Tying the apron strings

Sun Chips

The composatble Sun Chips bag. Only slightly louder than Tropical Storm Nicole.

I was out of town this weekend, so I was able to make an excuse for being too lazy to go grocery shopping, even though that meant I was eating things like rice, green beans, cereal, and Sun Chips for dinner. By the time I got back, the East Coast was enjoying the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole with 60 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rain. Definitely not grocery shopping weather.

I’m a big fan of brown-bagging it to work, both for the cost and health factors, but this week that all went to hell. I went out to lunch every single day. Granted, I stuck to an all-soup diet (did you know Au Bon Pain has pumpkin soup?), but at about $7 a lunch, my wallet started to hurt and I resolved on Friday night that I was actually going to make something, dammit. I’ve been putting off making red pepper hummus because I’ll actually have to roast the red pepper over an open flame. For someone like me who drops everything, there are so many ways that could go wrong. I decided to put it off again after a terrible work day. I will, however, be tackling it soon because I volunteered to bring it to a party and I’d rather not embarrass myself in front of more people than is absolutely necessary.

Also, a quick heads-up: in honor of Halloween, I’ll be attempting to make some homemade candy next week, something I’ve never done before. I chose pumpkin bread truffles, and I’m choosing to make both the bread and the frosting used in the middle. I realize this just increases the chances that I’ll screw something up, but screwups also make for good reading. Prepare yourselves.

Tortilla soup

Not my tortilla soup. Looks good, though, doesn't it?

On Friday, though, I decided to stick with something I knew, and made tortilla soup. First you cook chopped chicken in a large pot with a little oil, then add chicken broth, a cup of salsa, a cup of frozen corn, and some chopped flour tortillas. The chopped tortillas are my favorite part because they act like noodles. I added a little chili paste to the soup to give it more spice, and, I discovered, help clear my sinus passages. Then, you simmer for 15 minutes and are done.

While someone with a lesser digestive system than me may not have appreciated so much chili, I was satisfied and was ready for bed after a long, rainy day. But I had promised a friend of mine that I would make her chocolate chip muffins (stupidly, since I have never made them before), so I started pulling out ingredients and preheated the oven. I tend to be better at baking than cooking, because it’s much simpler in my brain—you follow the recipe, things turn out ok. With cooking, the recipe will say “cook chicken until it’s done.” All right then, but how long IS THAT? “Heat the oil.” For how long? Should the oil be splattering like that? Should I smell smoke? Eventually I’ll learn how to improvise, but for now, I’m lucky if I can stick to the recipe without calling my mother.

I was proud of myself for remembering to read the muffin recipe all the way through first, because the stick of butter had to be melted THEN cooled. I pulled the butter out of the microwave feeling more self-satisfied than was probably necessary. I mixed together the wet ingredients, and then went for the dry. As I was measuring the flour, I remembered that I had several aprons in the drawer that I always forget about until I spill flour on myself. (Every. Time.) I went for the Broadway apron with the words “Wicked good cook” on it. I hoped it was a lucky charm. And I looked really cute. I then went the 6-year-old route and wiped my flour-covered hands on my apron just because I could.

After measuring the half teaspoon of baking powder, I went for the salt. And then looked at the recipe again. It called for a half teaspoon of salt, not baking powder, and an entire tablespoon of baking powder. It was sheer luck that I had misread and put in too little, rather than too much. I took a moment to thank Betty Crocker, then started counting half teaspoons. “Don’t lose count,” I told myself. Then I immediately lost count.

There was nothing to be done. I stirred in the chocolate chips and folded in the liquid ingredients. This recipe was vehement about NOT OVERMIXING, so I stirred it as little as possible, poured the batter into the muffin cups, added a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar and prayed a little.

After 12 minutes, the muffins came out. They looked ok, but I stuck a knife into the center of the biggest one. All that came out was melted chocolate. They were perfect. I sat down at the table in my dirty apron with a glass of milk and ate one while the chocolate was still melty. After a long day when nothing goes right, it’s nice to know that flour and sugar and milk and butter (and the correct amount of baking soda) will still make something sweet.

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