In the bountiful city of New Pork, located near Western Washington state, anyone who has traveled or resided there can say there's never a dull moment. Especially when it's one of the birthplaces of the sport of food-fighting, along with its sister town of Dim Some. Whereas Dim Some's aesthetic lies in its country, down-to-earth charm, New Pork City had glamour, refinement, and gourmet food stirred together into one extravagant mixture. Tall, streamlined buildings at every corner, people out and about on buses or taxis if they didn't have the privilege of owning sports cars, but what truly made the city stand out was its vast selection of food. One could never step into a grocery store without finding the highest quality produce or meat, a bit pricey but worth it after a satisfying meal. And what would a city dedicated to food be without its growing collection of eating establishments? Restaurants of every ethnicity, most of which also catered to those with vegan and gluten-free diets. Juice bars, pizzerias, taco shacks, fish markets, noodle shops, and breathtaking bakeries.
One bakery in particular, perhaps the most famous one in the city, happened to be located near downtown, joined by several other establishments including a place that served a refreshing bubble tea. It was a rather large building for a bakery, decked out with shades of red, white, and pink like a dessert made of strawberries and creme. The place was called "Mama Sug's Sweet Treats", once owned by a grandmother who was something of a celebrity with said sweet treats and an even sweeter personality. She had such a fun, charming air about her that it seemed impossible to have any ill-will towards her and in the rare chance that someone did, she had no problem winning them over with her cakes, fruit clobber, cookies, and her irresistible pecan pie.
Despite having passed away years ago, her legacy still lives on, thanks to her two granddaughters taking the liberty of running the bakery in her stead. Though, one of them seemed a little more honored to have that responsibility than the other. On a quiet, sunny summer day, two African-American girls stood behind the counter while one of them, a few years older, was too busy texting to notice the bright grin on the younger girl's face. As hard as she tried, she couldn't ignore it anymore. Those bright, brown eyes and that adorable smile were too much to shrug off.
"...what? What are you looking at, what?" the older girl demanded, brushing her wavy, dark-brown hair over her bare shoulder.
"Oh, nothing..." the younger girl drawled innocently. Her hair had more a reddish tint, put up into a puffed out bun and decorated with a black headband. "Just glad to be spending a little time with my favorite big sis is all!"
"Ugh, gross... you're lucky dad forced me to work here 'cause if I had a real job, I wouldn't be stuck here in this tacky ol' bakery with your annoying butt."
"Aw, Cinna, you don't really mean that, do you?"
"Every last bit of it, especially the 'your annoying butt' part." the older girl, Cinna, wounded up being hugged by her younger sister.
"Oh, stop being so bitter for no reason. Whatever happened to the Cinna who loved being in Mama Sug's, huh? The same girl who'd always be like, 'I call dibs on licking the mixing spoon!'" the young girl with the bun in her hair playfully reminded before being shoved away.
"Oh, knock it off with that 'Whatever happened to the good ol' days?' crap, Cookie. This place hasn't been the same since grandma died, what's the point in trying to change anything?"
"Well, what's the point in being so negative all the time? Look, if grandma was here, she wouldn't want us to be miserable without her. Instead, she'd want us to keep bringing joy and laughter into this place. Like she always says, 'Ain't nothin' sweeter than love and happiness!'"
"You wanna know what's sweeter than that? Money, and I better get some by the end of today, otherwise, I'm about to-"
Suddenly, two more kids Cookie's age had arrived; a girl with light orange hair, pulled down in a low, yet long ponytail sprinted in before a grumbling boy with lavender hair combed over his left eye and topped with a black and violet mini top hat.
"Hah hah, beat ya again, Frankie! That makes it the, uh... fifth race you've lost to me so far?" the red-haired girl taunted.
"Kim, why do you insist on having these races with me when I refuse to participate every time?" deadpanned the goth boy.
"Doesn't matter! Whenever I challenge you to a race, you have no choice but to accept!"
"Then again, it's expected of people to go along with your pushiness no matter what."
