Thursday, December 21, 2006

the onion cellar: a parable



it is your friend john's birthday. his friend melanie, who you barely know, offers up her large house to host a surprise birthday party and dinner. it's an excellent idea. various friends from different walks of john's life call around and the guest list grows organically: there will be a collected 16 guests, some people you know and some who you don't. so that melanie doesn't have to cook up a huge dinner, everybody agrees to bring a different dish. you agree to make a giant cake. you are very excited. you love to bake and have an old family recipe for a zucchini-chocolate cake that everybody always goes mad for.

however, your kitchen is covered in unopened mail and CDs and papers and your stove is from 1947 and doesn't have a thermostat. melanie, being a totally decent human being, offers to let you use her kitchen. over an email, she informs you that not only does she have a state-of-the-art kitchen with every single amenity you could ever want, but (did you know?) she used to be a professional chef before she went into internet marketing. she know everything about cooking and would love to give you hand if you're rusty and guide you through her kitchen's funks as she cooks on the stove-top for the dinner. she tells you that she loves to cook with other people and a cake baked together has twice the love in it. you are overwhelmed by her kind offer and pleasant demeanor and agree to meet her at 3 pm at her house. the party starts at 7 pm. you bring her a nice bottle of wine for herself to say thank you.

when you get there, melanie greets you warmly and shows you into the kitchen. she was right: this place is unbelievable. marble counters, 6 burners on a island-stove, pots and pans of every size hanging from the ceiling. the place is equipped to the gills. melanie puts on some soothing classical music and helps you unpack your groceries & ingredients. she chats away about how she loves cooking. as you take the zucchini out of your grocery bag she gives you a weird look. you laugh and tell her that you know it sounds odd, but the cake is a a zucchini-chocolate cake and has been beloved by three generations of your family. she smiles kindly and tells you how much she loves more "creative" cooking. you think you see some hesitation when she says this and possibly a patronizing tone in her voice, but you barely pay attention. you talk for a while about cooking a recipes and uncork the wine you brought. the atmpsphere is congenial. at 4:00 you realize that time is flying and you should start baking.

by 4:30, you're cranking on the cake. melanie is kind enough to let you use her basic ingredients like flour and salt, and she shows you how to use her futuristic oven. you're still adding things to the batter when melanie approaches you with a question.

listen, she says: listen, i should have mentioned this before but a couple of people that are coming are vegan. would you mind terribly if we cut out the eggs and milk and butter?

you are confused. you've already made the batter. but she asks you so nicely. um....i don't know, you say, i'm pretty sure that the cake needs those ingredients to bake. melanie looks at you kindly and says, guess what? they don't! i used to work in a vegan bakery. i know just the trick, and it'll taste almost exactly the same, she says. really? you are incredulous. really, she says. i'll help you out and tell you exactly what to use to replace the dairy, it just so happens i have all the right ingredients. you feel it is impossible to say no. she's being nice about it, and she's letting you use her awesome kitchen. ok, you agree. sure. so she pulls out a bunch of soy and tofu and other unknown-looking vegan products from the fridge. you feel a little skeptical, but feel you can instinctively trust her. she was a chef.

she guides you about how much of what to add to your original batter, and you start the process over. you're getting a little nervous about the time, but it should have plenty of time to bake. people aren't coming over until seven. you can let the cake cool during dinner and ice it right before you serve it. no problem. the batter looks a little clumpy, but melanie assures you that it will come out fine. you start getting back into the happy cooking process, chop choping away at your zucchini.

at around 5:30, melanie lets the real bomb drop.

listen, she says: listen, i should have mentioned this before, but i'm allergic to zucchini and i actually can't stand chocolate. i feel my eyes starting to water and my skin is breaking out into hives. can you please ditch the zucchini part of the cake? and you're in luck...i have CAROB in the fridge, tons of it! we can use that instead of the chocolate. and your icing should be fine, she says. she really looks nervous, and she's right...the hives are starting to show. you feel terrible. are awestruck at the absurdity of the situation. why didn't she tell you this when you were unpacking your grocery bag and laying your ingredients out on the table?

