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Tractor Cake

Thursday night, Felix and I made some cakes. Having him measure ingredients, I had such a fond feeling for when I was 11 and loved being in the kitchen.


Boy at work.

By then I had assigned myself the job of being the family baker. I would survey my sisters and see what they wanted for snacks or lunches. I pretended to be taking care of them and their needs, but really I had a glue for the alchemy of baking. I loved to make oatmeal cookies especially, and kept playing with recipes. I have some index cards that say The Best, Amy’s Best, or The Best Best.

Felix doesn’t have the same affinity for the kitchen, but he likes learning how ingredients come together. Baking a tractor shaped cake was kind of the frosting on a project for school. He turned his love for Bruder farm toys into a research project, and wrote about the history of toys, and the history of farming toys in Germany and America.


I had fun reading to help him. I read the biography of the man who invented the erector set, and learned about his getting members of a congressional committee on their knees playing with toys. The committee was considering rationing toys, but A.C. Gilbert gave an impassioned speech asking that American boys who might be fighting soon be allowed to have Christmas and build childhood memories. This was during World War I, and a barge full of German-made toys sat in the ocean, barred from coming on shore.


Note the folded, deservedly smug arms.

The book reminded me of my erector set, and the bridge that I built. Playing with flour was more routine. I built myself in the kitchen, and that’s why it is so fun to watch my boys play with food. Francis is 17 and he has always loved cooking and eating. He has quite a taste compass, and I’m happy he’s home from boarding school to help guide our meals.

“Boy, making a cake is a lot of work! I thought it would be snip snap,” Felix said as he divided the frosting for his tractor cake into bowls and tried to get the colors right to match a particular tractor.

He got up early in the morning before the last day of school to decorate the cake. The result was pretty great for a first effort!

We brought it to a party at his friend’s house, and as thunder rumbled the kids came indoors from volleyball and soccer and finally cut into the tractor.


Who knows how much interest Felix will ever have in baking. But I am grateful that we had some time together with sugar and flour and each other.




We have a lot of ideas per square inch in my household. I like to think about food, and so does Jack and Francis. Jack, Francis and Felix are philosophers, considering any aspect of life that shines at their attention.

For the last few years, Felix has been building a town in the yard. It is a place for him to play with his tractors and construction toys, and experiment with ideas about roads, buildings, and other infrastructure, like waste handling and energy generation.

Since he was very young he has been talking about Cuteland, a place adjacent to this one, a country were only kids live, and he can explore his understandings of our skewed world, and posit better structures and solutions.

Lately I’ve been very grateful for a few of the structures and solutions that exist in my life. Specifically, my job helping cook at Unity House, and Troy Bike Rescue. Unity House began in my neighborhood in the 70s, in a house that had been slated for destruction and was taken over by some people in the Church who wanted to help the community. That building and idea have grown into a large social service agency that covers a broad swath of needs.

More recently, another idea that began near me was Troy Bike Rescue. Wanting to salvage bicycles from the waste stream, some people started storing abandoned bikes in basements, and opening the door to share those machines with people who wanted to learn how to fix them.


Ellie Markovitch’s carrot cake for the TBR fundraiser. Photo courtesy Ellie Markovitch.

That idea now has a home of its own, a building bursting at the seams with tires, frames, pumps and bike stands to put all of those things together and get these almost wasted pieces of metal in the hands of people who want to ride.

Yesterday was Bikefest, the fifth fundraiser for Troy Bike Rescue, a.k.a. TBR. I’ve steered crews of cooks through making rather spectacular burrito bars for the meal. The event is held at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, a former church that was rescued by a person who didn’t want to see it demolished. Russell Ziemba took care of the building until another idea, the Sanctuary was ready to have a home.

Now the old church hosts a slew of activities, from video production workshops to a nature laboratory, and soon, a radio station. International musicians and progressive thinkers visit the Sanctuary and help a lot of ideas come to Troy and take shape.

Last night’s dinner was fun. Seven long tables seated a bunch of people who love bikes. This crowd is such a mixture of low key, intent riders, and high intensity bike lovers. One great part of the evening is the cake auction. A beautiful frenzy erupted over the tiramisu. The auctioneer frothed the crowd into a bidding war, pitting one side of the room against the other, and getting $240 for the dessert.

After the meal, after the samba whistles and drums, the tables came down and the room was clear for dancing. A few of us loud living peeps swirled around, and the kids loved the microphone. Outside in the dark it began to rain, but people sat on the steps loving the refreshment.

I didn’t want to go home. It wasn’t a perfect night – I could see some kerfuffles between people, and I’m in the midst of fighting some serious arm pain – but it was a very good night. One that made me so happy that I live in a place where people can put their ideas into action and make structures and spaces where people can congregate and make a little magic.