"Right, and you should get used to it!" Kim smirked, standing before the counter with the boy. "Hey, Cookie! ...and Cinna. You gonna try to not be such a grouch for once?"
"Pfft, with you rugrats around, that's near impossible. Man, why doesn't dad pay me enough to deal with you brats..." sighed Cinna, looking up from her phone with joyful eyes once an African-American male with neck-length dreads stepped inside. "Craig! Oh, thank god you're here, I dunno how much longer I can deal with being around these twerps."
"Anything to make you happy, baby. But, uh, think you could hook me up with a donut or something, give your boyfriend a little discount?" Craig asked, only to be chuckled at by the older girl.
"Nope, 'cause I got something even sweeter than that..." Drawing closer to the male, the wavy-haired woman engaged in a French kiss with him and lacked the decency to do it in front of the three teens.
"Eww, yuck..." Kim pretended to gag while Cookie winced.
"Like seeing a witch kiss a gremlin." snarked Frankie with a straight face.
"Tch, you kids'll be lucky if you can someone crazy enough to make out with you losers. Anyway, I'm outta here, and Cookie, you better tell dad to pay me later."
With that, Cinna left the bakery with her boyfriend but the three didn't seem to think much of it.
"Uh, yeah... sure, Cinna! And off she goes... but anyway, what's happening with you guys?" Cookie turned her attention back to her friends.
"Eh, aside from your sis grossing us out moments ago, same 'ol same 'ol." replied Kim.
"But all unnecessary small talk aside... show us the goods." demanded Frankie.
"Say no more, follow me!"
Cookie then led her friends back to the kitchen where a few other bakers worked, putting together baked goods to be sold. The bun-wearing girl went to the refrigerator, retrieving a plate of cupcakes, decorated with light yellow and creamy brown tufts of frosting, dressed with a slice of banana and a few chopped peanuts.
"And here you go! So, you guys know I've trying to perfect this peanut butter and banana recipe for a while now and I think this might be it... or at least, I hope so. What do you guys think? It's not too peanut buttery or banana-y, is it?" She worried, cupping her hands together as she watched her two friends sample the cupcakes.
"Nah, it's neither of those... this is amazing! I'm always a fan of your cupcakes no matter what the recipe, but this one? Oh... Cookie, you have done it again, girl." complimented Kim, nearly finished with her helping.
"It's rather nice, I see you finally got around to toning down the peanut butter's flavor so it doesn't completely overwhelm the banana. And the added hint of nutmeg makes for a nice touch." critiqued Frankie, taking smaller, daintier bites of his cupcake.
"Yeah, what Frank said 'cept not all boring-sounding!"
"Whew... thanks a lot, guys. Your criticism means a lot to me and I really appreciate it. But as much as I like making cupcakes for you... I'm afraid this is gonna be the last one I'll be making for a while." scowled Cookie.
"...wait, what? Uh, Cook, you're joking, right? Please tell me you're joking 'cause if you are, that's a pretty lame joke." the red-haired girl spoke.
"Wish I was but I'm not... the reason why I've been so focused on perfecting this peanut butter and banana cupcake is because I haven't found the inspiration to make a new recipe. It feels like I've hit a wall as far as making cupcakes goes..."
"But how, how is that possible?! Cookie, you are the Cupcake Queen for a reason! It's your job to supply everyone, mostly, me, with delicious cupcakes for that cupcake business you always wanted! So what if you don't have the inspiration to make a new recipe, you're a smart girl, reach into that enormous imagination you got and come up with something!"
"Now, Kim, don't be so hasty. What Cookie is experiencing is something we creative spirits refer to as artist's block. I've been struggling with a slight case myself as of recently, but I've discovered a little trick that could be of help to you too. Anytime I feel the need to write a haiku, I go on social media, look for the most vexing posts and just like that, I am brimming with inspiration," That's when Frankie whipped out a small black book and read, "'To seek attention. Flaunt your cars and dollar bills. Are those even yours?' Works every time."
