Blanche Gatto’s Baked Goods
“Remember, all entries must be mailed in before noon on March fifth. Make sure to send one dessert recipe. Then attach a brief bio of yourself, and most importantly, write on the envelope, ‘2017 Battle of the Bakers.’ The three chosen contestants will present their desserts at our St. Patrick’s Day celebration at our Market Square Pavilion. Wow, this should be interesting… the morning show sampling sweet desserts then drinking pitchers of beer with corn beef hash. Whose idea was this? Remember, the winner will represent the city of Pittsburgh in Orlando.”
Leo wrote down the information for the contest then lowered the radio in the kitchen of his house. The prize was for a three-day all-inclusive resort in Orlando with premier pastry chefs from the world-famous Palacio de Pandaria as judges. The winner from the radio station would compete against contestants from around the United States.
Leo knew his grandmother, Blanche, a widower, would have a chance to win with her family favorite chocolate cake. Every time she made this delicious dessert that she called, The Seer Chocolatier, everyone in the family was happy.
Blanche, who only visited Florida once in the 1959, was excited but gave Leo an earful: “What do you mean I have to make it for a competition at a radio station on St. Patty’s Day? Are you insane?” Blanche said.
“I know you will win grandma. You will only bake one day for the contest with two days of lounging at the pool at an all-inclusive,” Leo said.
Blanche participated and won the contest. In June, she was on her way to Orlando to stay at the Rosa-Rosa Resort next to the convention center where the contest would take place the following afternoon.
When the limousine driver arrived at the hotel, Blanche asked the driver if it was the right place. She looked at the brochure twice which showed multiple pools, a golf course, and a restaurant that rotated atop the main building. This is what she saw: one building, six floors high, with a small pool next to the parking lot.
“Yes, this is your destination,” The limousine driver said and she exited the vehicle to enter the hotel lobby.
“Welcome to the Rosa-Rosa Resort,” a young lady named Rene at the front desk said.
“Hello, thank you. I am here, because I won a baking contest!” Blanche said with glee.
“Ahhh the contest,” Rene said.
“I’m here representing Pittsburgh,” Blanche told her.
“Great, here is your packet for the event and I believe the organizer of the event will be in the lobby at six for a meet and greet,” Rene said.
“I have one question Rene,” Blanche asked as she pulled out the brochure.
“Ahhh yes, please ask me?” Rene said.
“Where is this hotel?” Blanche asked as she pointed to the picture.
“As you can see we are under construction,” Rene said.
“I don’t see any construction,” Blanche told her.
“From what I was told, it is mostly a blue print,” Rene said.
“Or do you mean a brochure misprint,” Blanche said.
“Exactly,” Rene answered then she quickly greeted a gentleman behind Blanche.
Blanche stepped off to the side as a young man approached the front desk and asked the same question.
Blanche went to the elevator to find out a sign that said, ‘Out of Order.’ She returned to ask Rene where the other elevator was located.
Rene hesitated then responded, “I apologize for the inconvenience the other elevator is—”
“I know…‘Under Construction,’ Blanche said.
Darren, the young man who was checking in, introduced to himself to Blanche as he noticed her packet: Hello, I am representing Atlanta, where are you from?”
“I am from Pittsburgh,” Blanche said.
“Great, nice to meet you Blanche,” Darren said. “I believe my room is on the second floor as well. I’ll take your bag to the room, no problem.”
Darren was a twenty-three years old, laid back and congenial kid from a culinary school near Atlanta. He thanked Rene, took Blanches’ bag, and led the way to the stairs. After the two flights of stairs Darren realized that their rooms were next to each other. He told Blanche that if she needed anything, to simply call or knock.
Blanche entered the room that could have been the hotel room from 1959. The room was old and dated with a view of a deserted strip mall with heavy orange drapes over the window, and a noisy wall-mounted air conditioning unit.
She rested, or at least attempted to take a nap with the noisy air condition, before the meet and greet in the lobby. She saw Darren chatting with other contestants who wore name tags that included their respective cities. It was obvious to Blanche that the field of contestants was considerably young. The only person who looked as old as her was the event organizer, Diego. Her observation caught Diego’s eye and when Blanche turned to look his way once more, he gave her a big smile and a wink.
Diego stood in the center of the contestants and began to speak about the contest for the following day. He also mentioned that the hotel was doing some remodeling. This drew some laughs and grunts from the contestants. He thanked everyone for their participation in the initial contest and told them to enjoy the evening.
While the contestants were mingling with the pastry chefs, Diego made his way to Blanche who was by the bar. “Señora, mucho gusto,” Diego said as he kissed her on the cheek.
