Frosting through the ages: A guide

I really love frosting.  Here is a timeline detailing just how much I love frosting.

Age 3: Eat as messily as possible, and don’t be afraid to share the mess with tables, floors, and even pets.

Get and keep frosting: You bang your plate on the table until Mom serves you more. Cry if she won’t let you lick the excess from the Minnie mouse car on top of the cake. You hang onto your glitter-covered paper crown that marks you as birthday girl as you dive into the ball pit at Chuck-E-Cheese. This prevents adults from getting close enough to wipe the frosting residue from your face and reminds them that birthday girls can eat as much frosting as they please.

Ages 6 – 8: Eat lots.
You find creative ways to incorporate frosting in each birthday party cake:
You bring a Barbie to your local bakery, so your cake may include Barbie in a frosting dress
You find a picture of your favorite movie character, and have the bakery print the picture on the cake in their oddly paper-like frosting method
You have the bakery duplicate the unnecessarily complicated scene of partying M&Ms which is depicted on your party napkins

Maximize the profit: When at any birthday party, you should be sure to beg for a piece of the frosting flower, balloon, M&M or other design that will result in obtaining a larger volume of colorful frosting. You receive bonus points and the admiration of your fellow partygoers if you secure a piece of cake with a flower and part of the “Happy Birthday” writing. If none of these options is available, remember that store-bought cakes often feature a frosting border on top and bottom. Asking politely for a corner piece could triple your frosting yield. Be warned: this can backfire—frosting may be spread thinner along the edges, and the corner may also result in dryer cake. Welcome to your first exposure to high risk, high reward.

Age 10: Eat the most artificial ingredients possible.
Campaign for your cause: You will quickly learn that Oreos can be polarizing. Some classmates stuff them whole into their mouths, while others insist on deconstructing the cookies before consuming. Each student contends that he or she uses the “best method.” You are a member of the “deconstructed” party, and during each lunch period you sit on your pink plastic stool and fight valiantly for your side. First, you explain, you must carefully remove the top cookie and eat it. To set it down for later would mean dirtying the cookie, but eating it with the rest of the Oreo will dilute the frosting-y goodness. Next, use those newly-grown front teeth to scrape the frosting off the bottom layer. Savor each sugary scrape, unadulterated by the crunchy chocolate. The remaining cookie may be eaten as a palate cleanser.

Know your frosting-eating foes: After weeks of constant begging, Mom finally agrees to buy Hostess cupcakes, but “just this once” (a statement she upholds religiously). It is once again lunchtime at school, and you look down at the cellophane-wrapped cakes. You cannot believe your luck. Two cylindrical pieces of perfection. You smile with satisfaction as you study the Hostess signature—white frosting loops scrawled across a chocolate background. You delight in the crinkle of the wrapper as you rip open the dessert for which you have been waiting your whole life. You tenderly pull each one out of the wrapper, setting them on the table as though they might disintegrate if you move them too quickly. You sniff and catch a scrumptious whiff of the chemical chocolate. Too late, you spy your frenemy, Erin, watching across the table, her eyes mirroring your own hungry expression. To rectify your mistake, you hastily look away and pretend to be utterly absorbed by the animal mural on the cafeteria wall. Eyeing a suspiciously-colored rendering of a tiger, you take your first few bites of the cupcake. The combination of ingredients that have more syllables than you know how to count hits your tongue, and somehow they blend together to become heavenly cake and frosting.
The flavor rejoicing is interrupted abruptly by Erin. “Are those Hostess cupcakes?”
You freeze. Your stomach sinks in dread. She does not even wait for you to respond.
“Can I please, please, please have one?”
No. No she cannot.
“I never, ever, ever get to have dessert at my house!!”
You will not yield.
“Pleeeeeaseee? I literally never get to have dessert!”
You feel the guilt building in your gut. The pressure mounts, bubbling up your esophagus until you can no longer contain its force. The sheer power of the emotion begins to vibrate your vocal chords. “Yeah, you can have one.”
You watch as your arm extends with the cupcake in hand, almost as if it is operated somebody else.
“Oh thank you, thank you!” she says, downing the frosting-covered paradise within three bites.
Almost immediately, she bounds out of her chair, explaining “Time to buy ice cream!”
Now isn’t that just the frosting on the cake?