i guess so, you say, now fully disappointed that your cake will taste NOTHING like your cake.

then you think for a second and say:
melanie, i think maybe you should bake this cake alone. and i'll help, you add. but i don't know anything about vegan cooking.

no no! she looks at you earnestly. this is YOUR cake and you wanted to bake it! i'm just asking if you can change a couple of ingredients.

melanie, you try to say nicely, you're asking for some pretty serious changes. my recipe was for a zucchini-chocolate cake with dairy. you're talking about making a vegan carob cake. that's sort of fucked up.

are we making this cake together or not? she asks impatiently.

you stand there staring at each other, at an impasse. melanie finally says fine, she'll do it. but she's grumpy.
five minutes later she turns around and says: listen, i really think you should be doing this. you agreed to make the cake. i have all these other things i need to cook.

you are paralysed with the ridiculousness of this all, and you start throwing carob chips into a blender, just to get the bad vibes out of the room. in your head, you're already waiting for dinner to be over so you can forget this experience and go home. then things go from bad to worse as melanie starts complaining about the way you're dealing with the carob.
you throw your hands up.
melanie, you say, make the damn cake. yourself. i'll do something else. i'll chop carrots. whatever you want, i'm just not going to deal in the cake department. it's 6 pm and there are people coming over in an hour. we need a cake.

fine, she says, quietly. i will.

your friend bob comes over early and dips his finger in the cake batter. he looks at you questioningly.
melanie smiles warmly at him and tells him that you two have been having a good time and baking the cake "together".
you try to keep your mouth shut.

the party starts. birthday john comes over and is pleasantly surprised. you try to forget your cake debacle and enjoy the dinner. the cake is finished and drying on the rack. melanie comes over and whispers that you need to ice it. you leave the table and go to the kitchen. you take a crumb-sized bite of the carob vegan cake. it tastes heavy and alien. you try to let go of what you want it to taste like. you try to open your culinary mind. it's not TERRIBLE. it's just not like anything you wanted to eat. you were really looking forward to eating the zucchini-chocolate cake. you sigh. at least the icing is delicious.

as you enter the room with the cake, everybody oohs and aahs. melanie announces that you two worked very hard together on this cake, and that it's an old family recipe of yours.
this pisses you off.
you do not want to ruin the party, but that last part was just too much to handle.
actually, you tell the assembled guests, it isn't a family recipe.
actually, you say, this is not the cake i wanted to bake.
melanie wanted to make the cake vegan and i let her do it, you say. and it tastes ok for a vegan cake, but you might be underwhelmed.

the room is hushed. you've insulted the hostess. this is not cool.

people eat the cake. the icing is complimented. the vegans in the room assure you that for a vegan cake, it kicks ass.
everybody compliments the two of you. the party is still a party. nobody seems fazed by the cake debacle. you feel silly.

melanie wraps the cake up (unsurprisingly, there is a large chunk leftover), and gives you the tupperware container to take home.

in the car on the way back home, your two best friends, doghead and arty, can sense your shitty mood as you lay down in the back seat.
we gotta be honest with you, doghead says.
lay it on me, you say.
the vegan cake wasn't that bad, he says. it really wasn't. but i've had the zucchini-chocolate cake. i feel your pain.
really? you ask.
arty, who is sitting in the passenger's seat, takes your hand.
i know you slaved in a kitchen all day, he says, and the icing was to DIE for, but, honey?
yes? you say.
that cake was NOT FUCKING CAKE., he says. it was a brick of doom.

you all laugh.

you tell him you know, and thanks for being honest.

it's a long drive home (about 38 hours) and there are no rest-stops on the way, so the three of you will be forced to eat nothing but this cake for fucking breakfast, lunch and dinner.

several hours later, you are very hungry.
you scrape off the icing and eat that.
you think that fasting might be healthier than eating non-stop cake.

you try to remain cheerful and look out the window at the big world which is passing by as the sun starts coming up over the horizon.
the party was a good party despite the cake debacle.
and it feels almost good to be hungry, you feel sort of lean and mean.
you are looking forward to getting home and making a cake you like.
you drift off to sleep, listening to your friends chat in the front seat....still hungry, but happier than ever to have friends who will be honest with you about your cake, because they truly understand and love you. this is better than cake.



