October 24th, 2017
It had already been a fantastic day. Francis had brought me coffee in bed like he always does, but this time with a gorgeous lily bouquet. My friends and family had showered me with birthday love via phone, email, and Facebook. Meals and Grace seemed extra specially cute and cuddly (well, not Grace, but Meals for sure.) I had turned 48 that morning, which is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things, but I felt that magical little lift I always encounter on my birthday. Gravity was working in my favor.
My friend Beth and I ran down to the Pearl District to buy the new chair for my office that my parents had offered to split with me as a gift. We got the large piece of furniture in her SUV clumsily but effectively without using bungee cords or packing blankets (which we had forgotten to bring anyway). Screaming with laughter in front of my house, we got it dislodged from her car, up the stairs to the house, and into its new position in the corner of the windowed room that has recently become my office. She hugged me and wished me happy birthday again as she got into her car. I grinned at my awesome new bestie.
“Thanks for the help today!”
“I know you guys are going out to dinner at Ox tonight, but what are you doing the rest of the afternoon?”
“I think it’s time for the ‘you know what,’” I replied, pointing at my wrist.
“Oooooh!” she laughed, looking a little dubious. “Have fun!”
Never one to delay an impulse, I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. On 42nd Avenue, I pulled into a parking space and then realized I had missed the guidelines completely. My car was practically horizontal in a vertical space. I backed up and tried again, getting closer but not quite in yet. The third time was a charm. Huh. I guess I was distracted by my nerves, though I didn’t feel scared. I felt excited. I felt 100% about this.
I walked toward the place, reading the sign painted on the side of the building. “Walk-ins Welcome.”
I pushed open the wooden door and was greeted by a mustachioed woman with green hair and full tattoo sleeves. She smiled sweetly and asked how she could help.
“I’d like to get a tattoo.”
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself in this story.
It all started with a filthy house.
October 12, 2017, 9:00 am
I drizzled a few thick glugs of concentrated floor cleaner into the blue plastic bucket and then tucked its rim under the bathtub spout. The silver faucet handle squeaked as I turned it on full-blast. The water had a yellow tinge for a moment but then ran clear and hot. Bubbles frothed up, smelling unnaturally natural, with hints of citrus and leather; a smell I imagine some aroma technician in the floor-cleaner lab finding very comforting. I do too. Clean and soothing is this smell. I pulled rubber yellow gloves over my hands with a snap. This moment is empowering every time. I felt inspired to reclaim my disheveled home in order to show it off.
People were coming, you see. Many people. All relatives of mine. Not all at once, thank god, but all during the month of October when I also had work, our anniversary, my birthday, and my sober birthday to manage. My brother Max and his girlfriend Sharon would be arriving on the 13th. They would be staying with us for 5 days. My father and mother, Jill, would be arriving on the 14th and though they would not be staying with us, they were planning on stopping by a few times to see the house and pets. They would only be in town for a long weekend. Then, my mother, Liz would be arriving for a 4-day stay. She would stay in the guest room. She had never been here, and I was anxious about keeping her comfortable and making a good impression. September had been fantastically busy for my catering company, and the housework had taken a back seat. Let me not paint too squalid a picture. It wasn’t a disaster, it just needed a good scrub, like you do for special occasions or family. Like you do.
I had already scoured the toilet (because I’m a ‘start with the worst things’ kinda gal) and vacuumed. I had removed the ring from inside the tub and bleached any leftover hair dye splatters from the sink. Now I would get down on my hands and knees and scrub the floors in true Cinderella style. I know mops are fine and dandy for some, but if you want to get your floor really clean, you drop to your knees. And that’s when my internal conversation started.
“I am going to make this house look so fantastic my family isn’t going to know what to do with themselves. They will be awestruck. They will say to me, ‘Alison, how do you manage your small but spectacular catering/ private chef career AND keep such a spotless house!’ I will flip my hair, bat my lashes, and say that it’s a piece of cake, really.”
I finished the floor in the bathroom and the guest room and then dumped the brown water into the john. I moved into the living room and dining room to dust and organize before hitting the kitchen.
The conversation with myself continued.
