Brandi Chambless – Little Gems Learned From A Longhorn Lemon Cake

Now and again, I will have committed to the noble task of drumming up a fancy spa basket, a Christmas wreath, a vacation package, an iPad or a new car for some charity event, all to save the starving children in Africa and promote world peace – but not this time.  It was much simpler than that.  ALL I had to do was donate… a homemade cake.  That was it.

Anyone can cook. –Chef Gusteau, Ratatouille

Running late.  Though I generally enjoy being a punctual person, the reasons for my tardiness will remain as unspoken as a prayer request in a Wednesday night prayer meeting.  The elaborate homemade confection I had initially intended to bake was definitely NOT coming together.  There was no time.

Saved by the Bundt.

I climbed onto the highest rung of my kitchen stepstool and reached the unreachable 3rd shelf of my pantry.  Who designs these shelves?  A man.  Someone who DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THE UNSPOKEN PUBLIC FLOGGING THAT WILL OCCUR IF I DON’T PRODUCE A CERTAIN HOMEMADE CAKE BAKED BY ME FOR THIS CHARITY AUCTION.

Panic.  I baked a $1.99 lemon cake mix.  I’m ready.  My cake smells ever so lemony.  I’m practically Junior League material.  I embed little gems like a rhinestone cowboy and craft together sticks from the yard into makeshift longhorns.  Surely, there’s bound to be some Hook ‘Em Horns sucker enthusiast in the crowd.

Fake It After You Bake It–The Auction.

What if no one bids on the Bundt?  My insecurities were unfounded.  What kind of cake is it?!  Why it’s a Longhorn Lemon Cake! I crossed my fingers and hoped the taste of the cake was worth the dollars spent by the lucky Longhorn donor.  It brought a bundle.  God bless the children.

Packaging Counts.

You and I both know that if I had listed my cake as the “Fantastic $1.99 Betty Crocker Bundt” it would have never sold for the incredible sum of money it did UNLESS:  A).  I was in a coma.  B.) There was a diamond ring baked inside it.  Or C.) It came with an all expense paid Italian cruise—that was then.

But…the Longhorn factor.  Yeehaaa!

Packaging counts.

Take the Italians, for instance.  They are beautiful marketing geniuses. 

I want to be crystal clear, Dear Reader, about my addiction to Italian water.  Yes, water.  Acqua Panna to be exact.  But, claiming ownership of some of this infamous imported spring water is not my sole objective.  I am admittedly after the bottle.  It is JUST the right size, JUST the right thickness, and has a screw top.  For the record–let it never be said that I am a spendthrift. 

You can see where this is headed.  Buy the Acqua Panna.  Drink.  Refill.  Chill.  Screw Top.  Love it.

So, when headed out to a tennis match one day, my habit of refilling and chilling the sparkly bottles with plain, unfiltered tap water was discovered by my husband when I tucked a couple of bottles in my purse.  Since then, my entire family has begun to razz me relentlessly, renaming my tasteless non-caloric elixirs  “Acqua Bubba”.  Those little gems get colder than any other drink in my fridge.  Sure, what’s IN THE BOTTLE counts, but just ask the Italians.  Packaging counts.  Like a five thousand dollar Longhorn Lemon Cake.  Take it from my Acqua Bubba.

Don’t Ruin Someone Else’s Magic.

Now, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to magic being ruined by someone else.  Like when you’ve DVRed American Idol and your Mama texts you BEFORE you watch the results show:  That’s a shame about poor Colton Dixon. Or when you allow one of your Acqua Bubbas to be gripped by the potentially booger-picking fingers of a thirsty 10-year old (a friend’s son) with the promise that he will gamma sterilize the bottle and refill it, only to find later that you have NO COLD ONES left and you must now resort to pouring up your own glass of boring old ice water.  Oh buddy.  That is one sure way to ruin the magic of the Acqua Bubba.  Far be it from me to ever do this to anyone.  And I mean, ANYONE.

You see, from time to time, I continued to bump into, shall we call them “The Lemon Longhorns”.  They’d go on and on about that exquisite Bundt cake they once bought at the charity auction and press me harder for the recipe in each subsequent meeting so they can, at last, bake it once and for all for their eager Longhorn friends. 

I never had the decency heart to tell them that it was only a $1.99 Betty Crocker Cake Mix I had purchased on double coupon day at Kroger with my $1.50 OFF coupon OR that in return for my coupon on double coupon day, Kroger had actually PAID me to take the $1.99 cake mix home.

Me:  It’s an old family secret. Mr. Longhorn:  Oh, you Devil, you!  Mary, isn’t she a Devil!? We’ll get that recipe out of her yet!

I’d feel terrible and relieved as I parted ways with The Lemon Longhorns, until next time.  Then I’d just feel terrible all over again at our next chance meeting.  But not The Longhorns.

The Lemon Longhorns were so delighted over my Bundt cake that they would tell me and everyone they knew how it was the best cake they had ever eaten.  It was like something magical to them.  It really had moved their Longhorn meter.  And now, they associated the love of a fake cake with ME.  The Lemon Longhorns loved me.  I couldn’t ruin their magic! But, believe you me, my mouth had to battle the thoughts in my head that my brain wanted me to say.  Crétin, c’est juste un Betty Crocker! Pardon my French. 

Fifteen years have come and gone now since I passed off that box cake mix as something really unique, all because of a little branding technique that motivated a few wealthy philanthropists to vie for who might outbid the other, just for one chance to have a taste.  So, my cake wasn’t homemade from scratch.  Some starving children probably got saved or adopted because Kroger paid me to take this ordinary, pre-packaged cake mix home for a time such as this.  I no longer run into the Lemon Longhorns.  I realize that running late was the culprit in the first place, and though my Bundt cake seemed to bring success, the anguish of running into the Lemon Longhorns for what seemed like YEARS convicted me of my ideology that faking it ‘til you make it only works in basketball and, sometimes, politics.

Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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