hues of my mom’s cabinets in the background. A lot of the pics have my brother in them as well. Our cooking styles are so different, but end up with damn good results. When I’m in my own kitchen I work quick, with precision and a touch of grace. I try and move as efficiently as possible. Even making a breakfast sandwich this morning involved something of a dance, with each movement up, down or side to side serving a purpose.

I didn’t cook in the kitchen much growing up. But if I ever wanted to, I knew everything would be in working order, stocked with anything and everything I needed. It was a kitchen that worked. Ample counter space. Kick-ass stove. An appliance for every need. The knives you pulled out of the block were carbon-still and awesome. An indoor grill. And there was a perfect time when my culinary adventures synced up with the state of the kitchen nicely. I think it was when I would visit after college. It was a great place to cook.

And now, it’s different. The house isn’t how I remember. Things don’t work like they used to. Utensil collections fight one another for counter space. Groupings of jars or pitchers or fruit bowls crowd the space so it takes a lot of shuffling and set-up and rearranging before you can even get started. The oven is as tricky as an old car you should have dumped long ago, but just can’t bear to see it go. One oven doesn’t work. The other requires a flashlight and a steady hand to gauge the temperature. Burns are common. Baking is a crapshoot.

But I still like it. It’s a good kitchen, if not for the functionality than for the memories. The meals we’ve cooked, the guests that drift there unconsciously like the last cheerios in a bowl. No matter the party, everyone ends up in the kitchen. I won’t say it’s not challenging, it is. It’s sad to see the kitchen in a slow decline. Disorganized, cluttered. It doesn’t work like it once did. But I still see it for the goodness it offers. It’s still a place where we come together, work together, cook together.

I have faith it’ll be what it once was. To get cleaned up and flying right again. It’s all there, in the drawers and the cabinets. By the food processor and the industrial stand mixer and the carbon steel knives. It’ll be the kitchen I remember. In time, it’ll come back.