It had been a lovely night. The invitation to a potluck meal hosted by a circle of friends I distantly orbit was a nice change of pace.
I wasn't even nervous.
Food and drink folded readily into conversation and laughter. Even our children, who have begun to resemble the Narrowest of Hipsters, had tagged along and tucked themselves away in a far off bedroom, good-naturedly stabbing their flags into the hilltop where the most embarrassing mother gets ceremonially planted.
I usually (and unapologetically) win that honor. But who doesn't wish to impress?
I'm not sure when it happened. But somewhere between the Salad Days and We're All Stocked Up on Dry Milk and Preserves, I lost enough of my social anxiety to accept an invitation to a foodie foray and not worry that I'll stand out like a sore thumb until, well, I inevitably end up standing out like a sore thumb.
It's a relief, honestly, not to worry what people must think. Not to twist yourself into knots trying to seem effortless and flexible.
Still, everything had gone smoothly. As previously agreed, I had brought wine and dessert that I didn't agonize over too much.
Ok … well, maybe a little.
The people at the wine store are knowledgeable and always point me in the direction of something that won't turn people's faces inside out if they manage to get it past their noses and into their gullets. I don't always take their advice if I'm distracted by an eye-catching label, but I've managed to curb those impulses.
And I have, on several occasions, made desserts that didn't wind up spat into a wad of napkins and jammed into the neighbor's shrubbery. Although I'll be honest, I did attempt a scientific experiment with vanilla cake and limeade that got a thumbs-down from my test subjects, who implored me to use their tried and true favorite, which comes fully measured and packaged with easy-to-follow instructions.
Since I stirred in an egg and a half-cup of water, then poured the results into a pan and slid that pan into a 350 oven, I felt confident “homemade” wasn't a falsehood.
As my rich, decadent dessert started to get raves, my confidence wavered.
My teeth set on edge, as I accepted praise.
I changed the subject from dessert to politics hoping to avoid having to produce definitive information about my cake's origins.
I hold my breath as I pull the empty cake pan into my sternum as the night comes to an end. My daughter laughs as I exchanged pleasantries with our hosts and head for the door. A mantra loops through my head as we make our escape: Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask for the recipe. Please don't ask …
We made it to the car, and I started to breathe again. Celebrate, almost.
Mt. She flopped herself down in the passenger seat and took a long breath as if she were savoring the taste of smoke in her mouth.
“Yeah … The idea of having to fess up to making a box cake terrified you, didn't it?”
It was true. And the words hung in the air of that car as rank as if they were clouds of toxic gas.
What happened? It was all going so well. I NEVER feel bad about making a boxed cake, or buying produce that is not only pre-washed but also pre-sliced and diced or even julienned.
Why did I suddenly feel the need to hide my laissez-faire self?
I didn't sleep soundly. I tossed and turned until the smell of strong coffee, and the ding of my phone's message app drew me out of bed.
“Don't tell me,” my daughter laughed over her cereal bowl as I shuffled over to the coffee maker, my shoulders slumped in defeat. “Someone just asked for the recipe, didn't they?
“You're not going to tell her, are you?”
“What choice do I have?”
“I'll tell you what choice you have. You will go online and find a recipe and give her that.”
But I can't do that. That would be a lie.
“I'll tell you what I CAN do. I will go online, find a recipe, go into the kitchen and not come out until my scratch cake tastes like the one from the box. THEN I can give her the recipe!”
“See, that's the mother I know and love.”