If you can't stand the heat -- get in the kitchen. On Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Lounge at Crescent Ballroom, Chow Bella writers are warming up for summer with "Fried," an evening of true stories. Admission is free; food and drink will be available for sale.
There are a few ingredients that most homes, regardless of take-home pay, have: sugar, flour, and butter. And if you're lucky, like we were, cinnamon.
It was 1984 and I was a seventh-grader at Mohave Middle School in Scottsdale. This was a time when Home Ec was required and the lesbian P.E. teacher taught it. Home Ec was more than just a class. It was a way of life, a way to live, practical lessons in living on your own, grown-up stuff you would need in order to survive, like sewing a pillow in the likeness of the first letter of your first name (T); creating cleaning products using vinegar and baking soda; and ultimately learning the biggest lesson of all: how to bake Alaska.
Maybe it was the promise of ice cream going into an oven and coming out unscathed, or the fact that I was a latchkey kid, which meant Poor and Unsupervised, but for some unknown reason I loved Home Ec. Home Ec is where I learned not to wear white pants when getting your first period, like the sad girl in the educational film about menstruation.
And even when I did get my first period while wearing white pants, I felt better knowing that the sad girl from the Home Ec educational film got it first.
Home Ec is where I learned that if you have difficulty threading a needle, sewing a straight line might not be the right goal for you.
Home Ec is where I learned that even if you are poor, and your mother's not home because she's working two jobs and finishing her degree in social work, and nobody is ever home to make you a hot, cold, or lukewarm meal, and the only families you know that eat together are the ones on TV, as long as you have flour, sugar, butter, and cinnamon, you can create a sense of home.
In the pink painted Home Ec room, surrounded by sewing machines and ovens, 13 seventh-graders clapped flour in our hands and giggled like little kids when the light, white mist kissed our noses and cheeks. We smoothed out the semi-solid flour and butter mixer onto the linoleum, fake-kitchen countertops, sprinkling cinnamon and brown sugar until the once ecru pastry was brown. We rolled the sheet into a telescope, cut it into equal parts, and placed each round world onto a greased cookie sheet. Through the greasy oven window we watched our worlds inflate.
Before I learned how to bake Alaska, I got stuck on sticky buns, those doughy odes to flesh, of which my family and I already had more than our share of, but this was the '80s, a time when indulgence was King and the pop-rock group Queen sang about Fat Bottom Girls.
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SHOW ME HOW
At home, I tried to re-create that carbohydrate magic in our modest apartment kitchen without the supervision of a teacher or mother; the first batch baked as my brother and sister waited to see if this mythical pastry was really as magnificent as I claimed it was.
And it was! It was even better than when we made it in Home Ec! My cinnamon buns were more raw in the middle, less gooey on the outside, more sophisticated and dense, like some pastry hybrid between a buttermilk bar and a pretzel. They were perfect! Before there was Cinnabon there was Taniakatanabon.
Every night, while my siblings and I waited for our mother to return home from one of her jobs or school or both, I would make sticky buns for our immediate family, for our immediate needs. Something sweet and shared, something warm, something that made us feel rich and full, something that required the only ingredients that we had.