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Part III: Dumped Divorcee

February 05, 2016 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Patty was constantly rearranging her days like a room full of furniture. Yes, being married had been hard work and being left behind and alone to create a new life was even harder. This was probably why one half of middle aged women who can afford to go off to spas to get rid of gray, wrinkles, and flab and the other half get fat feasting on cheap Hershey chocolates and thin mint Girl Scout cookies they bought to be charitable to their neighbors’ kids.

Oh well, what was she going to do with her time? And then it hit her. The next morning she went online and signed up for a baking class at a nearby community college. “I’ll show Sam.” There she found that making cakes of all types, shapes, and sizes became her métier. It wasn’t hard at all. Read the recipes carefully, invest in good ingredients, be patient since baking is akin to science, and exert some creativity—new flavors, new colors, new concoctions. Before long, she became known in class as the chief cake lady.

Her caking repertoire became as extensive as a Wagnerian opera: cupcakes and towering layer cakes in lemon, carrot with chunks of walnuts, chocolate with fat maraschino cherries in the center, and red velvet all topped with butter cream frosting in various colors and flavors made with real butter, good vanilla, and cream. Plain but perfectly baked pound cakes that contained pounds of butter. Cinnamon crumb cakes and Bundt cakes in maple, honey, and banana flavors. Molten lava cakes, Boston cream pie made with Guitard chocolate. Angel food cakes with lemon and orange rind mixed in and strawberries on top with a deep glaze that looked as smooth as glass. Tiramisu with ladyfingers and real whipped cream that was richer than Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, and a line of designer fruit tarts that looked like works of art. Southerners loved entertaining at home so there was great demand for her output.

Her reputation spread and after doing a caking demonstration on local TV, her phone started ringing with requests for special orders. She did a cheesecake on a cookie-like dough arranging the fruit on top in various designs like certain abstract paintings, aka Mondrian, for a local museum gala. She baked and decorated cakes for the holidays with apple slices in the shape of a turkey for Thanksgiving, or raspberries in the shape of a heart for Valentine’s Day, and created cakes in the shape of company logos for corporate events, especially banks as that business niche grew.

Even with orders pouring in, she was barely making ends meet. At times, the ingredients were more expensive than the amount she charged. Funds were tight with her income sinking faster than the Titanic and that’s when she put her home up for sale. It sold within a day at the asking price. Her sales associate called, “Meet me at the office. I have an all cash contract, and the couple wants to take possession in two months.” She had nowhere to go.

It was her octogenarian mother, Beamer, now a widow, who saved the day. “Why don’t you move in with me until you decide where you want to set down permanent roots?”

Patty didn’t have to think twice, “I think I’d like that. It would also give me some time to see if moving back to my hometown is where I want to settle and build a new life.” Three months later, she had sold the family home and moved in with Beamer. At first, she baked pound cakes in her mother’s kitchen and tried selling them to a local wholesale baker and at farmers’ markets in the area.

Meanwhile, Beamer was seething about her stingy ex-son-in-law and how little he had given her daughter, and also worrying about her daughter’s future–enough for every Jewish mother in the country, collectively. One night at dinner, the two women had an amiable silence as they sat munching their salads and sipping their glasses of Pinot. Beamer broke the quiet. “Patty,” her mother asked for what seemed the hundredth time, “What are you going to do to earn extra income? You don’t seem to be making enough from your baking hobby.”

Patty looked up, was annoyed that baking from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. was considered a hobby. She studied her mother’s face for a moment and said, “Mother. I’ll become one of those demo ladies trying to encourage everyone to buy three of everything since I work on commission – toilet paper, mitts for coking, and Kool-Aid.” Phew!

“That’s not funny,” her mother said.

But figuring out what she wanted to do seemed beyond her grasp at this point.

“Remember most of us are scared just like you. You are lucky you had somewhere to go. You’ll figure it out, it just takes time,” her mother said with conviction.  She sounded so reasonable.  “I want just to see you happy again,” her mother responded sadly.

And then two days later the answer to “what are you going to do?” surfaced like a swimmer who comes up for a breath of air. Patty announced to her mother, “I’m going to open an upscale cake store with money from my portion of the sale of the house.” Patty poured herself a cup of coffee, clinked her mother’s mug, and took a sip as she carefully pondered her decision about where to open her shop and how she’d do it.

The name would be “Patty’s Cakes,” a riff off of Sam’s obnoxious pun. She’d focus on special occasion cakes that resembled three dimensional objects and go after a specific upscale target market. She also knew she had to get the right city licenses to start a food business. In the meantime, she’d photograph samples of her best work to create a portfolio and start a website offering an online presence. She’d also start to tweet. Since she knew the owner of the local wholesale bakery, she’d find out if he would sell her any used equipment and help her buy ingredients in bulk at cost. And she’d bake at a local church which had a basement kitchen that was barely used, except for important funerals and marriages. She’d come up with a price sheet—her childhood girlfriend, now a CPA, had offered to help with that and the business end of things including spread sheets to track what did well and failed. Along the way, she’d join a cake baking association and read books and visit web sites to keep up with new trends and techniques.

And last but not least, she’d begin showing her cakes and offering samples at tastings and local and regional food shows. For this last part, she bought some new clothes, went online to find when the next show was taking place, registered, and the day of, wrapped herself in one of her best pastel colored shawls, applied makeup perfectly according to the way she was instructed at the Clinique counter at Macy’s, and was ready to become the cake star!

Back home, Beamer was burning that her daughter had to work so hard while her ex son-in-law was spending with abandon on his cute shiksa girlfriend. She couldn’t take it any longer. On a whim, Beamer, a diminutive woman at just 5 feet tall, decided to take matters into her own hands. She would “take out” her ex son-in-law. She thought about hiring a hit person but didn’t know how to find one. It’s not as if they advertised on Craigslist, Etsy, or eBay.

Then, thinking about Angela Lansbury in “Murder She Wrote,” she hatched a plan. She told Patty, “I’m going out of town for the weekend. I’ll be back by Monday,” Patty was too busy to give it much thought. Since her mother was treasurer of the national Hadassah group, she assumed it was just another regional conclave when the women would come together to pray, sing Jewish songs ala kumbaya, decide on fundraising projects, and eat and compete in their own baking competitions—rugelach, lemon bars, and Mandelbrots. She heard a cab honk outside. “Have a safe trip,” yelled Patty from her bedroom as her mother walked out the door.

Part IV next week.




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