The doorbell rang. I was grating an organic beet for our dinner salad, which we’d have as soon as Wifey got home from yoga. Ding-dong. A quick rinse swirled magenta beet juice down the sink.
Dish towel in hand, I raced to the door. Sometimes the neighborhood tamale maker has her bilingual kid ask if I want to buy any, which I never do because we’re corn and gluten free. “Hello?” I called into the dark. A UPS truck drove away.
Balanced on my doorstep sat a brown-paper package the size of a hatbox, addressed to both Wifey and me. It must’ve weighed five pounds. In large block letters it was stamped “PERISHABLE.” Probably not a hat.
I set it on the kitchen counter and sprinkled shredded beet onto chilled romaine. The oven timer on the free-range chicken went off. Wifey was late.
The box did nothing. Determined to keep my hands off, I tossed the salad, inadvertently turning cucumber slices beet-pink. No more futzing with the salad.
The package didn’t move. The urgency of the word “PERISHABLE” tested my impulse control. Maybe there was a plant inside, or potted amaryllis bulbs. I might as well give the poor thing some air. I sliced the tape and pulled back the wrapping. A red and yellow striped box with a fancy cursive logo announced “The Original Boston Coffee Cake!” A gift card ID’d our dear East-coast cousins, generous but oblivious to our dietary orientation.
Wifey arrived to the box wide open, waxed paper removed and a giant gluten-laden, sugar-iced coffee cake shimmering under our compact fluorescent lights.
Wifey read the card, not in the least troubled by the mismatch of the gift. “That’s sweet of them.”
We sat down to our pink salad and only slightly over-baked chicken. The cake glistened. For dessert, in homage to our relatives, we each ate a slice. I’ll admit it was tasty, not unlike deservedly departed Hostess Twinkies. The label — which I didn’t dare read until after we’d had some — gave sugar as the first ingredient and one of the only recognizable substances in there.
Wifey’d had her fill, but no way was I going to keep 48 ounces of tempting “bleached flour, modified food starch, sodium phosphate, potassium sorbate, hydrogenated cotton seed oil, propylene glycol, mono and diesters of fats and fatty acids, mono and diglycerides, dextrose, and cellulose gum” in the house.
With neighbors and friends out of town for the holidays, there was no one around to give it to. Local ducks and geese suffer from pin-wing because of people feeding them white-flour bread. It would take forever to break down in the compost bin and I’d feel guilty adding it to the landfill. Our poor old toilet has been flushing gingerly enough as it is.
I stuck the cake in my car. We’ve had things stolen from our cars before. No such luck. The next morning the cheerful box was still sitting in the passenger seat.
On my way across town I came to a light where a raggedy man held an “Anything Helps” cardboard sign.
I rolled down the window and hefted out the box. “You like coffee cake?”
He seemed genuinely grateful, but then so did my thank-you note to our cousins. I just hope he didn’t feed it to any ducks.