“Hello,” Blanche said as she blushed and stepped back. “I wasn’t expecting such a greeting.”
“This greeting if very common in our culture,” Diego said as he placed his hand on her arm and smiled.
“Aren’t you judging?” Blanche said.
“Not the contest, only you mi amor,” Diego responded and now had both hands on her shoulders.
Blanche sat down at the bar to drink her Shirley Temple. Diego took a seat next to her and ordered a Cuba libre.
“Señora Blanche from Pittsburgh, I must tell you that if the judges voted on the appearance of how the contestants look, then mi amor the rule of perception would make you the winner… without a doubt,” Diego said.
As soon as Blanche finished her drink she excused herself. She told him that her drink and not his company was the night capper. He was not appalled by any means and, as she walked away, told Blanche: “I’ll be waiting mi amour, if not now then later for our drink together.”
Later that night Blanche’s air conditioner broke. She left her hotel room to inform the front desk because not one was answering. They explained that there were no rooms available, but offered to bring a stationary fan. Blanche looked at her watch, it was eight o’clock and she was exhausted. She knew she would probably pass out so she accepted the offer. On her way to the room, she decided to buy a few cold drinks from the vending machine: no bottled water, just sodas. As she approached her door, she heard Darren laughing to the top of his lungs.
She knocked on Darren’s door. He saw who it was and stopped smoking a joint then sprayed cologne in the air. At the door she explained what happened to her air conditioner. He offers to let her in and cool down.
Blanche told Darren about Diego. He paused, for a long minute before she snapped her fingers and laughed at him: “You okay honey?”
“Oh yeah, I’m sorry. You know what I would do?” Darren said then coughed hard.
“What is it?” Blanche asked with a smile.
“I would go to the bar, right? Get your cold water and then…” Darren said then he heard a noise at the door and jumped up.
Blanche was alarmed, but took it in stride because she knew Darren was high.
Darren sat back down and continued, “Then, I would get señor Diego drunk and sleep in his cozy cool air-conditioned room.”
Blanche started to laugh before she wondered about the sacrifice to get water and possibly a bed in Diego’s room. She saw a cooler and asked if he had any cold water to drink since there was as none in the vending machine. In the small cooler, Darren had butter he made to give to his girlfriend, who was also in culinary school and visiting from Tampa the following morning. The butter was mixed with cannabis. He made four individually wrapped sticks and placed them in wax paper marked, “C-Butter”.
“No, I don’t have water, but would you like a stick of butter?” Darren said with a hardy laugh. He nonchalantly opened the cooler and handed her a stick. Blanche laughed as well while she held the butter in her hand. Then he grabbed another stick of butter and laughed louder.
Blanche laughed again but was becoming slightly nauseated by the heavy cologne and not the faint smell of marijuana. She told him that she was going to the bar for her cold glass of water, but no Diego. She placed the butter in her purse and said goodnight.
“Okay, goodnight Blanche,” Darren said. He locked the door, cracked the window and smoked the rest of his joint.
On the way to bar, a maintenance guy passed Blanche with a stationary fan. She told him as he went to the second level, “Turn that fan on, I’ll be back in a few.” Blanche arrived at the bar where there were still a few people. She ordered her glass of water from the bartender and Diego, who snuck up behind her, ordered a Shirley Temple and Cuba libre.
“Hola, señora Blansh,” Diego said.
Blanche took a seat, ignored him, and began to drink her water. She knew Diego was drunk when he slurred her name, looked at her with glossy eyes, and smelled like he drank copious Cuba libres. The bartender placed the two drinks in front of Diego who conveniently passed Blanche’s drink next to her water.
“Diego, you’re pushing your luck,” Blanche said.
Diego placed his hand on her leg, “I like to push something else mi amor Blansh.”
Blanche thought about Darren’s comments and lightly laughed. She moved his hand away and the drink in front of her. Diego drank his first drink and was stirring the lime in the second one. He rubbed the back of his neck and let his hand slide down her back. Blanche moved his hand to his drink and without hesitation, he started to drink.
Blanche opened her purse to pay when she remembered the cannabis butter. “You know what I would love to do Diego?” Blanche asked.
“Wha Blansh,” Diego said.
“Make you a batch of brownies,” Blanche said.
“Ok, si si, yes yes, les do it now… Listen Blansh, I am running this event. I got that kitchen for whatever I want. This is wha the (he paused), I no remember what I need to say,” Diego said.
She paid for the drinks and he escorted her to the kitchen. There in the kitchen she located the ingredients to the make the brownies. Blanche preheated the oven while Diego sat on a stool drinking and rambling away in a monologue about the lonely life of an Argentine lover.
