Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Robert St. John: Easy Bake Memories

The year was1968. It was my 7th Christmas. Also, the first Christmas after my father died. The only thing I asked for that year was an Easy Bake Oven. When my mom took my brother and me to visit Santa Claus at the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans (because that’s where the real Santa always was, those others in the stores back home were just helpers) I told the Big Guy that the Easy Bake was the only thing on my list, and all I wanted. When my older brother found out what I asked for he thought it was hilarious and wondered why I wanted a “girl toy.”

Boys didn’t cook back then. Maybe French chefs in fancy restaurants, or short-order cooks in diners and cafes, but that’s about it. There had never been a boy in one of the ads for Easy Bake Ovens. I’m sure I saw the ads while watching cartoons on Saturday morning, and it struck a chord deep inside me that I wouldn’t even truly discover until years later.

For those born after 1980, an Easy Bake Oven was a plastic toy oven that used a 100-watt lightbulb as the cooking element. It came in yellow or blue with a set of miniature pans, a few tiny utensils, and a couple of small samples of cake and cookie mix.

My grandmother was the main cooking influence in my life. It was probably the time I spent hanging out in her kitchen that made me want the toy oven. Cooking has always meant “love” to me.

I cherish the neighborhood I grew up in and have such strong and fond memories of all aspects of my life in those days. It’s almost unnatural to have such an adoration and strong attachment to a group of streets, houses, people, and memories. Growing up as the only kids in the neighborhood without a father could have had a real stigma attached to it. Fortunately, my father purchased lots with his childhood friends and they all built in the same area. They were all around the same age, so their kids were born around the same time. I didn’t have two parents, I had one step better— an entire neighborhood of parents.

It took me a long time to realize the primary reason that neighborhood, and those people, still hold such a special place in my heart. They took in a widow and her two young kids and wrapped their collective arms around them. In what should have been one of the most tumultuous periods in a young boy’s life— dealing with the aftereffects of a father’s death— there were a dozen loving and caring fathers, several mothers from another brother, and an overabundance of what would become lifelong friends with me on a daily basis. I have always believed I had a blessed and amazing childhood. I have my friends, and my parent’s friends, to thank for that. They were there when I needed them most. I hope I have been there for them as well.

It's probably why I live a few blocks from there still.

I believe that the Easy Bake Oven had the same connection and appeal. I wasn’t planning a career in the restaurant business at that point. But there must have been something deep inside me that was searching for something with which I could connect. I believe people are wired from birth with that thing that they were born to do. Unfortunately, many people never discover that thing. At 19, I knew what I wanted to do, what I was supposed to do, actually, what I was wired to do.

The cooking phase I went through with the Easy Bake Oven faded after we moved to the new neighborhood on Bellewood Drive. Twelve years after that move— when I was 19— I began working in restaurants and instantly fell in love with the industry. Seven years later I opened my first restaurant. When the chef was fired opening night, I ended up in the kitchen where I spent the next four years working 90 hours a week cooking in a professional kitchen. The extent of my cooking experience at that time had been the time I spent with that Easy Bake Oven 20 years earlier.

As strange as my brother thought it was that I ask for an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas, he never minded eating the little cakes, cookies, and pizzas that came from it. There was a certain smell that came from cooking with a 100-watt lightbulb. It’s nothing that I have encountered since. But I know if I ever smelled it again, it would take me back to my childhood room on 22nd Avenue during days when some type of comfort, or distraction was sorely needed for a seven-year-old boy.

Today my Easy Bake Oven is a part of the permanent collection at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience museum in Meridian, Mississippi (The Max). They asked for it and I was happy to donate it as a part of the exhibit that features me. I’m not sure what purpose it will serve there. Though, maybe there’s a young kid out there who has suffered a major loss in his or her early childhood who will connect with it as I did, and unknowingly discover a heretofore hidden passion for something he or she was born to do.


RSJ’s Italian Cream Cake

1 cup Butter, softened

2 cups Sugar

5 large Eggs, separated

2 1 /2 cups All-purpose flour

1 tsp Baking soda

1 cup Buttermilk

2 /3 cup pecans, finely chopped

1 tsp Vanilla extract

1 can Flaked coconut (3 1 /2 oz.)

1 /2 tsp Cream of Tartar

3 Tbl Grand Marnier

1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting

Grease and flour three nine-inch round cake pans. Line pans with wax paper; grease paper, and set aside.

Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Combine flour and baking soda. Add buttermilk and flour alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in pecans, vanilla, and coconut.

Beat egg whites at high speed in a large bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans; peel off wax paper; and let cool completely on wire racks. Brush each cake layer with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier. Let stand 10 minutes. Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on sides and top of cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8 oz.) pkg Cream cheese, softened

1 (3 oz.) pkg Cream cheese, softened

3 /4 cup Butter, softened

1 1 /2 Powdered sugar, sifted

1 1 /2 cups Pecans, chopped

1 Tbl Vanilla extract

Beat first three ingredients at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy; stir in pecans and vanilla.

Recent Comments

Search Jackson Jambalaya

Subscribe to JJ's Youtube channel


Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS