I don’t have a single childhood birthday photo. Not a Halloween photo in costume. Not a family high school graduation photo. Not a college graduation photo. Not a wedding photo, the one where the father holds the bride’s hands to assure support.
My life is very terribly documented. Consequently, I have no interest in collectibles. It’s a curse but also a treasured possession. I can reinvent my childhood. My soft shadow just appears from time to time but memory is a kind of fiction. A vigorous attempt to retrieve it is never close to a triumph.
I have sort of let go of this idea to find value in other things. Simple things. Things like making a sponge cake. Sponge cakes are thought to be the newbie baker smooth sailing ground.
I was on a mission. That was how it felt. I put all the ingredients on the counter and followed the Youtube video instructions religiously. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat 6 large room temperature eggs on high speed. Add sugar. Whisk all-purpose flour and a ½ teaspoon of baking powder. The eggs and sugar should look thick and fluffy. I stopped there.
I stared at my eggs and sugar for a moment while comparing the ones in the video that were referred to as thick and fluffy to mine that were thin and uneven. ‘It’s Ok’, I said to myself. Probably I should beat them for another couple of minutes. I watched the eggs and sugar blend and form a thick and fluffy texture.
I stared for 8 long minutes and acquired some confidence doing so. I started seeing faces forming in that batter. It wasn’t unusual. The longer you stared at something the more likely you would derive the familiar. I had never seen anything like it before. Angry faces formed and crushed at a challenging speed. 'It's all in my head', I mumbled. Of course, there aren't faces in my batter staring at me as I beat them. Of course not.
I always doubted whether what I saw was a form of imagination. 'That batter can't suffer more beating. What I see is what I see', I said to myself. There were faces being tortured before my eyes. With each crush, they glanced at me begging for mercy. I watched my imagination racking itself for 8 long minutes. Am I responsible for their pain? I unplugged the blender twisting away the last face of a little girl full of bile. I mixed the batter and the flour and laid everything in a 9-inch cake pan. I did not imagine I would reach this point but I remembered that I had the tendency to underestimate my competence.
I convinced myself that there was a chance for a triumph. I waited 35 minutes near the oven. I'd sneak a glance through the oven glass every other minute. Once the smell filled the place I was convinced that what was in the oven was indeed a sponge cake. It smelled like our home some 20 years ago where my mother was still practicing her motherhood by making her famous vanilla sponge cake on a Sunday afternoon. While my cake was rising, the heavenly smell blasted through my nostrils and transported me to our childhood home, my mother's cakes, our wooden kitchen table where there was that one chair that we all fought to occupy first. None of it lasted the test of time. Not our home. Not my mother's cake. Not our wooden kitchen table. Not that majestic chair. I had to remind myself that self-governing no matter how fractured was my motto.
The oven timer beeped at a perfect moment before the anticipated crystals blinded my pupils. I placed the cake pan on my kitchen counter. It looked victorious so did I. I let it sit for 10 minutes per the video instructions. I watched it and couldn't resist stealing a bite from the crunchy edge. I knew that the moment I would touch it, I had to undo my expectations. I decided not.
I still had to get it out of the pan. I flipped the pan with support. The cake was comfortably glued to all edges. Those faces in my batter were surely filled with revenge. They were staring at me from all corners of the cake and laughing hysterically as I pushed and pulled and squeezed every possibility. It was like excavating an ancient stone. I was fighting to preserve the round shape but it was obvious that an operation was underway.
I waited for few more minutes for it to cool down. I searched on YouTube for videos that showed exactly how the cake was supposed to come out of the pan. I found a video titled 'Don't fight with your cake'. I pressed play as it sounded like what I was doing. I was fighting with my cake. I didn't understand the purpose of the video cause it did not show a struggle to get the cake out. There was this pretty girl standing in a fake kitchen decor holding the cake pan with her gloved hands then taking the cake out of the pan gracefully without one bit of struggle. It was a 3-minute video of this pretty girl just doing that. I kept waiting for that moment of struggle or even a tip on how to not fight with your cake, just anything. It was full of grace. I scrolled down to the comments section hoping to find answers. Everybody was complimenting the girl's beauty, fashion and her designer made gloves. I thought it was bullshit. She was pretty but not to the point where I'd write a 500-word paragraph on her beauty.
I finally took the knife and started cutting the cake into little pieces while scratching the bottom of my fifty dollars pan and forcing each piece out. With every scratch, I had to forget about what I envisioned for this cake being placed in the middle of the kitchen counter all day on display as a pedestrian treat, deliciously fluffy. I made peace with the idea that It wasn't going to be anything like that. A shapeless and faceless sponge was all I got. If it wasn't for the smell you'd easily mistake it for scrambled eggs.
I served myself a glass of Chardonnay and turned on one of my favorite Ahmad Jamal tunes 'It Could Happen to You' from his album Ahmad's Blues. I dimmed the lights and swayed around the kitchen table. I took a bite of my scrambled cake. It tasted like scrambled eggs. I swayed and drank. Swayed and drank. Swayed and drank. I took a pinch of salt and sprinkled it on my next bite. It was already starting to taste better. I wasn't sure if it was the salt or the wine.
I wanted to call my mother and tell her what happened. I wasn't ready to admit my failure. Not to my mom at least. I washed everything and left no trace. Then I lit my favorite Nepali incense and opened the kitchen window. The smell was slowly vanishing just like the cake. I ate it all. A 12 serving cake was finding its way through my digestive tract.
I called my mother. 'Mama, I made a breaded sweet and sour scrambled eggs with a pinch of salt.' She sounded like I woke her up from a good dream.
'No…I did not find it on the internet...I invented this recipe...Yes, I did.'
She asked me to send her a photo.
'I'll save you some', I said.