Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sweetie Pie

"Baking is not just following a recipe, it's so much more than that. Baking is the metaphysical transfer of love from the baker's soul, through the baker's hands, and into loved ones' hearts. Someone once asked me, "Why a bakery? What does it do for you?" I answered, "Because I get to make people happy. No matter how bad someone's day may be going, no matter what heartbreak they may have in life, I give them a piece of cake made with love and THEY SMILE." -- Dennis Hunter

I spent all day yesterday as my alter ego, Sweetie Pie, the baker and storyteller. Sweetie Pie made four appearances at the Los Banos Tomato Festival, baking, with the help of children who she called up from the audience, chocolate tomato cake. Sweetie Pie teaches science through baking.

I've never been happier than when I appear as Sweetie Pie, except maybe when I worked for a living as a baker. Now, I work as a university lecturer, and though it's respectable work, it doesn't light me up the way baking does. Nor does it give me the thrill that watching a small child break his or her first egg in a bowl does. I think if all I did every day was invite young children who have never broken eggs into a kitchen and watch their little hands work that magical maneuver, I'd never grow tired.

Well, I'd get tired. After a whole day as Sweetie Pie, I slept for twelve hours last night. I slept right through the church bells. And I expect to sleep a good night's sleep tonight.

If there's anything else I want to do before I die, it's to open a bakery. I've considered converting my van into a bakery food truck and painting it as Sweetie Pie's House of Butter--butter yellow bricks with a pink frosting roof.

Recently, I interviewed for a job at a bakery. I wasn't hired. I thought, Don't they know who I am? A writer for the Huffington Post named Sweetie Pie's apple pie one the six best in the country! Movie stars have said my muffins and scones are the best they've eaten! So, fine. I didn't get the job. I understand. I already have a full time job and there's plenty of people with way more flexible schedules who are probably a little less full of themselves about their baking skills. But believe me, when I get in front of the ingredients--the butter, flour, eggs, sugar, milk, and salt--I am humbled. I'm humbled by their beauty and the magic they are capable of. I'm humbled by the chance to work with my hands, to make baked goods from scratch in this country of boxed cake mixes. I'm humbled because, like the above-quote says, people are usually pretty happy when you put a muffin or a piece of cake in their hands.

When I lived in a small town and worked as the town baker, I sometimes left my muffins on random people's doorsteps. I think in a town like this, a bit too big and with too high a crime rate to trust an unmarked package on a doorstep, that I wouldn't be making anyone anything but paranoid if I did that here.

But baking is in my future, as Sweetie Pie. Baking is in my bones. I'm made to bake. Yesterday, I made a fresh buttercream frosting for the tomato cakes and I could've watched the subtle changes in the texture of the butter as I worked it over with mixer all day. I feel the thrill from my fingertips to my toes to the top of my head.

I just need a professional kitchen, the shine and cool of those stainless steel counters, my hand spreading flour over the surface, as I loosen the scone batter from the bowl and roll it out, section it and put it in the oven, letting my nose know when the tray needs to come out to cool, shelve, and be served.

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