"I see where you're coming from, and that was a nice haiku by the way, but I can't see myself doing that. If I just go on MealTicket or Blabber, I'll probably find a cupcake that looks amazing but then I'm like, 'Oh, wait, I'm supposed to be finding new ideas, not stealing someone else's.' And sometimes, I just check the cabinets to see if there's anything to can make cupcakes with but I'll run into stuff like hot sauce, parsley, and molasses." explained the bun-wearing girl.
"Pfft, well, good luck trying to make anything decent with those. And molasses isn't good for anything except gingerbread," scoffed Kim, placing a hand on her friend's shoulder. "But don't worry, Cook. No matter what you're dealing with, the Sugar Squad's always got your back."
"Ugh, Sugar Squad... must we keep referring ourselves by that horrid name?" groaned the lavender-haired boy.
"Oh, like you can think of something better! But knowing you, you'd probably come up with something dark and goth-y like 'Skull Squad' or the 'Sugar Skulls.'" sneered the red-haired girl.
"Preposterous, I'm not THAT morbid... though, Sugar Skulls would make a pretty cool band name, not gonna lie..."
Meanwhile in a brownhouse not too far from the streets of New Pork, a father and his son, who inherited his messy brown hair with most of it hidden underneath an ocean blue striped beanie, were having some bonding time with root beer and a video of a dated boxing match.
"Boy, I tell ya," the older male began with a thick Brooklyn accent. "Ain't nothin' like kickin' back afta a long move wit' my young protegee. I couldn't be more grateful to have a son who actually wants to continue on da Battaglia legacy, unlike ya brotha' who's caught up in his hippie music to become a boxuh like a real man."
"Heh, ya got dat right, pops," the boy also spoke with a Brooklyn accent but it wasn't as thick as his father's. "But da best part of all dis is I get to see ya whoop some butt in ya prime! Though, not gonna lie, it's kinda hard to take ya seriously wit' dat mullet ya got dere."
"Ey, you got no room to talk since ya started growing ya hair out like some skatuh boy. Don't diss da mullet now, dat style was hot back den. Heck, how do ya think I met ya mom?"
"Dunno, but it probably had nothin' to do wit' dat ugly mullet."
"Oh, ugly?! You wouldn't know ugly if ya checked yourself in da mirror!" the father then gave his son a noogie, laughing at the playful gesture. "But jokes aside, feels good to be spendin' quality time like dis togetha, don't it?"
"Sure is." the boy did a "cheers" moment with his father's can of root beer before chugging some down, crossing his legs while laying one arm behind their heads, and letting out a huge burp in unison.
"And speakin' of ya mom, it's probably a good thing dat she-" Right as he said that, the older male's phone rang. "Ah, dang it! Speak of da she-devil... yeah? ...just 'ere wit' Chuck, why? ...what?! You can't get 'em yourself?! ...I don't care if you're at da salon, isn't da store a five-minute walk away? ...oh, don't gimme dat 'I just got my feet done' excuse, you'll just get 'em done again next week, what's da big deal? ...alright, fine, fine, quit ya naggin', sheesh... love ya too, sweetheart."
"What's mom want?"
"Apparently, she's so adamant about not gettin' a few things from da store afta her 'me time.' Women, I tell ya... wanna go too?"
"Sure but, uh... mind if I check out da city a lil' bit?"
"Fine, but ya better not get lost. Ya know how terrible ya are wit' directions."
"Aw, I'll be fine, pops. 'Sides, dis city's nowhere near as big as New York, it can't be dat easy to get lost."
"Right, keep tellin' yourself dat, kid."
Over at Mama Sug's, the three teens were left to run the bakery without Cinna around to help man the register. But with the lack of customers, there seemed to be no need for that.
"Geez, what's with business being so slow the last couple days? Don't tell me people are getting tired of Mama Sug's and found a vegan bakery to waste their money on." groaned Kim, lying pathetically with her chin on the counter.
"Eh, I doubt it 'cause from what I've heard, business has been slow there too. It's weird, something about the last week of summer makes people less tempted to come here." Cookie remarked.
