A few Octobers ago, I signed up to bring two treats to the annual Halloween bake sale at school instead of one. My ambition was fueled by irrational optimism (three weeks from now will somehow be the first stretch in history that is calm and orderly) and guilt. (Usually I volunteer to bring something and to work behind the table, but the soccer schedule was not going to let that happen.) Of course, in the days leading up to the bake sale, I hadn’t given too much thought to what I was going to make, nor to where I was going to find the time to make two separate items. I knew I had ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, but what about the other item? I happened to be walking by a bakery at the time of my head-scratching, and five minutes, six dollars, and a dozen cupcakes later, I had my solution all boxed up and tied with baker’s twine.
Andy was incredulous when I got home. “You bought something for the bake sale?” he asked, not because he was some kind of from-scratch baked good Nazi, but because he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t have just bought both of my items and called it a day. Or why I didn’t just skip the storebought and only make one item. Who would care?
It was an excellent question and the answer is, of course, no one. No one would care. Or notice. And yet, in the complicated calculus of being me, I had to prove that I could come through on at least half of my vision of myself as the mother who had it all together.
I was thinking about the concept of Self-worth and Baked Goods again recently because Phoebe just turned 11, and requested a remarkably simple party. She wanted to celebrate the way her cousin just had for her 11th: By eating at one of those fun new wholesome burger shacks popping up on every corner, then watching The Princess Bride at home on the DVD player. No Balloons. No Pass the Parcel. No Theme. No Craft Project. No Decorations. In other words. No Stress. And I couldn’t handle it. The only role I could see myself playing in this (besides swiping a credit card) was baking the birthday cake.
“Oh, and Mom. I don’t want a cake this year. I want Ice Cream Sundaes.”
Thank God for my 9-year-old.
We went shopping for Sundae fixings on the day of the party — into the cart went the M&Ms, sprinkles, peanuts, maraschino cherries, strawberries. In a last grasp of desperation I asked Phoebe if maybe she needed me to make brownies so we could have Brownie Sundaes. She agreed (Praise Be!) and Andy reached for the Ghirardelli box mix.
“No!” I stopped him “I’ll make them from scratch.”
He looked in the cart, a veritable mountain of junk made from un-pronouncible ingredients, and then at his watch. What exactly was I trying to prove…and to whom?
I let him buy the mix.
“But I’m making homemade hot fudge and fresh whipped cream when we get home,” I blurted out. “And there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
Each attendee got a brownie to serve as the base of their Sundae. The icing message was my attempt to convince myself they were homemade.
Hot Fudge Sauce from Smitten Kitchen. This recipe is kind of specific and it’s actually a miracle I didn’t screw it up. I gave the leftover fudge to my chocolate-loving niece in a mini Weck jar. It occurred to me later that these would’ve made great party favors.
One of these days I’m going to tell you about Aunt Patty and the way she whips cream. But for this occasion, I poured one of those 8-ounce containers of whipping cream into a metal bowl with a drop or two of vanilla extract and a sprinkle of powdered sugar, then flipped the hand mixer to its highest speed until stiff peaks formed.
P.S. Keeping in mind that this whole enterprise is not supposed to be about me, I’d like to add that the birthday girl declared the party her best one ever.