***Writer’s note: Dear reader, this story is unedited and a work in progress. No reproduction without permission. All characters, settings, and anything else pertaining to this story are purely fiction ***
August 20th 2014
Placing my hand over the enter key, I close my eyes mediating a deep inhale, slowly releasing an exhale. Jumping, my nerves were like three dozen marbles scattering and clanking across a tiled floor.
I am about to do this.
Nothing could stop me. Once I hit enter, my name would be out there. My thoughts. Ambitions. Hopes and dreams. Recipes. Personal thoughts.
At this point I didn’t care if I was successful. Success wasn’t something I was seeking. I was seeking absolution from two things that were most on my mind, food and men. My blog, Food vs. Men was something I had been wanting to start for the past year.
In my life, both were failed attempts. Food helps sustain us. We eat our emotions and celebrate life with food. Sure, one could go twenty-one days without food, but in today’s society, we thrived on food. Good delicious food. Quick healthy meals. Different from the mundane we serve everyday. Wholesome comfort food that warms our bellies and mends our hearts.
The men part in the title, that just shows how much comfort and lack of being sustained I have been in that department. For the life of me, I can keep food longer in the freezer than I can keep a man.
Racking my brain, my blog will be a two-in-one combo. Food and men. One, I am good at and the second, it’s a really disastrous recipe.
It’s now or never.
Pressing gently down on the enter key, I watch the message pop up on my laptop.
Congratulations! Your blog is now active.
I did it.
“I did it!” I shout, not normally being the one who stomps the balls of her feet and fist bumps the air. Dabbing the message on my laptop screen, I had a feeling we are going to be best friends.
Take that Alyssa. My real best friend said I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.
Her words were, “You’re kind of timid. Sure, you can cook, like really cook, but actually getting yourself out there talking about men and food. I don’t see you airing your personal laundry.”
Rolling my eyes, Alyssa is a grade A honest bitch. But I love her. Tactlessness and all.
My fingers itch to type on the keyboard. My first post. I knew what I wanted to type out. I wasn’t winging my first blog post.
Beside my silver and black laptop, resting on the table was a notebook. A boring composition notebook filled with my thoughts, added like an aromatic to a recipe, and more over thoughts piling high as if they were side dishes.
The edges were worn and wilted like a rose at the end of its life. All of my recipes from college were in here. The ones I came up in my classes studying to be a social worker. Instead of listening to lectures, I fantasized I was in a kitchen making food. Don’t ask me why I didn’t want to go to culinary school. I didn’t see myself following that dream. Instead, I safely went to college, earned a Bachelor’s in social work and a minor in communications.
Alyssa might have described me as timid, but I wasn’t afraid of public speaking. Rather, I was good at speaking in front of people.
I did have a trick. Normally, I would fantasize being in front of a camera sharing a recipe. I would speak like I was dissecting one of my creations, and everything went smoothly. Not a nervous bone in my body.
Opening to the last few pages of my notebook, scanning the written text and side notes, my fingers magically worked the keyboard as I post for the first time.
Chocolate cake vs. Men, Love, and Europe
Sometimes in life we often find ourselves comparing and contracting to help guide us to the right decision. That is what my blog is about. Food vs. Men is something that I often find myself comparing and contrasting. One that always stays and the other that always… goes.
The title of this particular post is the reason why I haven’t eaten chocolate cake in five years. Of course, I don’t deprive myself of chocolate. A woman has to sustain herself during a raging PMS week every month.
I am referring to how I never eat chocolate cake at all. No cake pops, no double chocolate ganache cakes, German chocolate cake, molten lava cake, and especially no chocolate bundt cakes. All out the door.
There is one chocolate cake that is stuck in my mind like a piece of gum on my shoe. I equate that cake with a man I was in love with. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with the neighbor next door. He came out of the blue the Summer of the biggest change in my life, college.
The memory of him isn’t vivid, but I wish it was. My parents were hosting their annual summer bash, food and friends, and the new neighbors had just moved in two days prior.
Vaguely, I remember my mom saying something about the neighbors having a son my age, but I was too busy thinking of a recipe or watching a cooking show to give her words truly any thought.
