Lady with cupcakes
On Sunday, I baked. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cupcakes, miniature pies in graham cracker crusts . . . it was a lush, decadent, fall-scented heaven. Deciding that I could “spare” a dessert or two, I was digging in with a spoon as I pulled goods from the oven. Pregnant Meg doesn’t pretend to have self-control.
It was just like the good ol’ days, really. The kitch- en used to be my happy place. I once prowled Pin- terest for hours looking at dessert recipes, stopping at the store on my way home for random ingredients — cinnamon chips? Rum extract? — to bring these masterpieces to life.
When I lived at home, my parents and sister tested all my culinary experiments. I made cupcakes or muffins all the time, channeling the Pioneer Woman as I doc- umented the process and posted recipes on a blog. Nothing was off-limits, especially since I was flush with cash from working two jobs. Plunking down $12 for a thimble of carda- mom? You betcha. Grab the stand mixer.
Baking has become more of a luxury. Aside from the costly ingredients that may or may not yield cookies resembling dog biscuits, I don’t make the time to bake. Does it irk me to pay good money for mediocre chain-store cupcakes? Sure. But I’m tired. I’ve accepted that sometimes my time and sanity are worth the few extra bucks required to have an actual dessert ready instead of a lump of ingredients.
It all depends, of course, on the whims of my toddler. If Oliver is cool to enjoy snacks while imprisoned in his high chair, safe from harm, I can start baking without fear of a possible meltdown blocking out the ding of my kitchen timer. If Ol- lie is unsettled, I don’t attempt it. Better to just hang with the baby than deal with burnt muffins and frustration.
Baking requires concentration. Energy. Creativity. All the things that have been in short supply for me lately. While I still save recipes and flip through magazine spreads, most of my culinary work is dedicated to dinner.
Dinner is my nemesis. A necessary evil. My husband and I used to collaborate on family meals, but Spencer has since adopt- ed an adventurous “Let’s excavate whatever’s left in the freezer!” approach that does not jive with my planner brain. If I go to the grocery store without a list, I’m guaranteed to spend way too much money — and still find myself staring blankly into the refrigerator at 6 p.m. each night. I need a plan.
For a while, I was pret- ty good about meal planning. As soon as I had a quiet second on the weekend, I would dig out a recipe book promising to make life easier — “Weeknight Dinners In a Flash!” or “Yes, Silly, You Sure Can Cook From Scratch and Look Great While Doing It!” — and develop a menu around its suggestions.
My main requirement in a recipe involves how quickly it can be prepared. We tried a popular food delivery service earlier this year — and though we loved it, the prep work for the meals became too much. I mean, was I seriously plucking fresh basil and slicing a tiny lemon as a garnish for each dinner? The results were spec- tacular. But getting to the finished product could take a while, and we were hungry two hours ago.
Lately, my approach is somewhere between meticulously planning a week of home-cooked meals and having a greasy dinner handed to us at a drive-through. I rarely go grocery shopping without a list, but do try to stay open-minded if I come across other ingredients. You know: like ones on clearance.
Baking on Sunday was a flashback to my “old” life — the one in which I strolled into the market without a care or budget. With Oliver content watching a movie in the living room (clearly in our sightline; don’t panic), Spencer and I set to work making cupcakes and pies for Halloween.
By the time we were done, cinnamon dusted the countertops; measuring cups teetered in the sink. We made one serious mess boiling down dairy to create evaporated milk for a pumpkin pie, but the disaster was well worth it.
Sometimes it feels good to trash the place. Trust me: my kitchen is chaotic on a good day, but this? This was different. Not the stressful chaos of trying to get dinner on the table, but the pursuit of dessert as pure entertainment. Baking for the sake of baking. A productive mess.
I love looking at the gorgeous goods resulting from all that trouble. You make a great dinner, and what? It’s gone in 20 minutes. But a good pie? A beautiful cake? Those treats stay with you.
Kind of like my coworkers. Everyone likes the lady with cupcakes.