“God, does this clean bit look any better than the dirty spots? How can there be cat and dog hair here already? I vacuumed like an hour ago! Alison, stop. It’s good. I can do this. I’ll finish the dusting, then the kitchen, then make the beds and go upstairs. Oh, and the windows. Oh, and sweeping the front stairs. I’m getting tired, though. And my knees hurt. It’s like people coming to visit have no idea the pressure they put on you. Ok, I’m doing fine. It’s getting there. Just another hour or two to go. Or three. Fuck.”
The Bon Ami powder fell like snow flurries over our large porcelain sink. I emptied the dishwasher, and the fridge was now sparkling. I love to clean our kitchen, which is good because I am ALWAYS cleaning it, but I was getting tired and aggravated by how much more there was to do.
“How can we live like this? We are terrible people. How can we have so much stuff? It’s everywhere. Half empty glasses of water in every room, speckles of spices and tiny puddles of oil on counters, piles of paper everywhere; shopping lists and receipts and old New Yorkers and bills to pay. How can we live in this condition? Y’know my parents live in this condition too. It’s not like they’ve won some fucking Nobel prize in housecleaning. If they wanted me to be an immaculately perfect daughter, they would have taught me to clean more regularly. This mess is all their fault!”
I filled up the bucket with sudsy water again and retook to the floors.
“It doesn’t look like it’s getting any cleaner at all!”
Meals ran upstairs, and Grace rolled her eyes.
I pushed and rubbed and strained against the dirt. I was sweating now, with my hair in a messy clump on the top of my head and coffee breath that would take the tarnish off an old spoon.
“If they knew me at all, they would know that I don’t care if my house is dirty or clean! They don’t really love me. They would never ask me to change this much if they honestly cared. That fucking asshole family of mine has never understood me. Screw them! I don’t have to clean my house for anyone! I AM WHO I AM; NOT A PERFECT, COMPLETE, FINISHED PRODUCT!!! I AM…”
In truth, I had been toying with the idea of this tattoo for a while, but nothing solidified its need more than my internal conversation the day before my family arrived (who, by the way, were incredibly gracious guests and have never demanded I clean anything or change in any way for them). I love this reminder on my wrist. I look at it regularly, intentionally and inadvertently and every single time it brings me solace. I am far from perfect, but I don’t give myself permission to be flawed. I am always trying my hardest, and I am human and damaged and cranky and thrilled. I am Alison Wonderland Tucker. I am A Work in Progress and about that, I have no shame.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s been a busy couple of months for my small company. I haven’t been working on many new recipes because I’ve been busy with old ones. I was reminded of this recipe when a client put it on a menu last week. Honestly, it’s not a new recipe for this blog. I posted the large cake version of it years ago (http://awonderlandofwords.com/excuse-me-waiter-theres-a-beer-in-my-cake), but it’s worth a repost in mini-cake form because these are perfect for a holiday gift. Now, a word to the wise: please take care not to cock-block your host’s dessert. These mini-cakes tend to steal focus on the dessert table, and I think it’s poor form to bring such a showstopper if the host is featuring their grandmother’s famous apple pie or something. BUT… if you’re contributing to a pot-luck or an open dessert table or want to bring a nice gift for the family to enjoy on their own, these mini-cakes are so cute and so delicious, you will be an instant holiday hero.
Makes 3 dozen mini cakes
- 3/4 cup Guinness stout
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2/3 cup molasses
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger (see note*)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- Whipped cream
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place mini-cupcake skirts in a mini-cupcake pan.
- Pour the stout into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and stir in the baking soda (mixture will foam, which is fine).
- Stir the molasses, brown sugar, and white sugar into the stout and let cool.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper.
- Whisk eggs, oil, and grated ginger in a medium bowl and whisk in the stout mixture.
- Whisk the wet mixture into the flour mixture slowly, stirring vigorously to make sure the batter is smooth.
- With a small cookie scoop, fill the cupcake skirts about 2/3 full of batter.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean, 15-17 minutes.
- Let cool and then de-skirt and top with whipped cream.
*note: I always use a lot of ginger in this cake because I think that sweet/ spicy combination is a delicious surprise. If you prefer a less spicy cake, use 1- 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger.
And here’s me making them on Portland’s KATU show, Afternoon Live (I accidentally said, “use 1/3 cup of molasses instead of 2/3 cup.” Don’t do as I do, do as I write and use the recipe above. I must have been distracted by the lights or something!)