Baking: Not Always a Bowl of Cherries

If you are anything like me, and I’m not suggesting you are, you know that no matter what you do, sometimes things go right and sometimes they go wrong. The thing is, from the get go you never know exactly how it’s all going to end up. Hopefully for all of us, we have more “rights” than “wrongs”, “goods” than “bads”, but it’s my experience that the best laid plans, as they say, can most certainly go awry. Of course no one starts out thinking that whatever it is they are doing or making might turn out to be a disaster. Most of us embark on our projects with a modicum of optimism and at least some confidence that things will turn out a-ok. It’s just that it ain’t always so. Even when you do your best to follow all of the instructions. 

Remember that first time you bought furniture from Ikea? It all looked so simple while you were in the store. Mostly because it had already been assembled by someone other than you. As you carefully scrutinized each and every angle of what you thought could finally be the culmination of your endless search for that perfect wall unit, one that could hold all of your tchotchkes, not to mention your brand new flat screen TV, you noted that the joints fit exactly as they should, the drawers opened and closed like butter, and the doors actually met in the middle. No gaps. Get that sucker home and it’s a horse of a completely different colour. I mean who ever heard of instructions with no words? Does the screw go in from the front or the back? And which screw exactly do you use? The one that’s a millimetre shorter? Or two millimetres longer? And what’s with the red and blue thingamajigs? The instructions are black and white! As you peruse your hard work, hoping that the tiny beads of sweat on your forehead don’t stain the wood, if that’s what you can call it, you realize the shelves aren’t quite as level as you’d like and there’s that dastardly gap between the doors. And even though you did the best you could, and followed all of the instructions, such as they were, it just didn’t work out exactly as you had planned because, as we all know, things don’t always go the way we would like. Sometimes it just is what it is. (Remind me. Did someone else say that lately?) 

Take my latest passion. Baking. For someone like me, who is not really a baker, instructions are my life raft. You know by now that without a recipe I’m dead in the water. I follow my baking instructions to a tee. Not only that. I check out all of the comments in an effort to make sure that everything turned out hunky dory for all of the people I have never, and likely never will meet. Not 5 stars? You won’t find it in my oven. I need all the help I can get. Admittedly, on very rare occasions, I do add a splash of lemon, especially if blueberries are involved, or a little red fife flour for a bit of panache. But for the very most part I leave well enough alone and keep my fingers crossed that “god willing and the creek don’t rise” things will turn out as they should. Unfortunately, as with all things in life, baking is not always a bowl of cherries.  Not so much for me but rather for the innocents who partake in my never before tasted goodies. To date I’d estimate I have about an 80% approval rating, mostly because people have a propensity towards politeness. Nonetheless, at the outset of this blog I committed to sharing with you all of my baking experiences so it’s only fair that you hear about the “ugly” along with the good and the bad. Please note: Unlike the current prez of the US of A I absolve the recipe providers of any fault and take full responsibility for these failures. My poor results should not deter you from trying these out for yourself.

 Rhubarb Almond Chevron Cake

Let me just say that I should have known better.
The Recipe: Prep Time: Undisclosed and I think I know why. Cook time: 30 minutes
Me: Prep Time: 1 hour and 23 minutes. Cook time: 42 minutes Total time: 2 hours and 5 minutes. Seems to me that nothing you are going to eat for dessert should take that long!
Favourite thing about this recipe: The picture of her cake
Least favourite thing about this recipe: Having to come to grips with the fact that I have a complete lack of spatial intelligence
Lesson learned: Friends will always be polite but when your husband’s first reaction is “it’s a little dry” you gotta know who’s telling you the truth.

Zucchini Carrot Muffins

I call these my “salty muffins” which I suppose says it all.
The Recipe: Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook time: 22 minutes Total:37 minutes
Me: Prep time: 44 minutes not including the shredding; Cook time: 24 minutes Total: 66 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: More veggies, less guilt
Least favourite thing about this recipe: I really don’t like grating carrots by hand
Lesson Learned: You know you have a problem when you crunch down on a grain of salt. When even your polite friends admit they’re a little salty, they’re really salty.
My suggestion (not that I’m a baker): Substitute table salt for kosher salt in this one. And tread lightly.

Morning Glory Muffins: What the heck is Red Fife flour?

