Thursday began innocently enough until Word of the Day was sidestepped by Foreign Phrases Least Likely to Appear on a Cake. Barely inside the bakery door, bobbing and weaving amidst the caffeine challenged, I arrive at the bench where the conversation revolves around a birthday greeting. Before I can even roll out my turnover dough, I’m assaulted by one of the baristas, imploring me to write on a cake. Inscriptions are not really my thing but I am no better, no worse than my fellow bakery inmates. To be honest, I’m selected for the task because my compastryots (sorry, that’s the last one) are not keen on spelling and they have seen me write copious salutations on cakes of all sizes. Depending on the intricacy of the greeting, it is generally best not to consume one’s double espresso prior to writing so as to avoid pastry bag tremor. Rolling up my sleeves, I glance at the order form. Before I continue, a little backstory on my initial foray into the land of pastry bags fitted with number two Ateco brand writing tips.
I honed my birthday cake penmanship under the tutelage of Mr. Robert Avery at the Home Dairy in Ithaca, New York. Surrounded by an infinite palette of buttercreams, it was evident early in the game that many of the colors were not found in nature. Mr. Avery patiently demonstrated the spacing of H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y. Over and over again, I practiced on squares of parchment paper. Looking back, that was the beginning of my spatial relationship inadequacy. It probably would have been better to practice on parchment circles. That’s buttercream under the bridge… Suffice to say that my first few attempts (I use the word ‘few’ generously here) were lacking in both finesse and letters. More often than not, my greetings were along the lines of “Happ Birt” with the y-space-h-d-a-y dangling precariously over the side of the cake. My hope was that the recipient would be blinded by the rhapsody in blue buttercream roses and the illuminated birthday candles, oblivious to my not-so-handiwork. Over time, my writing skills improved. Incrementally.
There is one cake inscription that haunts me still, linked to my farm stint in Bucks County. Long after my tutelage at Home Dairy, before Cake Wrecks had a following, I was responsible for the following birthday cake salutation, and I quote: “Feliz Cumpleaños Quinceañera Doris.” Boasting that previous experience, today’s little writing exercise shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
Pausing for a moment to relocate the 3 flats of blueberries and blackberries that have just been delivered, I cut the corner a little too closely and elbow meets oven. Funny bone is a total misnomer; it if were possible, my elbow would be seeing stars. Ouch. Clearing a small yet serviceable space for the needy cake which is to be picked up momentarily, I fish my glasses out of their case and read the order particulars. “Wait a minute! What the heck does this say?” The barista who took the order tries to cajole me claiming she was under the impression that I knew foreign languages. I counter with, “I may in fact write the letters on the dreidl cookies for Hanukkah, but this is Greek to me.” One of my co-workers assures me the hieroglyphics on the order form are obviously Latin. “You know,” I hear myself saying in my indoor voice, “this would all go swimmingly if one of you could kindly fill one of those (I nod toward the espresso machine) recyclable cups with ice and a few shots of espresso and maybe a splash of milk.” They have seen that look before and realize it’s best for all of us if they enable my morning caffeine dependence. Barista bids a hasty retreat.
The gentleman who ordered the cake I am about to inscribe is back. From behind the bakers racks I peer through the loaf pans of gluten-free breakfast bread. If ever a person resembled a cartoon character, this fellow is a dead ringer for Boris Badenov, of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. Studying the inscription once more, I use my years of pastry experience to replicate the symbols on top of the six inch cake. (Of course it’s a six inch cake affording me as little room as possible. I’m having a Home Dairy flashback, “H-A-P-P B-I-R-T”…)
There’s nothing like having someone pacing within your peripheral vision to spur you on your way. I have successfully captured the first two lines and I’m in the home stretch. The last word is a blend of both letters and symbols. Glancing at “Boris,” I instinctively start to write Natasha. On closer inspection the last word is a cross between Anushka and Verushka. Aargh!
There is no white-out for buttercream. Boris is starting to grow impatient and it concerns me that his next move may be to bring in Fearless Leader. With an offset spatula, I painstakingly remove Natasha and replace it with a variation of Anushka/Verushka. Done and done.
It just so happens that the greeting on the Boris cake was actually a Bulgarian salutation. Had I but known, jumping on the interweb would have acquainted me with the tutorial Easy Bulgarian. The material is presented in an “easy-to-grasp fashion” allowing me to learn the language almost “effortlessly.” Next time I’ll know better. Next time, someone else can do the writing.
In addition to our regular group of bakers, this week we have the good fortune of hosting an enthusiastic high school senior who is tirelessly working as an intern. Not only is she polite, she is infinitely capable of performing all manner of bakery tasks despite her diminutive size. Swimming in her commercial linen service apron, she is adorable and oh-so-happy to be one of us. I hate to squelch her enthusiasm but old habits die hard.
Trying to engage our intern, I inquire where she is headed to school in the fall. Without much fanfare, she utters three letters identifying a prestigious university situated in Massachusetts, reserved for only the very brightest. Her chosen field of study? Physics, which prompts our word of the day; “Spaghettification.” My immediate thought is that she has said Spaghetti Fixation. Oh no, Young Intern assures me, Spaghettification (it does have a lyrical quality) is also known as the ‘Noodle Effect” pertaining to astrophysics. I’m still thinking along the lines of Spaghetti Pie, but apparently the Noodle Effect has something to do with an object caught in the gravitational field of the black hole. I may not know astrophysics, but I do know about being pulled toward the black hole, figuratively. Every time I answer the bakery phone, each time I accommodate a last minute order, and most recently, when I set aside the turnovers to write in Bulgarian, I’m being pulled toward the black hole.
And in the end, who gets blown up? Me.