Anonymous said...


Kevin Doran said...

Love it.

dhaelis said...

Excellent story. It's just the second thing I've read on here, having just discovered the band, but I can tell that this situation is something we've all gone through at some point.

Why we just don't bite that other person's head off sometimes remains a mystery to me.

Anonymous said...
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Olivia said...

As a vegan who knows that cake made without animal products doesn't have to taste any different than cakes that do, I am a little sad you used that as your allegory.

However carob can just fuck right off.

Sorry that your play turned out to be a shitter.

rotten said...

Verrrry nice...I have seen the show...I had been following the buzz on it and immediately could see how it shifted from your vision...I am a BIG DD fan and took my girlfriend who was blown away by the band...We stayed for the panel and she was equally amazed at the access we had to you and Brian were also gracious enough to give her an autograph for me...You have to see the positive aspects of this experience-you are exposing "outsiders" to the band and THAT vision that you have created...the cake was good...the frosting is fabulous...thanks for the art.

Ramsey said...

You know...It's sad that no one was thinking about John's feelings on his birthday, because if you and Melanie both would of taken the cake batter....and started a cake batter wrestling match right there in the kitchen....C'mon! That would of been hot! It's the gift that everyone can enjoy, and completely diffuses anymore antimosity between you and melanie.

Holla if you here me. know..there are times I am glad I am socially incompetent.

Damien said...

I love a well-done parable.

Every little thing? Is gonna be all right.

Anonymous said...

indeed, love.

...and if I may take your allegory- and if the show was the party:
I guess when invited, we knew about our hostess 's zucchini allergy and vegan preferences already- so we thought the cake was excellent, given the occasion!

still: at the end of the party, we sneaked into the kitchen and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of your receipe- ... and our mouths watered!

so one can only hope that one day you get to make YOUR cake.

* * *

Innuendo said...

baby, we all understand it wasn't YOUR cake anymore.

it's not your fault. you tried.

those who are close to you and love you understand what it could have been.

those who aren't didn't notice what they were missing. truly.

there will be time to make plenty of your own "cakes". just don't stop "baking", PLEEEEEASE.

~a fan

Rachel said...

it sounds like an excellent learning experience, regardless of how it turned out.

and upon doing a massive amanda blog reading catchup sesh in the last two hours or so, as i tend to do every two to four months, it seems that your mood and overall quality of life has improved a lot since the panic tour ended.

so continue to enjoy your vacation at home!

also, i wanted to say thank you for all the wonderful books and artists and places to visit that you reccomend...

and that i will be at the sea of dreams rave in san francisco on new years wishing that you and brian were there like last year...pleasepleaseplease come back soon and do an epic show like that one!

♥ rachel

Beautiful_Wretched_Liar said...

I love how much positive energy you put out even in the face of carob. I just know that if I had to deal with someone fucking with my "baking", especially with a lovely, creative and delicious zucchini-chocolate cake I would have just left the house. You somehow manage to get through the entire party and enjoy the ride home.

Don't worry, we'll always go mad for your baking...

Goodbye, and hello, as always.

atonalruss said...

Beautifully put. I'm not a big fan of vegan cake (I agree - It's NOT cake), but I'll eat it to enjoy the company of dear friends. I'll be there on the final night of the party, and I promise to sneak in the eggs and milk if you bring the chocolate and zucchini!

Ramsey said...
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tyler said...

So after all of the brouhaha and hullabaloo over it, I'm really left with only one question about the Onion Cellar:

As a Dresden Dolls fan, do I go to see it?

