Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In Which We Have Our Cake and Eat It, Too.

Sometimes, only having Netflix and no TV makes me feel like that kid who always laughs too late at a joke and then everyone stops and looks at him like he's pathetic. You know the one?

Yeah, so, have you heard about that great new show, Cake Boss? (I'm only four or five seasons tardy in discovering it). Don't look at me like that... Really. Don't.

I love the show. Buddy, the 'Cake Boss,' is so funny, and the cakes are outrageous, and at the end of the day, even after all the squabbles and dropped cakes and pies in the face, the family still loves each other. Aahh. It's my new favorite unwind show.

It also reminds me of the time I decided that I really wanted to decorate cakes. I took the basic Wilton cake decorating course at the local Jo-Ann Fabrics, bought far too many tips, bags and gadgetry, succumbed to delusions of grandeur (don't you know, I was nearly as good as Buddy - in my own mind), and generally had a great time.

And then I got the offer. A friend needed a wedding cake for her daughter. Yes, a real honest to goodness wedding cake. There it is, off to the left there. A three tier heart shaped masterpiece. I made all the flowers, did all the piping and stayed up till 4am getting it all right. The next (same?) day I drove to the church and set it up in the reception area - Gorgeous! - and went home to get a well deserved nap. Four hours to reception time.

The phone ringing woke me a couple hours later. It was my husband, and he had that voice, preternaturally calm, and yet still a little choked. He'd stopped by the church for a look-see at my handiwork.

My handiwork had somehow become a three foot long swath of edible destruction strewn across the reception room floor.

I don't know if the cake just toppled on its own, or if someone bumped the table (there were kids in the building). It doesn't really matter, I guess - the result was the same. My husband found a garbage bag and started shoveling. I called the mother of the bride, my voice preternaturally calm, and yet a little choked, and told her what happened. It was under two hours to reception time.

I panicked.

 And panicked some more.

And then I got to work. I called the local supermarket. They were so kind, and let me borrow their plastic cake tiers (it's common for some layers on big cakes to be fakes). I bought two unfrosted rounds from them and a couple bunches of fresh cut flowers. Quickly, I coated everything (except the flowers) with leftover frosting, then hauled it to the church. I sequestered myself in a little room and desperately started cutting flower stems. Through the door I could hear the music playing and the people walking by. The mother of the bride stopped in several times, very kind, very understanding - it made me feel horrible.

There's the new cake there at the right.

I went home and cried. And I never decorated another cake.

It was only years later that a real live professional cake decorator befriended me. Finally I worked up the courage to confide my story to her in hushed, embarrassed tones. And she laughed! She laughed and said, "Now you've been initiated as a real decorator. And you pulled it out in the end, didn't you? You saved the day. Why'd you quit when you'd finally made it?"

Since I started writing again, I've found a lot of parallels between cake decorating and writing:

  • If it doesn't turn out right, scrape it off and try again.
  • Words, and frosting, can be delicious.
  • Sometimes less is more. Too much sparkle, bling, adjective and adverb can hide the simple beauty of a piece. 
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • There will always be someone with a different, maybe even a better skill set (Buddy, I'm looking at you). Don't sweat it. You'll find your niche.
  • Learn, learn, learn: classes, YouTube, books, observation.
  • New techniques feel awkward at the start, but lead to more polished, professional results.
  • Don't be afraid of sharing your talents at whatever stage you're at.
  • Your lifeline is your support system of people who believe in you (and are willing to scrape the cake off the floor) - cherish them.
  • Sometimes your creation will end up nothing like you envisioned it - and that's okay.
  • When the cake falls or the rejections flood in, and you can still pick yourself up and keep going, then you know you've made it because you have mastered the tenacity it takes to be a professional.

Last week, for the first time in years, I picked up a decorating bag and made cupcakes with my daughter.
If felt wonderful.


  1. I think those cakes are beautiful. You shouldn't have stopped decorating.

    I love this advice and analogy. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree, you shouldn't have stopped decorating! Your cakes turned out gorgeous and it probably was those kids in the chapel that did it!

    Years ago I made wedding cakes and that was always one of my fears, that after I set up the cake and left, someone (kids always worried me) would knock it over.

    Fortunately, I never had that happen but I had a few panicked moments that were stressful. Now, that I'm into writing instead of cake decorating, I'll have to remember your parallels because they are so true!

  3. Susan, my kids just discovered Cake Boss too. I admit I wasn't too interested in watching it with them, but maybe now I'll have to peek in. No worries--you're not the only one a little behind on the times on the TV viewing. Netflix is our sole source of television as well. It's all new to me!

    Great post.

  4. Heh, I know exactly that TV feeling - I too have Netflix but no TV.

    My favorite point that you make is the one about how there is always someone with a better skill set. It's a hard thing to come to terms with. But just because someone has a better skill set doesn't mean they know how to use it - or that your skill set can't be used to do wonderful, amazing things that no one has ever tried before. That realization is very powerful.

  5. I think it's interesting how our need to be perfect/ the best can silence our love of doing. I hope you do go back to cake decorating, and keep on writing. Love this.


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