I once ate 13 sticky buns at an Easter brunch. I was young and possessed the kind of metabolism that didn’t flinch at a deluge of Karo syrup. I can’t explain why I ate that many; I just recall that Mrs. Benson, who had hosted the brunch, kept pushing glaze-coated nuggets off a hot tray, sending them tumbling on to a platter that my tongue was resting upon. If I were to replicate the abandon with which I ate those sticky buns today, I’d have 13 new cellulite pockets cropping up on my ass faster than Chipotle rolls out franchises. But then, I ate without worry and vowed to become the sort of woman who confidently bakes fine holiday pastries.
Then I lost the recipe that Mrs. Benson had scrawled upon a piece of paper in the flowery cursive that young girls always admire. My will to spend any time in the kitchen followed.
When Dom, my first child, was born a couple of weeks before Easter, I actually lay awake one night, pondering just how bleak his childhood would be with a mom whose baking prowess self-actualized at Pop Tarts. I resolved, now that I was a mother, to change my reputation in the kitchen. It was my responsibility to love this child, protect this child, and make things that smell good for this child. I should own measuring cups. I should know what nutmeg is. I should use a glass pan for a purpose other than to hold icy water baths to minimize my pores. Starting then, I would trade phrases normally uttered in my kitchen, like “I can’t find the goddamn Thai menu”, for family-friendly ones, like “Just another pinch of cinnamon!”
And I would effect my transformation in time for the Easter brunch we were invited to over the weekend.
Since my mother was still in town for the birth of the baby, I was able to escape to the grocery store to buy the items – that bakers refer to as ingredients - essential for cupcakes. I shuffled down each aisle, haphazardly acquiring bottles of familiar fixings, and made countless calls to the house to ensure my two week old child had not withered into a dessicated mass since I’d dared to take my boobs out on an errand. By the time I’d finished at the market, not only was Dom overdue for a feeding, I could have completed a bucket list. Unless, of course, baking 3 dozen cupcakes had been on the list.
As I set about assembling my ingredients, my mother, brother, and G looked on in disbelief, each sure that I should be placed before a postpartum tribunal with Tom Cruise serving as magistrate. I followed a cupcake recipe devised by the proprietor of the venerated Magnolia Bakery in New York City. I’d been given the book by a friend after she witnessed the sums of money, typical of the dowry of an Indian bride, that I routinely handed over to that bakery in exchange for a mound of saturated fat and buttercream. To an experienced cook, the task was a simple one using the most elemental items from a baker’s cabinet: flour, sugar, egg, and enough butter to sculpt a Kirstie Alley figure. For me, however, the process took hours.
I struggled to whip frothy crests of buttercream while watching the cake rise and brown inside the oven. My mom, holding an infant in one arm, lifted a knife with her free hand to frost a bare cake. “No!” I screeched, “They must cool for an hour!” She lowered the knife slowly as I explained through clenched teeth, “It’s only been 47 minutes since those came out of the oven.” I sighed heavily as if to say it’s hard enough to make festive cakes of a uniform appearance without being surrounded by court jesters, all trying to frost a not yet room temperature cake.
In the midst of spooning dollops of pink-hued cream to each cake, my brother, Shaun, and G traipsed through the kitchen to inform my mother and me that they were headed out to drink beer and shoot pool. The alchemy of hops and billiards had never resulted in any good around my house as far as my husband and my brother were concerned. My mind was flooded with memories of them stumbling into the apartment at 4am, finally spewed from a closing bar, turning lights on as they rummaged noisily for leftovers, all with no regard for the person who had been sleeping deeply until their arrival. Vexed, I stared hard at my cupcakes which represented hours of toil and – at that moment – all of my self worth. My concern for their preservation bubbled over as I heard the front door open. I rushed after them with a wooden mixing spoon in hand, hollering frenzied pleas to keep their hands off my cupcakes. They each shot me a dismissive glance and continued out the door.
“Hey!” I hissed as they turned to face me. “You idiots had better not stumble through these doors at three in the morning, famished and looking for something to eat. Get a slice or get a hotdog, but don’t even think about touching one of those cupcakes in there.”
They raised their hands the way guilty people do when they’re trying to plead innocence, and they set off, each grateful to have escaped the pastry shop from Hell and its demonic baker.
“And don’t wake up the baby, or I will kill you both, God dammit!” I called after them.
That was the last I heard from them until I awoke the following morning.
I padded down the hallway in bare feet to investigate the crime scene that was bound to be my living room. Each was exactly as I predicted, sprawled across a sofa, fully dressed in his clothing and cradling a Playstation controller while scenes from a video game long neglected slid and jerked across the television screen. I proceeded to the kitchen to start the coffee pot when I noticed something amiss in my periphery. I spun in the direction where my cupcakes had been left, packed tightly atop cooling racks on the counter.
All that remained were a couple of partially eaten cakes and a mess of crumbs resting on the Corian countertop
A scream so guttural and unbecoming erupted from my core. I rushed into the room and pounced upon G, like a lion driven wild by hunger does to a gazelle. I grabbed his shirt collar and stared into his now alert eyes.
“Where are they?” I bellowed. “You two didn’t eat 33 cupcakes, no matter how drunk you were! I know you’re playing a joke, but I don’t find it funny!”
Shaun, awakened by the outburst, attempted to sustain the gag by offering a sheepish apology and confessing a lapse in good judgment and all human decency as the explanation for the missing cupcakes. My mother rushed into the room, sure that someone had been scalded by hot coffee or beaten to death by a homicidal cereal spoon, and was straining to piece together the cause of the uproar. Gathering that the boys had perpetrated a prank, she calmly interjected with a maternal lilt, “Guys, it’s not funny anymore. Erin spent hours making those cupcakes. Please go get them and bring them to the kitchen.”
She pried my hands from around G’s jugular and guided my body, tense with adrenaline and too many night-time nursing sessions, back to the kitchen. She eased me into a chair and patted my hair reassuringly as we waited for the boys to materialize my baked goods. Shaun returned first, his face ashen. He stammered inaudibly. We stared at him, struggling to decipher the babble, when G wobbled into the room with two sheet trays that were completely empty.
As the neurons fired in my brain, context clues jumping synapses, desperately trying to correlate the cause and effect of this scenario, the only words that could escape my lips were, “What the hell is that?”
G jumped to answer first, “We thought it’d be funny to hide your cupcakes to appear like we ate them, but…”
Shaun interrupted loudly, “I told him to hide them in the oven!”
My brain had still not ordered the sequence of events, which must have been evidenced by the confusion on my face and the methodical swiveling of my head. G looked down at the trays he’d placed in front of me and explained with a contrite voice, “We moved the cupcakes as a joke so you’d think they were eaten. But we moved them to the floor in the playroom.” I waited breathlessly for the final shoe to drop.
“The dog ate them.”
My recollection of the subsequent moments is foggy because my mother had to apply cardiac shock paddles to my chest, but hazy images of Mrs. Benson and her perfect sticky buns danced across my consciousness. I had failed her pastry-making legacy on the very holiday that she had inspired me many years before. On this holiest of days, the anniversary of the day Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected, one thing was certain…
My cupcakes would not rise again.