Monday, December 6, 2010
love cakes and messy music
Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Writing prompt courtesy of Gretchen Rubin.)
Apple cupcakes. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, and four shredded McIntosh apples, picked from Norton Brothers family orchard.
End-of-semester stress almost tempted me to purchase *gulp* a box of cake mix. I was even ambling up and down that aisle in the grocery store, pausing every few steps to consider (“delicious cupcakes in just minutes!”), and then re-consider, and then consider again. But I have been making these apple cupcakes for Lexi’s birthday every year for the last four years, and in the end I refused to deprive myself (and, of course, my daughter) of the heavenly aroma of late autumn that is the smell of fresh-baked apple cupcakes.
For someone who doesn’t often venture far beyond the Toll House classic when it comes to baking, this recipe—a Martha Stewart gem!—is somewhat labor intensive. Peeling and shredding the apples takes a bit more effort than adding eggs and oil to a mix. But it wasn’t so much the labor that made the end result so satisfying (though of course this was a contributing factor). The real satisfaction was in the niche: in having carved out an hour in which to create something for someone (in this case, a very special someone). It was the time spent in choosing the right cupcake: the right seasonal fruit; the right blend of spices; the right treat for the occasion. So often time constraints (and my inherent lack of organization) force me to be haphazard in my approach to completing a task. Mixing the apple into the batter was like a zen exercise. I think now understand why baking bread is, for my friend Kristen, something of a religious practice. She has talked about the catharsis that comes from kneading the dough: the motion of the fingers, the smell of the yeast, the pleasure in watching the bread take form afterward. I don’t plan to pack up my bread machine, but I did see her point as I mixed.
Once, after my friend Teresa had given birth to her second child, I sent her a batch of cookies. She responded gleefully that it was “like getting a package of love from [my] kitchen.” I am hardly Martha Stewart, or even Betty Crocker for that matter, but I did feel the love as I mixed the batter (by hand—because I bake cakes so infrequently that I don’t even own an electric mixer. Note to self: electric mixer before next December 2 rolls around).
And in case you were wondering: no, I don’t plan to become a Buddhist Baker, nor will I be writing blog posts about finding nirvana in scrubbing dishes. In fact, to segue into the second part of the writing prompt, if I could clear more time, I wouldn’t spend it in the kitchen. That would be like spending summer vacation in a classroom.
No, if I had the time, I would make music.
Once upon a time I could play keyboards. Not well, but I played. I had a few Beatles songs committed to memory. Some Bach for Beginners. A Bon Jovi song or two (hey, it was the eighties. And if you must know, I can still play “Home Sweet Home” by some 80’s hair band—maybe the one with Brett Michaels?).
Every evening, around 9:30, Bryan reaches over and grabs his guitar from its perch beside the sofa, and he makes music. Sometimes it’s the same Bob Dylan song for fifteen weeks (can you say “Tangled Up in Blue”?), but he plays that guitar every night, without fail. When we travel, the guitar travels too (in miniature form). There is always room: in the car, in the backpack (yes, the pack guitar, may it rest in peace, saw many mountain tops). In Bryan’s evening.
A couple of years ago, Bryan bought me a guitar—an electric guitar, because it’s allegedly easier to play (don’t have to stretch those little fingers so far, or strum so hard on the strings). I was half-excited, half dubious. I’ve always thought it would be cool to learn guitar (not only because female guitarists epitomize cool, but also because playing music with Bryan would be a much more exciting way to spend an evening than doing the crossword puzzle while he learns a new tune. And he has let me know on more than one occasion that he craves musical accompaniment).
I devoted a couple of weeks to learning the scale, and to playing an open F and a few chords I’ve since forgotten, but the truth was, I really wasn’t in a place to start learning an instrument from scratch. I was just starting to write fiction again, and there was also this crazy desire to read something (a novel? Some poetry?) for pleasure. At the risk of sounding like a 6-year-old, I just didn’t feel like learning anything when I finally had time to sit down at 9:30 or 10:00.
When I signed Dylan up for piano lessons a few weeks ago, I secretly hoped that his playing would rekindle my own desire to play, and to learn (and re-learn). And so far, this has been the case. The Yamaha has been relocated from its corner across from our bed (where it often served as a shelf for laundry) to a place of honor in the front room. Dylan and his sister play “duets” (yesterday morning I woke to Lexi playing random keys while Dylan sang “Hey Jude”), and I hack away at “Let it Be” (a song that will likely be my very own “Tangled Up in Blue”). It’s not pretty, but the kids don’t really know that.
So, if I can clear some time, you know where to find me. Just listen for the three chords. There are only three in that song, right?
This post is part of a daily writing project called Reverb 10.