A lesson from snowman cupcakes

Sometimes things come out wobbly, despite our best intentions.

By , Kitchen Report

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    Snowman cupcakes only a child could love.
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Since I’ve started producing Stir It Up! on CSMonitor.com I find that a lot of people share their food-related thoughts with me and sometimes ask me questions. Sometimes I have an answer or an idea, and sometimes I do not. Here are for-real questions that I’ve received in the past two weeks:

“Do you know how to de-bone a duck?”

“I’m throwing an Inuit-themed dinner party for my wife’s birthday. Have you come across any good northern recipes that maybe Eskimos would serve?”

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“I’m going to a Christmas cookie party that is actually quite competitive. Do you have any good ideas for what I could bring?”

The first two drew blank stares from me. For the third question I decided to fake it (I love a good challenge). “Sure,” I replied, “I think you should take snowman cupcakes.”

What? Where did that come from? I’ve never seen or made snowman cupcakes.

Fortunately I was seated at my desk at work and Google was within inches of my fingertips. “Snowman cupcakes,” I typed in the search engine and with a triumphant grin I swiveled my computer monitor toward my colleague who had asked the question.

“See, just look at these cute Betty Crocker snowmen. Or this beret-wearing snowperson by Martha Stewart,” I said confidently. “I’m sure you could do this.” She seemed to like the idea, and I did, too.

In fact, I was smitten. I wanted to make cute food like this. I wanted to walk into a crowded room armed with a tray of caroling marshmallow snowmen decked out in festive licorice and have people think, “Wow, that Kendra, she is really good. Not only does write up her recipes and post them online, she makes adorable food.” It was a fantasy sprinkled with all the magic of the season and I wanted to make it real.

And I had the perfect opportunity to act out my sugar-plum vision – Rebecca‘s annual caroling party was in two days.

Because I figured I would be putting so much effort into the sculptures, I decided to buy boxed cake and icing mix instead of trying to create the cupcakes from scratch. (Leave that cuteness to The Magnolia Bakery, no one would know the difference.)

The morning of the party dawned. I was stumbling around my apartment, still tired from staying out too late listening to live jazz two nights prior, and trying to rein in the chaos that was blooming everywhere in order to make room for my snowman-masterpiece assembly line.

And then the phone rang. It was Rebecca.

“OK, so they are trying to break the world record for the most carolers in one place at the mall. Do you wanna go? We have to leave in 15 minutes to get there in time.”

Don’t you get plaintive Saturday morning phone calls asking you to help break world records? By singing “Jingle Bells”? How hard could this be? My brother and his high school classmates once leapfrogged their names into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1988. This was my chance. More visions danced through my head. The news team crews would surely be there and we would get interviewed or maybe splashed across the front page of the Boston Globe. What a great start to the holiday season!

And then I remembered my snowmen. Could I participate in a large, corny, cheerful event and still get my cupcakes done on time? Do Santa’s reindeer know how to fly?? Of course I could!! So off we went.

Although it was fun to sing with Keith Lockhart and Santa and Mrs. Claus we remained ordinary carolers (the next day’s headlines read “Boston comes up short in record caroling attempt“). And now the party was just a few hours away and the cupcakes still unmade. So like any good race where you suddenly realize you are behind, I simply sped up.

This does not – let me repeat, does not – translate well in the baking world. First of all, I messed up the boxed mix, if you can believe that, by adding too much milk. The icing turned out to be off-white. Then the cupcakes didn’t cool fast enough resulting in melting, smudged, depressed snowmen. My sugar-laced dreams dissolved before my eyes.

So I did the only thing left to do. I swallowed my pride and picked up the phone a half hour before the party. Rebecca’s mom, Janell, answered. “I am in the middle of a baking disaster,” I reported truthfully. “I simply cannot offer what I have created. I’m sorry. Is there anything you need that I could … (gulp) pick up from the store?”

There was a pause, and then a laugh. “Kendra,” Janell said, “we have everything we need. We just need Kendra. These things happen. Just bring yourself.” Janell is good like this. She knows when to laugh away our worries.

So I took my patience, self-forgiveness, and good cheer to the party instead. We had a great time, of course, and did some of the best singing we’ve ever done.

And then the next day I took my unfinished snowman tray to an expert: my “4-and-three-quarters years old” niece, Riley. We had a fine time assembling our “snowman family,” mostly eating the snowman accessories but still, Riley didn’t judge. And I didn’t either.

This is a good lesson.

Because if you stay a child at heart, and keep the wonder of all those hopes and dreams alive despite the circumstances, it’s OK if things come out wobbly from time to time. The people who love you will never even notice.

And you’ll still get to lick the frosting bowl.

Kendra Nordin blogs at Kitchen Report.

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