Day 188 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about baking.
Shannon: My grandma still owned her bakery when I was a kid, so when she babysat I got to spend time there at night, helping her test out new recipes. She’d only make small batches so my arm was her mixer while she added the ingredients. I loved when she would show me how to decorate the different pastries with her frosting tools. It made me feel special to be in on all of her baking secrets.
Erin: Baking is tedious. It requires so much measuring and heating and patience and precision. The process would be all fun and games if it were the only way for me to get a piece of cake. However I can get a whole cake at the shop down the road and theirs tastes a heck of a lot better.
Time to bake up another story.
There was a loud pattering of tiny feet down the short hallway, followed immediately by the unmistakable, limping gait of my little sister as she chased the children. As, one by one, the kids streaked around the corner to hide from their mother, I chuckled to myself, wiping flour from my hands. Jessica, the eldest at a world-weary ten, crouched behind the island with April, the two-year-old, as she stifled a bout of giggles. Rushing around into the living room, Davie slid behind the armchair with his hands clamped firmly over his rosy lips as his twin, Tony, rolled into the shallow space between the couch and stone-cold fireplace.
From where I stood with my mess of curly hair pinned severely back in a pigtail and my rainbow apron covered in egg whites, syrup and flour, I could watch each of the children struggling to hold in their excited laughter. When Lisa staggered out of the hall a few seconds later, she shrugged at me and practically shouted, “Well, I guess the children are lost, sis, we’ll just have to eat the yummy cookies ourselves.” Taking a seat, with difficulty, at the bar, she smiled wearily at me, one side of her lip pulling up higher than the other, reminding me that she had always been the strong one.
I pulled the wooden spoon from my apron, where I’d presumably left it to avoid forgetting it somewhere in the sprawling kitchen, and brandished it in the space between us. “You know, Lisa, I do believe you’re right. I was so looking forward to making shortbread with my little nieces and nephews, but I suppose I’ll just have to make them myself,” I sighed, carefully stepping around Jessica and April. Sitting on the edge of the counter was an antique stereo that crackled and moaned whenever I turned it on, but I pressed the on button gently and soon had a string of upbeat vintage music filling the room. “Since they won’t be around anyway, I suppose we could listen to something they don’t care for, eh?” I joked, winking at my sister. The children had been brought up on this age of music and were likely more fond of it than even I was.
As I was about to start gathering up ingredients for the shortbread cookies, my timer went off and I abandoned the flour tin in the middle of the island. Trading in the spoon for a pair of yellow duck oven mitts, I opened the oven door and pulled out a tray of flower-shaped sugar cookies that were lightly browned on the top. Carefully sliding the cooling racks out of the corner, I placed the tray on them and laid the rubber mitts beside it to make sure everyone, even lost children, could see the pan was hot.
“I wanna cookie, auntie!” bellowed little Tony as his head of curly blond hair popped out from behind the couch, with his twin hissing at him from the chair. “Com’on Davie, I wanna cookie!” he cried, bounding around the arm of the couch and heading for his brother’s hiding place. Pulling on Davie’s dark plaid shirt, he managed to yank him onto his feet with little resistance; I figured both of them wanted a treat.
When they were gathered beside their mother, shooting dirty looks at the girls still hiding behind the counter, Lisa spoke up, wanting to make sure there was time to bake, “Girls, if you want to take home any goodies, you’ll have to help your auntie, alright?” Within seconds, Lisa was holding a squirming April in her arms and Jessica was waiting beside her with her mousy brown hair tied back like mine.
Smiling at them all, I addressed them like an army general in a gruff, playful tone, “Attention, maggots,” that provoked several giggled from the boys, “I’m gonna give you each an ingredient to scrounge up for the shortbread cookies. Now, Jessica, I need butter and lots of it. Tony, you’re on sugar duty. And Davie, ya’ little brat, I need some vanilla,” I commanded, nodding at each of them in turn. When they were all running about the kitchen searching for their ingredients, I got back to cooling the sugar cookies, spooning the individual pieces onto the cooling rack and placing the tray on a third oven mitt I’d never found a purpose for. Jessica brought three pounds of butter and dumped them in a pile on the island beside the bowl, while Tony hefted an entire bag of cane sugar above his head and Davie passed me the miniscule bottle of vanilla extract with a sour look on his face. “Hmm,” I huffed, putting my hands on my hips, “Vanilla, yes. Very good. But that is way too much butter, honey. How about you put this,” I lopped off a chunk of the opened package and passed it back to Jessica, along with the other two pounds, “back in the fridge. Great. And, unfortunately Tony, I need white granulated sugar, not cane sugar. I’ll put this one back, if you can grab the tin off the counter over there.” Picking up the bag of sugar, I threw it up into the cabinet and turned back to Davie. “Okay, now I need flour. You know where it is, right?” I asked the excited little guy.
He nodded ecstatically and carefully pulled down the tub of flour, spilling a good amount on his head, and passed it up to me. As I set it on the counter, Tony passed up the sugar and Jessica shut the fridge door. With them all staring at me intently, I threw the butter and a cup of sugar into my stand mixer, turning it on high. Then I put a few cups of flour through my sifter with a few pinches of salt before turning to the kiddos in an energetic voice, “I need some little helpers to help me stir the flour! Anyone here think they can help?” When three hands flew into the air, I pulled the dining chair I kept in the kitchen over so the bowl would be low enough for the boys to reach. As the three of them took turns flipping puffs of flour at each other, I headed for the fridge where I brick of dough sat on the bottom shelf. Picking it up, I brought it to the counter and dropped it on the solid stone; I made a batch of dough before I started the sugar cookies, just to make sure there was enough time to chill it.
