A cake gone wrong
In Palestinian culture, there is a lot of pressure on women to be good and hardworking housewives. The house always needs to be spotless, and the kitchen always needs to smell of food and dessert.
Most Arab men leave all the house and kitchen work for their wives. Recently, the “modern Arab man” has learned to do things around the house. He tries to share the burden of household chores, doing things his traditional father would shake his head at if asked to do the same.
As a recently married woman, it’s fun to “play house” in our newly furnished apartment. My husband and I worked hard to make sure all the furniture, rugs, curtains and so forth matched and perfectly reflected our taste.
The other day the cultural pressure to have everything in order with pleasant fragrances wafting from kitchen overtook me when we expected visitors to arrive at 6:30pm. I returned from work at 5:30pm, and I was exhausted from the day. Yet I knew I had to tidy the house and bake a cake. I ate a quick (late) lunch and began working on my go-to Betty Crocker carrot cake recipe.
I’ve made this cake about a hundred times, and I was sure I had things under control. Just some shredded carrots, vegetable oil, white sugar, four, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and walnuts. No big deal. I popped the cake into the preheated oven and rushed throughout the home, straightening up before my guests’ arrival.
The guests arrived, and the cake needed another 10 more minutes according to my timer. When the timer sounded, I went to the kitchen, and to my dismay, half of the cake batter had spilled out of my bundt cake pan, and a huge blob of undercooked batter sat at the bottom of my oven and in the bundt pan. “What am I supposed to do?!,” I frantically thought. I could keep it in the oven a little longer until it wasn’t so liquidy and runny. I waited some more. As soon as the batter set enough to be considered fully baked, I took it out, let it cook for 10 minutes, and slid it on a nice cake platter (to give it a nicer look). It didn’t help much as the cake cooked unevenly and was a bit burnt on the outside.
My husband came into the kitchen and saw my lovely handiwork on the platter, and put his hands on his head (which is what Arab men do when they see a tragedy) and exclaimed, “What happened?!!” It was good the guests were sitting in the guest room, which is far from the kitchen. They had no idea what was going on. I tasted one piece and decided the flavors were still intact, unharmed by the messy look of the cake. I decided to serve the guests individual slices so the disaster was not so evident.
As I served the cake to my guests, I worried they would say something. Surprisingly, they loved it and didn’t complain! Although the cake did not look appetizing, it actually tasted really good!
Afterwards, I thought to myself, our lives are a lot like this cake. When we work on our lives from within, when we focus on having good relationships with family and friends, when we love others more than ourselves, we will live meaningful and enjoyable lives. However, if we only focus on the external things that are superficial and materialistic, we will end up empty and distasteful to those around us.
So, this past week I made a decision that I will not put so much effort into making sure the house is pristine, but instead focus on spending more time with my husband and family. It’s been an incredible week, and I feel much more fulfilled that I have done so.