Monday, November 10, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes

I don’t remember having a lot of them when I was young, but I sure remember having them.

They were soft and delicate, so you always handled them gently. Not just to keep pieces from falling to the ground (the 10-second rule never seemed classy enough for chocolate cupcakes), but somehow they made you become careful, like the rambunctious kid who’s suddenly transformed when he’s handed a puppy.

They were spongy and moist, so although they were never messy, they always left just enough of themselves behind so that you could get one last taste by licking your fingers.

Years after year, I chose for my birthday cake a Baskin-Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream creation, my absolute favorite. In junior high, I developed a long-lasting crush on a packaged gingerbread mix. Later, I fell in love with fresh banana bread, and my mom’s cranberry nutbread. And to this day every Christmas, I indulge in a two or three day blissfest with an old family friend’s annual date bread.

But when my wife made chocolate cupcakes last week, everything changed. It was like the leading man suddenly discovering that he’s in love with his childhood friend, who’s always been overshadowed by more glamorous competition, but who’s always had a special and overlooked place in his heart. It takes just one last special moment to realize it. Everything else then takes a distant second place, and life will never be the same. The first thought is always, What have I been missing? But somehow the future becomes that much sweeter because now your really know.

There was something so deliciously familiar about her chocolate cupcakes, so much like childhood, so comforting. I’ve heard it said that smells can spring up a well of memories from decades ago, either good ones or bad. By the time I got home from work, the baking smells were gone. But that first bite flooded me with memories, and they were all wonderful:
Birthdays, whether my own or someone else’s. It didn’t matter, as long as there were chocolate cupcakes.
Halloween, because the chocolate color goes so well with orange.
Christmas, because there’s never so much to put on them as there is at Christmas.

There’s always the temptation to try to make a good thing better, so we often went crazy with whipped cream and tubed frostings, and sprinkles and candies, and even red hots. But you’d only do red hots once. Chocolate cupcakes may go with everything, but not everything goes with chocolate cupcakes.

I ate one of my wife’s chocolate cupcakes with thick chocolate frosting (even guys know there’s no such thing as too much chocolate). It swirled and gathered and pointed upward like a bouffant, threatening to topple. It was divine. Then I had one with just a few artistic lines of colored frosting (I was trying to be Carolyn Quartermaine on cake). It looked like . . . well, whatever, but boy, was it tasty.

But at last I had one “plain,” if such a creation can be described this way. No one describes a perfect piece of fruit as plain. I rediscovered a lost love, and I may never put anything on a chocolate cupcake again.

They don’t look like much. In their muffin paper, they’re half invisible, and when you take them out, they almost look worse, like a cat that’s just walked through tummy-high water. But they fit in your hand perfectly, and in your mouth even better. And then you taste them.

They’re also so much fun to make. Whether batter from a bowl or Betty Crocker from a box, they’re quick and easy – we could make them ourselves as kids – and just a bit messy so, once again, you have to – you get to – lick your fingers. And who can honestly say they never disobeyed and dipped their finger in for one good swig? Only those of us who dipped in twice.

But ultimately, they’re more than just fun and delicious. They make us feel like kids again. They take us back to birthday parties festooned with themed paper tablecloths and twisted crepe paper streamers. With matching cups and plates and napkins set for pint-sized company, and the pointy hats with those under-chin stretchy strings that only the most secure and loving dads would wear, that were always catching on the streamers. The elaborate and obligatory cake was always well received, since it presented the glowing candles to be blown out and wished upon. But off to the side on their own pedestal plate, as if waiting for the final and most celebrated grand entrance, were the chocolate cupcakes.

And unlike the lone cake, they always came in a group, like a bunch of your favorite friends or family gathering to celebrate something special with you. What could be more perfect?

The best things in life are definitely not things. But if they were, they just might be chocolate cupcakes.

1 comment:

  1. Ok my mouth is watering.... a month worth of birthdays for us... including mine on the 18th... I just may want cupcakes after this fantabulous description with such vivid childhood memories indeed





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