THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 11–The Easy Bake Oven

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.

EPISODE 11: THE EASY BAKE OVEN

The unit itself was tossed out years ago (probably by my parents when I was young and still living with them; I don’t even remember what it looked like)[1], but somehow I ended up keeping all the pieces. When I cleaned out my baking supply cabinet, I found them. I’d forgotten all about them.

Who remembers the Easy Bake Oven? I’m sure many of you do. While the one you had might have looked different from the one I had in the 1970s[2], the fact remains that they all pretty much worked the same[3]—and they all probably defined our adult attitudes toward baking.

My mother loved to bake, and she was good at it. Although she baked many cookies, she was most creative with cakes.

February, 1973: The cake my mother baked for my 2nd birthday.

A Barbie Cake at my local ShopRite, June 2011. While the design for this type/style of cake with the doll in the middle was probably available in some how-to book way back in the 1970s or even earlier, I don’t recall seeing this type of cake available for orders at grocery store bakeries before the last five years or so. Please comment if you know anything about this type of cake or its history.

The Pooh cake my mother made for my brother Chuck’s 3rd birthday, March, 1977. She loved to bake Disney character cakes, mostly because that was what we were into at the time. I wish I had a photo of The Rescuers cake she baked for me one year, but I’ve sifted through all the family photos and haven’t found one.


The angel cake my mother made for my sister Missie’s 1st birthday, March, 1977.

Mom was always baking—when it wasn’t cakes for our birthdays, it was cakes for her friends’ baby showers, weddings (yes, really), and parties; when it wasn’t cakes, it was cookies, especially for Christmas. She’d start at the end of October and bake, literally, day and night—sometimes I’d get up to go to school and it was clear she had been up all night—which was probably something she considered “normal,” since her mother did the same thing (my cousin Maryanne and I swore Grandma had elves helping her, because there were thousands of cookies but never a mess. We also swore she could have robbed banks and gotten away with it, because she didn’t have fingerprints due to the fact she never used oven mitts to pull the baking pans from the oven).

I was always Mom’s dutiful assistant, although I have to admit most of the time it was because I’d wait for her to answer the phone and then shove a glob of uneaten dough in my mouth. She used to tell me my intestines would turn to jelly if I kept doing it, but I’m 40 and as far as I know have not yet developed symptoms of any such thing.

When she considered me old enough (four years old), she bought me an Easy Bake Oven. At first, I loved eating the powder for the cake mixes more than I did baking them—the taste was so distinctly vanilla-malt, like a cheaper version of Ovaltine. But soon I was making tiny little cakes on my own. I was fascinated with the tiny red bowl and how the powder would turn to batter when I added water. And I was fascinated with sliding the pan full of batter in one side, and when it came out the other, I had a cake. Just like Mom’s big oven!

I don’t know how many years I used the Easy Bake, because by the time I was ten, I was baking on my own for real, making cupcakes and cookies and cakes that usually didn’t make it past my family’s kitchen. Soon I graduated to making biscuits to go with beef stew, bread, and pizza dough—and even pies, because every October we had to do something with all those apples we picked at our local orchard. In 1986, my mother passed away, and so the baking of my siblings’ birthday cakes officially passed to me.

The cake I baked for my brother Chip for his 7th birthday, July 6, 1986. I couldn’t figure out how to do a cut-out of Godzilla, but I think I did a pretty good job with the frosting.

I baked these cookies for my friend Susie’s Halloween party in October, 1988. I couldn’t figure out why they came out like huge, soft biscuits instead of sugar cookies. Then I realized I’d been so excited about the party I hadn’t been focused on what I was doing—and used baking powder instead of baking soda. Ooops. My friends ate them anyway.

I don’t do cakes anymore, but I still love to bake cookies. I’ll bake for just about anyone for any reason, in fact.

1997 was the first Christmas in Charles’ house, and the first time in many years I had a huge kitchen in which to create. These were my Christmas cookies that year.

A shot of more of 1997’s cookies. Charles and my friend Manzino helped me frost them. In fact, frosting parties would become a Christmas tradition. They were a lot of fun!

I bake for other holidays as well, but my favorite time of year to bake is the dead of February—usually when I’m snowed in. I bake Valentine’s Day cookies. Sort of.

Have you ever heard the Sting song, “Shape Of My Heart?” (It’s on his 1993 Ten Summoner’s Tales album, which can be sampled or purchased in MP3 format here: http://amzn.com/B000W237L0). If I were hard-pressed to choose a “favorite” Sting song, I’d have a rough time, but “Shape” is probably the closest. For my birthday in 1999, my housemate Charles bought me this book:

The book Charles bought me for my birthday, February, 1999. Sting and Pablo Picasso, Shape Of My Heart. New York: Welcome Enterprises, 1998. It’s part of Welcome Enterprises’ Art and Poetry Series, which pairs a poem with the work of a famous artist in each edition. Want to purchase this? You can at Amazon here: http://amzn.com/0941807207

As you can see, I loved this book so much it became part of my household décor. Here it is on the mantel of our fireplace, where it lived for many years.

It was this book that inspired what everyone calls the Shape Of My Heart Cookies.

My mother had many cookie cutters, and one set she had that I always found rather curious was the four suits from a deck of cards—I don’t ever remember her using them, and I, up until that point, hadn’t ever thought of an occasion to use them either. I’d been a fan of the Sting song for several years at that point, and on one snowy afternoon a week or so after I got the book, I retrieved my Ten Summoner’s Tales cassette (it was 1999) and listened to the song as I flipped through the pages.

