256. Zen and the Art of Baking Muffins

Today’s post was written by my dear dad. When he’s not being an awesome missionary or drawing pictures of monkeys, he spends a fair bit of time in the kitchen… on occasion, actually cooking. Following is a list of practical tips á la Steve Smith (of Red Green fame) compiled during my dad’s first attempt at baking zucchini muffins.

1. It’s always good to find a recipe that includes instructions as well as ingredients, unless you’re really good at culinary improvisation.

2. Whatever your temperament, stress can be avoided by removing the battery from the smoke detector before starting.

3. It saves time to search for ingredients where you’d least expect to find them first.

4. If, like myself, you hate washing muffin pans, use small cake pans instead. A muffin is a muffin, irrespective of size or shape.

5. They may look the same and share a first name, but baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable. Also, if you end up (through no fault of your own) dumping in a whole teaspoon instead of the requisite half, you can skim most of the baking soda (or powder, as the case may be) off the top of the mix with a teaspoon. This maneuver grows steadily more complicated in direct proportion to the amount of time it takes for you to notice your mistake.

6. Throw in some raisins. That way, if your muffins turn out really gooey, you can always pass them off as bread pudding.

7. Mixing the batter by hand (i.e. with your fingers) guarantees a smooth blend, saves wear-and-tear on kitchen utensils, and makes for less washing up later. Another small economy: After dealing with the zucchini, keep the vegetable grater handy. You can use it to scrape the finished product out of the pans at the end and save yourself the trouble of messing with a spatula.

8. If your kitchen, like mine, doesn’t boast hot running water and you happen to be boiling broccoli while you bake, drain the vegetable water into the mixing bowl with a little detergent (after removing the batter, of course) for effective pre-wash, grease-removing action.

9. Some gas ovens refuse to light unless you hold the control knob down for a bit. (Contentious old buzzards, what?) Apparently, this information can be found in the “manual,” whatever that is.

10. If your oven isn’t spacious, your pans may tilt. This transforms the contents into something akin to the windswept dunes of the Sahara Desert. Caught in time, however, a judicious readjustment will return your muffin batter to the smooth, flat Death Valley it was meant to be—a strictly topographical reference, naturally.

11. Dish towels double very nicely as hot-pads as long as (a) your wife is well out of range, (b) you can take second-degree burns like a man and (c) you’ve remembered to remove the smoke-alarm battery as per Step 2.

12. Muffins in the oven can bubble like the Ugbischú Tar Pits. How cool is that?

13. If the recipe neglects to elucidate upon the precise temperature of your oven or the exact baking time, dial the knob around to about eight o’clock and then shut the blighted thing down when the finish goes from glossy to matte—I refer to the muffins, of course, not the paint on the stove.

14. If you’re out of toothpicks, a sliver from the wicker basket in the laundry room works just as well… especially if you haven’t the foggiest idea what the point of sticking it in the muffins is anyway.

15. There are very few baking errors that can’t be effectively masked by the generous application of melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon before giving away your baked goods—or in the less fortunate cases, baked bads—to neighbors.

And remember that you’ll always have recourse to the admirable advice enshrined in the official motto of the Possum Lodge:

Quando omni flunkus moritati

When all else fails play dead

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