Around this time last year, give or take a week or two, I made the Sparkling Cranberry Cake with White Chocolate Icing, which was the cover cake of the Nov/Dec 2019 Canadian Living magazine.
It was a flashy yet elegant snowy white, studded throughout with fresh tangy cranberries and covered in a layer of coarse sugar that covers a multitude of sins and shines like little diamonds. You plant tiny stalks of rosemary on the top when you’re all done with the frosting and the sugar, as if they are pine trees in a winter wonderland. It was so simple, really, but also Christmas-special. The magazine even referred to it as “this delectable glitzy cake.”
Before I began, I tied on my Nelson Mandela apron which I had won in a bidding war at a church fundraising auction, outbidding our curate at the time, who was from South Africa and had plenty of access to other Nelson Mandela aprons whenever he wanted. He wouldn’t stop but neither would I. The apron was mine.
It was just after I beat the butter until creamy; the sugar until fluffy; the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, the flour mixture, alternating with sour cream and milk just until smooth; stirred in the vanilla and folded in, gently, the cranberries, that I realized I was short one cake pan. This cake was so tall and ambitious that it required three cake pans, not just two, like other, shorter cakes. I thought about cooking first two cakes and then later, after they cooled, one more, but I was already starting to flag. I had to keep forging onward before the regret of starting far too big a baking project began to really kick in.
I’ll ask my neighbour, I thought. It will be a good way to say hello, I thought.
So I went out our front door and stepped over to their section of the semi-detached house we had moved into earlier that fall, and knocked. I carried a pan with me, so I could show her just what kind I needed to borrow. She answered the door, and I said, “Hi! I’m baking a cake and I’m short one pan.” I waved the pan around. “Do you have an extra pan like this I could borrow?”
“I don’t bake,” she replied.
So, I said, in all caps and with an exclamation mark: “OH, I DON’T BAKE EITHER!” My manic laughter which followed further betrayed my unbaked cake, my flour strewn kitchen, my counter with its milky puddles, the gunk in my hair, my apron and myself. And, as if that wasn’t weird enough, I experienced, simultaneously, a wave of relief that the apron I wore standing in my neighbour’s slowly-closing front door was a hip, activist, globally aware apron and not a frilly neanderthalic oppressed woman-who bakes apron.
“At least I’m wearing my Mandela apron,” I thought.
She did kindly rattle around in a cupboard while I waited, first outside, and then inside when she came back and opened the door again, and I tried not to jabber on about nothing or say more stuff to try to get her to like me, and produced exactly the kind of pan I needed, because her husband does all the baking, as she explained.
I slunk back into our house (don’t tell Holly, don’t tell Holly, don’t tell Holly) and I immediately told Holly, standing in the kitchen, exactly what just happened and how I had thrown baking under the bus.
“Oh Mom,” she said. She understood completely, bless her beautiful heart, how her mother could still be intimidated by people who are way cooler through no fault of their own, and not wearing an apron, and not covered in flour, and not so easily thrown off their own course.
The cake turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
There was no way I, personally, was going to return the cake pan though — I was embarrassed of my earlier embarrassment and of how I had denied all the sweet little things I clearly do bake — so I sent Brent over with it, along with a big chunk of Sparkling Cranberry Cake. Days later, we met up with the husband who told us how his wife has a deadly allergy to cranberries so they were glad they had identified the cranberries in time, and no harm done.
The reason I am thinking about all of this today is that #1: I just washed my Nelson Mandela apron and hung it to dry on our makeshift clothes line that stretches across our dungeon of a basement; and #2: Brent bought me a beautiful, thick, big pocketed sturdy and full sized sky-blue apron for my birthday (yes, along with some other great things) and he asked me, “You don’t mind do you? I thought you’d like it,” and I answered, “I love it,” and I meant it. And #3: It appears there will be no social occasion for which to bake the Sparkling Cranberry Cake with White Chocolate Icing this year.
I’ve also thought about aprons recently because I know a young, confident woman and wife who wears hers every time it’s her turn to cook, and even when she does her part of the cleaning of the house, and you know what?, it makes a lot of sense, because aprons keep your clothes clean. That’s why people wear them. And we bake cakes to eat them and serve delicious soft pieces to other people who say, “Just a small slice for me, please and thank you.”
I’ve thought about aprons too and all my complicated feelings about them (some of which have to stem from having to sew one for our grade seven home economics class while boys made shelves in shop, and then my university women studies classes that followed), because once or twice when I’ve carried out some recycling or compost to the bins that are outside our front door and realized I’m out there in the broad daylight strapped into an apron I forgot I was wearing, I no longer feel exposed to the world. I feel like someone at lower risk of compost juice getting on their shirt. I feel smart, even if I still feel just a tiny bit shy and silly.