Or do I abstain, knowing that I'd be going to watch the creative expression of Amanda, which I've come to love so much, being sacrificed on some kind of theatrical altar to the Powers That Be?

It's a tough call - one can only watch the Paradise dvd so many times before needing a fix. Should I just go to Cafe Pamplona and lie in wait?

I'm torn worse than Natalie Imbruglia, regardless of how her name is spelled.

andrea said...

well, i think you've said it. it's not straight out but it's a very good parable so it works. off your chest and into the internet world, do you feel better? and who knows, maybe some creative mind going through a similar situation will read this and catch the red flags before it's too late. it's all good, it's all good. there are more parties and cakes to be made. I mean c'mon, it's cake, is there ever enough? i'm throwing my love out to you, hope you catch it.

all my love,


the Kate said...

That's so sad, I cried. I take cake very seriously.

Samuel Barker said...

Unfortunately, when you open your art to other people and other venues, you give up control of the vision and meaning behind it.

When you're in a band, you can easily control all aspects. Even if the venue you play at lacks certain things, you can find ways to improvise on your own terms. Everything is left down to what you and Brian want to make happen.

Here you are in a more controlled environment. People are more protective in theatre. When they're acting, financing or working on a show, people all want to put their mark on it so they're more noticable, so with such a large faction of the overall project trying to personalize their performance and distinguish themselves, your vision will be lucky to make it to the stage.

You've done the best you could. Outside of opening your own theater, finding your own actors and doing every task down to printing the Playbills, you will not ever make the show you want. Even then, it will never work out to your vision completely. It's a fucked up situation, I know, but theatre is a tough place to relay a message the way you want it.

My advice, which is worth less most people's, is to print the script...or post it...and let people play it out in their heads. That will be more true to your vision than this play.

If it becomes overwhelming, use this disappointment to fuel writing for a new album. That could always work.

Spend the next couple of days with family and friends, forget about it for a while and just enjoy the one time a year that people are mostly kind and loving towards each other. You're almost through the experience, at you learned something.

Anonymous said...

Bless you.

Also said...

Baking with others often sucks. Everyone always feels like they are being compromised. It just sucks. And then reality and the vision in one's head differ and that sucks. And it sucks when people tell you that it doesn't matter and was still great because you know how truly fucking good it could have been... and that sucks.

Sorry things suck.

But still.... Happy Holidays from another random internet stranger

(In a side note, I got too enrapt in the parable and burnt the real peanut butter banana muffins I was baking, hum...)

June Miller said...

Damn. FUCK that broad.

I smiled a lot when I read about how you stood up for yourself and your cake, even if that weirded the party out for a second. Sorry. It made me happy.

Well, that and the last little paragraph, but that's only 'cause there's truth in it.

Thank you. Your posts seem to render my shit days powerless. I can assure you, ma'am, there's many.

I would see The Onion Cellar, if I could, if only for curiousity's sake. I'm sorry you didn't like how it turned out.

But...happy holidays, anyway. Surround yourself with loved ones and yuletide merriment, I suppose. I'm probably going to be drinking the spiked egg nog.

Irene said...

I can't believe Melanie changed basically all of the igredients and then said it was YOUR family recipe.

I understand that you felt silly,I would have made the same mistake and felt incredibly silly afterwards... but come on. That just wasn't neccissary.

Irene said...

I forgot to comment this on your 9 wonderful things post.


I was talking to my mom about the cover of Towelhead. If yours is the same as the one we have, then you'll see a girl who is in a skimpy red dress. Well, Erian in either armenian or arabic, means Almsost Naked.

Hunger For The Great Light said...

A parable worthy of Jesus. He liked them from what I understand. Enjoy the rest of your car ride.


lyrical lie said...

*hugs* I wish that everything didn't go like that for you. I know I hate it when people change my dances (yes, it may look better, but shit, its my baby!), so I can relate. I hope that you have a lovely snowless holiday! (it hasn't snown in NY yet, so I'm guessing that it hasn't snown in Boston yet)

Darcy said...

