On a scale of one to ten, I am a zero when it comes to baking. I've tried, but it seems like every single time, something goes wrong. Here are just a few examples of some of my kitchen disasters.
In fifth grade, I misread the recipe and added a tablespoon of salt to a batch of sugar-cookie dough instead of a teaspoon. I'd planned on giving a plate of pretty, decorated cookies to my teacher for a holiday gift. It was a good thing we sampled them first. I gave her a coffee mug instead.
In sixth grade, my school had a bake sale to raise money for new computers in the library. I tried to make a decadent layered chocolate cake, but when I put the layers together, the cake was so uneven, it looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
And then there was the time I helped Mom make a lemon cake for a meeting at our house. It looked really dark on top, but we figured some powdered sugar would fix that problem. We later discovered the bottom of the cake was even darker than the top. As in, black. The next time Mom had a meeting, we bought cupcakes.
My mom says she doesn't have the baking gene either, so I shouldn't feel bad. But I do. It seems like every girl I know loves to bake and is an expert at whipping up delicious treats.
My sad skills in the kitchen are the reason I'm secretly freaking out about the discussion going on right now in Sophie's living room. There are five girls and their moms here for the first meeting of the mother/daughter book club that Sophie decided to start. I was so flattered when she asked if my mom and I would like to be a part of it. Sophie and I have been good friends for a few years, ever since we met in theater camp, but we don't go to the same middle school, so it would have been easy for her to leave me out.
Sophie has been explaining to us how the club will work. We'll meet the first Sunday of every month and take turns hosting the club. In addition to the meeting place, the hostesses will provide a list of discussion questions and delicious snacks.
Wait. That's not exactly right. I believe Sophie's exact words were "amazing, delicious, out-of-this-world homemade snacks."
I raise my hand.
"Lily?" Sophie says.
"So, we can't buy snacks?" I ask. "Like at a bakery or grocery store?"
Sophie's best friend, Isabel, replies. "Sophie and I have talked about the snacks a lot. I know we're all busy, but we'll be taking turns, so each of us will only have to bake for the club two or three times a year. We really think homemade treats will make the meetings extra special. We can even exchange recipes, if everyone's interested."
I glance sideways at my mother to see if she's freaking out as much as I am, but my mother is the Queen of Calm. If she's bothered by their homemade requirement, her face doesn't show it.
I take a deep breath and try to copy my mom. She's keeping her eyes focused on the speaker. Her lips are upturned in a slight smile. And her hands are folded in her lap.
Then I give myself a pep talk. My dad taught me this trick because he says there are times in life you need one and the only person available is yourself. I believe this is one of those times.
Lily, stop freaking out about the snacks! Geez, it's not like someone's in the hospital or something. So many people have bigger things to worry about. Get over it. You'll make something and it will be fine. It might taste horrible. Or be black around the edges. Or require a steak knife to cut into it. But it'll be fine.
Sophie continues. "I told my mom that next to seeing friends once a month and reading good books, sharing yummy snacks was at the top of the list as to why I wanted to start a mother/daughter book club. The book club gives us girls a reason to play around in the kitchen and try new recipes. It'll be fun, right?"
I watch as the three other girls nod their heads in agreement with Sophie. I remain calm, all the while thinking how awesome it would be to have a book club with pizza delivered at every meeting.
Sophie looks at a piece of paper in front of her before she says, "Okay, I think I've covered everything. After we discuss A Wrinkle in Time this afternoon, we'll choose books for the rest of the year while we eat our snack."
One of the girls I just met today, Dharsanaa, points to the pie on the coffee table. "What kind of pie did you make? It looks really good."
"It's apple-blackberry, and I hope it's good," Sophie replies. "It's the first time I've ever made a pie. Mom helped me with the crust."
"And Jack gave you a few pie-baking tips, right?" Isabel asks. Sophie nods while Isabel explains. "Jack is a friend of mine who lives in Seattle. His mom owns Penny's Pie Place, so he knows a lot about pies."
"Yeah," Sophie says. "He told me to wrap the edge of the pie crust up with aluminum foil the last twenty minutes, to keep it from getting too dark."
Isabel rubs her hands together. "I can't wait to try it, Soph. It looks like something out of a magazine."
"But first we have to eat the jam sandwiches," Katie says. "Like Meg and Charles did in the book, the night of the storm."
"We're going to have hot cocoa too," Sophie says.
"Are we ready to start the discussion?" Dharsanaa asks.
"What about a name for our club?" Isabel asks. "Remember, Sophie? We were going to see if anyone had any suggestions."
The fifth girl, Katie, raises her hand. "I have an idea. How about the Baking Bookworms?"
Sophie and Isabel squeal at the exact same time. "I love it!" Sophie says. "It's perfect! Is that okay with everyone?"
I look at my mom again. She looks at me. The Queens of Calm have vanished from the room. We are the Princesses of Panic, because now there's no denying that this club is going to be as much about baking as it is about reading. But everyone is talking and agreeing that it's the best name ever, so neither of us says a word. I try to think of something else, a different name they'd love just as much, but my mind is completely blank.
Sophie's dog, Daisy, barks, asking to be let in from the backyard. Sophie's mom is in the kitchen getting the hot cocoa ready. "Is it okay if I let her in?" I ask.
"Oh, sure. Thanks, Lily."
I go to the back door and open it, and Daisy is so happy to see me. It's started to rain outside. That's probably why she wanted inside. She follows me back to the living room, where I rejoin everyone. Daisy sits near the coffee table and licks her chops as she eyes the pie.
"Oh, no you don't," Sophie says. She picks up the pie and walks toward the kitchen.
"Let's go around the room and assign a month for hosting," Isabel says. "I'll take April. Lily, you get May, Dharsanaa hosts in June, and in July, it'll be Katie. Is that okay with everyone?"
We all nod our heads. I tell myself two months is plenty of time to find a delicious recipe and practice making it a hundred times. Oh my gosh. Does that mean I have to eat it a hundred times? Maybe my sister will help me. She's athletic and always hungry.
Or maybe we can read a historical book when it's my turn to host. Something from back in the days when sugar was expensive and most people couldn't afford to bake anything really fancy. My great-grandma told me that when she was a little girl she'd get an orange and a few nuts in her stocking at Christmastime and she'd be thrilled. I need a book like that. Then I could serve oranges and nuts and call it good.
Except Sophie wasn't satisfied with just serving hot cocoa and jam sandwiches. She had to go above and beyond what was in the book and bake a beautiful, complicated pie.