When I asked my family to tell me the worst meal I’d ever prepared and served them, so I could write about it for this blog hop, they had the appropriate response: round-eyed terror. This question, coming from a woman who is known at the dinner table to have this discussion aloud with herself, followed by glaring at her dining companions?
“How is your dinner? My dinner is fine, delicious! Thank you so much for cooking it, Mom! It is so nice to sit down to a nutritious, delightful meal every night!”
They’re not stooges. They’re not going to answer a question like that and risk me never cooking for them again. Finally, after I begged, the youngest mentioned, tentatively, that I’d once put baking soda in for baking powder when I made them homemade waffles, but I told her that’s too quotidian. Anyone who’s baked more than three times has substituted baking soda for baking powder at least once, bitten down into what looks like a delicious cookie only to spit it out into the sink a minute later and then wipe off their tongue using a paper towel.
So I had to go back further. All the way back. To when I was preparing nutritious, delightful meals in my yellow Kenner Easy Bake Oven.
I wonder sometimes what it was like for my dad to make the transition every day at 5:30 pm from his office at Eastman Kodak, a methodical world of male engineers developing optics for use by the US government in spying, to the house on Branford Road where three kids, two rabbits, an iguana, a dog, and a wife who merited a serious break all awaited his arrival.
Once when he opened the back door from the garage, my sister, then in first or second grade, let loose with a string of invectives she’d learned at school. “Hi @%#)%&@&*!” she chirped, which earned her a trip straight into the powder room and a meal of Lifebuoy soap. Another time we greeted him with the exhilarating news that we had used his rubber galoshes as sailboats for my troll dolls in the three feet of water that had flooded the basement! There was a current, and everything!
But surely no night was worse for my dad than the one when I was six and said, “I baked you a cake in my Easy Bake!” For some reason we didn’t usually buy the mixes that were designed to actually bake over the heating element of the oven which, as anyone over age thirty will remember, is A LIGHT BULB. No, I made up my own recipes. I considered myself a pretty decent baker by first grade.
On the night in question I’d made a chocolate cake for the ages. It was round, the diameter of a pot holder, and approximately 1/3 of an inch thick. Dark brown liquid pooled around the edges of the cake where it sat on an earthen colored plate, but I’d counterbalanced that by coating the top in rainbow sprinkles. It looked, in fact, like a wet, oversized hockey puck that had fallen into a vat of glitter. And I was going to be sure that my dad appreciated every bit.
Dad ate slowly that night, slow enough that my brother and sister had asked to be excused and my mother had started washing the dishes. Not me: I was staying put right next to Dad, so excited for him to try his special dessert. Eventually, of course, the main course could be masticated no more and Dessert Was Served.
My dad smiled, tucked into that black cake in its brown water bath, and ate EVERY SINGLE BITE. He even managed to smile at the end.
I asked my dad last weekend if he remembered this incident, thinking maybe it had gotten bigger in my memory like so many aspects of childhood. Dad immediately said, “The hockey puck? Of course.” Then he added that, when dinner was over, he tried to dismantle my EZBake oven when I was otherwise engaged with Gilligan’s Island.
The truth is, I may have served worse meals than the Hockey Puck cake. But the people in my life are too sensitive to my feelings to let on.
It makes me wonder if the pilot light going out on the stove last week was truly an accident.
And this song, well, obviously.