Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Unpredictable Chicago Weather: 1, Nicole: 0

My first event! Woooo!!! Yeeeaaa!!!!

The excitement ends there, unfortunately. I had slaved away for what ended up being the baker's night from hell. Nothing about the day started out well - I had arrived in downpouring Chicago from a work trip at 1:30am, and the rain/bleakness continued through the day. By evening, the wind gusts were enough to carry someone as small as myself an extra two feet per stride, and the temperature even warranted pulling out the knee-length winter parka one last time (God help us Chicagoans - can I even safely say "one last time"?).

Laura, a friend's mom, suggested I provide a dessert sampler for the Anixter International tent at the annual JP Morgan Corporate Challenge race as a way to promote my budding business, so I jumped at the opportunity, even going so far as making business cards to pass out (which are really cute, so let me know if you want some to pass out to everyone you know). I had been SO excited for this day for over a week, but as the time came, the weather made my feel a bit unsettled and anxious. As we carried the trays of desserts to Grant Park, strong, foreboding winds swept through, grabbing the foil covering my precious goods and whipping it into oncoming traffic. By the time we arrived at the tent, a few cupcakes had overturned or bumped, ruining my pretty piped-frosting efforts, but most still looked fine. I surveyed the tent to figure out where I'd lay out my treats but started to become discouraged. The ground under the tent was either sloppy mud or a two-inch puddle, so all the runners had put their clothing and bags on the chairs and tables. The food tables were haphazardly strewn with hamburger buns, Coke cans, clothing, and backpacks. However, a little reorganization allowed for my baked goods to sit in a pretty row, behind some boxes of chips and buns that intended to block the wind. Well, as pretty as a bunch of rattled desserts in foil trays among barbecue disarray with a cloudy city backdrop can be...

Pictures were somewhat pointless; the lighting was dismal, and most of my gorgeous piping had been ruined in transit. Regardless, here were the goods:

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (notice the divots created by flying tin foil):

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting:

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Brownies with Dark Chocolate Raspberry Ganache:

Banana Toffee Cake Truffles dipped in Butterscotch:

In our boredom waiting for the runners' return, Laura and I played around with some more artistic shots, such as this (although she was a poor model because no one is going to look at my cupcake when there's a sparkling rock like hers in the picture):

Suddenly, as I was focusing on a shot from above that captured the whimsically swirled frosting, a gale force wind swept through the tent. For a second I ignored it, not realizing its power, but then the whoosh of cardboard followed by the clank of tin caused me to lift my head just as I heard the dull thud of cupcake hit the ground. I slowly turned to survey the damage: the wind had blown one of the boxes completely through the trays of PB&J and carrot cupcakes, overturning them onto the ground and the back of Laura's denim leg...

What did I do?!, you ask? Well, let me tell you about the plethora of emotions I felt in that moment. First, I felt an ironic smile creep up my face, not unlike the kind that spawns laughter at funerals. Really?! Did this really happen? However, that smile soon felt extremely uncomfortable, and the corners of my mouth twitched and slowly fell down into pursed lips as the anger set in. A variety of expletives came to mind, but none came out - quite a feat for those that know my often, casual swearing. I felt my hands slowly lift my camera to my face to snap a picture of the damage for blogging purposes, but after two shots it just felt plain wrong. I winced as I tried to focus the camera, as if I was photographing a murder scene. The frosting splatter on the ground may as well have been the blood evidence of eighty mini cupcakes waiting for chalk outlines to be drawn around them in the wet grass: the blood of MY blood, sweat, and tears, amounting to about 20 hours of work and approximately $125 worth of ingredients. I slowly lowered the camera and did the hardest part: pick up the mess and throw it in the trash. The feeling of handfuls of cupcakes stickily rolling off my fingers and into the trash was too much to bear, and I felt the pursed lips turn to a frown as hot tears burned in my eyes. I could NOT cry, though, not in front of all these people to whom I was trying to sell myself and my business. And while sympathetic words and hugs typically reduce me to tears, I still held a straight face as condolences flooded in from everyone that learned of my misfortune. I was not allowing my great loss to sink in until I got home later that night, and instead instantly focused on rearranging what I did have left.

Luckily, I had unknowingly been so clever earlier when packing as to put some carrot and PB&J cupcakes in trays with the other desserts, so while I lost a whole tray of each, there was still a representation of all desserts left on the table after the hurricane. While I received wonderful feedback and passed out many business cards, I still felt really down about what had happened and searched for meaning in the events. Was it called the Corporate "Challenge" for a reason? Was it a coincidence that this happened at a huge corporate event in which almost every Fortune 500 company participates, as if Corporate America was slamming my treats back into my face, laughing, "You think you can be a baker/entrepreneur?! MUAH HA HA HA!!! Go back to your desk job working for the man!!" Or, was the fact that my desserts were not safe outside in the last week of May a sign to pack up and leave Chicago to pursue the beach bakery that my friend Traci proposed we start together? While one or all of these may ultimately be true, I think for now I am going to interpret the situation as just one of many obstacles that I will have to overcome to achieve my goal, and that a calm head, perseverance, and flexibility are just as important to my success as an amazing carrot cake recipe. Who knows what adversaries I will face on this journey: if freezing, whipping wind in the early summer is one of them, this could get interesting. However, at least I now know to expect the extremely unexpected.

I think I would also feel it was all worthwhile if someone from Anixter would pleeeaasseeee contact me to place an order ;)

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