Age 11: Eat on special occasions.
Discover the frosting process: Baking chocolate chip cookies or brownies is great, but you know you’ll have the ultimate baking experience if you’re baking something that will require frosting. You lay sprawled out on the grungy blue kitchen rug, each limb at a strange angle as if you are purposefully trying to trip everyone. You smell the cupcakes baking in the oven, and begin to whine.
“Mommy, when is it time to do the frosting???”
As she assures you that it will be soon, you become more impatient. Springing up from your octopus-like state, you stand and begin to spin. You see the bright red counter with the toaster and coffee maker, the microwave perched on a rickety cart, the refrigerator covered in magnets and your latest artwork , the washer machine with clothes piled high, the dryer, the table, the stovetop and oven, the sink half full of bowls covered in cupcake batter. You go faster the next time around—counter, microwave, fridge, washer, dryer, table, stove, sink. Picking up speed, you see only streaks of color—red, brown, black, grey, more red. Now you’re flying and the room is an indistinguishable blur, identifiable only by the aroma of half-baked cupcakes. You breathe in deeply, and with that motion, your balance betrays you. You see red as you hit your leg HARD on the open dishwasher door hidden beneath the counter. Only the delicious smell wafting from the oven keeps you from crying.
Once more lying on the rough ground, you stare up at the table on top of which rest the three magnificent cans of frosting—their blue plastic lids shining brightly under the fluorescent lights, three beacons of excitement in the form of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The promise of sugar dulls the pain in your shin.
“Mommy, when is it time to do the frosting???” you whine again.
You catch a glimpse of the night sky through the tiny window high up above the table. You begin to yawn.
Upon descending the stairs to the kitchen the next morning, you find rows and rows of neatly frosted cakes on the red counter. Mom has left a can of vanilla frosting and sprinkles, a butter knife, and two unfrosted cupcakes for you. You are nearly late for school as you take on this monstrous task, artfully twirling the white frosting onto the bright yellow cake. One more glop for good luck. And another couple vigorous shakes of sprinkles to ensure an even distribution of decoration. You lick your fingers clean as Mom carefully adds your dangerously asymmetric creations to the plastic box which already contains hours of her own work.
Later, you carefully place a frosted cupcake encrusted with pink and blue sprinkles on each classmate’s shiny beige desk. You bask in the glow of the hastily muttered “Thank Yous” and “Happy Birthdays” as your peers hungrily eye the treat balanced carefully in your little hands. As you offer the now nearly-empty container to your teacher, her eyes go wide and she exclaims “Wow! Who did all the beautiful frosting?”
“I did!!” you cry with excitement, as you remember the events of the morning.

Age 18: Eat never. You literally never want to touch the stuff again.
Become familiar with the dangers of frosting: You have just covered the display and placed the “CLOSED” sign on top of the small bakery counter. Even though you are closing, you know the package store, a separately owned business in which the tiny bakery is located, will remain open for a few more hours.
You are exhausted from the day’s antics. Not much business for Daily Bread, but many customers for the package store. As you are the first employee customers see as they walk through tall red-framed door, they often assume your expertise extends beyond pastries. They ask earnestly if the pricey Merlot has fruity undertones, or whether the Cabernet would be too dry to pair with a steak dinner. They ask “does this lemon look ripe to you?” as they sift through produce that has likely been untouched for weeks (who goes to a package store to buy produce?). They dump a large pile of package-store groceries on your coffee-ring stained counter, and ask if you accept MasterCard. You tiredly point person after person to the green-aproned general store employees. Only once in a while will a visitor stop to take a look at the freshly baked scones which you have painstakingly arranged into an aesthetically pleasing tower and perhaps do some business with you.
The job feels less like running a bakery, and more like coordinating a bake sale. Cookies are only forty cents; the cash register is so ancient that it cannot calculate change; and you have a single ice cube tray to make huge ice cubes, three of which are plunked into a cup to make “iced coffee;” your storage unit consists of stacked rectangular tupperwares sitting on the dirt-packed floor of a small refrigerated cupboard, located under the slightly-rotted produce. Unlike some bake sales, you do offer a selection of cakes and breads, but those sell far less rapidly than the black-bottomed cupcakes, for which you receive constant praise, although you play no part in the actual baking.
You have just pointed a hungry-looking family of four to the deli counter at the back of the store, when a heavy woman strides in. She walks with determination, and marches up to the recently covered counter. You futilely make yourself as unavailable looking as is possible in a 20 square foot space, turning your back to her and your face downward as if you are modifying the list of cookies to be made for the next morning. You are hoping she will heed the “closed” signage.
“Excuse me,” she says.
No such luck.
“Yes? How can I help you?” you say after a pause, as sweetly as you can muster.
“I’ll have a dozen cupcakes. They’re for my daughter’s birthday, so can you make sure they’re from your freshest stock?” She points to the cabinet containing the cache of Tupperwares. She already knows where you keep them. You groan internally with as much exasperation as you can without projecting the emotions on your face. You reluctantly step out from behind the counter and shuffle a few steps to the produce. Your knees crack as you squat down to reach the cabinet, and you nearly lose your balance while sliding it open. You hastily grab the grungy Tupperware full of cupcakes and return to the counter. Within those twenty seconds, your customer has become curious and has lifted the fabric cover off the display case to look inside. She drops it quickly as you approach and pretends to be examining the ribbon adorning a bag of granola resting on top of the counter.
Transferring food from one container to another seems a simple feat, but you know better as you glare at your sticky, sugary opponent. You pick up one of those paper things that they use at bakeries to grab your food (that nobody really knows the name of), and you quickly descend on the desserts. As you grab for the first cupcake, you meet a barrier of frosting, and quickly withdraw. The cupcakes still sit innocently, but your paper thing is empty, save the layer of chocolate frosting gunk peppered with sprinkles. You ball it up and toss it in the trash, disgusted. You grab another one. This time, you are relentless. You dive in at the corner, trying not to let the customer see as the frosting spreads itself not only all over the paper thing, but all over your hand, your wrist, and the paper box into which you shove your catch. Eleven to go.

