I’m not good at baking. Cooking, that’s different. I do okay there. Or at least I don’t usually make massive failures. But baking? That weird science where you put something in a bowl or pan, shove it into a heat box and hope for the best? I screw that up almost every time. And I screw it up 100% of the time if there’s either chocolate or a “from scratch” element involved.

So when Cat wanted to come over to make homemade brownies for her sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, I tried to break it to her that just because she thought I was “crafty,” that didn’t mean I was Martha Stewart. In fact, I’ve never successfully made brownies from scratch.

“Have you tried a lot?” she asked.

“No. Because I really screwed it up that first time.”

“Well, I can’t cook anything, at all. Like, I break out into a sweat. So that makes you better than me at this, so you’re going to teach me how to make brownies.”

“But I don’t know how to make brownies.”

“I’ll be there at four.”

So we tried. Cat wasn’t kidding that she was unfamiliar with a kitchen. At a certain point I had to say something about it, because she’d raise her hand three feet above the mixing bowl to “plop” in the sugar or the cocoa, and… I don’t know, it was like my dad was talking through me all of a sudden, talking to a little version of me, going, “You cook like you’re seven. You don’t have to play with the ingredients.”

But Cat doesn’t take me too seriously. She gives a sly smirk and says, “But it’s much more fun this way.”

After we poured the batter into the pan, we took a little taste. “Man, that’s sweet,” I said.

“It’s too sweet,” she said. “Too much sugar?”

“Maybe it didn’t need two cups of chocolate chips.”

“I WANT THE CHOCOLATE CHIPS.”

“Okay, well, maybe that’s why it’s so sweet.”

She points. “Or it’s because of that.”

The flour. We hadn’t added it.

Flashback to the only other time I’d attempted homemade brownies. I was thirteen or so, and I was trying to make them in the microwave and I’d accidentally used powdered sugar instead of flour, making brownie candy that was beyond disgusting.

We added the flour. Cat, relieved, said, “Well, there was our one potential catastrophe! We did it!”

Not quite.

About twenty minutes later, we went to check on the brownies. “They’re done!” she said. And then gasped. “Why did they do this?!”

So the oven is on a bit of a tilt. I don’t know… fault lines, mountains, hills, whatever. It’s normally not a problem because I’m not baking or cooking something that has to rise. Because of the tilt, half of the brownie mixture had fallen to one edge of the pan, making a centimeter-thick finished brownie cookie on one side, rising up to a four-inch battered mess on the other.

We made a brownie ramp.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s cut out the part that’s done and let the thicker part just cook.”

“No, wait,” I said. And because Cat figured I’d somehow save the day, she gave me the complete control to accidentally ruin it. I took the pan in both hands and started rocking it back and forth, kind of shaking it to even out the batter, oozing the uncooked mess on top of the thin brownie part.

I Etch-A-Sketched the brownies.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Cat said. “Won’t the stuff that’s already cooked just burn now?”

Honestly, that had never occurred to me.

I threw the brownies back into the oven. “It’s cool. These are gonna be just fine.”

Cat was unusually silent.

Ten minutes later, parts of the brownies were still just wet dough, but the interior was making a strange sizzling noise. “Maybe it’s the chocolate chips all melting,” I offered. “Maybe that’s what’s going wrong.”

“No,” she said, her cheeriness starting to sound forced. “It’s because the brownies are burning inside underneath that part that’s trying to cook.”

I cut off a corner and put it in my mouth. I don’t know how to explain the chemical reaction that happened, other than to say it was like we’d made Brownie Pop Rocks. Instantly the chocolate sizzled, popped, and then shrank into a tiny little hardened caramel chew on my tongue. I dumped it from my mouth into the sink.

“That… we–”

“YOU,” Cat corrected.

We pulled them out and tried to rescue the 3″x3″ space that wasn’t completely ruined. We cut tops of the brownies off and tried to make them look like they weren’t brownies we found under the couch. Poor Cat even gave a half-hearted sprinkle of Peppermint bits all over them. But it was too late. The brownies. They were ruined. And we couldn’t do them again because we didn’t have enough time to go buy chocolate chips, which Cat refused to work without.

“I’m gonna get up early and try to make another batch using a box,” she said. “I like the way it tastes from a box much better anyway. They’re chewier, and softer, and I don’t care if that makes me white trash. I love box brownies. And I think I owe you a new baking pan.”

It’s been a couple of days since this adventure, and my glass baking pan is still in the sink, soaking, trying to get the hardened brownie rocks off the bottom.

“Who messes up brownies?” we keep getting asked. Cat, quite the good friend, will take a deep breath, look over at me and then force herself to say, “We do.” But I know what she’s thinking. I did try to warn her. I tried to make cupcakes once and they turned out to be little, weird cookie/cake balls. My actual cookies turn out to be semi-burned crispy disks. I would never attempt a pie. I agree with Cat — I like the sweets out of a box. Maybe it’s the oil, I don’t know. But when it comes to fancy desserts, I’d rather go buy something ridiculously tasty and pretty, like the cupcakes at Auntie Em’s. (I mean, look how advancedbrownies can be! It’s magic!)

Things evened out when I tried to teach Cat how to sew something, and she got impatient while I took a phone call and almost sewed her finger to some fabric. By the time she was finished stitching and stuffing, I think we’d salvaged enough of her valentine’s day project that I hadn’t completely ruined her chances of getting some the next night.

I’ll totally help you hem that skirt. But please don’t ask me to handle your bundt cake.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work!