Get a Life 2-4-05

By Erica Cerulo

Despite the fact that I just turned 22, I’m not sure how far I’ve progressed since I was six. On Christmas morning, I ripped the wrapping off of my gift-of-the-year (an iPod, obviously) but tossed it aside to open the toy my mom had so thoughtfully chosen for me: a Barbie. I consistently buy my guy friends gifts intended for second graders. But I don’t bother going to Toys R Us, because those toys are too complicated and educational. When picking up their foam disc-shooting laser-gun thingy or cap gun at Walgreens, I have to make sure to buy plenty of extra pellets—so the excitement of the toy lasts beyond the first five minutes of ownership.

I spent last Friday afternoon watching the kiddies ogle the case of baked goods at Lincoln Park bakery Sweet Mandy B’s. My philosophy was driven home as the T-ball players reacted to their bright blue cupcakes with the same enthusiasm as my friend Jeff to his last gift of gummy fast food (“Whoa! Gummy hot dogs!”). With cornflower and sunshine-yellow accents, the cheery atmosphere provides the warmth and comfort I need to take off that edge of having to be a serious big girl. While pumping out five pages of my B.A., I could take little breaks. These constituted getting a fresh cup of Intelligentsia coffee and watching as the staff behind the counter worked on their own projects: lavish three-layer cakes blanketed by rich buttercream frosting, and perky chocolate cupcakes finished with rainbow sprinkles.

The environment is playful with its upside-down cup-and-saucer lighting and bright-white bakery cases. Because a majority of the patrons are busy with coloring books and multiplication until three in the afternoon, the ample tables and welcoming staff makes Sweet Mandy B’s the perfect place to delve into some heavy reading on a weekday afternoon. There is a little rush when school gets off and the North Side mommies bring the kids in for after-school snacks. Watching this little show is probably worth the trip in and of itself. Little girls with bangs and pink dresses request flower cookies to match their outfits, and shaggy-haired boys debate the pros and cons of the whoopie pie versus the chocolate “dirt” and Gummy worms.

Most of the dessert selections in the case have a nostalgic appeal. The creations feel homemade, but no one actually has the time to make them. My friend stared longingly at the chocolate peanut butter brownie bar, while I eventually settled on banana pudding (perfected by the addition of Nilla wafers that become soggy in the creamy treat). Although some of the items are a little overpriced ($2.50 for an iced cookie), the gorgeous cakes look well worth it. For just $18, customers can take home simple, sugary cakes for any occasion that will undoubtedly produce wide-eyed grins and the eventual stomachache.

In the middle of winter, there is nothing better than the food coloring-induced glow of frosting to pep you right up. As productivity at typical studying spots starts to wane, escape to Sweet Mandy B’s for a sugar rush and caffeine fix to jump-start the work ethic. The best part is that there’s nobody there to tell you that you have to pick just one thing.