My morning began at 6:00 am when a rat the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger scurried three millimeters in front of my bare feet as I entered the garage to get water bottles from the backup fridge. Jolting myself awake, I let out a hearty scream, ran back into the house, slammed the door shut (oh my God, how many times has that door been left open…how many more furry rodents hide in the warmth of my safe home?) and called my husband who was away on business in the remote, rodent-free haven of Mexico.
He seemed rather befuddled by my anxious rambling; after all, I did rip him out of a cozy sleep. But when he finally understood what had happened, in between my gasps and yelps, whereas he could have easily been irked to be awoken for such a thing (I certainly would have been) he instinctively clicked on his deepest baritone voice and soothed me with empty promises that the rat would not come out to attack, that it was more petrified of me than I of it, and that I should consider purchasing a high tech James Bond sonar wave device that serves as the perfect deterrent (a male reflex to always buy useless, expensive, technology, I assume.) The talk was helpful, a bit. What he didn’t understand was that I was never going back into the garage again. The door was locked and sealed and all the contents in that space (and there were many) I heartily handed over to the rat. It was like an easy divorce: you get it all; I’ll walk away with nothing.
Still, my ties with the garage were too deep to ignore. I had to do laundry and that is where the washer and dryer are. In fact, heaps and heaps of dirty laundry lay on the garage floor; no doubt confusing the rat into thinking it must have stumbled upon the Rodent Ritz-Carlton. Also the garage was host to the aforementioned back-up fridge, which had all the family beverages: bottles of imported sparkling water and juices of which, under dire circumstances such as these, I would manage without, but, more importantly this fridge packed an extra chilled punch and therefore was where my entire supply of white wine lived. There was no way I could survive an evening without extra chilled chardonnay.
Next to my back-up fridge was my back-up pantry with all my prized cake-decorating accessories that could not fit in my already-cramped kitchen: my piping tip set, pastry bags and sturdy Wilton rotating cake stand waited faithfully for their next play date with my red mixer Lulu and I wasn’t about to let them down. I knew I couldn’t just seal the garage from my life and so I did what any modern, sensible woman would do: I called the exterminator. Why deal with it when I can pay someone to do that awful job for me? Sure, there was a twinge of guilt: the rat was a living creature, God’s creature, Buddha’s reincarnation, whatever you believe, there is no spiritual text that guides you to kill it because it is gross and creeps you out. That just doesn’t fly with enlightened folk. But that is the guttural, human response, albeit, the one I had at least, and it was coupled with the feverish determination that possesses me when dealing with all things culinary. I was on a mission to reclaim my cake accessories and nothing would stop me now.
The lady on the phone was gentle and reassuring. Her name was Diane, which already worked for me because it conjured up images of a swooped and feathered blonde bob, sparkling blue eyes, oh and yes, that luxurious diamond tiara Princess Di sported so gracefully as millions of flashing bulbs captured her timeless beauty. This Diane no doubt was not quite as glamorous and kept slurping on a carbonated beverage of some sort while we talked, but she still sounded sweet and concerned. Most importantly, she listened patiently as I recounted with horror my early morning tale of near death with the rat (okay, so I added a few details as I went along for shock value).
I realize that by admitting these fears I am somehow betraying the women’s movement that has worked so hard to achieve a hard-earned status of independence and assertiveness over the years. I assume I am most likely being blacklisted at my alma matter, a fiercely feminist women’s college in the heart of New York City that proudly boasts accomplished scientists and authors as its graduates. Hysterical and needy aren’t attributes normally associated with its alumnae, but I am both at the moment, and, as I listen to Diane’s reassuring voice telling me Chuck (of course he is called Chuck) will be coming out tomorrow to take care of my situation, I feel calm and fuzzy and good.
My Chuck would show up in a red plaid shirt with Levi jeans and a pack of Marlboros. He’d have stubble and a Clint Eastwood 1970s gait. He’d be a man of few words, say ma’am and rummage through my clutter to capture the beast. Depending on my level of boredom, he could be gorgeous and ravish me as well, but my mind is frozen with thoughts of rodent droppings so I park my fabricated Chuck and wait for the real one to arrive.
Of course, when he does arrive, the actual Chuck sports a tan shirt with his company’s logo on it. He calls me Mrs. Martinez, wears a heavy wedding band, isn’t particularly attractive and is there for all of three minutes, where he sets appropriate traps in strategic places, has me sign a form and leaves. No romance, no salvation, and certainly no sex, but amazingly, going through the motions of getting rid of the rat is solace enough.
I wait several days before entering the garage. A broom is parked by the entrance and as I step into the tampered space, I announce my arrival with several loud bangs from its sturdy wooden handle. Nothing happens. No one stirs. I am hoping my early morning scream sent the rat scramming to a calmer home. That, or Chuck’s feigned testosterone surplus did the trick.
I don’t give myself too much time to think things through for panic will surely settle in. I make a straight run past the backup fridge and grab the cake stand and baking accessories. Today I will use it to spin up a tasty carrot cake. It will have crunch and sweetness and nourishment all molded together held by a soft cream cheese frosting. I will slice it into thin slivers and build sweet memories that will make me feel strong and happy; a far cry from the anxiety and helplessness a six a.m. unwanted guest can inflict.
(adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ cups corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups shelled walnuts, chopped
1 ½ cups shredded coconut
1 1/3 cups pureed cooked carrots
¾ cup drained crushed pineapple
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two 9” layer cake pans.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in walnuts, coconut, carrots and pineapple.
Pour batter into the prepared pans. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Cool on rack. Divide each cake round into three slivers and assemble each using simple syrup and frosting. Coat sides with walnuts.
Makes 2 cakes
(These cakes freeze very well. Just wrap in Saran Wrap and freeze for up to three months. To use cake, take out of freezer and let thaw for 2 hours.)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature.
6 tablespoons sweet butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice of ½ lemon
Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat until fully incorporated. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.
Frosting for 1 cake