by Kaira Mediratta
I bake all three layers of the cake and stack them. All that's left is the frosting. I quickly dump the butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar into the bowl and turn the mixer on high. I take one look, and it's clear I've made a mistake: I forgot to sift the powdered sugar.
It's 12:26. Starting over on the frosting would mean racing to the store. Mrs. Low, who has requested this cake for her daughter's birthday, is coming to pick it up at 1:00.
With its golden hues, the cake's layers perfectly complement the rich, lemon curd filling. But who wants a birthday cake with lumpy frosting?
In sixth grade, I recognized my passion for baking: an art form that requires creativity and flexibility. Soon after, I began an informal baking business, producing countless cakes ever since.
I trace my love of art back to one afternoon, on a special trip with my Dadu--the Bengali word for maternal grandfather--looking out over a sea of Venetian rooftops. My Dadu starts sketching; the setting sun reflecting off the rhubarb tiles. He then pulls another sketchbook out of his bag and hands it to me: "Draw as much as you can, whenever you can."
Although I lost that sketchbook years ago, his advice has influenced my development as an artist. A few months ago, I realized a lifelong dream--having a piece hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art--after winning a gold medal through the Scholastic Art & Writing contest.
Despite a bitter, cold snowstorm, my Dadu managed to get to the opening reception. We pushed through crowds of people to look for my painting. I could tell that he was surprised when he caught sight of it, because I hadn't told him-- it was a painting of him. I'd finally found a way to thank him for fostering my creativity.
I always thought of myself primarily as an artistic person. However, as I matured, the dichotomy between art and science in my life faded. My interest in science bloomed when I started taking classes at the American Museum of Natural History in middle school.
I remember standing in the doorway of the ichthyology department, staring at rows of shelves, containing thousands of tiny glass jars. At first I'm stunned by the sheer numbers, but looking closer, I realize that each jar holds a different specimen, preserved in formaldehyde.
Surrounded by species from every corner of the earth, I'm amazed by the vast collection around me. This sense of scientific curiosity would lead me to apply for, and ultimately work at, the museum in high school.
At the intersection of art and science, baking is a metaphor for my life. It demands exact proportions and procedures, but requires creative solutions. And through experience in the kitchen, I've learned math, chemistry, and patience. Most importantly, I've learned not to fear starting over. As I approached high school, after being at the same private school since kindergarten, I became hungry to engage the world outside of this bubble. After auditioning for art at LaGuardia on a whim, I was happily surprised to be offered a spot. Next stop - open house.
The elevator doors open, and a marching band blocks my path through the hallway. To my left two girls paint an elaborate mural, while to my right another student belts out a dulcet aria. The whole place is crazy, but in the best sense of the word.
After open house night, I make my decision to enter a school five times the size of my old one. I wouldn't know a single person. As terrifying as that sounds, I embraced the change.
In the end, the choice was as simple as fixing the frosting of that birthday cake. I threw on my shoes, grabbed my wallet, and bolted out the door--and, somehow, the cake was ready at 1:00.
Kaira Mediratta graduated from LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts this week and, after a Gap Year, will be a freshman at Williams College