When it comes to baking, I spurn shortcuts. Box mixes, frozen pie dough, rolls that pop from a cylinder — they don’t work for me. This was proven, yet again, on my daughter’s 3rd birthday.
Around the time of her birthday, my house, in effect, turned into a cupcake factory. The girl had three different birthday parties: one celebration with family (trip to the zoo, coconut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting); one at preschool (vanilla cupcakes with sprinkles); and one with her weekly playgroup friends (bouncy house in the backyard… and more cupcakes). By the time we reached the third and final party of her ‘birthday week,’ I was homemade-cupcake-ed out.
So I went to the grocery store and bought a yellow Duncan Hines cake mix. It pained me to do so, but it was time to be practical. I pulled out the mixer and sighed with relief at the directions. Add vegetable oil and eggs.
I should mention that, at this particular moment in history, I was also on a kick with homemade, deep-fried fish and chips. So much so that I occasionally saved some of the frying oil to re-use. (Waste not, want not, eh?) I should also mention that the used fried fish oil was stuffed way back in a shadowy corner of the pantry and not well-labeled. Sooooooooo….
I’m spooning the quick and easy, box-mix batter into the cupcake tin, and my husband wanders in.
“Do these smell funny to you?” I asked. “This batter smells funny.”
My husband inhaled the batter and stared into the bowl. “Yeah, that smells very funny.” He glanced at the used measuring cups and ingredients scattered around the kitchen island. “Um. Which oil did you use?”
“Vegetable oil, just like it says on the package.”
“This vegetable oil?” he inquired. He held up the container still sitting on the counter, and I noticed for the first time that it didn’t have a label on it.
“Yeah,” I said, weakly. “That one. Why?”
My husband, the minimalist. Who needs glaring black permanent marker labels that say “Warning! Stop! Oil for fried fish only!” Isn’t life already too crowded with fear-mongering and obtrusive marketing? A real Henry David Thoreau, he is. And so, he decided that the used fish oil container would be the one without a label. Simple, restrained, elegant.
I dumped the fried fish cupcakes into the garbage, pulled out my favorite vanilla cupcake with cream cheese frosting recipe, and made my daughter’s third (well, fourth) and final batch of birthday cupcakes from scratch.
See? Shortcuts just don’t work for me. And yet, I took a shortcut on this pecan pie, and I’m not happy about it. To save time, I bought a refrigerated pie crust. My pre-packaged crust drooped around the edges, like a wilted flower. And it didn’t taste particularly good, either. The semi-homemade route just isn’t my thing.
The pecan pie filling was quite good. I wanted the classic flavor, and therefore didn’t add the optional cinnamon, espresso, or chocolate. And perhaps for that reason, the pie was a tiny bit bland. I might toast the pecans, or add espresso and a splash of Kahlua, or a bit of molasses, or bourbon. In any event, I will definitely make my own pie crust next time. And the recycled fish oil program has been terminated. With extreme prejudice.