Thursday, July 17, 2014

Still, I Thrive

For our first married Valentine's Day, I wanted to do something special for Glenn but wasn't sure what. After exploring a lot of ideas, I came across a recipe in the food section of the Sun-Sentinel for chocolate bags, which involved melting chocolate, painting the inside of small bags with the melted chocolate, peeling away the small bag, and then, voila! having a bag made entirely of chocolate, which was then to be stuffed with homemade chocolate mousse for which there was a recipe, too. It definitely didn't seem easy to me, but it wasn't like the recipe was in a gourmet cookbook or something; it was right there in the newspaper, designed for the masses. If the masses could do it, I thought, then surely I could, too.

I'm sure you don't have to read what I'm about to write next to know what happened: the bags were a bust. I won't go into the dreadful details, but--oh, what the hell? Let's detail it up.

I had worked an entire shift at The Cheesecake Factory, and on my way home, my then best friend, Erin, and I bought the ingredients for the bags and then stopped at my mom's house so I could make the bags and then bring them home to Glenn as a surprise.

I melted the chocolate, got the bags that needed to be "painted," did the painting, made the mousse while waiting for the bags to solidify in the fridge, and then set to work peeling off the paper bag so I'd have nothing left but the solid chocolate bag underneath. And then everything went wrong.

No matter how many bags I tried to paint and peel, no matter how thick I tried to make the chocolate, I just couldn't get anything substantial enough to hold together on its own. Every time I tried to peel the paper bag off the chocolate, the chocolate either came with it or was so thin that by the time I got to a lower part of the bag, it'd crumble--if you could even call it a crumble. In truth, there may not have even been enough chocolate that wasn't attached to the bag for it to qualify as a crumble.

Being three months pregnant and exhausted from having worked a hectic Valentine's Day shift at Cheesecake, I have to tell you that those failed bags seemed like nothing less than total catastrophe. I tried coming up with some other way, some creative way to present the chocolate mousse, but since everything else seemed stupid, I threw it in the garbage can. And then I sat on my mom's couch and cried.

As I sat there on the couch watching Erin and my mother eat the mousse out of the garbage can, all I could think about was how it was my first married Valentine's Day with Glenn, I was pregnant with his baby, and I wasn't going to have anything to give him. It was supposed to be special, but because of my inability to recognize what I can and can't do, I completely messed it up.

Well. Fast forward fifteen years and four months to yesterday, Griffin's fifteenth birthday. You'll be completely unsurprised to find that I still haven't learned my lesson. Every year, he or Kei, whose birthday is five days before Griffin's, asks for some impossible cake, and every year, like a damn fool, I agree to do it. Dragonballs, Legos, Darth Maul's lightsaber, Blink-182 album art. They ask, I do (or to be more exact, we do. Glenn usually gives me more help than not).

This year, though, Griffin made a request that takes the cake. This year, he asked for a Rubik's cube cake. A Rubik's cube cake! Like I'm frickin' Cake Boss or Iron Chef or some other reality TV person that I don't watch because until I got rid of my cable, I didn't even know how to turn on my TV. I told him there was no way I could make him a Rubik's cube cake, that I'm not a cake decorator, and it was absolutely out of the question.

But what the fuck do you think I did?

As adamant as I was about not making that cake, and I was adamant, let me tell you, I started letting these thoughts slip into my head. Okay, so you don't want to make the cake, I told myself. You can at least check them out. Just look them up on the Internet, I thought. It's not like you have to actually do anything.


I googled Rubik's cube cake, and of course, because it's the stupid Internet, a million things came up. Images, recipes, tutorials. I clicked on a few pictures, opened a few links, read a few step-by-steps, and then clicked out. Me, attempt to make a Rubik's cube cake? Out of the question. Completely.