I feel your pain. I had to make a wheat-free, sugarless carrot cake once using my wheat-flour and very sugary recipe (due to guests having wheat and sugar allergies). Needless to say, I didn't end up serving the carrot-honey brick that resulted.

APandBV said...

Amanda, I got for christmas a keyboard, and the dresden dolls song book. I was expecting the keyboard, cause I had begged for it. I had asked for the book, but I didn't think I'd get it cause it was out of stock on the website. When I opened that, I just about cried.

You guys are my heroes.

I hope you have a dandy christmas.
-Jessica <3

TongaLH said...
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TongaLH said...

Yes. True on many levels. So true, in fact, you wonder how people like this get through life with all their teeth. Ha!

steph g said...

I get that it's a parable...but do you really have a recipe for dynamite chocolate zucchini cake?

The thing that sucks is I wish I had read about your disappointment with the process before I bought a plane ticket to come see the show. I'm sure y'all are killing it every night, but I hate to hear that your ideas of what you wanted it to be were compromised in the process. Theatre's like that, since it's a collaborative effort, and sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it's like beating your head against a wall, I guess. I'm still psyched to see the show, but I wish that it had been all kittens and flowers and fluffy bunnies and ponies and rainbows for you. Because carob sucks.

Mat said...

This is funny, and articulate, and lays out the emotional situation viscerally.

But I think there's some difference between centering a birthday party on a proven, generations-old recipe, and using some experiment which combines ingredients which have never before shared a mixing bowl. I'd hope that what you had in mind for the Onion Cellar was daring and unproven—so I'm not sure the parable quite fits. I mean, I get what you're saying there, that the recipe was really good, but that's not the same as proven.

The show at the ART turned out pretty well. I have to admit my favorite part was the mini-concert encore, but I've always had a soft spot for Mrs. O (even posted a satire to your forums). But it has a lot of really arresting moments, even if its lack of narrative cohesion, and the regular interruptions of the experience so we can all applaud, keep it from building to some stronger effect. This does not mean, though, that the Amanda Palmer Onion Cellar will never see the light of day. Just that it's not playing on Arrow Street.

And I want to see that version, and here's why. As I understand it, the clientèle of Grass' Onion Cellar in The Tin Drum seek it out because their world is so bleak that they have forgotten how to cry. They are driven to it by a desperate need for honesty and catharsis and they pay dearly for their onions at the door. Now I was hoping, when I went to the ART production, that I would be handed an onion (or find one already sliced at my table so I wouldn't fumble with a sharp knife in the dark, while tearing up, even if that made the pieces less intimately mine). But I came to the play on a friend's invitation, and our whole group was there partly because of our (undiminished, by the way) admiration for DD, and partly because it sounded like a cool experience. None of us was driven there like in the novel. Now I'm not saying you'd simply try to recreate Grass' Cellar, because I'm sure you're better than that. But had we found a production which tried to create the effect in the book, to dig that deep into your audience's psyche, or at least deeper than most theater, well, our defenses would still have been up.

So for me the question is, how hard can you hit people who walk in expecting an evening's entertainment, instead of having reached some personal brink, some moment of fragility when you might manage to push under their skin? The closest I've come to such an experience was a recent take on King Lear starring Alvin Epstein and within an hour afterward we were back to our joking selves.

I'd love to see how far you'd take this, and what it would do to its audience. Back to the parable, I'd like to see what else you'd think to mix with chocolate. If you try again some day, and it's anywhere near Somerville, I'll be first in line.

--Mat MacKenzie (since you use your real name)

Lilith said...

It reminds me of a vegan friend I have. She lives in a different city and I went to stay at her place during some rock festival. And well, one night at 4am. I was dead hungry and she offered pate...Unfortunaltelly it was made out of spinach. I think the sight of that can filled with that sort of green goo is one of the most dreadful concerning food.

Anyway, this is just another story about depending on people and how it always leads to compromises.

everworld2662 said...