Tame the frosting: Take the Saran-wrapped cake out of the freezer in the bakery, and it looks like a really big Frisbee. Use your strength to retrieve the industrial-sized bucket of homemade frosting, and plunk it down with the cake. Grab a froster utensil—a comically large butter knife, essentially–and get down to business. Take a big scoop. Massage it gently onto the cake. Oops, too rough! There’s crumbs in the frosting. Take more frosting to conceal your mistake. Cover frosting with frosting. Massage again. More crumbs? More frosting. Eventually, it’ll look acceptable.
Time for decoration. Take the froster utensil, and using a flat side, drag it across the top of the cake to create a smooth line. Now drag it the other way to create another line below the first. Back you go again, leaving yet another smooth stripe in your wake. Soon, the cake will be covered in neat zig-zagging stripes. Next is the fun part. Take the knife-like edge of the utensil, and drag it gently through the frosting, perpendicular to your stripes. Do this two to three times or until you have equally distributed lines about 3 inches apart. This will intentionally warp your frosting stripes, pulling them in the direction of the knife. Turn the cake around. In between each of the existing lines, draw another line—since you turned the cake, it will pull the frosting in the opposite direction. The finished result is a repeated squiggly pattern, best represented digitally as “~~~”
Some reminders: “Anniversary” has two “n’s,” and for god’s sake, don’t forget the comma when wishing someone a happy birthday.

Age 18: Eat socially.
Make friends through frosting: You bake a cake for a fundraiser and discover that the frosting trick can be easily replicated with an ordinary butter knife. You grab your trusty blue-capped frosting can and begin to glom it on. You don’t bother trying to scrape it clean. Leftovers in the corners of the can are accessible only with a spoon and are addressed directly to your stomach. Out of necessity, you spread the frosting slightly thinner on the edges to compensate for this technique. Later, you present the cake with pride, accepting praise from your peers as you place your creation amongst the average-looking brownies, and slightly blackened cookies.

Age 20: Eat adventurously.
Get creative: You are eating cake that has been in the refrigerator for the past few days. The frosting has hardened considerably. A steaming mug of peach green tea sits beside your plate. You take a sip and ponder the possibility of the combination. A loud clunk resounds through the kitchen as you put your mug on the table and decide to do it. Delicately, you dig the tines of the fork into a frosting swirl, and make sure the sugar is securely fastened to the metal. Quickly, you submerge it in the tea, and before you have time to think, you pop it in your mouth. Your taste buds, having revised their picky ways since college, love it. Slightly melted and warm on the outside, cool and refreshing on the inside. The purity of frosting, all on a college budget.

Age 22: Eat to the extent that everybody knows your passion.
Make your frosting reputation known: While visiting your grandparents in California, you eat at a bakery. You sadly consume your veggie wrap which is heavily laced with mustard, instead of the muenster you so politely requested. However, you only have eyes for the free piece of cake they have included in your order. You try a bite of the cake sans frosting—coconut. Supposedly, you’re allergic to coconut, although you have yet to observe symptoms and suspect that your parents concocted the tale to prevent a chronic need for macaroons in the house. Bummer. Setting the cake portion aside, you heartily dig into the frosting, ignoring conversations about the California weather and the explosion of new buildings and construction sites in northern California. You are completely absorbed in the task at hand. Not even your rail-thin grandmother, who recommends Weightwatchers to every family member, questions your icing consumption. Instead, she insists you finish hers too.

Age 92: Eat to perpetuate a legacy
Use your seniority to get frosting. Your daughter places the cake before you, ablaze with 11 candles (one per decade, and two for the extra two years). You feebly expel air from your wasted lips to blow out the fire. One flame flickers but remains alight. A curly-haired grandchild bounces eagerly beside you, and you let her finish the task of fire extinguishing.
You wave the smoke away, and the circle of family members, old and young alike, claps with joy. Before your daughter can drag the frosting-adorned treat away to slice in the kitchen, you reach out a wrinkled finger and take a swipe of white frosting. You lick it clean before anybody can react.
“Grandma!!” the curly-haired girl exclaims.
You hold the guilty finger to your lips and smile mischievously. After all, birthday girls can eat as much frosting as they please.

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