"Ugh, don't remind me that it's the last week of summer! That means the first day of school is slowly creeping on us! Goodbye, sleepless nights, and hello, curfews! Aaaagh!"
"Oh, dear, having to fix your mangled sleep schedule, woe is you. At least, that's something I don't have to worry about." Frankie snarked, his blue eyes glued to his phone.
"That's 'cause you always sleep at, like, nine like an eight-year-old would!" spat the red-haired girl.
"No, that's a lie because just last night, I went to bed at ten."
"Oooh, an hour difference! Wooow! Frankie, how do you keep being so lame?"
"And how do you keep being such an annoyance?"
"Okay, guys, that's enough! You guys go at it every single day, it's getting ridiculous." Cookie acted as the mediator for her two friends.
"Well, tell that to him, he's the one who keeps starting these dumb fights." Kim argued, sticking her tongue out at the goth boy.
"Could you be any more ignorant? It's you who enjoys instigating drama out of boredom." sneered Frankie.
"Well, it's you who-"
"Guys, stop it! Please... I know you're both bored, but arguing like this isn't going to make business go any smoother. Let's just sit back, relax, and go the rest of the day without fighting, okay?" the girl with the bun continued to coax the two.
"As you wish." sighed the lavender-haired boy.
"Okay, my bad, Cookie... but man, if only someone, ANYONE, would just stop by and give us a visit. Someone out there HAS to be wanting to come to Mama Sug's this very moment! I just know it!" Kim chirped with a confident expression.
As for Chuck, his father dropped him off a block away from the store to let him explore the streets, but not without a little training added to the equation. Jogging around while shadow-boxing every couple seconds, the boxer-in-training appeared amazed by the restaurants and eating establishments everywhere he looked. A Mexican place that served tacos and burritos, the pizzeria that served New York-style pizza already went on his list of places to try, and there was even an Ethiopian restaurant nearby. Chuck knew he was in foodie heaven, all these new cuisines beckoned to him wishing to be tasted, but the one place that really caught his attention towered above him during his fit of shadow-boxing.
"Mama Sug's Sweet Treats?" the boy barely breathed out, just looking at the place made him uneasy. A little too much pink for his liking but still, a place this extra needed to be checked out.
Entering the bakery, Chuck glanced around with an open mouth. Pink and white everywhere, but the display of cookies, tarts, cupcakes, and donuts stood out to him more than anything. Arranged in neat rows like colorful, edible art.
"Hello!" Cookie greeted sweetly with an equally sweet smile.
"Heh heh, called it!" boasted Kim, earning an eye-roll from Frankie. "Welcome to Mama Sug's, fine sir, what brings you here on this fine day?"
"Uh... nothin' really, just wanted to check dis place out. I just moved 'ere and... wow, da bakery by my old place's got nothin' on dis. Are da bakeries in dis city usually dis intense?" remarked the boy from Brooklyn.
"Yep, but they're intense in a good way!"
"Not sure what you mean by intense, but New Pork City is basically known for being luxurious and fancy, especially when it comes to food. Is there anything you'd like to try out, or better yet-" That's when Cookie rushed to the back for a moment and handed Chuck a peanut butter and banana cupcake with a small white napkin. "Here, try it and tell me what you think!"
"Uh... you sure you want me to have dis 'cause I don't have any cash on me and I-"
"Ah, don't worry about it. I usually make these as free samples anyway, so help yourself!"
"No, Cookie's being modest, her cupcakes actually cost five bucks. She's just letting you have one for free 'cause you look poor." sneered Frankie.
"Frankie! Don't listen to him, just have some."
With that, Chuck took a bite of the cupcake and slowly nodded in approval.
"Mmmm... dang, dis is pretty good. Both da flavors of da peanut butter and banana are blendin' together nicely, one of 'em's not overpowerin' da other. And is dat nutmeg? Eh, I woulda added cinnamon instead but dis is nice." Was his critique.
