Lady with cup­cakes

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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