Darren woke up late in the morning and rushed across the street for the contest. He arrived at the convention center and took his table near Blanche. He acknowledged that they were neighbors with a laugh and said hello. Then he grabbed his apron and walked over to her table.
“How are you feeling?” Blanche asked with a smile.
“I feel like a million boxes,” Darren said as he put on his apron. “And do you know what is inside each of those boxes?”
“No,” Blanche answered.
“A million dollars,” Darren said. “Now ask me, how do I feel?”
“How do you feel?” Blanche said.
“Like a million bucks.” Darren said as they both laughed.
“You’re loony Darren,” Blanch said.
“Blanche, didn’t you come over because of your air condition, right?” Darren asked.
“I did, but I solved that problem. I slept great last night—cool and comfortable,” Blanche said.
“Okay… but I thought,” Darren was interrupted by an announcement.
“Good Morning. We hope everyone is great and ready to bake. We are running a tad late,” said one the six judges before Diego walked to the podium.
“Good morning and how is everyone?” Diego’s accent was heavy as he slowly told the contestants about their allotted time, then continued, “Señoras and señors, ladies and gentlemen, good luck and—”
All the judges stood behind Diego and loudly said through a megaphone: “Let the competition commence!” Diego almost fell from the high pitch as everyone laughed.
Darren’s girlfriend arrived for the event. He told her that she could hang out in his room until the judging started because attendees were not permitted in the competition area. When she arrived in his room, she noticed that his cooler was partially opened. The cannabis butter Darren brought for her was melted. She was upset that he left it opened, and then she recalled that he said there were four sticks.
His girlfriend arrived for the judging, told him about the butter mishap, but that she was excited to be there. As they were prepared to enter the banquet hall, she asked him if he used the fourth stick for the contest. At first, he laughed then it dawned on him that he offered Blanche a stick.
Darren stopped in the middle of the line to search for Blanche among the contestants, no luck. He rushed back to Blanche’s table and discretely pulled out the small plastic garbage container. He was in shock when he saw the wax paper in the small garbage container. His eyes were as big as his mouth as he stood in disbelief.
Darren scanned the competition area for Blanche, still no luck. He heard the audience applaud as the judges were taking their positions at the table. He ran back and his girlfriend was waiting for him. They entered again and he located Blanche sitting in the back row.
“Blanche I’m sorry, but I need to tell you that there was cannabis in the butter,” Darren said.
Blanche looked at Darren and his girlfriend, “Sweetie, you must have been higher than a kite. Of course I knew what it was. I use it all the time, well, not the butter, but the cannabis oil. What do you think because I am old that I don’t use marijuana, or for that matter, know what ‘C-butter’ is? This old body wants to feel good and fresh,” Blanche said with a wink.
“But you used the whole stick for your chocolate cake?” Darren asked.
“No,” Blanche said
“Ok,” Darren said then wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Just a quarter of it,” Blanche said.
“Where? In the cake?” Darren asked.
“No, honey, of course not,” Blanche said and then she gave a nod toward Diego. Darren followed Blanche’s nod and then looked at her. Blanche was smiling as she turned her focus back to the podium where Diego was about to announce the results.
“You gave it to Diego, but how?” Darren asked.
“I went to the bar for a cold glass of water after leaving your room,” Blanche said.
“You were in his room?” Darren’s girlfriend said.
“Don’t worry honey, Darren was too high for me to take advantage of him,” Blanche said as all three laughed lightly.
“Diego kept on bothering me while he was getting drunk. Understand, I am a widower, but single as well. Diego is an old fart, well, older. You know I sat down for just a drink and he put his hand on my leg and wouldn’t let go. So I told him that I would make my special brownies for him if he gave me access to the kitchen. The brownies cooled as I slept in his air-conditioned room,” Blanche said.
All three giggled as the awards were presented.
Neither Blanche nor Darren won the contest, but in his closing statement, Diego added: “I want to congratulate the winners once more. Also, I would like to thank Blanche Gatto for making me her special brownies (he started to giggle). I’m certain the judges do not have room after tasting all of these delicious desserts. However, (he gave a hardy laugh which made the crowd laugh as well) I will probably eat two more. Where is Blanche? (She raised her hand in the back.) You should have entered these in the contest. (Just then two of the judges reached onto the plate and grabbed her brownies.) Let’s celebrate!” A festoon of balloons fell from the ceiling of the banquet hall as Blanche and Darren laughed while Diego laughed uncontrollably with his hands hitting the balloons into the crowd.