While everyone was at the food table loading their paper plates, I stood at the dessert table eyeing the goodies. Homemade candy corn (Mrs. Snitch loves to make it for any gathering.) classic cupcakes with sprinkles, sweet almond cake, sweet potato, cherry, and apple pie, when my eye caught a chocolate bundt cake at the end of the table.
Now, growing up, I had never had a bundt cake. My mom never made them. Nor did anyone in my family. Their circular shape, grooved and glazed with a topping dribbling down the sides made my mouth water. I knew I had to try it.
You see, I love to eat dessert first before a meal. I had been doing it ever since I was fifteen. It drove my mom crazy to the point where she banned me from making any dessert. Cravings idling, I waited for events like this to feed my odd food habit. Candy bars in my room didn’t cut it.
Suspiciously, I eyed the cake, slowly making my way to the end of the table. My mom would give me the evil eye and I would smile taking a bite of whatever sweet was on my plate trying to ignore her glare.
Picking up the knife, my hand sliced through the cake. Cutting a small portion, placing it onto the plate, I grab a fork.
“Cake before hamburgers is a real dishonor.” A deep husky voice says from behind me.
Spinning around, fork mid air to mouth, the piece of cake lost its balance and the grass got the first taste.
“Cake before hamburgers is a perfect balance of sweet and salty.” I replied as I am met with chocolate almond colored eyes. Lost in their shape, oblong and sweet as they glimmered a little in the sun.
“If you say so.” His broad shoulders lifted high, almost to his ears, I noticed one was pierced. A small diamond in the center of his lobe, a sliver of silver wrapped around to the back.
Ignoring his words, I do what any woman would do in my position, I inspected him. His head cleanly shaved bald, smooth and glistening, and a tattoo of a black dragon wrapped around the side of his neck, it’s head tilted and mouth opening as if it were trying to swallow his the diamond on his ear. His skin smooth and fair welcoming the sun beaming high in the midsummer’s day sky.
Just a couple of inches taller than my five-seven frame, I felt lucky not to strain my neck to admire him in all his glory. He was glorious. His lips were symmetrical, thick and slightly parted waiting for me to respond, and his cheeks heated a light pink from the blistering Arizona heat.
When I didn’t say anything because my eyes kept volleying all over his form, he spoke to quickly, “How about we make a trade? You eat my hamburger and I eat your cake.” I received a wink, his eye lid cast downwards swallowing his almond shaped eye.
“I don’t like mustard.” I say running another inspection of his piled high bun with a small stain of mustard dripping down one of the sides.
“The way I make it you’ll love it. Just one bite.” He hands over his burger, and reluctantly I trade plates. “The key is to mix mayo and mustard. Not too much mustard for it to be bitter, but enough to compliment the mayo.”
I watch him take of a bite of my cake. Small bits of crumbs wrinkle his mouth. His strong jaw works, muscles tightening and constricting with each chew.
Motioning with his head and eyes for me to take a bite of his hamburger, I follow suit. The mustard wasn’t so bad as the flavors combined in my mouth. Actually, it was pretty good. But I wasn’t going to tell him that.
“My mom makes the best cake.” He grins showing me the game he is playing.
“What? Give. Me.” I say working between swallows, “back my cake.” Lunging forward for the plate his arm stretched behind his back, I face planted into his chest almost knocking his burger off the plate in my hands. Barely, saving it my fingers hold the burger in place.
“You see my mom she makes this cake maybe twice a year. She adds two ingredients that make it the best.” He laughs treading the line of honesty and teasing.
“So, you come and trade me just so you can have it?”
“She said I wasn’t allowed to have any and we had to save it for the neighbors. But I saw this pretty girl eyeing the desserts and it was only a matter of time before she would try my mom’s cake.”
The new neighbor’s son. I really should have paid more attention to my mom.
“You used me.” Up righting myself, I stand tall ready to fight to get my cake back. I was that curious. Only twice a year his mom made this cake and coerced me into trading, so the cake must be that good.
“Can I have my cake back?”
“How about we split it?” He suggested bringing the cake back into view. “Half of my burger and half of the cake, it’s a win win.”
Agreeing, we shared. L’s mom’s chocolate cake was the best cake I had ever tasted. Devilishly good with magic ingredients decadently melting in my mouth. For the first time, I couldn’t name flavors to someone else’s recipe. The feeling left me astounded and shocked.
