Compared to my mom, Martha Stewart bakes with an Easy Bake Oven and a low wattage bulb. When I was a kid, my mother, the love child of June Cleaver and the Pillsbury Doughboy, baked enchanting birthday cakes that rose from piles of hand-measured ingredients: freshly sifted flour, cups of sweet milk, and eggs so fresh the hens were still thinking up baby names.
My sisters and I would search through cook books full of black-and-white pictures of prize-winning creations, picking the masterpiece we wanted for our birthday celebration. Mama would lovingly pull out her Mixmaster, line baking pans with waxed paper, and lock us out of the kitchen to keep our tiny fingers out of the double boiler.
Years whizzed by like a blender stuck on puree, and I stood contemplating a box with a fuzzy picture of a cake stamped on the front in brown ink. Bake from scratch? Excuse me? Are you here on a visa from the Land Where Whipped Cream is a Still a Dairy Product? My kids think ingredients are the bad things for you that are listed on the side of the box; the renegade roll call of –ites and –ates that begins with corn syrup and end with death. They believe that Red Dye number 2 is the only pathway to Nirvana and have abiding faith that Little Debbie is a natural Earth Mother that sprang to life from a carton of Cool Whip.
The first time my kids saw a round cake, they thought I’d cut off the burned corners. In their experience, cakes went straight from the mouth of the Betty Crocker box into my 11 x 13 baking dish and on to a fiery death in the bowels of our thermostat-challenged oven that raged from frozen food to flash fried in a matter of minutes. They thought cakes were bricks with chocolate frosting. But since they helped open the box and mix the mortar, they also thought chocolate bricks were the best invention since nunchucks for Ninja Turtles.
One Christmas when we made cookies together, I tried the old fashioned bake without a box method. By the time the butter softened and the eggs were room temperature, Santa’s reindeer had come and gone and the dog had long since digested the icicles off the tree. The next Christmas I snagged a roll of cookie dough that let me chop off cookies like I was slicing dough with a circular saw. They were ready in twenty minutes and the kids clustered around like cats around a cricket to pipe on red reindeer noses and Santa hats.
My mom would have known that red dye would smear into the other colors until Santa looked like a bloody-eyed zombie from Christmas past.
As I watched the kids giggle over their creations, I grabbed a warm cookie and took a bite.
Rolled cookie dough: $1.99. Soap to clean up the mess: $2.50. Happy kids making Satan cookies: Priceless. Mama would be proud.