My mom jokes with me about the number of potlucks I attend. She’s right, it’s the way of my people. Islanders are a social lot by nature and food is always in the mix. Yep, potlucks are the new normal. Folks around here always (or at least nine times out of 10) respond to dinner invitations by asking, “What can I bring?” The rare instances when the host says, “nothing, just yourself” I worry that my culinary skills are in question. Maybe the cranberry-quinoa-curry salad was not as delicious as I thought, or perhaps the Captain Crunch encrusted jalapeño poppers were a bit too experimental, or was my pumpkin turmeric hummus dip reminiscent of something less appetizing?
When I’m invited to dinner, I follow island protocol and ask, “What can I bring.” If there is any hesitation in the host’s voice, I chirp in, “How about dessert?” My greatest fear of being invited to a potluck is being asked to make a salad. One look at me, and you know this man is not about leafy greens. Don’t get me wrong; I love salads, but just like it better when someone else makes them. Desserts are my domain: fruits, chocolate, sugar, crusts, cookies, dough, pie, cakes, slumps, pandowdies, crisps, puddings, buckles and pies. I am an equal opportunity baker.
Last night I enjoyed a lovely dinner at my friend Mary Ann’s home in Seattle, and I volunteered to bring dessert. While I pried myself off of the island, Mary Ann did all the heavy lifting with soup, pasta and soufflé. Even my buddies Mark and Doug picked me on the ferry dock, so I didn’t have to drive onto the ferry. As we say around here, I was a walk-on. Yep just a man with a cake tin, on a mission to cross the sound, dine and laugh with friends and pay the Washington State Ferry System five dollars for the privilege of making it all happen. Here’s how it went down.
My house is about a ten-minute drive to the north-end ferry. When you are a ferry walk-on, you park your vehicle in the upper lot, way up the hill–a hill that makes Machu Picchu look like a beach dune. Even first-time cyclists to Vashon pause and pray before taking on the hill. So I parked, bundled up, and trundled down the hill, vintage cake tin in hand.
As returning commuters passed me panting up the hill, their quips were aplenty. “Nice bowling bag, Tom.” or “Oh how sweet, you remembered my birthday.” or “You never make me a cake.” After surviving the gauntlet of hungry and outspoken commuters, I boarded the 5:10 ferry to Fauntleroy. Up two flights of stairs, I found refuge in the overheated passenger cabin, . (I’ve been in sweat lodges that were cooler. You’d think we were crossing the Bering Sea not Puget Sound.)
As I quickly unwrapped myself, removing jacket, sweater, scarf and cap, I could see my cake tin was a curious sight for most onboard. May I just say, anyone who needs to make friends and meet people should carry a cake tin with them at all times. The twenty-minute crossing became my little cooking show and coffee klatch, sharing the apple cake recipe with the interested, listening to home-baked stories as delicious as any doughy confection. And yes, I also apologized profusely for not being able to share the cake on the spot, but Miss Manners would not approve of presenting a half-eaten cake to one’s host.
After dinner, I tried to leave the remaining cake with Mary Ann, Doug and Mark, but we all knew a cake left over is a cake quickly eaten. Willpower (for them, not me) prevailed, and I returned the half moon of a cake to its copper cradle and headed back to the island. Doug and Mark dropped me off at the ferry terminal and my dock walk deja vu began. Ferry workers commented, parked drivers joked, “hey, we’ll drive that home for you.” Once in the stark waiting room all eyes were on the cake caddy, but not a word was spoken.
I boarded the 10:20 p.m. ferry and someone seated near me said, “Oh is that cake for me?” I smiled and said, “Why yes, it is. Please join me.” She looked surprise, but I insisted, “There’s a cake in here begging to be eaten. The more you eat, the less I do, and full disclosure, it has apples in it, nuts, raisins, flour, sugar and eggs.” She laughed and said, “Not a problem. Now are you sure?” Then an impromptu social gathering and nosh session ensued and the cake was quickly dispatched by my new best friends. (Napkins, napkins, we don’t need no stinkin’ napkins.)
Tackling the vertical climb back to my truck baby step by baby step, pausing to gasp for air like a sherpa at base camp, I finally reached my truck. I may have disembarked with an empty cake tin but I drove home with full heart and warm truck.
So the moral of the story: The next time you’re feeling lonely, bake a cake, and take a ride on a Washington State ferry. You WILL make new friends.
PS- It doesn’t hurt to have an awesome standout vintage copper cake caddy. (Mine was a surprise gift from friends Sheila and Berneta).