Lucie bakes her first (and last!) birthday cake!

I hate cooking.

And I like baking even less.

But the Buddha belly and I are strong advocates for eating.

So over the years, I’ve become a quasi-good cook – out of simple necessity.

Years ago, I naively volunteered to bake a cake for a friend of mine, who’s the female version of the Cake Boss (only sweeter!).

Exactly why I volunteered for such a self-defeating, herculean feat, I have no idea.

But volunteer I did.

I never baked a cake before and figured my Mom’s stand-by Duncan Hine’s yellow cake mix would be the easiest way to go.

“After all,” I reasoned, “What could go wrong with a simple box mix?”

“It’s a pretty straight forward recipe of eggs, water and oil. You mix it all together, dump it into a pan, slide it into the oven and voila!”

“A cake fit for a queen!”

Yep.

Well, I learned that night that it’s important to have all of the ingredients before you start making it, or you’re liable to find yourself scrambling downstairs to your neighbors to borrow some, if you don’t.

And that, People, is where the story gets a little kooky.

I only had a couple of hours to get the cake baked, cooled and frosted before my friend picked me up to drive me to said birthday girl’s house; when I discovered that I didn’t have any eggs.

I didn’t want to waste time to go to the grocers to buy them, so I slipped downstairs to my friend’s flat and discovered that her kids were home alone, while she went on a quick errand; and they had just smashed one of the front door windows while playing indoor broom hockey.

Being the responsible friend and neighbor that I am, I didn’t want to leave the hellions with broken glass in the door and on the porch; so I ran upstairs, grabbed a pair of pliers, a broom and dust pan; and quickly headed back down to tidy things up and make everything safe, again.

Not exactly the female version of “Tim the Tool man”, I took the pliers and grabbed ahold of the bottom, broken piece of glass; and while yanking it out, accidently grazed the fingers of my right hand against the serrated edges of the broken glass protruding from the top of the window pane, and sliced-opened the top of my four fingers.

So now, on top of broken glass all over the porch and inside the entry way, I’m presented with a screaming munchkin that’s thoroughly traumatized by all the blood from my cut and I’m seriously thinking, “Well, isn’t this a swell kettle of fish I’ve got myself into? The oldest kid is already in weekly therapy sessions-maybe their therapist has a group discount for the whole brood of little buggers?!”

Swell.

I calm-down the small fry, grab a roll of paper towels, start wrapping my hand in it and continue cleaning up the broken glass, when it slowly dawns on me – “Lucie, you’ve just gone through half a roll of paper towels in a short time and your bleeding is out of control. Unless you want to faint in front of these little rascals, and send all of them into extensive therapy (well into their old age), you’d better get your uncle on the phone and get some assistance.”

So, up to my apartment I scooted, and call him I did.

My uncle, who lived a block away from me at the time, listens to me rattle-on about my “bleeding to death” in front of these kids, and then calmly says to me, “Lucie, you’ve got a whole half-a-roll of paper towels left, right?”

“Yes,” I nervously answered.

“Well, relax,” my uncle calmly says.

“Make your cake, and if you’re still bleeding by the time you finish the other half-a-roll of paper towels, call me back, and I’ll take you to the ER for stitches.”

Uh-Hun.

“Great,” I’m thinking to myself. “Nice to know my uncle’s got my best interest at heart. Let’s hope to hell these paper towels I’m using are the more absorbent brand, or I’m up the proverbial creek without a paddle!”

I make the cake, throw it into the oven, and discover (to my dismay) the two eggs that I borrowed from my neighbor, glaring back at me from the top of my kitchen counter.

Lovely, just lovely.

After all this, my cake is “egg-less” and my fingers are still bleeding.

Swell.

In the meantime, my uncle apparently reconsidered his sage medical advice and comes shuffling into my apartment to make sure I haven’t bled to death, only to find me teary-eyed and totally stressed-out, ‘cuz my cake is missing eggs; I can’t get my hand to stop bleeding and my ride is supposed to pick me up shortly and I don’t have the birthday cake made.

Long story short – my uncle gets my bloody hand under control, we got another cake mix and I mix together another cake in time for my friend’s pick-up, but did not have the time to put the frosting on because the cake was too warm.

“Not to worry,” my friend, Judy, assured me when she discovers my dilemma.

“While I’m driving,” she continues, “you stick the cake out the window, cool it off and we’ll slap-on the frosting and birthday greeting when we get to Rosie’s house and everything will be hunky-dory.”

Yep.

Everything was the bee’s knees, until Jute hit a pot-hole and sent the cake flying out of the pan into the air; forcing me to lean out the window, juggling the pan back and forth, to catch it on its way down.