If you’re familiar with “Shape,” then you know it uses the four suits in a deck of cards and tells a heartbreaking story. For some reason, I recalled the curious cookie cutters—and I got baking. From an e-mail to the guy I was dating at the time:

…I find a diamond, heart, spade, and club, and remember that my mother used to call the clubs “puppy feet,” and I used to berate her for not looking at the reality of what they were: clubs, which a person uses to beat another. Another glimmering view of her now: puppy feet. She wanted to take a weapon of war and make it into something harmless.

            I roll the dough, I cut, and I put on ONE of my favorite Sting songs, “Shape Of My Heart.” …funny, very few of the heart shapes came out without being broken…but I burn not one…

            …time to frost. I make butter-crème frosting, flavor the white ones (clubs, spades) with almond, and then there is no red food coloring for the red, and I dip into my memory and recall maraschino cherry juice would do nicely as well as give it flavor.

            And I frost the hearts and diamonds with a thick layer of pink, and now the hearts that were broken are harder to tell apart from the ones that were not.

This is that very first 1999 batch of Shape Of My Heart Cookies.

December, 2000: I threw a baking party that year. Several people came by to help us bake and frost. The wine was flowing, so I’m pretty sure we didn’t get as much done as we wanted to!


In 2001, I discovered those everything-in-a-box decorate your own gingerbread house kits. I had always wanted to make my own from scratch, and thought it would be good to get some practice actually putting one together to see if I enjoyed the process first. I did, but not enough to really go beyond the kit. This photo was taken December 9, 2001.

2001 was also the first year we threw “A Christmas Cocktail,” a 1960’s-themed Christmas party (yes, complete with a vintage silver aluminum tree and the color wheel). I baked a LOT of cookies for that party. My friend Manzino (pictured below) came over to help me frost all the cookies for the party.

Manzino and his frosting creations, December, 2001. What I remember most about this night was something he said: “I really think that animals already went through a talking phase and they figured out it doesn’t make any difference. It only adds to confusion. So they decided not to talk anymore. They figured they were better off. So they run around naked with their tongues hanging out all day. But if you look at their faces and into their eyes they have a real Old World look about them, like they’re very wise.” The comment made such an impression on me (I cracked up, actually), that I wrote it down, and it was one of the inspirations for my short story “How I Stopped Complaining and Learned to Love the Bunny,” which was published in Citizen Culture’s Issue 4, Spring 2005 and is now only available at AnthologyBuilder.com (you can find the story for purchase as part of a custom anthology here: http://www.anthologybuilder.com/viewstory.php?story_id=593)

Our aluminum tree with the color wheel. The cookies were on a table right near it during the party.


The plate of cookies as it appeared the night of our first “A Christmas Cocktail” party, December 1, 2001.


Baking is a favorite activity year-round. Here’s what I was working on one afternoon in January, 2002. That was also the year I learned how to make candy penguins. They didn’t come out so well, but maybe in the future I’ll have time to try it again.


The only reason I started baking every Halloween was because someone bought me a bunch of Halloween cake/cookie decorations as a gift. Here’s the first batch of Halloween cookies I made in 2002.

 

When I discovered they had gingerbread house kits for Halloween, I couldn’t resist—in case you didn’t know already, Halloween—or “Poe Season” as I refer to it—is my favorite time of year. Here’s me at work in 2002.


Thanksgiving weekend, 2010: Christmas Cookies. Yes, those are shapes inspired by the movie A Christmas Story. A set of them came in a DVD gift collection. They’re fun to give—especially the leg lamps—but as a baker, I can tell you a marketing person and NOT a baker designed the cutters. They’re flimsy, stick to the dough even when floured, and have way too many small extensions in the shape that make it nearly impossible to get it out in one piece.

Now that I’ve told you about my relationship to baking because of my Easy Bake Oven, here are the pieces that are no longer with me. If you’re a fan of Easy Bake, consider liking the Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Easy-Bake-Oven/102723333341

The paper lunch sack in which the items were stored. I kept them in the corner cabinet with all of my other baking goods.

The mixing spoon.

The rolling pin.


The baking pans for cakes.


Farm animal cookie cutters. I only had three in the bag; I don’t know how many the set came with. Three doesn’t make sense to me—it seems like there would be four, but maybe not. If anyone knows, please drop me a line!


Cookie Cutter #1: I’m not sure, but I think this is a pig.

Cookie Cutter #2: Rooster

Cookie Cutter #3: Horse


The mini cupcake pans.


My favorite piece: the mixing bowl.


[1] I have a vague notion that mine was probably the avocado green one that was manufactured by Kenner in 1970—the pieces on the box match the ones I have. You can see what that one looked like here, at the National Toy Hall of Fame’s online collection: http://www.thestrong.org/online-collections/nthof/alpha/easy-bake-oven/104.1201

[2] Hasbro has a neat little write-up on the Easy-Bake’s History:http://www.hasbro.com/easy-bake/en_US/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=1803 The oven was also adopted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006: http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/easy-bake-oven  — ironically, the same year that Hasbro, the company that now makes the ovens, had to issue a recall due to risk of burnt fingers (just Google “Easy Bake Oven 2006,” there are tons of articles on the subject).

[3] Shocking, but true: “Even the Easy-Bake Oven must lose its light bulb”http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/02/25/6131341-even-the-easy-bake-oven-must-lose-its-light-bulb

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About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, is a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her horror novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on July 8, 2011, in The Goodbye Project and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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