"Whoa, someone's a food critic! You wouldn't happen to be some expert on cupcakes, are you? 'Cause you should know that the number one cupcake expert around here is Cookie!" declared Kim to her pal's embarrassment.
"Aw, Kim..." Cookie blushed a bit. "But I'm glad you like it and thanks for the feedback, really helps a lot. Do you bake cupcakes too?"
"From time to time but when I do, dey look nowhere near as fancy as dis. Say, you got da recipe?" He asked.
"Yes, that'll be another five bucks." snarked Frankie.
"Frankie, quit it! Sure, what's your email? I can just send it to you that way." Cookie took out her phone as Chuck was about to answer, only to be interrupted by,
"Chuck! Da heck are ya doin' 'ere?! C'mon, let's go home!" His father barged in, standing by the door with a white plastic bag while glaring at his shocked son.
"But, pops, I-"
"Don't 'But, pops', me, and what'd I tell ya about hangin' around dese kinda places? How many times do I gotta tell ya ya ain't supposed to be into dis cookin' crap, now get over 'ere and meet me in da car! Ya bettuh not keep me waitin'!"
"Well, sheesh, that just happened..." remarked Kim after the older male slammed the door shut.
"So, uh... do you still want the recipe?" offered Cookie, flinching when the boy glowered at her.
"Nah, screw ya recipe! Screw dis cruddy cupcake ya made and screw all of ya for makin' me waste my time wit' ya lame food talk! Dunno why you'd think I'd want ya dumb recipe, cookin's for sissies anyway..." huffed Chuck.
"I'd take offense if I haven't been called that thousands of times." snarked the goth boy.
"But you're the one who asked for the recipe, genius!" snapped Kim.
"Tch, whatever. I'm out, got better things to do dan hang out wit' a bunch of food-obsessed losers."
"Takes a loser to know one! Don't let the door hit ya on the way out! Ugh, what a jerkface and for a sec, I really thought he was cute!"
"He'd be cuter if he wasn't wearing those overalls." Frankie sneered.
"But isn't it weird?" Cookie pondered.
"What, that he's wearing overalls?"
"No... at first, he was so interested in the cupcake after trying it, but when his dad came in, his attitude completely changed. Like he just forgot about what he was talking about."
"Eh, that's just boys being boys. They like to act all big and brash in front of their dads to get respected by 'em. Take it from someone with two big bros who do it ALL the time... but forget about him, wanna grab some smoothies?" offered Kim.
Following such a strange occurrence at the bakery, Cookie thought a peaceful dinner with her family(excluding Cinna, who was still out with her boyfriend.)would help take her mind off it. The young girl helped set the table where her younger brother, Nutt, sat in his high chair with his sippy cup, enjoying the savory, warm smell of fried fish being prepared by their father, Mac.
"Dinner should be nearly done... Cookie, you have any idea when your brother and sister are coming home?" hollered the African-American male over the bubbling oil.
"Well, Duncan said he'd be back any minute but I don't know about Cinna, though. I've been texting her but she hasn't responded back." answered Cookie, placing the silverware next to the plates.
"Oh, that girl's always testing my patience... it's whatever, she might as well grab something to eat herself if she's out with that boy again. How they ended up together is beyond me."
"Hey, I'm back!" In entered a teenage boy a few years older than Cookie, sporting a navy blue and white letterman jacket. "Dang, dad, whatever you're cooking smells crazy good! How much longer 'til it's done, I'm starving."
"Probably five minutes. That'll give you more than enough time to wash up, now get to it, Duncan." ordered Mac before his son jogged out the kitchen.
"Oh, that boy... Cookie, I'll never understand how you grew up to be the innocent one of your siblings."
"Aw, please, dad, I'm not that innocent. Just trying to do what a good kid is supposed to and that includes setting an example for little Nutt here! Isn't that right?" Cookie cooed at her little brother, who ended up spilling grape juice on the tablecloth. "Oops..."
"Ugh, just can't seem to catch a break, can't I? Cookie, could you get another tablecloth from the attic real quick?" the father sighed, removing the fried fish from the pan.
