The Lousy Cook Decorates a Cake–Redux!

Practicing rosettes
Practicing rosettes, stars, beads, and what my classmates called “poops”

Six months after my cake decorating fiasco and with cupcake-decorating and cookie-decorating classes under my belt, I was ready to try again: this time with adult supervision. I signed up for a two-part, six-hour cake decorating class. I’m not sure why I ever thought I could casually decorate a fabulous anniversary cake. Like brain surgeons who decide they’ll write a novel “when they retire,” my goal was a bit of an insult to pastry chefs.

There are only four great arts: music, painting, sculpture, and ornamental pastry. –Julia Child

Practicing borders
Practicing shell and reverse-shell borders

You have to do it and do it, until you get it right. –Julia Child

Practicing zigzags and zigzag puffs!
Practicing zigzags and zigzag puffs!

But is anyone ever completely ready for a new undertaking, especially in a profession like cooking, where there are at least a hundred ways to cook a potato? –Julia Child

Practicing sweetpeas (not carrots)
Practicing sweet peas (not carrots)

[In class] I had to keep my ears open and make sure to ask questions, even if they were dumb questions. –Julia Child

Failing at rosebuds
Failing (again) at rosebuds

…the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know. –Julia Child

Fucking rosebuds

The week between classes, I picked up Julia Child’s My Life in France, which immediately became one of my all-time favorite books. I adore it and can’t imagine the world without this book in it (she essentially dictated it to her great-nephew over the year before her death at age 92, so it came close to never existing). I don’t own Child’s cookbook (and probably never will), but this book is about so much more than cooking, and I think it’s indispensable for any artist, writer, or craftsperson: It’s about hard work and persistence and “the importance of practice, practice, practice,” as Julia says. Writing can be substituted for cooking in any of her quotes.

Her book is also about marriage, and falling in love with cats, and embracing life, and politics and tolerance, and female friendship, and travel, and booze. And feminism (like Erma Bombeck’s, her husband ended his career to support hers). She was a remarkable human being.

Practicing sweet peas, leaves, and borders on store-bought cookies
Practicing sweet peas, leaves, and borders on store-bought cookies

I had never taken anything so seriously in my life—husband and cat excepted—and I could hardly bear to be away from the kitchen. –Julia Child

At class the following Saturday, I was rewarded with…an actual cake to decorate!

Let there be cake!
Let there be cake!

Each recipe took hours of work…
…learning to take time—hours, even—and care… –Julia Child

Saw it in half and create a barrier
Saw it in half and pipe a barrier

One of the best lessons I absorbed…was how to do things simply. –Julia Child
(I beg to differ. There is nothing simple about the dishes she describes, especially the goose crushing. Let’s just say I skimmed those passages.)

Add filling!

I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine…. I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make…. Such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings) and make the other person think, “Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!” Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed–eh bien, tant pis!… Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. –Julia Child

Smooth it out.
Smooth it out.

I came to understand that learning how to fix one’s mistakes, or live with them, was an important part of becoming a cook. –Julia Child

Put the halves together and ice!

I wanted to be pushed hard and further. There was so much more to learn! –Julia Child

Learning apple blossoms, pansies, primroses, mums, and roses!
Learning apple blossoms, pansies, primroses, mums, and roses!

The more I learned the more I realized how very much one has to know before one is in-the-know at all. –Julia Child

A decorated cake!
A decorated cake!

“One thing that separates us Senior Citizens from the Juniors is learning how to suffer,” Paul noted. “It’s a skill, just like learning to write.” – Julia Child


Oh, sweetie, how did you get frosting on your face? –my teacher

Then I went home and tried it myself, starting with the cake.

Collapsed cake

Eh bien, tant pis!

* * *

All quotations are from My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme.

The pastry decorating classes are taught by Chef Jeanine Garcia at North Seattle College’s Continuing Education Program.

Citizen Kane Rosebud photo:

All other photos by Jennifer D. Munro.

3 thoughts on “The Lousy Cook Decorates a Cake–Redux!

  1. […] Jennifer Munro, known for her witty, humorous essays, read a piece called “Birders Behaving Badly,” an account of an encounter with another birder while on a boat in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Protection Island. The island is a refuge for birds, which is closed to visitors to protect the fragile habitat for about 70 percent of the nesting seabird population of Puget Sound and the Strait. Among the polite society of birders crowded on deck, binoculars raised to their faces to spot auklets, gulls, and puffins, is one not-so-polite birder who blames Munro for her inability to get a good look at the action. Munro’s telling of her own in-your-face confrontation with her accuser is funny and satisfying. Munro blogs at Straight-No-Chaser Mom. […]

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