This was never meant to be an ordinary baking blog. I don’t have any nostalgic stories about how I spent my childhood learning the “ins and outs” of baking from my dear, departed Grandmother, or recalling the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen as I came through the door, tired and hungry, looking for just a little respite after a difficult and busy day at school. Real bakers have stories like that. I don’t. I come from a long line of non-bakers which doesn’t mean I didn’t have cookies. I did. They just came from the store. And I have stories too. They’re just a little different. So here goes nothing. I am not a baker and this is my story.  

I was pretty excited when Jed from “Cook Culture, one of my fav shops in downtown Victoria, sent me (well not only me) a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins with no coconut bits included. I can’t tell you why or when, but at some point I decided I really don’t like coconut bits and since many MG muffins seem to include them, I have given most a pass, opting instead for blueberry, apple, banana, rhubarb, nuts, well just about anything else. This no coconut recipe originated with “Flourist”(formerly known as Grains), a Vancouver shop that specializes in fresh milled grains. I suppose that should have been my first clue when I noticed the recipe required something called Sifted Red Fife flour. Not only that, it also listed just plain old Red Fife flour. So there I was. Desperately wanting to try my hand at these muffins all the while wondering, what the heck was Red Fife flour? Sifted or not. 

As a non-baker my familiarity with flour comes primarily from that well-known fella who lives in the forest and robs the rich to give to the poor. Varieties, as far as I was concerned, included white, whole wheat, pastry, and bread although, truth be told,  my pantry most frequently housed “all-purpose” because after all, how can you go wrong with something that works for everything? Little did I know there was a whole new world of grains out there just waiting for me to discover. My search for Red Fife started on the internet. I soon found out that Red Fife is a heritage flour, arriving in Canada in 1842, and considered to be the oldest wheat variety in this country of ours. Unbeknownst to me, and I’m guessing many of you, Red Fife has enjoyed a resurgence in Canada when, in 1988, Sharon Rempel planted half a pound of the seed and by 2007 over 500 tons a year were being harvested. Trust me. There’s nothing you can’t learn from the world wide web, or from this blog.

Ok. So now that I knew what it was I had to figure out where to get it. I started with my new friend Jed who kindly responded to my rather frantic email with some possible local suppliers and next thing I know I found myself at a tiny little sustainable grocers where the lovely store owner explained that I had to mill the little bag of grain I found on their shelves into the flour I was seeking. Really? I’m not even a baker and now I’m grinding wheat into flour? Suffice to say I left that store with a rather small but pricey bag of freshly ground, Red Fife flour which, my kind shopkeeper explained, was definitely not sifted. Which means I’m only halfway there. 

Sure seems it never rains but it pours. So I’m COVID-19 shopping online at my local bulk store and what do you think I find as I scroll down their very comprehensive list of stuff I need to order by the gram? That’s right. Red Fife flour. Now I know deep down in my heart that this is likely not the sifted variety but since I have pretty much otherwise exhausted my search I decide to add a few hundred grams to my list, sight unseen. Picking up my order I’m not too surprised, but perhaps slightly dismayed to discover my new bag of flour looks exactly the same as my old one. And since I was assured that my old bag was not sifted the only plausible conclusion was neither was this.

Now you and I both know I am not in the habit of making any recipe substitutions but I really wanted to make these muffins and without a “Plan B” finally came to the conclusion that for better or worse, I was going to have to make due with only one kind of Red Fife flour. Then, just when I’m ready to throw caution to the wind, this happens. Not at the specialty health food store. Not at the bulk store and not at the “grind my own grain” store but at my very ordinary grocery store where I quite unexpectedly stumbled upon a small, but as you can imagine, expensive bag of sifted, Red Fife flour. I could hardly contain my excitement and without even a moment’s pause added my new found treasure to what was very quickly becoming a rather ample, and costly supply of Red Fife. No matter. As Mr. Cruise would say, mission accomplished.

Morning Glory Muffins. Worth the trouble and expense? You better believe it!
My suggestion? Give yourself lots of extra time.

Here’s how it went for me. With a fancy schmancy slide show. 

Morning Glory Muffins
The Recipe: Prep time 15 minutes; Cook time 23 minutes; Total 38 minutes
Me: Prep time 60 minutes; Cook time 25 minutes; Total 1 hour 25 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: When you set the quantity you are making, the recipe automatically adjusts the ingredients. No math required!
Least Favourite thing: Zesting
Lesson Learned: Never store coconut oil in the fridge!

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