My friend Rachel and I have entirely different memories of how we met. She remembers us meeting in November, shortly after we both started working at Chapters. I remember meeting her towards the middle of January, and the first thing she said was “You’re making cupcakes? CAN I COME TOO?”
The facts are these: we did both work at Chapters and yes, I probably did work with her before Christmas. But my memories are kind of foggy. I remember post-Christmas with much more clarity, because there were fewer people, and also because we started working together all the time. The cupcake thing came about because Casey, another co-worker, decided that she and I should make cupcakes and chocolate covered oreos for Valentine’s Day. As we were planning it, Rachel heard, and asked if she could participate. Both Casey and I were all “Um…sure?” and so we all rocked up to Casey’s apartment on February 13 to get ready.
I had two dozen chocolate cupcakes which I planned to ice with chocolate icing and decorate with red sprinkles. Casey had two boxes of oreos she was going to dip in melting chocolate, and then decorate with other colours of melty chocolate*. Rachel had 18 perfect vanilla cupcakes, a light and fluffy strawberry buttercream, and approximately one million different icing tips. Needless to say, her cupcakes all got eaten first. 🙂
Anyway, that’s how I met Rachel. That’s also how I got into cake decorating, which I mostly do for fun. Rachel has since gone on to work at one of the best (and most renowned) cake shops in town, but we still get together to decorate cupcakes every now and then.
After that Valentine’s Day, both Rachel and I were the unofficial bakers at the bookstore. One day, one of receivers brought a book called HELLO, CUPCAKE to morning rally so that Rachel and I could flip through it. We immediately fell in love with the simple yet gorgeous designs, the fact that 90% of the decoration was candy (my piping skills are not great), and the fact that there were so many hints and tricks in the directions. The cupcakes we loved especially were these:
Jellybeans, yellow starburst, black and white sugar, and a pair of corn skewers. Yes, we had to wait until corn season to actually MAKE the cupcakes, but MAN ON MAN. I have never made anything that looked exactly like the picture in the book before, but these totally did.
As a matter of fact, nearly ever cupcake I’ve made from HELLO, CUPCAKE looks exactly like the picture. So when the sequel, WHAT’S NEW, CUPCAKE? came out, I bought it without hesitating**. Then I called Rachel, and we set up a date for cupcake making, because I really, really needed to make these cupcakes:
We even ordered Chinese Take-Out so we’d have the right kind of box to display our cupcakes in. 🙂
In addition to being the gateway to one of the best friends I’ve ever had, cupcake decorating has gone a long way to helping me think creatively. I understand structure, and I understand how to make improvements. In archaeology, you tend to get one shot at things. Having the chance to go back and make a second attempt at the same cake is AMAZING (though, admittedly, kind of expensive sometimes). But every cake I make gets better, and it’s fun to see what practice can do (and then EAT IT).
Very early on in my career, a cousin asked for a cake in the shape of a Wii. It was kind of a tragedy (delicious, but a TRAGEDY). Still, they all loved it enough that when OTHER cousin’s birthday rolled around and I asked him what he wanted, he said “A WII CAKE!” almost immediately. Armed with what I’d learned from my mistakes last time, I was able to make a much better cake. And it was still delicious, even though it got knocked over before the birthday boy got a good look at it.
I’ve made everything from bowling alleys and Curling rinks, to a scale model of Indiana Jones’s hat (that one is still my favourite, btw), and a headless version of Marie Antoinette. I’ve done flamingos and Cheshire Cats and ants and Appa and the Battlestar Galactica. I love the moment when I realize that the cake will come together and look like I wanted it to. It’s quite a bit like getting to the end of the book and realizing you’ve written something you love (except, and I cannot stress this enough, YOU GET TO EAT IT).
For a very long time in my life, I didn’t think I was artistic. I couldn’t draw or paint or dance, and I’m too shy to sing in public. I thought I was unartistic. But the truth was that I just hadn’t found the right canvas yet. When I have a cake and a pile of candy, I am an artist. I think one of the most important things a person can learn is what they find to be fun and inspiring, what kind of art they love to make and share (and eat!).
The idea of drawing a dragon fills me with apprehension. It would not be good. But the idea of making a dragon out of cupcakes? Not only am I for it, I am VERY EXCITED about getting to try it. And, as luck would have it, there’s a new cupcake book! It’s called CUPCAKES AND COOKIES AND PIES, OH, MY!, and on page 160, there be dragons.
*This is SUPER EASY, btw, and people always think you are AMAZING for doing it. All you need is a microwave and a fork. They’re especially cool for fundraisers, because people will pay $1 for two. 🙂
**Well, I hesitated because I was completely broke. But then a coworker hired me to make cupcakes for her daughter’s engagement party and BOUGHT ME THE BOOK AS A THANK YOU. UGH, people are so AWESOME sometimes!