Did you hear about the latest special at IHOP?" my daughter-in-law recently asked.
I perked right up. Anything food-related will perk me right up.
"They're adding red velvet pancakes to the menu," she went on. "Red. Velvet. Pancakes. With cream cheese icing, powdered sugar and a whipped topping."
I not only felt my arteries clog, I could hear them clog, too.
"Wow," I breathed, although breathing was hard, actually, because of all my clogging arteries.
"I know, right?" she said. "We should go."
Like everybody else in my life, this daughter-in-law knows that red velvet anything is one of my many (many!) food obsessions. If it's offered at a restaurant or a bakery, I'll try it. And I WILL drive long distances just to get to those places. Unless, of course, my car is out of gas, in which case I WILL bike long distances. Unless, of course, my bike has a flat tire, in which case I WILL walk long distances, because guess what. You cannot stop me from getting my red velvet on.
Do you ever get this obsessed about food? Please say "yes." I'll feel soooooo much better about myself then.
(Also. I just read that paragraph about driving/biking/walking and, OK, fine. You're right. I should have given "public transportation" a shout-out while I was at it. Like those guys on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" always say, I'll try to do better next time.)
Inevitably, however, I am always a little disappointed by the stuff I sample. This cupcake was on the dry side. That slice of cake tasted too strongly of red food coloring.
This cookie didn't satisfy on the chocolate front. That cream cheese frosting was too runny.
I've complained about my lack of red velvet satisfaction over the years to my friend Stephanie, who's a pastry chef. In fact, I've complained so often that one day she said, "Maybe you don't actually like red velvet. Maybe you only think you do."
This was a novel idea. Could she be right?
But here's the thing. The first time I ever had a bite of red velvet cake, I thought I had never tasted anything so good. Or so exotic.
This was back in the day when food was both seasonal and regional. You couldn't buy bagels any time you felt like it on the corner of South Temple and E Street. You didn't serve pumpkin pie for dessert in July. You waited for food. You discovered food. And when you did? Bam! Magic happened.
The first slice of red velvet cake I ever ate was the day I turned 18. A friend brought it to school for celebration purposes. We sat out on the side lawn with a warm spring breeze glancing off our shoulders. Eating. Laughing. Talking about all the things that we hoped would happen after we graduated from high school.
It occurs to me now finally that I haven't just been trying to recapture that first memorable bite. No. What I've been trying to recapture, instead, is a sunlit moment in time when all things felt possible.
That's a lot to ask of a cupcake, don't you think?
So now I'll just let red velvet be .â¦ red velvet.
And maybe I can enjoy those pancakes at IHOP for what they are.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.