A few times a year, usually around my kids’ birthdays, Martha Stewart—through some sort of mind control via her robin’s egg blue KitchenAid Stand Mixer–makes me do things no sane person would ordinarily do.
Case in point:
It’s a Good Thing (that birthdays only happen once a year).
What about you? Does Martha ever put some kind of cookie press/white dishware voodoo on you?
What’s the deal with this Happy Meal?
a. It was accidentally left on the kitchen counter overnight
b. It fell out of the bag on a bumpy car ride home
c. Oh, man! What happened to my drink?
d. Looks fine to me
e. It’s celebrating its first birthday
The correct answer is the last one. Someone wanted to find out what would happen to a Happy Meal if you left it on a shelf for a year. The result? Not much.
My six-year-old took a look at the photo and expressed appreciation for the fact that the food wasn’t molded or had flies around it. Because that’s just gross. I couldn’t make her understand that food should be gross after it’s been left out for a year. She was also relieved that the Littlest Pet Shop toy was in good shape, too.
You can read about this experiment and see the “Before” photo here: http://www.babybites.info/2010/03/03/1-year-happy-meal/
In the spirit of eating healthier and being more frugal with my grocery dollars, I decided instead of just picking up a loaf of my usual Pepperidge Farm, I would use what I already had in the kitchen and bake up some sandwich bread. Even though I’m not much of a baker, I’ve done this many times before, and it’s usually quite easy. . . some bread flour, some yeast, a stand mixer, and my trusty recipe from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.
Things started off well enough, but as I was pouring the wet ingredients into the bowl of the stand mixer, I spilled a bit, most of which immediately retreated underneath the mixer. It was only a small mess, so I just let it go and forged ahead. In hindsight, I think perhaps the Kitchen Gods were sending me an omen.
The dough looked and felt great as I kneaded it. I tucked it into its bowl and slipped it into the cozy, barely-warm oven to rise. After an hour and a half of Facebooking attending to important business, I checked on it. It looked exactly the same. Not a good sign. I kept holding out for a miracle, though. After being left to its own devices for another hour, it had only risen slightly. I went ahead and kneaded it the second time, placed it back in the bowl, and ordered it to get its shit together. Again, it shirked its duties and refused to get much bigger. A girl can only wait so long for a loaf of bread (and this recipe takes several hours from start to finish when everything is going right), so I threw caution to the wind and started baking that sucker anyway.
And the wind cried Mary. Or maybe it was “FUCK!!!” After about 10 minutes, I smelled smoke. I opened the oven and discovered that the melted butter I had brushed on top of the loaf was streaming onto the oven floor. That damned dough finally rose to the occasion (so to speak) as it started baking and apparently didn’t want to have any butter getting in its way. I slid a piece of aluminum foil under the rack, but the damage had already been done. It looked like we were operating a smokehouse out of our home.
I took the partially baked bread out and turned the oven off. After about 30 minutes of waving dishtowels in the air like castaways who’ve spotted a plane and freezing our asses off because it was 35 degrees outside and we had to let in some fresh air, the smoke abated. The disobedient bread met its maker in the garbage disposal, and I learned a few valuable lessons.
First, you shouldn’t go years without cleaning your oven at least once. As much as I’d like to say that this was all the result of a tussle between dairy and grain products, the truth is I have never cleaned my oven. I think I just sort of assumed that all that gunk in the bottom would just get burned off as I went about my usual baking business. Second, check your smoke detectors every six months, just like those PSAs tell you to. Even though my kitchen and a couple of nearby rooms resembled the aftermath of poker night or an AA meeting, none of our smoke detectors went off. Finally, support your local bakeries by buying bread from them. They are experienced in the fickle ways of dough and know how to deal with insolent loaves. And they probably clean their ovens on a regular basis.
I go to a holiday cookie exchange nearly every year. If you’ve never done this before, basically you bake up a shitload of cookies, take them to a party, eat massive amounts of cookies brought by the other participants, load up a container with cookies to take with you, and try to make it home before the sugar crash.
I’m not much of a baker, and I don’t particularly enjoy making cookies, but for some reason, I keep attending these parties. Maybe it’s the company. Or maybe it’s the permission to unleash my inner Cookie Monster. Or maybe it’s the chance to take home a bunch of beautiful, delicious cookies and then pass them off as my own creations.
This year, as I searched for a cookie recipe that even someone in a coma couldn’t screw up, I started thinking about how this whole cookie exchange business got started anyway. And for that matter, why does everyone go into a cookie frenzy at Christmas? Why not bread or cupcakes or sausages?
Most holidays have some sort of food associated with them. There’s turkey and Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day and black-eyed peas, Valentine’s Day and candy. But some people go their own way when it comes to what they eat when they celebrate. For a number of years, my brother and I—for reasons neither of us can recall–heated up frozen burritos on the Fourth of July, and I know a family who has chili dogs every year for Thanksgiving dinner.
Maybe next year instead of throwing out another batch of defective sugar cookie dough or suffering the slings and arrows of those who feel their gingerbread men should have well-formed heads and limbs, I’ll organize a different sort of holiday exchange. I’m thinking liquor will be involved.
What about you? What are your thoughts on cookie exchanges or holiday food traditions?
The winner of my little giveaway is:
She will be receiving a holiday-esque, cooking-related prize. (Heather, look for it soon on a porch near you!)
Thanks to everyone who entered. I’d like to do this again in the future, so stay tuned. And remember, your odds of winning are excellent!