Monday night, there I was, literally up to my forearms in my first ever attempt at marshmallow fondant (which if not the stickiest substance known to man, has to be a close second. I seriously think I could attach things to the wall with that stuff. Like a refrigerator). The tutorial warned me it would be sticky and to liberally grease myself and the counter up with Crisco, which I did, but I must have done something wrong because my hands were like blocks of cement. If Glenn didn't use a spatula to scrape the fondant from the tops and bottoms of my hands and destroy the webbing it created between my fingers, I'd probably be dead by now.

The next day, Tuesday, because attempting a first try at making fondant and a perfectly cubed cake wasn't enough, I set out to make all-natural food coloring. Poison my children with traditional food coloring? Not me. Hours later, a bowl of cherry juice sitting on the counter top and a white square of cherry-juice-resistant fondant floating inside of it, I didn't give two fucks who I poisoned. Sometimes you just have to choose your battles, you know?

Additionally, while I'm asking you what you know, did you know you have to color the fondant before you roll it out repeatedly, whip out the Boys-Town, he-ain't-heavy, he's-my-brother ruler, and make the 45 evenly-sized squares? I wish I had. I do now. Also, did you know it's best to make the cake before cutting the squares so you have some inkling, any inkling at all, how big you need those squares to be to cover the cake appropriately? I sure wish I had. But I do now.

All that fondant? All those squares? The ones I spent hours rolling and measuring and cutting and perfecting? Lumped back together into a pile, broken apart into separate piles, and poisoned in red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Left in the fridge overnight.

The next day, Wednesday--Griffin's birthday. Noon. I pull the fondant out of the fridge, drop the blue blob on the counter, roll it out, ready to make nine perfectly shaped squares, only to find that the liquid from the poisonous food coloring made it so soft, it was now more like gum than anything on this earth other than gum. Forming squares was impossible.

I know this is an incredibly long story, so let me just skim over the next seven hours of crying, frustration, hating and damning Griffin for his impossible request, and hysterical laughter when my all white Rubik's cube cake ended up looking like, according to Keifer, a spaceship with paneled walls, and according to an old student, a couch.

You know what? Just for fun, let's take a look:

Yes, readers. The above photo is, in fact, the Rubik's cube cake I spent three days and over ten hours working on.

I'll now skip to the part where a friend on Facebook suggested I arrange M&M's in colored squares, so I went to the store, bought two bags (along with a bottle of wine that, by that point, I felt like chugging right there in the parking lot at Walgreens), ripped off the fondant siding, and with a little (read: a lot) help from Glenn, completely redesigned the cake with an hour to spare before Griffin got home with his friends.

Just because I need to save a little face, let's now look at the redesign:

Not perfect, sure, but did you see the first version?


The point of this extra-large blog is not to pat myself on the back for a job well done. It's to reflect on my inability to realize the limitation of my capabilities and consistent attempt to do more than I'm able. I used the story of the chocolate bags and the story of Griffin's cake to illustrate, but this is a consistent theme with me. From major things like teaching a full load of AP Language and Composition classes along with two honors English classes during the day while also sponsoring clubs and driving an extra 80 miles twice a week to teach ENC 1101 classes for a year to getting an MFA while being a full-time high school English teacher, teaching night school, and raising two sons to minor things like thinking sanding and painting my dining room table and chairs when I hadn't sanded anything since seventh-grade shop class or taking my kitchen completely apart, cabinets and drawers and all, and painting it on my own will be a snap, I often find myself completely immersed in something that's impossibly hard for me to do. Sometimes it works out--like yesterday, with Griffin's cake--but sometimes, like with the chocolate bags, it turns into an absolute disaster. But the common thing, whether everything works out in the end or not, is that while I'm in the midst of the situation, whatever it might be, I feel like the Hellmouth is about to open and the world is about to end. I feel like I can't breathe, and like I can't do it, and I'm frazzled, and I'm frustrated, and I want to cry--and sometimes I do. But no matter how much I can't breathe, how much I can or can't do, how frazzled and frustrated I am, and how much I cry, it all eventually ends.

But I don't.

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