Wednesday, July 7, 2010

peer pressure is a crazy thing.

{not my cake. found here.}

As I sat nervously waiting for my classmates to trickle in, I felt oddly like Julia Child, which was certainly an odd thing to think, considering I know next to nothing about Julia Child. In fact, what I do know about Julia Child could probably be summarized in a book, a book I would title, Everything I Need to Know about Julia Child I Learned from Meryl Streep. Clever, isn’t it?

Despite my ignorance, I thought to myself that this is what Julia must have felt like her first day at Le Cordon Bleu.

Nervous. Anxious. Excited. Alone.

As the clock ticked decidedly past six, I remained alone, sitting in the stuffy crafting classroom of a do-it-yourself warehouse chain, waiting to be taught how to decorate a cake.

The longer I sat, the more aware I became of the reality that even if I was remotely like Julia (a foot taller, better equipped in the kitchen, happily living in Europe), this was nothing like Le Cordon Bleu.

Nor did the course instructor act, look, or sound like a French chef.

Instead, she was a robust woman who very obviously is paid to teach a weekly cake-decorating class based on how much cake crap she can sell to her students.

Nevertheless, I stayed seated, my posterior end aching from sitting so still on such a hard surface. Surely there must have been a mistake.

The instructor glared at me over her workbook. “You’re 30 minutes early.”

Thirty minutes I could have spent eating dinner, watching TV, making my bed, washing dishes, or, more practically, sucking in another few minutes from the lives of the Gilmore girls. What a tragic waste.

Perhaps it was a blessing, in a world I’m constantly cursing for being too fast-paced, that I was able to sit there, in silence, with my six odd-shaped sugar cookies and my cardboard box of supplies. Or perhaps it was 30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Hard to say.

As the other students began to slowly file in, I had another staggering revelation: Cake decorating is something you do with friends.

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it. Every person that came through the classroom door came with an appendage in the form of another woman. It was as if God had sent out a flood warning, sending all crafty women in Leon County to come under the safe haven of Michaels two by two.

I somehow had missed the memo, and I began to think of all the friends I could have asked on this adventure.

Oh, wait. That list is smaller than I thought.

So I sat, contentedly alone, reminding myself that Julia did this alone. Meryl did this alone. And if Julia and Meryl could do it, well then for heaven’s sake, I could do it.

The classroom filled up, with women of all shapes and sizes and colors. If world peace is ever to be achieved, really, someone should start with cake. It may very well be the great unifier we’ve all been searching for.

Everything felt a lot like elementary school art class. Tables and supplies scattered every which way, a stuffy room with a tiny sink, an instructor sweating profusely from the Florida heat. If only there had been “Flight of the Bumblebee” playing in the background, I could have been ten years old again.

Ten years old but still all alone, because as women came pouring in, even the solo ones sat elsewhere, until I was the only student without a table partner. A very late pair of women (reminiscent of the slugs that undoubtedly ran late to Noah’s shindig) came in needing a table together — “We signed up together,” they declared, practically holding hands, as if we were on the kindergarten playground waiting to be assigned appropriate play areas.

A girl named Kimmy graciously moved to the lone chair next to me, a sacrifice I rewarded by refraining from alluding to the fact that she’s a walking Full House reference. Kimmy, too, had brought homemade cookies to decorate, and I felt as if my long-lost shipmate had finally stepped on board.

The cake lady — I was too distracted to recall her name — began class by requiring introductions from everyone, my least favorite part of any social function. If someone wants to become a millionaire, they should come up with a new form of the introduction. Something fun and interesting and exciting that doesn’t elicit groans and rolled eyes from everyone in the vicinity of the poor soul who suggests the ancient practice.

We were supposed to tell our names and why we signed up for the class.

Why had I signed up for this class?

I could not remember.

I listened as Sally went on about her little boy who loves buttercream icing, Jessie described her penchant for fondant, and Mary expressed her desire to open her own bakery.

What on earth was I doing there?

