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It’s ironic that I bake. My mom was not the type to have a home-baked snack on the table for us when we came home from school. She was more the health food type, going to great lengths to incorporate some wheat germ (the kale of the 1970s) into our meals whenever possible. If anything, whipping up a batch of cookies from scratch seemed a task akin to cutting crown molding (which, if you’ve never done it, is basically impossible. Seriously, check out this link and tell me if you think you could do it.) She did encourage us to be creative, however, and was never a stickler for a clean kitchen (though I know she’d disagree). Combine that with the fact that she was a single parent with a full time job, and that gave my sister and I a lot of time home alone to experiment.
Our first mixer was a hand-held one. I assume my mother got it as a wedding gift, but I’ll have to ask her. It looked a lot–though not exactly–like this:
It worked fine early on from what I remember, but in its later years, it became somewhat possessed, turning on spontaneously and without warning, always while resting in a bowl of runny batter, causing the batter to splatter all over the kitchen. In one particularly traumatizing run-in with the mixer, I was demonstrating for my sister how it tickled to gently run ones finger along the blades of a rotating beater, only to have my entire hand rotate along with it and wind up stuck between the two beaters. We had to go over to the next apartment (my mom, needless to say, was not home), with my hand still stuck in the hand mixer, so that our neighbor Joe could free my hand by bending the beaters.
While some of my friends had lifelong ambitions and knew since second grade what their career path would be, I never had any aspirations and never wanted to be anything in particular. Even the career choices most popular among my elementary school counterparts–veterinarian, pediatrician, teacher, lawyer–held no allure for me. My mom encouraged me to pursue whatever made me happy.
In college, I majored in Liberal Studies. Here is a picture of me that I just had to include because, well, it’s friggin’ hilarious. I’m the one with the big hair…Oh, sorry. I’m the one in the center with the big hair.
I graduated in 1991, in the midst of a deep recession and with no clue what I wanted to be or do. I got a job at a real estate law publishing company in Manhattan (I thought maybe I wanted to be a writer; receptionist at a publishing company seemed close enough), and the walk from the 23rd Street F Train exit to my job on 21st and Broadway took me right past New York Cake and Bake. I frequently found myself wandering in, in awe of all the gadgets, tools, and equipment. I had no idea what any of them did, but I was deeply intrigued. The store was like a museum to me, a place to just wonder at all the things you’ll never be able to master. One day in 1995, I walked by and they were advertising an inexpensive Wilton class. I signed up.
I loved the class, like I knew I would, and to make it even better, I was good at it. This is a picture of my very first tiered cake, in the pre-fondant days. Note the quality photography and classic Wilton drop flowers, string work, and ruffle border. I remember that I loved this cake, though looking at it now it’s hard to remember what it was exactly that I loved about it.
Lest this blog post should go on forever, I’ll be telling the rest of the story in a separate post. Please read the rest of my story in Part II.
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