"I wish you were the kind of mommy who baked cookies," my little girl said to me one day a few years back, while I was taking dinner out of the microwave.
"Well I'm not that kind of mommy," I retorted, "and you're stuck with me." I peeled back the plastic wrap and gave the frozen mashed potatoes a stir, then gave it three and a half more minutes of radiation while I sliced an orange to garnish her plate. How many mommies did that? I wondered while recalling my own childhood so long ago, coming home from school to find my mother had baked two dozen cookies, sewn a wardrobe for my Barbie dolls and another dress for me while forming the ketchup-covered meatloaf into the shape of a severed limb.
"You know I hate that one," my daughter wailed, scrunching her nose at the sight of yet another melted plastic plate of rubber chicken glazed in sugary soy sauce. "Can't I have the one with the corn cob?"
"Alright," I sighed in surrender, "you can have the corn cob and country-fried prime rib, again, but next time I get it."
"I don't know why you didn't just get us two of the same to begin with," she gripes as she takes her plate, now steaming, before I've even had a chance to peel off all the plastic to perfect the presentation.
"Because that would be boring," I reply, "Don't you want a bit of variety in your diet?"
She glares at me as she pushes her boiled broccoli florets around, making sure there are no bugs or sticks or frozen pellets of instant artificial flavor hiding underneath.
Years pass. I lose my job and end up licking my wounds in the kitchen, covered from head to toe in chocolate. I have too much time on my hands, and there's no better way to fill it than watching chocolate melt.
Before long, the counters are covered in chocolate and chocolate-making supplies, polycarbonate molds are stacked so high we have to throw out all the extra towels and sheets in the hall closet to make room for the chocolate molds. Dark chocolates filled with luscious ganache and molded into exquisite shapes are scattered throughout the apartment, arranged like symmetrical mandalas on porcelain plates, cake stands and tiny trays. Antique sugar bowls are filled with pomegranate-mocha swirls and bittersweet fans, colorful boxes tied in gauzy ribbons are stacked high with op-art orange domes and shimmering gold crowns dripping with saffron ganache.
But homemade chocolates can't be frozen and must be eaten quickly or they will grow dark green fur. To resolve my dilemma, I torment my neighbors and friends with so much chocolate that they flee in fear at the scent of a cacoa bean. I auction them off to the highest bidder, and pass them out to total strangers jogging by. I shove them into my mouth like popcorn to keep my spirits up. They give me the energy to exercise but for some reason I'm still turning into a bipedal seal. Meanwhile, my little girl is fast becoming a future super model, and learning new words like vitamins and minerals.
"I don't understand why every time I unpack your lunch all you've eaten is your fruit and sandwich," I scold as I toss out cellophane and wadded napkins, "Most kids would love a few truffles tucked into their lunch, but you don't appreciate anything I do. Look at these, they're ruined. You crushed them under the weight of that orange and didn't even eat them."
"There's only so much saffron ganache a kid can take," she says tenderly. "Mom, they don't even have trade value anymore. You have to stop making so many chocolates."
The world spins as all my chocolate-covered dreams are shattered. What's wrong with my saffron ganache? Should I turn out some green-tea hearts to win back my daughter's love? No trade value even? I suddenly see the real reason Willy Wonka locked himself away for years. No one appreciates a chocolate maniac, no matter what they'll tell you.
"Okay, I'll stop making chocolates for awhile," I threaten, but see relief instead of heartbreak. "Besides I need to write some books."
It's true; we've got to do what we've got to do. Applying for jobs has gotten me nowhere, but people have been asking me to write brilliant books for them, so I've obliged to keep the rent and chocolate suppliers paid. It beats standing on a busy intersection with a cardboard sign reading "SPENT TOO MUCH ON CHOCOLATE. PLEASE HELP."
The weeks pass joyfully, the pounds drop, the books get written, the trade value of school lunches returns to an all time high what with the clever way I slice those veggies and blend those healthy dips. But something's missing.
I've strayed from my chocolate-covered blogging. What can I say? I'm not spending much time in my culinary laboratory, meditating over a bowl of crystallizing sugars. Oh sure, I stuff an occasional pork tenderloin, roll out the rare kale and raison-studded strudel. And there's always a cauldron of something simmering on the back burner or a casserole of roasted vegetables and who knows what roasting in the oven. But I miss all that mess.
And that's when I discovered flour. Did you know that flour can coat a kitchen from ceiling to floor and turn into a gluey gum that hardens in the most hard to reach corners and fissures of the kitchen? It's amazing, really, especially when you add some sugar and eggs. Not quite as catastrophic as a chocolate-covered kitchen, but with enough flour and frenzy, you can pretty much recreate a winter wonderland any day of the week.
So I took up baking. I made salted-caramel brownies and then made them again and again. They were worth it. I made urban-myth chocolate chunk cookies and peanut-butter chocolate chip cookies loaded with pulverized oatmeal. I made apricot rosemary shortbread squares then discovered that the rosemary shortbread with a touch of orange oil and orange zest was just perfect on its own, provided I upped the rosemary. I made ginger muffins and blackberry-streusel muffins and cheddar-pumpkin muffins. I made cheddar chipotle biscuits and chocolate-marshmallow cupcakes and coconut cakes with three different fillings and frostings.
It wasn't long before muffins and cupcakes and cookies were tumbling out of the freezer and we had to use two hands just to close it. So we had a rummage sale. I had a whole wardrobe of size two clothes that for some reason no longer fit me, and once we sold the clothes and a few hundred academic books I had no room or use for, we were able to buy an apartment sized freezer just perfect for all my muffins. My dream come true, a freezer to call my own. I was in heaven.
I was taking another sheet of urban-myth chocolate chunk cookies out of the oven and hollering, "Come and get 'em!" when she said it.
"I don't want any more cookies! Can't you be like other moms and make me some sliced apples and peanut butter? I want something healthy!"
After all these years, I'd finally become a cookie-baking mom but my timing was all off. She was now in high school, which is all about glowing skin and muscle tone and drinking lots of water. Where did I go wrong? Wasn't she supposed to be sneaking out and smoking pot and coming home with the munchies at this stage in her life?
I cooled the cookies, dropped a few plates off at my neighbors' doorsteps and put the rest into the freezer.
Thank goodness she'd be asleep by midnight, I thought, as I cleaned the flour and sugar off the ceiling. Then I can whip up a small batch of muffins or cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Now wouldn't that be a pleasant surprise for my little girl to wake up to? In the meantime, I steamed the broccoli and drizzled it with olive oil and kosher salt and took the miso-crusted tofu out of the piping hot oven.
"Set the table!" I called in a melodious voice, as if little blue and yellow birds and butterflies were circling my head and lifting my flowing skirts and aprons as I danced across the kitchen barefoot. "Wait until you taste this brown rice with quinoa and shitakes," I crooned, "you're so right about eating healthy. It really does have much more flavor . . ."
Hmm, I thought as we crunched on broccoli and savored the grilled tofu, there's a sale on butter at Spaceway, better stock up, and we're getting low on sugar . . .