Monday, March 31, 2008

Bonding over Baked Goods…

Tonight is the Cub Scout’s Father-Son Cake Decorating contest. An excellent idea and a great way to get the dads out of their “manly Pinewood Derby” mode and into something a bit different. For me, of course, never having been into the “manly endeavors” in the first place, this was right up my alley.

Sonya and Jeremy were absolutely giddy about designing and making their Pinewood Derby cars, as well as helping Liam with his. I was totally and completely ambivalent. I was pretty busy at the time and didn’t have time to think of a decent design and have never been great with powertools. Oh, I can sculpt something pretty cool – given the time – but I knew I wouldn’t have the time to devote to a decent-performing and simultaneously cool-looking car that they did.

So I just sat back, let them spend the nights up until 4am polishing axel nails, sanding the body, researching graphite lubricants, arguing colors, and making a mess of the living room. I complimented Liam, Sonya and Jeremy on their designs and offered encouragement, but I just didn’t have time to make one myself. I lamented not being a part of it to a degree, but aside from being too busy, I just wasn’t interested in a project where performance was a key factor. I’m an artiste, not a grease (or in this case, graphite) monkey!

Then came the next contest: a father-son cake baking and decorating contest. It didn’t have to taste wonderful or go fast, just be edible and look cool. Now THAT I can do! I can turn almost anything into something cool looking with a bit of ingenuity and the right materials. Hell, even with the WRONG materials, I can make due!

We had almost forgotten about it until Friday night and had no real plan. Sonya, Liam and I have gone over a few concepts when we first heard about it. Extravagant, elaborate plans involving movable parts and such, but didn’t draw anything out. So on Saturday, before I left for work and the kids’ grandma came to pick them up for their semi-weekly overnight, we ran down some plans.

There are several categories to win in: tallest, outdoorsy, most colorful, Cub Scouty, etc., but none of them really sparked our imagination, so we decided to just make something unique and cool. I downloaded a few pictures of Optimus Prime, both the original Transformer and the newer movie version, and went that route.

Originally, we were planning on the new version, but with all of the contours, flaming paint job, and detail involved, I figured it would take forever and we didn’t have much time. After a bit of gentle coercion, I convinced Liam to go with the classic design. Simple in form, but cool and recognizable. I went to the store and got icing, cake mix, and other necessary accouterments. I went to work and the kids went to Grandma’s.

Sunday, Sonya and I went to the Coffee Beanery in Royal Oak for what is becoming a semi-regular gathering of Dondero alumni, all part of our general music geek clique. We had a nice time conversing with several folks we don’t get much chance to see, catching up, sharing stories about work, kids, life, etc., then left to meet up with the kids in Flint.

We arrive to the cakes all baked, waiting for me and Liam to work our aesthetic magic. I darted out to Meijer for a few more necessary supplies: icing dye, pretzel rods, graham crackers, etc. Upon my return, Liam and I get started.

I set my laptop on the table with the picture of Optimus Prime on the screen for us to work by. I started cutting the pieces into squares and rectangle to fit into the basic form and Liam mixes the colors into the icing, then we started spreading it. Now, I’m a whiz at sculpting in plastecine, as most who have known me for years will tell you, but a nice, moist cake is a whole different animal. Getting the icing to spread evenly without tearing the cake apart is time-consuming and requires more patience than Liam apparently had. After about 20 minutes, Liam got bored and frustrated and left to play video games, leaving me to do most of the work.

Eh, such is the mind of a 7-year-old. I was a bit disappointed, but more than happy to try my hand at it anyway. After assembling the pieces, frosting the basic form, applying the accessories like pretzel rod exhaust pipes, graham cracker windows, etc, I call Liam in to place the Oreo tires. By the end, we had a pretty damned convincing Mack truck!

I place the near finished cake in a box Sonya’s mom provided and gingerly carry it down the stairs from the condo, all the while picturing the scene from Sesame Street of the baker carrying “10 Banana Cream Pies!” and promptly falling down the stairs, splattering them all. I arrive successfully at the bottom, place the cake in the back of the station wagon, and we drive home VERY slowly and carefully. Once there, the kids are asleep and drag themselves to bed.

The cake looks good, as I carry it into the house and place it on the stovetop to give it one more admiring look, but it’s not quite Optimus Prime. It needs…something. I head to Kroger just before closing and get a few zip-loc bags. I head home and load some of the colored frosting into them and snip the corners of the bags to do some detail work. After about 20 minutes of filling in holes in the frosting, evening up some lop-sidedness, defining some edges, completing the paint job on the trailer, and painstakingly adding the Autobot logo, I step back and marvel at my own genius…

Paul & Liam's Optimus Prime Cake

It may not win any specific category, but it’s by far the coolest damned cake I’ve ever seen, let alone made. Liam was a big help and we had a lot of fun doing some of it together. The phrase “No Courtney, you can’t help. This is a GUY project” gave me a chuckle, at least after Sonya promised Courtney they’d make a flower cake with no guys allowed to cheer her up.

Sonya helped Liam with the woodworking project for the Pinewood Derby and I helped him for the cake bake. Hell with stereotypes and gender roles! We had a blast and I’m real proud of what we ended up with!! Can’t wait to see what the pack thinks tonight!

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