See, my beef with cooking is this: Every woman seems to fall into one of two categories. There are the women who believe cooking is the lifeblood that gives them the strength they need to function day to day, and there are the women who hate cooking with a passion even Gloria Steinem didn’t understand.

Yet here I sit, the elusive exception to the rule, the woman who feels completely ambivalent toward the whole process.

I like cooking, some days, and I don’t really like it on others. Just depends, largely on how much time I have and what it is I'm making.

I’ll tell you what I do like, though. Vintage aprons. Cake plates. Pretty dishes. My Kitchenaid mixer.

But none of these seems like a viable reason for taking this particular course.

Maybe I could say I’m trying to get my husband fat? He could use some meat on his bones, and nothing I do seems to help. Surely bowls upon bowls of icing and cake leftovers would help him pack on the pounds. That seems a little offensive, though, even coming out of my mouth.

The truth is that I signed up for this course because everyone else was.

All of my friends were doing it, so I jumped off the bridge too.

As a lifelong independent thinker, the fact that I arrived at Michaels, 30 minutes early and out $45, all due to peer pressure, left me reeling.

But there it was, my reason for being, and when Cake Lady came to me, eyebrows raised in expectation, that’s what I said, in a nutshell.

“My friends took this class, so I’m taking this class.”

What a sad day for my independent soul.

Introductions continued, and Cake Lady proceeded to show us how to properly mix a cake without air bubbles, something that, to be honest, I’ve already forgotten. I was, however, sufficiently impressed that I’m not a total idiot in the kitchen. I actually recognized some of Cake Lady’s techniques. All of those years spent baking Christmas cookies in my aunt’s kitchen really paid off.

And despite my initial impression of myself (remember, 30 minutes early with homemade cookies and no one to sit with), I discovered I’m not always the nerdiest girl in the room. That prize goes to the two women sitting by the instructor (the Siamese twins who showed up late, typically a nerdy no-no), offering to help lick beaters and laughing at the instructor’s lame jokes. Suck-ups. Let the record show that I may be nerdy, but I am rarely teacher’s pet.

Instead, I made little jokes to Kimmy and fought with my parchment paper and sealed the consumer portion of my brain to prevent any of Cake Lady’s marketing techniques to leak in. Cake Lady not only takes her class very seriously, she takes the promotion of Wilton products very seriously. If I could find someone who could teach me how to decorate a cake without shoving product down my throat, I would take it.

The room’s level of intensity went up a notch when a student recommended an easier way to cut a cake in half, a method that didn’t require a piece of equipment that looked eerily like something that could chop a person’s head off. I thought Cake Lady was going to blow a gasket. I couldn’t tell if it was from being corrected by a student, or if it was the student’s possible insinuation that we could get through life without the aforementioned Wilton’s saw. Either way, I love a little classroom tension. Makes things interesting.

For the remainder of the evening, I focused on filling my icing bag and not sending my fingers into a cramping spasm. My stars, surprisingly, turned out like stars.

By class’s end, I had produced three sparsely decorated cookies with store-bought icing. A small feat, to be sure, but even Julia had her beginnings.

Plus I only ate my body weight in buttercream, which, let’s face it, is probably the greater success.


Anonymous said...

I love this!

Four Flights said...

you are quite the storyteller :) I too am a nerd, but rarely a suck-up.

Jessica said...

annie, i just love this story! why don't we live closer? i would have taken that class with you for sure! since reading a million miles in a thousand years, i base so many decisions on if it will make a good story. this, my friend, was a good decision. it makes for a good story. i like it! furthermore, you get to eat icing and bake cakes--bonus!

Heidi said...

Annie! I miss you so much...and I would have loved to take this class with you. Better yet, I could teach you the basics. I have made two wedding cakes and six custom birthday cakes! I enjoy cake decorating! It has totally taken over scrapbooking...I really hope you have a better experience in the near future!

Lindsey said...

I can't wait to read your memoir. The many funny and beautifully-written occurrences in your life will make it possibly the best story I will ever read.

Velva said...

Annie, you deserved a better experience. I have always found my best experiences in learning new things have been taught by people who have a passion for it, and want to share it with others. Anything less is a waste.