Man vs. cake – a recipe for disaster

The recipe called for water – and that's when the adventure began.

The kitchen at my house is best left undisturbed. Martha Stewart I am not, and outside the realm of a peanut butter sandwich or boxed macaroni and cheese, things can get dicey when the preparation of food is involved. Cooking and baking are just not my thing.

While in college, that was OK. Most of my meals consisted of cereal and milk, sandwiches, or a couple slices of takeout pizza – definitely not items that posed any serious cooking challenges.

And although my kitchen had a large oven with a fancy grill on top, I pretty much stuck with the appliances that had preset buttons – the microwave, blender, and toaster.

Post-college, however, I now realize that my inability to cook or bake has become rather problematic.

Whether it's potluck office parties or get-togethers with friends – where all must bring a special dish to share – I have found that you can't bring Frosted Flakes or mac 'n' cheese as your item.

So when the sign-up sheet goes up to denote who will bring what, I usually play it safe, opting to provide plastic cups or paper plates. If those "nonfood" items are already taken, then I usually go with my famous "homemade" cookies – and repackage a bag of Chips Ahoy on a nice platter.

But at one office party, I thought I'd branch out. To make sure I didn't back out, I immediately sent a memo to my co-workers: "I've signed up for dessert, and I'm going to make it myself." The pressure was on.

After work that day, I headed to the store for some cake mix and frosting. The "recipe" was easy enough, I thought, as I read the back of the box: "Just add eggs and water."

That night, back in my kitchen, I heated the oven, poured the mix in a bowl with some eggs, and placed the result in a pan – just as the directions had instructed. While the batter baked, I prepared the frosting and thought about funny things I could write on top of the cake.

When the buzzer announced that my cake was ready, I pulled it from the oven and placed it on top of the stove to cool. But I soon realized that my cake and the picture of the one on the box didn't match.

In fact, my cake didn't look like cake at all.

My wife, who had stayed out of the kitchen that night and offered no help throughout the baking process, poked at the concoction and immediately started peppering me with questions. "Are you sure you read the directions? Did you leave it in too long? Did you even add water?"

As it turned out, thanks in part to my wife's insistence on figuring out what went wrong, I had forgotten the water. With no time left to make another cake, I accepted defeat.

On the way to work the next day, I picked up a pack of Chips Ahoy, took the cookies out of their packaging, and put them on a platter, as I had done in the past. During the party, I laid low to avoid any questions about my "homemade" dish or the mishap from the previous night.

For the next office party, I've decided to get back to the basics. My memo will say, "I'll just bring the plates." I figure it's best to let the real cooks bring the homemade stuff.

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