Chapter 1 red velvet cupcakes A CLASSIC THAT NEVER
LETS YOU DOWN
The whole cupcake thing started a couple of years ago, on my tenth birthday. My mom tried a recipe for red velvet cupcakes with buttercream frosting. She said, “Isabel, this recipe comes from a very famous cupcake shop in New York City called St. Valentine’s Cupcakes. We’re going to make these cupcakes for your party!”
Now, my mother isn’t big on birthday parties. Since I was six, I’ve pretty much planned my own party, from the handmade invitations we deliver right down to the candy we put in the goodie bags.
But baking is what Mom loves. And it’s the one thing we’ve liked doing together. She told me once there’s something really satisfying about throwing stuff into a bowl and watching a mess turn into something wonderful. And she’s right. There is.
That year for my birthday party, only four girls were coming for a sleepover: my best friend Sophie, plus two other girls from school. With such a small group, Mom thought cupcakes made more sense than a big cake.
Those cupcakes turned out delicious. Better than delicious. Amazingly fabulous. And from that day on, all Mom could talk about were cupcakes. Dad and I listened, because we were just glad she was talking about something. When she started talking about opening a cupcake shop, we listened and nodded our heads like it was the best idea ever. I don’t think either of us really thought it was the best idea ever. But after years of trying odd jobs here and there, and complaining about how they were too easy or too hard, too weird or too boring, too right or too wrong, it was nice to hear good stuff for a change.
The talking turned into more than talking last year, when she convinced Dad to buy an old Laundromat with an apartment upstairs. It’s called a walk-up apartment, and they’re more common in big cities, like New York City or Chicago, than the town I live in: Willow, Oregon, population 39,257.
Mom didn’t see a Laundromat. She saw a cute cupcake shop where she could make cupcakes every day and finally be happy. I think that’s what she saw. I’ll admit, I didn’t see that at first.
We moved into the apartment right away, even though the cupcake shop wouldn’t be ready for awhile. Mom and Dad took out a loan and hired a contractor to do the work downstairs.
As a bunch of big, burly guys hauled the washing machines out of the building and into a large truck, I asked Mom, “Where will they go to wash their clothes now?”
“Who?” she asked.
“The people who brought their baskets of dirty laundry here every week. Where will they go?”
She looked at me like I had a washing machine for a head. “Well, I don’t know, Isabel. But it really doesn’t matter, does it? I’m sure there are other Laundromats in town.”
“Seems like running a Laundromat, where people wash their own clothes, would be a lot easier than running a cupcake shop, where you have to bake all the cupcakes.”
Mom sighed. “I don’t want a Laundromat. Who would want a Laundromat? I want to bake cupcakes. I want people to walk into my warm, wonderful shop and tell me how much they love my cupcakes. Besides, it won’t just be me doing all the baking. Grandma’s going to help. And you can even help sometimes.”
Maybe it was the fact that this new adventure had forced me to move away from my best friend, Sophie, who’d lived right next door. Maybe it was the fact that my mother expected me to help without even asking if I wanted to. Or maybe, deep down inside, I didn’t think Mom would be able to pull off this cupcake thing. All I know is I still wasn’t sold.
“But I don’t get it, Mom. Do you really think people are going to want to eat cupcakes in a place where they used to wash their dirty, stinky socks?”
This time she looked at me like she wanted to shove a dirty, stinky sock into my mouth. “Isabel, Dad assures me we can turn it into an adorable cupcake shop. Let’s not look back at what’s been, but look ahead to what might be. Okay?”
Was that my mother talking? I must have given her a funny look, because she shrugged and said, “I heard it on TV. I thought it sounded good.”
While Mom and Dad were busy getting the shop ready and organizing the apartment, I’d ride my bike up to the public library for something to do. I’d sit at a table right next to the travel section and read books about the places I wanted to visit someday.
See, my aunt Christy is a flight attendant. She sends me cool postcards from all over the world. When she came to visit last time, I asked her if she liked her job, and she said she doesn’t just like it, she loves it. She gets to meet interesting people and see fascinating places. I asked her if she thought I could be a flight attendant someday, and she smiled real big and said, “You would make a fantastic flight attendant, my dear Isabel.”
As I read those books, I’d dream of taking a cable car ride through San Francisco, or watching a Broadway play in New York City, or eating pastries outside a cute little café in Paris. Compared to those places, our town of Willow seemed about as interesting as dry toast.
I’d never been anywhere outside the state of Oregon. Grandma calls me a native Oregonian, like it’s something to be proud of. What’s there to be proud of? The fact that I own three different hooded coats, because it’s the best way to be ready when the sky decides to open up and pour?
A couple of days after we moved in, Dad and I went to the dollar store because he needed to buy some clipboards and pads of paper for him and Mom. He said there was a lot to do in the coming days, and he wanted to help Mom stay organized. Dad is good at making lists. Not just good. He’s the King of Lists. He usually scribbles them on whatever he can find—the back of an envelope, a corner of the newspaper, a piece of toilet paper. I thought it was sweet how he wanted to help Mom out and buy real paper for a change.
While he scoured the store for list-making supplies, I wandered down the aisles with a single dollar bill, looking for something interesting to buy. In a bin next to dollhouse-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner were a bunch of white plastic wallets with tiny pictures of suitcases on them. I picked one up and opened it. A piece of paper was stuck inside that said, “Passport Holder.”
I imagined a girl like me eating a bowl of soup at a restaurant in Athens, Greece. Suddenly she bumps the bowl, and soup spills all over the table. She gasps when she notices her passport is sitting there on the table. But then she breathes a sigh of relief, because she remembers she bought a passport holder at the dollar store to keep her passport safe. She opens it and finds the passport perfectly soup free.
Of course I had to buy it. Even if I didn’t have a passport to put inside the passport holder.
When I got home, I put little pieces of paper inside it to make a mini-notebook. I carried it around with me everywhere, and whenever I had a thought about traveling, I wrote it down. This is what I wrote the first day: I want to go
on many journeys.
I want to meet interesting people
and experience new things.
As I wrote that in my passport-holder-turned-notebook, I realized something important. If I ever wanted to get past the Oregon-Idaho border, I needed to make a plan. A fantastic, incredible, big moneymaking plan.
And I thought turning a Laundromat into a cupcake shop was hard.
© 2010 Lisa Schroeder