Friday, July 30, 2021

Andy Young: Chronicling an ongoing culinary evolution

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle 

When I was in middle school, I desperately wanted to swap my required industrial arts course with any girl who abhorred her weekly cooking class as much as I hated woodshop. Similarly, I’d have happily escaped that shrill and dangerous Hell by trading my every-Wednesday battle with belt sanders, band saws, and the like to some picked-on, uncoordinated boy for the required Phys Ed class he no doubt despised but I’d have excelled in. Either scenario would have been a “win-win” for everyone involved. Alas, school administrators weren’t “outside the box” thinkers back then, and as a result the only two things I ever successfully fashioned in that industrial arts class were sawdust and trouble.

Traditionalist, sexist educational dogma like that had seemingly doomed me and many of my age-alike male peers to a lifetime of culinary incompetence. For decades I could boil water to make ramen noodles, spaghetti, or rice, and I was also capable of heating up a can of vegetable soup, which for many years comprised a surprisingly satisfying lunch and/or dinner once ramen noodles, spaghetti, or rice was added to it. But that was the limit to my range in the kitchen. 

But recently I’ve started baking, thanks in no small part to a friend who made me some incredible applesauce-bran muffins and then gave me the rest of the oat bran she had used to make them ... inside the cereal box on which the recipe was printed!   

Noting that I already had all the ingredients required to produce these delicious muffins on hand (flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, vegetable oil, eggs, salt, applesauce, and of course, donated oat bran cereal), I decided to try producing them myself. 

It turned out the learning curve was a little steeper than I had anticipated. Some of my early efforts at muffin-making were less than stellar. My first attempts came out pretty raw after I had baked them for the recommended 15 minutes, but 10 extra minutes at 400 degrees turned them into applesauce-bran charcoal briquets. In addition, it turned out I was using three teaspoons of one particular ingredient in the batter rather than the required teaspoon and a half, plus a teaspoon and a half of another.  Who knew that the baking-powder-sized can I purchased was filled with baking soda, something I already had more than enough of? There ought to be a law requiring that baking soda be sold only in yellow boxes featuring a muscular upper extremity holding a sledge, so that unscrupulous merchants don’t continue selling the wrong canned white powder to unwitting consumers, who subsequently end up baking powderless, not to mention owning a more-than-several-lifetimes supply of baking soda.

Trial and error improved my skills (and my confidence as a baker) immensely. One night last week I laid out a mixing bowl, a muffin pan, and all the necessary muffin-producing ingredients on the kitchen counter before retiring for the evening. The next morning, I baked a dozen beautiful muffins. And while they were still warm, I brought half of them to a friend with whom I was taking a morning walk. I’ll bet she and her family would have really enjoyed them, too … if I hadn’t neglected to include one integral component on the counter before going to bed the night before. Without that half-cup of brown sugar those muffins tasted...well, like they were probably really nutritious!

Chalk up one more family that’ll politely decline any and all culinary creations I offer them in the future.

I wonder if they like vegetable soup with ramen noodles, spaghetti, or rice?  <

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