"On it, dad!"
In the attic, Cookie tugged on the light switch above her, brightening up the dim, dingy room a bit. So many old boxes around her, collecting dust, the girl just wanted to grab the tablecloth and get out, not wanting to feel grimy before having dinner. Sitting atop of a box of family heirlooms, Cookie snatched a light green gingham tablecloth but discovered a small amber-colored book on the wooden floor after it fell. She knew she couldn't get distracted from doing such a simple task, but... for some reason, that book caught her attention. Tempting her to skim from it. And as much as she tried to resist, that temptation got the better of her.
Picking up the book, the girl with the bun flipped through it, not expecting to see photos and sketches of these obscure foods done in colored pencil. Looks like whoever wrote the book must've been an accomplished artist. But who exactly did this book belong to, Cookie asked herself. Flipping to the very beginning, she found a prologue of sorts but it was more of a letter than a preface.
"'To whoever finds this book, please make sure it gets to my granddaughter, Cookie. And Cookie, if you already have your hands on this, then consider yourself lucky, my child! Now, I never I had the chance to tell you this to your face, but I know you've always wanted to follow in your Mama Sug's footsteps by starting that cupcake business and with this book I put together, I thought you could use a little help. The world's a very large place, sweetie pie, you have to get out there and explore it. See what's out there waiting for you. Once you've found it, use it to make your dreams come true. Cookie, my love for you and your ambition go above and beyond. Just know I'll always be in your heart and remember that Mama Sug's always got her eye on you. So much love, Mama Sug.'"
Reading that filled Cookie with a sense of hope and relief. Granted, she did feel she lost a part of herself after losing her grandmother, but that message she wrote somehow filled that void. If only she were still alive so she could receive another of her loving bear hugs.
"Cookie, what's taking so long?! Get that tablecloth before dinner gets cold!" demanded her father from downstairs, snapping his daughter back to reality.
"Oh! Sorry, dad, be right down!" She yelled back, shuffling out of the attic with the tablecloth and book under her arm.
Later that night, Cookie sat in bed in her nightgown, reading through the book her grandmother left her. Turns out those strange-looking foods weren't just random ingredients but ones that could be used in cooking. More specifically, baking. This is exactly what Cookie needed in her life; sure, the fact that most of the ingredients also had supernatural properties worried her a bit, but she tried to shrug it off for now. Who would've thought she could find the solution to her artist's block in the form of a book her own grandmother wrote?
"Ey, wha'cha reading there? Another one of grandma's old cookbooks?" Duncan, Cookie's older brother, seated himself next to her peeking at the book.
"Sorta, it's actually a book of rare ingredients you can find around New Pork, written by grandma herself!" explained the boy's sister.
"Whoa, for real? Didn't know she was into this kinda stuff..."
"Neither did I, but it's a good thing she left this for me, now I can finally make some new recipes with this! Ooh, imagine how freaky a slumbernana cupcake would taste!"
"Uh... first of all, what the heck's a slumbernana?"
"A banana that puts you to sleep in an instant-oh! And it also says here to be careful not to mix it with star anise or poppy seed or you'll be napping for a preeeetty long time."
"Yikes, definitely not gonna try that anytime soon."
"Aw, but you wanna be my taste-tester, don't you, Duncan?" pouted Cookie to her brother's amusement.
"Oh, no doubt but when you got ingredients like slumbernanas and those pottymouth peppers, I'ma have to pass on that." laughed the teenage boy, not too long until their younger brother rushed into the room in his footie pajamas.
"Duncy, read me a bedtime story! Read me one now!" the little boy demanded, banging his tiny fists on his brother's legs.
"Ugh... Nutt, don't you know better than to barge into your sister's room without knocking? Welp, I'll catch you later, Cook, reading duty calls."
"No, wait, it's fine! Why don't we read it together! Wouldn't you like that, Nutt?" the girl cooed at her brother, who grinned ear-to-ear at the idea as he bounced on his heels.
"Yay, bedtime story! Bedtime story!"