For a month that summer we shared everything with each other. All meals at his house or mine. Our thoughts and dreams. L was the first guy I actually wanted to get to know.
Every morning, we’d meet outside in our pajamas. L would bring coffee and I would bring breakfast. For me, summer used to be about waking up late and lazing around, but L was my reason to get out of bed and cook before 11 a.m.
It was easy, our friendship. We were comfortable. Honest. Freeing our minds and hearts.
I knew the deadline was approaching for him to backpack through Europe. I knew the clock was ticking. With each tick, I fell in love with him. And falling for him meant heartbreak, because when he came back the week before we left for college, we weren’t going to see each other. I never saw us working out. We couldn’t do a long distance relationship. Only seeing each other on the weekends or holidays. I was staying close to home and he was traveling across country for school.
Three days before he left, he kissed me. Two days before he left, I snuck him into my room when my parents were out on their weekly date night. L stole my virginity. Afterwards, we clung to one another.
There weren’t any promises of being together. Waiting for one another. Just us in that moment. Arms entangled and hearts fluttering in our chests from what we just did.
The day he left without a goodbye, all that was left was a bundt cake on my front porch with a note.
My mom taught me to make this just for you. There will always be summer, chocolate cake and you, Cassie. Always L.
The week he left, I ate that cake in the span of five days, then I spent the rest of the summer trying to recreate his mom’s recipe. Dissecting the cake, always missing an ingredient. The kitchen was covered in flour and my bank account depleted buying excess ingredients.
I could have asked his mom for the recipe, but L confessed the cake was a family recipe. Top secret. All I could do was try to match it. I never could. My heart was broken, but I had to remind myself we never promised each other anything.
The week before I left for college, L came back to town. Our parents agreed to have a celebration dinner for his return. Everyone was standing in L’s house when the door opened upon his arrival. Only it wasn’t just L, whose hair had grown a few inches and he sported a silly mustache. A woman, beautiful and eye catching stood behind him. Their fingers linked on the wide smile spread across each other’s faces.
After hugs and introductions, L announced he got married while away. The plate of chocolate cake in my hands clanked to the ground breaking the silence of the full room. Weakly smiling, our eyes caught each other from across the living room.
His eyes were a startled apology and mine brimming with tears.
You’re probably wondering why I am telling you this story. Every year I try to make that cake and every year I fail. In all my years of cooking, I have failed at recreating L’s mom’s chocolate cake recipe, but I keep coming back to it.
I make the same cake, but never try it. I know I haven’t gotten the recipe right because of the way it smells. Writing that sounds weird, but one of the ingredients gives the cake a distinct smell I can never figure out.
I have tried adding cinnamon, knowing fully well there wasn’t cinnamon in the cake. Once I even added turmeric. My best friend Alyssa, and trusty taste tester said it was oddly good.
I wanted to make my first post about how I have failed when baking. I wanted to personally tell you how some recipes, no matter how good they look, how much you follow the directions (or lack there of) will have a piece of your own uniqueness.
Some recipes no matter how often you make them will always taste and turn out differently than mine. The recipes I post are a guideline. They fit my own taste buds. Sometimes I like more garlic and you might like less. You will never see a recipe of mine with cilantro —the vile and soapy tasting herb will never greet my kitchen — but it could be added to my recipe if you like it.
I firmly believe that cooking is creating something of mine that you’ll enjoy for yourself. Because no matter how much you fall in love with a recipe (or a man), somewhere down the line it always turns out differently than expected.
Much love from Food vs. Men.
A couple of clicks and my first blog post is up. A sense of relief washes over me that my first post is about failed attempts, rather than something perfectly pictured.
Standing, I stretch my arms and legs as Liver Spot, my ivory and brown spotted cat purs weaving through my legs like they are his own personal gym.
Picking up the pen, I write down a recipe for tomorrow’s blog post. A side dish, something with curry flavoring and potatoes.
All these years later, I failed not to think of L. Ever since that summer I haven’t been back home living in fear I would run into him. The day after his announcement, he came to my door to apologize.
I accepted it, not fully understanding what his apology meant. Was he apologizing for summer, our small forming relationship, or that he ripped my heart away from loving chocolate cake?
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Click here for Chapter 2