Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Catastrophe, and Cake

Maybe it’s the endless rain, maybe it’s a surprise visit from Aunt Millicent, but catastrophe seems imminent. Global warming is upon us, causing apocalyptic weather, and my friends at the Grotto are convinced that a pandemic is approaching. They have organized CostCo trips to stock up on vodka and Gummi bears. They have planned their retreat to cabins in the wilderness (to me “wilderness” is anywhere outside San Francisco). And they urge me to do the same, sending me Cassandra-like emails with subject lines like “you have been warned.” To top it all off, on Friday, it snowed here. What’s next? Locusts raining from the sky?

When disaster approaches, you can adopt one of two strategies. You can rush about procuring canned food and water to stockpile in your basement. Or, like the violinists who kept on playing as the Titanic sank, you can act as if nothing has happening. Whether from laziness or lack of storage space, I have decided to take the latter approach. It has more grace, more elegance, more sprezzatura. Thus instead of buying Power Bars by the case and a battery-operated radio, I have been busy worrying about important things like how to fill a cupcake.

Chow asked me to write a how-to on the subject, and so yesterday I visited Citizen Cake, whose pastry chef, Luis Villavelasquez had agreed to give me a private cupcake-filling lesson. (If you think it sounds a bit kinky, then let me tell you that filling cupcakes is hard work, especially if like Luis, you have to squeeze your luscious buttercream into hundreds of holes a day.)

First I made notes as Luis injected chocolate-mint ganache into a cupcake. Then he tried to show me how to pipe a perfect rosette of lime-green mint frosting on top. But try as I might, I couldn’t master the technique. I wished for his Zen-like focus on the task at hand, but my hands trembled and I ended up frosting part of my notebook instead.

As I wielded the pastry bag, I tried not to think about the mute swans languishing on the shores of the Black Sea, about Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe, or about Aunt Millicent waiting for me at home. But it didn’t work. When I looked at the finished cupcakes, my mouth did not water. Instead I wondered how long Jordan and I could survive if we had nothing to eat but frosting.

The cupcakes I iced weren’t good enough to sell, and I thought Luis would let me take them home. Instead he stripped and re-frosted them. Then he added them to his cupcake army, lined up as neatly as the terracotta warriors buried in Emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb. I thanked Luis for his help and hurried home in the rain, reflecting that although an all-frosting diet would kill me in a week or so, Jordan could probably live on it forever.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yummm, frosting.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How dare he not give you the cupcakes. What a tease.

8:47 AM  

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