“Okay, I think that’s enough stirring for now. Jessica, can you find the cookie cutters for me, honey? I think they’re in the pantry; you might need your brothers to help you,” I asked as the gaggle of children moved into the secluded pantry, each attempting to find the cutters before the others. Quickly, I dumped what was left of the flour mixture into the mixed, added a bit of vanilla and more flour, then turned the mixer on low. “I don’t really get to see them enough to know who’s gonna be able to use the mixer, you know?” I conversed with Lisa as she rocked April in her arms.
Chuckling lightly, she responded in a gentle tone, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Since Josh left, I don’t even know which of the boys likes green over blue. You always seemed to have your act together with the bakery and building the business. You didn’t get roped into having a bunch of kids with a guy you married too young,” she sighed, swallowing hard to get rid of the tears I could see in her eyes. I’d always admired her for taking on all the real responsibility; I didn’t want anyone to get to close lest I have to change or compromise.
“You were the one building a family while I was just playing in the kitchen,” I replied, dumping the finished dough onto my floured cutting board and sprinkling the top with a bit more flour. Jessica strode back in flourishing a bag of gleaming cookie cutters in her hand, out of the reach of her little brothers. “Brilliant! I need some help from the finder-of-cookie-cutters to roll this out,” I smiled at the children, putting the bag of utensils off to the side and sliding the chair over so Jessica could stand in front of the mixture. Patting the mound of dough, I whispered, “You’re gonna just flatten it and make it a kinda round disk, m’kay?”
She nodded and set to work as I turned to the boys, who were speaking to each other in undertones that sounded suspicious coming from them. “Okay boys, I need someone to decide what shapes we’re going to make with these cookies. So, pick out three of the cookie cutters and plop them in the sink please.” Passing the bag to them, I clapped my hands at Jessica’s work, “Great job! That’s perfect! Now, I’ll just wrap that up and put it in the fridge for a couple minutes.” Hastily wrapping it in saran wrap, I chucked it in the fridge and retrieved the pre-chilled pack. I deposited it onto the now-flour-free board, threw out the cling wrap and re-floured the space and rolling pin liberally. With the space ready to use, I thumped the dough with the pin a few times before starting to roll it out; the first little bit was always the hardest because it required a lot of pressure on the dough. After I’d started the rolling, I passed the pin to Jessica. “So, put a bit more flour on the rolling pin so it doesn’t stick and we’re gonna just keep rolling it until it looks good,” I spoke vaguely, waving my hands about. Behind us, the boys had managed to put almost every cookie cutter into the soapy water in the sink, so I picked a few and rinsed them off. I dried them carefully and, with the dough at the correct thickness, I took over from Jessica. “Now, everyone gets three cookies, then we’ll see how much room is left. Jessica dear, you can go first. Try to stay right at the edge, just like that,” I cooed as she stamped three flowers into the mixture. Pickup up Davie, I helped him do three little snakes. Tony, who didn’t want help, pulled the chair over and stood on it to make three cars.
Carefully lifting them from the counter, I placed them on the pan and popped the whole thing into the oven. “How about hide and seek while we wait for them to be done, eh? Jessica, you’re it!” I shouted as the boys ran from the room and Jessica stalked into the living room with her arms crossed; when I was her age, I always had to play with the kids, too, and hated it just as she did. “I’m really sorry about Josh leaving, but you don’t need him; he just weighed you down,” I spoke as I scrubbed the board down and disassembled the standing mixer to wash it.
“Yeah, but they miss him a lot. He was the fun parent and now they just have the buzz-kill who can’t play with them because she has to take care of the baby. I’m afraid Jess is going to learn to hate me because I keep pushing the boys off on her. I mean, I have April now and a job and I don’t have the energy, you know?” she ranted wistfully, her watery eyes gleaming in the electric lights. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it when they’re going off to school full-time. I don’t even manage to get Jess a lunch every day; my neighbour helps me when she sees her without a lunch. I just forget and Jess doesn’t want to have to remind me.” There was a glimmer of regret her eyes, but all I could think of was that Jessica was just like me, and if that was the case, my little sister was going to lose her soon enough. Chances are, she already realised that her daughter was just like me; we were both trying to help our mothers handle all the other children and that would lead to not speaking for upwards of ten years. I already pitied them both.
“Okay, so everyone has something in common with the others, right?” Rick asks.
“Except Nikki and Finn. He doesn’t like science and she can’t draw,” Jacey states.
“I can draw,” Nikki defends from the stove.
“Yes, you can. Just not well,” Jacey enunciates.
“I know something they can bond on,” Josh says. Everyone looks at him. Finn walks into the room as there’s quiet.
“What’s going on?” He picks up an unfrosted cupcake without looking at the counter full of pans.
“Finn!” Nikki scolds.
Finn looks at the half eaten cupcake in his hand. “What?” he asks her.
Josh snickers, “Nikki stress bakes, Finn stress eats.”
Both turn to him, “I DO NOT!”
“It’s better to talk about your problems.”
“Shut up August-”
“-You’re one to talk!”
“And I don’t have a problem!” Both yell.
There’s silence as Finn reaches for another cupcake.