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The Tasting

This year––almost the entire year of 2013––has been rough on my family, but the clouds parted a bit today, and it just so happened that the twin had a cake tasting scheduled earlier this afternoon for her wedding in October.  We took the opportunity to set the tough times aside and enjoy the experience of popping morsels of velvety cakes into our mouths and being presented with a bountiful array of sugary options.  The twin's engagement has veered off-track by a few unforeseen changes within the family that has left us feeling sometimes helpless and sad, so as the wedding day nears we latch onto the wedding planning to distract us and help us see the light once more.  And what better way to do this than eating cake?

My husband and I eagerly agreed to accompany the twin and her fiancé to the bakery, being more than willing to sacrifice an hour of our day to partake in the experience and offer up our opinions.  The twin and I remember my own tasting five years ago during the preparation for my wedding, and we were quite looking forward to being wined and dined with cake options again.  We could still taste the fresh fruit that was meticulously paired with different flavors of frosting and cake, and we reminisced with my husband about all that he missed (he had not come to our own tasting, thinking that it wouldn't be any fun for him).

As we drive to the location of the bakery, we skim the outskirts of the city where the buildings sit deteriorating near the highway and the remains of Cabrini-Green continue to rot away.  We round a few side streets and find parking in front of an old brick building with rusted cars parked to the side and deserted parking lots nearby.  We had arrived.

One of the doors with the correct address overhead has the word Cake written on it with some blue paint.  Otherwise, the door is as brown and filthy as the ones next to it.  We ring the doorbell, and a moment later a blond woman greets us and leads us back into a cluttered office space with a closet to the right and a kitchen in the back.

"You can go right in," she says to us.

We look around and fail to understand where to go.  "To the kitchen?" I ask, quickly assessing that there aren't enough seats in the main office to sit.

"No, right in there."  The woman extends her arm toward the closet.

We take a moment to realize that we were to sit in the closet before gathering into the tiny room.  The walls are painted a buttery yellow color with scattered books lying haphazardly on the shelf above us, forgotten and unopened.  There are portraits of underwhelming cake designs framed in penny store frames on the walls, and a small round table in the center of the space.  We sit down, feeling like we're stuck at the kid's table on Thanksgiving.  I feel oversized and stuffed in the small enclosure.  "Is there coffee?" my sister asks, hoping that we might at least be offered our favorite drink in combination with the much-anticipated cake.

"No coffee," the blond says.  "There's water, though."  She sits back down at her desk and busies herself at the computer, paying us no more attention.

"Would you care for some bathwater?" the twin's fiancé jokes, gazing in the corner of the room.  We turn around and there's a small side table behind us with mismatched glasses and a foggy plastic pitcher of water.  I choose a burnt yellow glass that looks like it was left over from the 60's, and I pour myself some water.

"Smell it first," my husband warns as I lift the glass to my lips.  I take a whiff.  It's fine.  For safekeeping, I hold it up to the light to check that the rim is clean.  It is.  I sip.  I'm safe.

A thin woman with dark framed glasses, thin lips and a faded navy blue suit comes into the closet five minutes later and asks the twin and her fiancé about their ideas for cake design.  She's the baker.  My husband and I feign interest, but really, we're just biding our time until we can taste the cake.  Twenty minutes pass.  "Ok," the baker says, jotting down some final notes and a piece of paper, "I'll get the cake."

"Great!" my husband says.

We wait . . . and wait.  Finally, the woman comes back holding a glass plate covered with saran wrap.  She fumbles with the plastic and places the dish in the center of the table.  It looks like a mound of crumbled bakery scraps had been piled onto a plate to be donated and eaten by the downtrodden.  The twin and I sneak a glance at each other.  Clearly, this was not the experience she had anticipated.

"Here they are," the baker says, matching the enthusiasm of the sad looking display before us.  "Four different flavors to try."