Swell, just swell!

So, now we’ve got a car that needs a front end alignment, a cake that needs some heavy duty culinary repair work and me with a bandaged hand that was still dripping blood on everything and anything and badly in need of some medical attention.

Cazzo!

Could anything else go wrong that night?

We got to the house in time for me to whip together the frosting, when my other friend came strolling into the kitchen where I was working my magic; eyeballed the cake and the frosting that I was making, and says, “What the hell happened to the cake?”

“And,” she continues, “What ta shit is with the ugly pink frosting?”

Madonna!

Just when I thought things couldn’t have gotten any worse, I discovered that my fingers had been bleeding through the bandages into the vanilla frosting.

Yep.

While I tended to my bleeding hand, I got my friend to make another batch of frosting, minus the added rose tinting.

We get the frosting on the cake just in time for Rosie’s grand entrance to yell, “Surprise!” and sing “Happy Birthday!”, when Rosie leans over, smiles and says, “Thanks, Luce, for the cake, but what’s with the Happy Birtaday, Rosie written on it?”

Cavolo! (Literal translation, cabbage or holy crap!)

That was the FIRST and the LAST birthday cake that I ever made, People.

Rosie is the baker in our friendship and I’m the willing recipient of her scrumptious creations.

It’s been a successful friendship now for over 35 years, so why mess with perfection?

Have a grand day, People, and I’ll catch you next adventure, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

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Christmas Gratitude

Years ago, I decided that unless I wanted to be spending every Christmas holiday alone, I’d better make some new Xmas traditions for myself or I was going be awfully lonely on one of my all-time favorite holidays of the year.

I was in my fifth year to sunny Northern Ca. from the cold, wintry, snow-entombed Adirondack mountains of upstate NY, and what little family I did have in Northern Ca., left for the sunnier, warmer climates of Southern Ca. and left me wondering “what the hell I was doing alone in this land of Birkenstocks, tie-dye t-shirts, tofu and crazy freeways?”

I didn’t have the money, or vacation time, to truck all the way down to southern Ca the first year my brother and his family left; so I stayed in my tiny studio, bought my own tree, strung popcorn and cranberries and with little money (but a load of creativity!), decorated my abode as best I could and did a pretty decent job that first year, if I do say so myself.

Being the “people person” that I am, though, I decided that I needed more of a “human connection” for my second year in my studio and so began my journey to acquire a local family and start some memory-making new holiday traditions.

After pricking and totally numbing my fingers that first year stringing my popcorn and cranberries, I decided that maybe my “new friends” would have fun in “assisting me” with said new tradition, and thus started my road to new and solicitous holiday traditions.

What I never truly understood then, but totally get now, though, was that these personal, Christmas traditions that I started years ago to serve my altruistic needs for family and love in my life, ended up benevolently serving a whole group of others, in their needs for intimacy and community, as well.

The food, the decorating, the laughter, the games….all activities and undertakings that satiated this hunger that I had for human connection and validation…all activities and traditions that satiated their hunger for connection and validation, too…

Everywhere I turned, I was being emotionally bombarded – from the Christmas songs relentlessly playing, to the Hallmark card advertisements – all reasons why I should be having a “holly, jolly Christmas,” and yet deep inside of me there was this “Christmas hole”, of sorts; and somehow I, Lucie Benedetti, was on the outside of what everyone else was enjoying; and somehow I needed to become an insider and be part of what Hallmark and all these Christmas songs were promoting.

I needed my “Christmas Story”.

I needed my set of traditions.

I needed “the holly and the jolly” that supposedly everyone else out there was having.

And I needed it, that year.

And I found it – with a group of individuals that (unbeknownst to me, at the time) were looking for their “Hallmark Christmas”, too.

Over the years, a lot of friends have come and gone, a lot of popcorn and cranberries strung, a lot of Christmas tables meticulously designed and set, a lot decorations bought and put up; a lot of Italian dishes lovingly prepared and eaten and a lot of love and good memories creatively fostered.

And some of us have gotten grayer, fatter, and somewhat wiser, and to those of us who have taken this path together – to those friends who have left me willingly (or unwillingly), and to those who remain in my life and in my heart (both near and far), I say, “Thank you. Thank you for gifting me with your friendship of unconditional love and loyalty and kindness”.

“But most of all – thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for making my Christmases the ‘holliest, jolliest, merriest’ of Christmases ever.”

May all of my friends, both new and old, be blessed with a year of good health, much love and a whole lot of unbridled, child-like laughter.

And I’ll catch ya next go-round, looking at life from my shoes.

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