I'm sorry you felt disappointed by The Onion Cellar. But as you put it yourself : "friends are better than cake".
That being said - can't wait to taste your TRUE cake. YOUR cake.
Best of luck with that.

Len Tower Jr. said...


i suspect the ART collaboration was worse then the parable.

that you well told that another friend was allergic to wheat, and you have to use rice flour, and that yet another party guest was allergic to nuts, so let's use rice krispies, and then there is the poor girl who is hypogylcemic, so we have to use sugar substitute, ...

i hope it wasn't/isn't quite this bad.

having seen it you and Brian are by far the best part of it.

enjoy -len

pearl said...

as my wise grandmother told me "art and and baking are the's about chemistry, baby"

i've seen the show twice. (remember 'nice job' in the lobby? tall chick? well that was me) the show has much more potential in terms of a story line, but has grown during its run. i'd be interested in what you would have wanted, what your vision was and why you didn't have someone in tune enough with you to capture it and grow it.

part of my work is to make visions into reality for kids who need to/want to recreate themselves. hard work, intuitive work, joyful and is living art every day and it is precisely about chemistry-sometimes ya have it, sometimes ya don't

you are a compelling personality,amanda- i dare say if i had known you, i would have had a big girl-crush on you in high school.

i wish you success in your next endeavor and daily peace,calm and joy- and continue wearing those fabulous coats! :)

SD said...


I began by listening to your music, and one day checked out the website. I came across the blogs and all i can say is... holy shit you got a gift. The way youre able to write the unblemished truth is amazing.

I read all your blogs, but after I read this one, i said to myself 'i always wanted to write...' and i just want to thank you now because you truly inspired me to start blogging on my myspace page. Thanks Amanda.. and stay strong.


if you got a second.. check out my blogs... i poured my heart into them.. something i dont usually do.

Georgia said...

this is a perfect parable for fucking. everything. that doesn't go the way you wish in life.

which of course is everything.

Confusion Say said...

Wow...all I can say is Wow right now. If she was a decent host she would have asked you about the cake earlier or let you know that it had to be vegan. And who the hell cares if SHE doesn't like zucchini* (thank you and I am sure the other guests might love zucchini for all she knows.

That was so rude...god I don't even know how you made it through the night without poisoning her. I think you handled the situation pretty well, but I wouldn't be spending anytime with that snotty bitch again. I would have been seriously contemplating putting Ex-Lax in the bitch and sending them all to the shitter. But, that's just me...

Kathy said...


I went to the Onion Cellar with my two daughters. My older daughter was going with her theater classmates from college and knew that her 15 yr old sister loved you and Brian and everything you stand for. I was so impressed with your's and Brian's performance and even more so with how kind and gracious you both were after the show, giving autographs, answering questions, and taking pictures. You really made our night, especially Hillary's (the aforementioned 15yr old.) The past couple of years have been rough ones for my children and I but your concert was one of the bright spots. So even though it didn't turn out as you imagined or planned and although it was a hard experience for you, it was appreciated. My daughter learned that at least two of her heroes are definately the nice people she thought they were and you gave a 46 year old woman one more CD for her playlist. Keep on writing your amazing prose lady, you are one outstanding soul.

Anonymous said...

I told my friend's mom that she was totally the kind of person that makes chocolate zucchini cake, and what a coincidence... she actually does! She even had some in the freezer. My mom tried 2 make some using a recipe for pumpkin cake, replacing the pumpkin w/ zucchini, brown sugar flavoured Splenda instead of sugar and chocolate chips instead of cocoa powder. Well... the outside was crunchy and I had to add more Splenda b/c it wasn't sweet enough, and the chocolate chips didn't disperse evenly. She didn't realize I had a recipe...

Patrick said...

you're posts are wonderful. i'd feel very ackward about that too. one time of my friends bet my 50 bucks to go vegan for a week. i did it but it was insanely hard. the choco-zucc cake changes completely. lol. be well,'

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