I worked at a frozen yogurt shop the summer I was sixteen. I remember bicycling to work, the wind lifting my pony-tail as I coasted straight down steep Sackville Street all the way to the waterfront. We served soft serve yogurt milkshakes, yogurt sundaes covered in fruit and my favourite, yogurt cones. I loved the way the soft serve would emerge from the machine and fold down onto itself, creating a perfect swirl in the cone with just the gentlest of guidance. I’d finish the swirl with a swift lift of handle, a sharp drop and pull of the cone, and ta-da! A perfect little yogurt loop would appear on top. It was so satisfying.
To make a smoothie or a shake, shape didn’t matter. We’d perch the smoothie canister on a little shelf beneath the dispenser, crank the handle down and just let it flow. The yogurt would flip flop here and there in the cup, creating its own swirly art. When full we’d lift the canister and take it over to the toppings counter, fill it up, then whiz everything together in the blender. It was less performance, more function.
I got the job because the owner’s daughter didn’t like me. She told me this as we stood side by side, scooping canned mandarins onto cups of yogurt swirls, smiling through our teeth at the customers across the counter. My boyfriend says he likes you, she hissed, and I’d rather you be here, at my side.
A few minutes later a customer ordered a chocolate shake. I followed the procedure, but this time, sweating. As I handed the shake to the customer across the counter, I watched as her eyes moved from me to the yogurt dispenser, and back again. I had forgotten to lift the handle to stop the flow. Chocolate soft serve yogurt was now folding beautifully into a swirl on the floor, a pre-curser to a now popular emoji. I may as well have walked through it, that’s how deep I was.
I watch the marshmallow icing fall from the whisk and fold perfectly onto itself in the bowl below. My sister and aunt are in my kitchen. It’s a snow day, school is cancelled and we’ve gathered to ‘be productive’ together. There’s a birthday cake to make. Class valentine cookies to bake. An Indian dessert to whip up for a grade seven class presentation. It’s all happening in here, but nothing is working.
My sister’s cake bubbles over in the oven. Little burnt bits are collecting on the bottom of the oven, smoking out the kitchen. Was the cake supposed to be made in a higher-sided springform cake tin? Or two tins? Who knows, the recipe wasn’t clear. It definitely didn’t say ‘bake until the cake bubbles over.’ This much we know.
My nine-year-old tries to make cookies with his star wars cookie cutters. The dough is too crumbly and all the Yodas fall apart before they hit the oven.
The Indian dessert needs rosewater. The twelve-year-old is emptying the cupboards, in search of something I know we don’t have.
My aunt, an artist who takes comfort in repetitive action, finds solace standing at the sink washing our mounting pile of dishes while I stare at the rippling icing.
Sometimes I find my middle son watching ‘satisfying videos’ on snapchat. Things like onions being finely chopped in a crosshatch fashion revealing a mound of tiny onion cubes, or hot magma, slowly spreading across rocks. It’s so weird to me. Why doesn’t he just make marshmallow icing? It’s a satisfyingly delicious mess, better than any soft serve swirl will ever be.
The best Marshmallow Icing can be found over here on 101 Cookbooks – scroll down to the bottom. It’s Claire Ptak’s from Violet Bakery – my favourite, as you know. Listen to Claire on episode 24 of The Food Podcast!