The first time I saw magic happen in the kitchen I was six years old and wanted to help my mother cook. I’d follow her every step and move, clinging like her shadow, struggling to see what she was doing. Inevitably, she’d turn around and trip over me. It wasn’t optimum for either of us, so when she told me we were going to bake a special cake and I could help, I beamed with joy.
“We’re making a marble cake and there is a surprise at the end,” she promised.
I’d never seen a marble cake and I had no idea what marble was, but helping her in the kitchen and getting a surprise too was better than I’d hoped.
“Get up on the chair so you’re tall enough to help me,” Maman told me. “We’re going to start by making the cake batter.” My job was to drop the eggs into the bowl of flour. I also needed to pour the milk in. “Be careful, pour it in slowly,” she explained. “I have to blend it in while you’re pouring.” Once the mixture was soft and smooth, we poured the batter into two different bowls.
“Why?” I kept asking.
“That’s what the recipe says,” she responded. “You need to be patient. You’ll see at the end.”
We poured chocolate powder into one of the bowls and mixed it in so it was now all brown. In the other bowl, we dripped some vanilla and blended it in as well.
“Watch this,” Maman said, as she poured some of the vanilla batter down one side of the baking pan and then the chocolate on the other side until they met in the middle. She continued pouring, alternating between the chocolate and the vanilla. She picked up a spatula and sank it into the batter, swirling it through from one end of the pan to the other. “That’s it,” she said as she opened the oven and put the pan in. “Now we have to wait for it to bake and then cool down before I can cut and you can have a slice.”
Off I went to play until I heard Maman call, “C'est prêt.” I ran into the kitchen excited to see the results.
The cake was sliced and set on a plate. “How did it get that way?” I asked, amazed.
Maman tried to explain that marble meant that the different flavors stayed separate.
I stared at the cake slice in total amazement. “Why didn’t it get all mixed up?” I asked.
Maman smiled as she saw the expression of bewilderment on my face. “That’s what makes this cake so special,” she said, trying to explain—but I stopped listening because I knew it was magic.
There is no question in my mind that what happened was magical. Cooking is full of mystifying moments that are thrilling. I realize that those moments can be explained but that’s not the point. Viewing the world through the naiveté of a child is what allows us to be bowled over by how truly extraordinary life is. Isn’t that what magic is—the power to make impossible things happen?
What about you?
Do you have magical kitchen memories?
Or, were your magical experiences in another part of your life?
Let us know.
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Celine was a name that was synonymous with good food in my home. She was my grandmother’s cook. My mother still tells me stories about watching Celine in the kitchen. Her secret, she’d say in a hushed tone, was her sauces; sauces, she’d say with emphasis, are the secret to being a great cook. Celine didn’t . . .