One of the perks about living here in Pittsburgh–and in East Liberty, especially–is that everything I ever need to access is within a five mile radius. I live just a fifteen minute drive from work, and I can walk from my apartment to multiple schools, a few pharmacies, a library, a number of grocery stores, and dozens of restaurants. I’ve become quite comfortable with being able to leave and get something I need and be back home within minutes, which is a luxury I’d never experienced until I moved here. This means that, if I realize I’ve forgotten a staple while shopping or suddenly run out of a baking ingredient, it’s not too much of a hassle to go out and get it.
When I realized on Saturday, then, that I wouldn’t have enough flour left to feed my sourdough starters and bake a loaf, it only slightly bothered me that I’d already done my grocery shopping at ALDI the day before and made a Trader Joe’s trip that morning to get an ingredient that ALDI didn’t carry. I decided to stop at Target on the way home from church the following morning to grab some flour and sugar.
It was a shockingly sunny day for March 1st–we’ve had an abnormal amount of daylight this year, and I’ve struggled to trust that it’s not too good to be true and that some torrential disaster isn’t going to descend upon us any day now. Needless to say, I was sans jacket and in an especially perky mood with my Vitamin D battery fully charged. I’d even picked out a cute, floral outfit that morning to match my seasonal mood. With that in mind, I didn’t mind making the stop; however, I was very much ready to be back in my kitchen and finish up the cupcake recipe because I was so close to finishing it.
I headed up the stairs, grabbed a basket, and went directly towards the baking aisle. I picked up a bag of sugar and a bag of whole wheat flour, and then I reached far between the shelves and picked out an all-purpose flour (I’ve always been a back of the shelf gal because I’m convinced the best selection is never in the front with the most-touched items). Plus, the closest bags definitely looked like they’d seen better days. Satisfied with my haul, I hoisted the basket onto my hip and made my way to the front of the store to my favorite line, the 10 or less checkout lane.
As the woman in front of me pulled out her wallet, I was relieved to drop my weighty basket onto the conveyor belt. As I did, I noticed the familiar face of a pianist from the studios behind me, and we exchanged warm smiles. Wow, it really is just a happy day, I thought, as I turned back to my basket and the dusty pile of flour that was spewing from its holes. Oh no.
I froze when I realized the bag had broke, momentarily unsure what to do as the white powdery mess of my basket moved towards the register. I instinctively grabbed it and held it still, realizing that this in no way solved the problem but for some reason wanting desperately to avoid allowing it to reach the cashier. With one hand anchored, I attempted to use my other to prop the bag of flour up so that the tear was at the top. Naturally, this sent more clumps of flour shooting out of the basket’s holes and puffs of smoky white particulate billowing over the rest of my groceries. I immediately felt the need to inform someone but was stuck in that awkward pull between interrupting the ongoing checkout traffic to get someone’s attention and silently but unsuccessfully attempting to fix the problem on my own. Finding that neither of these options pleased me, I settled on emitting a series of increasingly audible whisper-shouts for help that came out as sporadic, unnoticed “um’s” and “excuse me’s.”
At last, the cashier flagged another employee for help (though she was most certainly clued in by the white disaster two feet from her station and not from my sorry S.O.S. attempts). Like a child who’s just been caught stealing a cookie and awaiting her fate, I looked, wide-eyed, at both of them until the woman in front of me in line reassured me that I could go get another one. With this, I snapped out of my trance, let go of the basket, and bee-lined back to the other end of the store to get more flour. Of course, that cheery outfit I’d proudly donned earlier included a long skirt with the skinniest hem in my closet–it greatly limited the range of my steps. And so, through the crowded walkway of Target, I executed a strange, brisk speed walk, my shins aggressively hitting my skirt with each hurried pace. I stooped to grab a new bag, inspected it for any weak areas, and retraced my path, which I then noticed was sprinkled periodically with white dots of flour.
I reached the register just as the kind employee who’d come to my rescue was finishing wiping down my basket and its contents. I thanked her repeatedly and avoided eye contact with everyone except the Target dog on the debit card screen until the transaction was complete. Then, I grabbed my bags and attempted to walk down the stairs in a way that would mask the fact that I was lugging 15 lb of groceries, still fighting the circle of fabric around my ankles that had never felt narrower than now. I unlocked my car, basically threw the flour into the passenger seat, realized how stupid that choice was, checked to make sure I hadn’t just caused a second disaster, and sighed in relief as I started home. I mused at the fact that I, Allison Durand, thought I could take a quick ingredient stop that would actually be quick. As usual, my life is endlessly entertaining.
Lucky for me, it would have taken a lot more than a little spilt flour for my mood to take a downturn on that sunny day. Takeaways for today: 1) Take advantage of the joy of sunlight and warmth when it’s here! 2) Thank your store employees for dealing with hot messes like me. 3) Cupcakes are ALWAYS worth the extra trip out.
Happy March, y’all!
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
Arnold Palmer Mini Cupcakes (V)
*Makes about 3 dozen
SWEET TEA CURD FILLING
- 1 1/4 cups sweet tea
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 TBSP cornstarch
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2/3 cup canola oil
- 2/3 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2/3 cup lemon flavored seltzer water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 TBSP lemon zest
SWEET TEA ICING
- 5 black tea bags
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup vegan butter
- 1 lb. (about 3 cups) powdered sugar, (vegan if desired)
- salt to taste
SWEET TEA CURD FILLING
- Whisk the sweet tea, sugar, and cornstarch together in a saucepan, and turn heat to medium.
- Stirring constantly with a spoon or spatula, cook mixture until it thickens and coats the back of your utensil (this will happen just before it’s hot enough to come to a boil).
- Immediately remove from heat, and whisk in butter.
- Allow to cool completely in the fridge (Spread onto a baking sheet for faster cooling if needed.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a mini muffin tin with liners or grease well.
- In a large bowl, mix together oil, sugar, and lemon juice.
- In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.
- Begin adding the flour mixture and the seltzer water to the oil mixture, alternating and mixing between each addition until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.
- Spoon batter into cupcake cups, filling them about 2/3 full.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
- Steep the tea bags in the boiling water for ten minutes. Remove bags, squeeze excess tea from them, and allow tea to cool completely.
- Place vegan butter the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Begin adding powdered sugar and tea, a little at a time, mixing on medium-low speed after each addition (Use the tea sparingly to make sure your frosting isn’t too loose).
- Continue until you’ve added all the powdered sugar and as much of the tea as you can while keeping the frosting thick.
- Mix in salt to taste.
- Using a small knife or piping tip, carve out a small ball of cake in the center of each cupcake top.
- Fill the hole with the sweet tea curd filling.
- Pipe the frosting onto each cupcake, covering the filling.
- Top as desired (I used lemon zest and home made sweet tea caramel), and enjoy!