She places plates in front of us and smears different kinds of frosting on the sides of them like one would with the inedible fat of meat that had already been halfway chewed and spit out.  We began dipping the cakes in each one, and they crumble and stick to buttercream, almond and hazelnut spreads.  Soon, all of the flavors morphed together.

"Which one is your favorite?" the baker asked.

"The banana?" the twin responds, looking at her fiancé.  "What do you think, honey?"

"I like the banana, but the red velvet is very good as well," he said.

The group turns to me right as I stuff a piece of cake into my mouth that had way too much frosting.  I couldn't help but make a face at the flavor that was, frankly speaking, overwhelming me with sweetness.

"They don't eat sugar," the twin says to the baker, pointing at me and my husband in an attempt to explain away my expression of disgust.

"Oh, you don't?" the baker asks me, flitting her eyes back and forth between me and my husband.  She looked confused.

I struggled to swallow the last bit down with a sip of water and quickly said, "Oh, well, I'm normally vegan and gluten-free––not that sugar is either of those––and my husband here is just a health nut.  For me it's for health reasons.  He's just a nut."  I laugh pathetically at my own joke, and the baker smiles politely.

"You see, he saw a show on the evils of sugar," I continue.  "And ever since then, he stays away from it.  But he eats a lot of sugar, actually."  I begin to get a stomach ache from all the cake.  My diet is so very different now that I am not used to eating this way, and it churns in my gut.

"But this is really good!" I exclaim, pointing to the disheveled cake.  "It's worth the day of cheating on my diet."  The baker seems to both pity and despise me as I try to convince her that I am telling her the truth, and I feel slight cramping.

"OK," she responds, clearly not convinced by my explanation.

She shifts her focus once more on the twin and her fiancé.  "So you like the banana and red velvet?" she said.  "And what would you like to pair it with?"

By this time, all of the flavors have melded together on all of our plates, and it's difficult to differentiate what we were tasting anymore.  "The Nutella and buttercream I think," the twin said, like she was throwing out whatever two flavors she thinks of first.  Her fiancé nods in agreement.

"Is there an option to put some fresh bananas in the cake?" I ask, thirsting for something uncooked and un-sugared.

"It's an extra charge for that," the baker says blankly.

"Oh," I respond, falling silent again.

"Shall we go with that and decide on the design a bit later?" she says, turning again to the twin.

"That sounds great," the twin says.  We are all buckled over a bit at this point as our stomachs respond to the deserts.  I want to get out of the closet and away from my dish of mangled cake, and I can only assume that we all just want to get out of this windowless room and end the experience.

The group of us look at one another and, as if on cue, gather our things and rise from the small table.  The woman leads us back through the disheveled office space to the front door, where we exit out into the sunlight and broken buildings.  We say goodbye as we quickly walk away, hurrying to the car and feeling somewhat grateful that we have to go back to work that day.

"What was that?" I ask the twin and her fiancé.

"Certainly not what I was expecting," the twin says.  "Some of the cake was stale, I think."

"I tasted a dry crust," my husband says, sounding vindicated.

Our few extra moments in the car together are spent rapidly going over the hour we just had in the storage space––the sixty minutes we got to pull ourselves us away from the other anxieties in our lives right now––before parting ways and carrying on with our days.  And we are reminded that nothing can be as expected or planned.  But it was a necessary escape for us, and it brightened our moods.   And in the grand scheme of life, when nothing goes the way we may want, a cake tasting, even in a walk-in closet, is exactly what we needed.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 25th, 2013 01:40 pm (UTC)
It has been almost 2 years since I've been at LJ, but today reading a couple of your recent entries immediately reminded me of how much I enjoy your writing. You are still one of my favorites. Now if I can only be disciplined enough to keep coming back to LJ on a regular basis again.
Sep. 26th, 2013 05:20 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I had stepped away from the site as well, but I am forcing myself to continue writing! :) I really appreciate that you read what I write and that you actually enjoy it. I am in the midst of writing a book, actually, so I take breaks every now and then to write what's going on in my life on this blog. Great to see you back! It's always fun to write when I know someone actually reads it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )