The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Senior Outlook

July 6, 2011

Carolyn Trout, columnist: Kitchen disasters with or without cookbooks

JOPLIN, Mo. — Cookbooks are dangerous things.  I have shelves and shelves of them, so I know.  Cookbooks entice people to create things that they have no business creating and furthermore should never eat.  

It is a fact that cookbooks promote excess caloric intake, which clogs the arteries and makes clear thinking difficult.

Also, cookbooks make people fat.

Basically, cookbooks are food porn and probably should be strictly regulated by the food police.

However, if they try to take away my cookbooks, they’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands.

Two years ago I became infected with cupcake mania after I got a cupcake cookbook as a gift.  See, the thing about cupcake mania is that the cupcake itself is secondary.  It’s all about the decorations you pile on top of the cupcake.

With enough effort and time and frosting, it is possible to make a cupcake that looks like Dumbo or the Eiffel Tower or a John Deere tractor.  

For my first plunge into cupcake decoration, I made butterflies out of melted candy chips.  A neighbor girl helped me and it took us an entire day to swamp 24 innocent cupcakes under a swarm of orange and black monarchs.

By the time we were done, the cupcakes were stale, but we didn’t care.  They were gorgeous.

At one point in the process I had to stop to air out the house and scrape off exploded plastic because I mistakenly set the microwave to 300 seconds instead of 30 seconds.  My, that little extra zero makes a difference when melting candy in a Ziploc bag!  

After a year devoted to dreaming of and drooling over gussied up cupcakes, I found myself enamored of yet another miniature cake form — cake pops.

Three-year-olds would love to make cake pops.  It is the ultimate mud pie adventure.  You bake a cake, then mush it up and stir in a can of frosting until it’s the consistency of stiff mashed potatoes. Then you roll one-inch balls and impale them on lollipop sticks.

At this point it moves out of mud pie territory and into the truly calamitous realm of cake pop decoration.  It was October when I ventured into this new line of culinary endeavor, so I was determined to make a bunch of little jack o’lanterns on sticks. The cute picture in the cake pop cookbook gave nary a hint of the trauma ahead.

Let me share a little known fact: a little bit of orange frosting goes a long way. I was still finding smears and blobs of orange frosting the next week, although how that big clump of orange got on the dryer is still a mystery.  The laundry room is two doorways and a hallway removed from where the cake pop catastrophe occurred.

Kitchen disasters can happen even without the encouragement of a cookbook. My husband doesn’t have any problems with cookbooks. To my knowledge, he has never looked at one.  The word “recipe” is not in his vocabulary.

A couple of months ago he decided to make some Rice-a-Roni, but the instructions gave him pause.  “Whoa,” he said, stymied by the four-step procedure outlined on the box: “This is complicated!”

 He does like to bake bread, though.  Once he gets the frozen cylinder of dough into the loaf pan which he has carefully coated with cooking spray, it’s just a matter of waiting.  

 The difficulty comes in getting it to rise fast enough, so sometimes he tries to hurry it along.  Once he set it out on his workbench in the garage, which was toasty in an August-in-Missouri sort of way.

 The adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ comes into play here.  When he went out into the garage the next morning, his loaf of bread had risen to the size of a Volkswagen.  

  It was a lesson he has had to learn several times.  In fact, I think I had better go remind him that he’s got a loaf of bread rising out on the deck right now.  He told me he didn’t need to set a timer because he’d remember.

I’ll be surprised if hasn’t already engulfed the deck furniture. We’ve been down this road before.  

Carolyn Trout is a former director of the Joplin Public Library.

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Senior Outlook