WOSTER: Building the yellow brick road

One of our granddaughters has a birthday today and for no particular reason I'm reminded of the time years ago when her grandma baked her a "Wizard of Oz'' cake with ruby slippers and a yellow brick road.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

One of our granddaughters has a birthday today and for no particular reason I'm reminded of the time years ago when her grandma baked her a "Wizard of Oz'' cake with ruby slippers and a yellow brick road.

This granddaughter grew up with Dorothy, Toto and the zany cast of farmhands who became the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion after the twister plunked the house down in the Land of Oz. The granddaughter was no more than two or three the first time she watched the movie during a visit to our house. The story fascinated her, even the Wicked Witch with her green face. So when she asked for the Oz-themed birthday cake, what could Grandma do but find a way to make it.

In our family we tend to think of Grandma as a magical creature, sort of like the fairy godmother in "Cinderella.'' She can do almost anything, and she will, too, if a grandchild asks-and sometimes before the grandchild asks.

I'm sure other families think the same thing about their grandmothers. I'm sure other grandmothers are a lot like this one. Even the grandmas who were strict as an old-school nun with their own kids melt like chocolate candies in the hands of their grandchildren. I've done some research, but I can't find anyone who can explain the change.

If I were in graduate school studying human behavior, I'd consider taking that change as my study topic. Perhaps I could ask the scientists at the underground lab in the Black Hills. Maybe neutrinos play a role. They're tricky little things.


Until someone researches the phenomenon, I'll simply tell you that when the grandma I know best decided on an "Oz'' theme, she needed yellow M&Ms for the brick road. We learned quickly that it takes a heap of buying to collect enough yellow candies for a yellow brick road.

Now brown M&Ms, those things are as common as sparrows around a grain bin. The story goes that the rock band Van Halen included a clause in their concert contracts that stipulated no brown M&Ms in the candy bowls backstage. Snopes fact-checkers say that's true.

When I realized how many bags of candy it would require to build a yellow brick road, I suggested spray paint, kind of like those workers in "Alice in Wonderland'' who were painting white roses red before the queen could see that a mistake had been made. Spray paint would have been the quick, easy way to handle the birthday cake in question. However, Grandma never takes the quick, easy way. She likes to keep it real. We bought out a couple of candy stores gathering the raw material for the road.

Grandma has developed a reputation for birthday cakes made-to-order. She has done baseball gloves with authentic-looking baseballs nestled in the pockets. She has done Barbie Doll ball gowns that look like they belong on a red carpet somewhere. She has done massive cupcakes. She has done castles and Scooby-Doo and all sorts of other things. And always, she has tried to be authentic.

Consider this: Recently, another granddaughter, proud new owner of a boxer pup, wanted a birthday cake that looked like a boxer. Grandma worked from actual photos of the young woman's dog to get the colors and the eyes and the collar just right. Me? I'd have put the ingredients in a pan, baked the thing, slopped on some icing and said, "Use your imagination.'' Come on, admit it. If you're a grandpa, you'd do the same thing.

Nancy's mother used to bake poppy seed cakes for her daughter's birthday, but they were plain old rectangles, the same shape as a standard baking pan. I've made one or two poppy seed cakes for Nancy's birthday during our marriage, too. I no longer try to do it. My cakes turn out kind of rectangular except where the edges cave in. Mine usually have a low spot in the middle, which I try to cover with a pile of icing, kind of like a lakebed in a wet year.

There's a reason the granddaughters ask Grandma to bake their cakes.

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