1. Drag your kids to the grocery store because no one else is around and your ten-year old’s theory about the minimum legal age that children can be left at home unsupervised isn’t fooling anyone but your six-year old, who is well aware that her sister can reach the cookies in the high cabinet if she uses the stool.
2. Find a box of this while in the baking aisle looking for Splenda packets, because coffee without sweeteners tastes like bitter death, using enough real sugar to compensate is not conducive to health, and a morning without caffeine is bitter death.
3. Ask your kids if they want to make a cake that afternoon and show them the box. Receive one secretly-interested shrug and one excited plea for blue vanilla frosting to match, because it comes with fish-shaped sprinkle thingies—see? See, Mom? Imagining the potential devastation blue frosting could have in the talented hands of your offspring, negotiate down to chocolate frosting and multicolored sprinkles
4. Get home, put away the groceries, examine the back of the box, decide exactly which steps should be done solo, and do them up to the point where you have to divide the batter between six small bowls. Decide that Duff and his crew probably wouldn’t be using margarine containers and oblong Gladware, but remember that no one on this earth would pay you $450 for one of your cakes anyway, and leave the pretty cookware for the pros.
5. Have your kids wash their hands. And again with soap. Dry them. Thank you.
6. Using a fourth-cup measure, have the kids count to make sure the batter is evenly distributed. Carefully open the food coloring packets and have your ten-year old read how much of each goes in each bowl for which color, and have your six-year old count the drops, which she will do with the seriousness of a small bossy child who knows that the entire project is depends on her ability to keep you under strict control.
7. Stir the color into the batter with great enthusiasm and a separate spoon for each bowl. Add a bit more color as needed to make the red “redder” and the purple less blue, Mommy.
8. Prepare the pan of your choice. If you have chosen a bundt pan, because you think the curved shape would be really cool, put it away and use something else. Seriously.
9. Take turns pouring the different colors in the not-bundt pan in ROYGBV layers, using every rubber spatula you own, ignoring any questions about the absence of indigo, and wondering , with sharp 20/20 hindsight, why you didn’t insist on aprons and plastic sheeting. What are you, a rookie?
10. Have fun anyway because it’s impossible not to with this stuff.
11. Bake, as the instructions say, until the cake is done. Ponder that if you were the kind of person who knew even approximately how long that would take, or what the purple-batter-version of “done” might look like, you wouldn’t be the kind of person who needs to use cake mix in the first place. Decide that this is an adventure, set the timer for twenty-five minutes and find your toothpicks.
12. Clean up the kitchen.
13. When the timer screams, test the cake for doneness, put in for a few more minutes for the sheer paranoia of it, and let cool for twenty-five.
14. Invert the pan. The cake will release beautifully, because you paid attention to step 8. If you hadn’t paid attention to step 8, the adjective “beautifully” would hypothetically have been replaced with, “missing most of the red and orange, which is still in the bottom of the pan and will not release in one piece or in any way that can be reattached to the top of the main cake.”**
15. Let the cake cool, carefully brush off the crumbs and ice it while the children are watching tv and no one is around to witness your
nonexistent skills at covering a slightly lopsided cake with gooey frosting.
16. Clean up the kitchen.
17. Call the kids in to decorate the
entire counter cake with sprinkles. Swear them to secrecy so their Dad will be completely surprised after dinner.
18. Clean up the kitchen.
19. Run interference between their father and their inability to stop hinting that something amazing is up with the cake on the counter.
20. After dinner, cut the cake and step back so the kids can take full credit for everything but the bundt pan, which you didn’t use anyway, right?
21. Make plans to buy another box and do cupcakes this weekend. With blue vanilla frosting and little fish.
21. Pack a piece each in your kids’ lunches the next day.
22. Come home from work to hear that all the other kids were amazed at the cake—and that the mean girl whose daily goal, until very recently, was to make your gorgeous older daughter feel like a loser, begged her to ask you to tell her mother the name of the bakery because it’s the coolest cake she has ever seen and her mother would totally buy one—a bigger one—for her birthday party. To which your daughter shrugged and said, “We made it ourselves—because my Mom’s really cool like that.”
*Or Dad, ’cause we’re all about the equal opportunity around here.
**The scraps, however, which you would have hypothetically eaten in frustration, would be hypothetically delicious.