Arnold Palmer Mini Cupcakes (V)

IMG_0492One 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.

A7C23F1F-D958-42C4-8A0A-BDC1B61C539D

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.”IMG_0477

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.

Psalm 113:3

IMG_0459

Arnold Palmer Mini Cupcakes (V)

*Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients

SWEET TEA CURD FILLING

  • 1 1/4 cups sweet tea
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup butter

CUPCAKES

  • 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

Instructions

SWEET TEA CURD FILLING

  1. Whisk the sweet tea, sugar, and cornstarch together in a saucepan, and turn heat to medium.
  2. 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).
  3. Immediately remove from heat, and whisk in butter.
  4. Allow to cool completely in the fridge (Spread onto a baking sheet for faster cooling if needed.

CUPCAKES

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a mini muffin tin with liners or grease well.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oil, sugar, and lemon juice.
  3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.
  4. 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.
  5. Spoon batter into cupcake cups, filling them about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

FROSTING

  1. Steep the tea bags in the boiling water for ten minutes. Remove bags, squeeze excess tea from them, and allow tea to cool completely.
  2. Place vegan butter the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  3. 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).
  4. Continue until you’ve added all the powdered sugar and as much of the tea as you can while keeping the frosting thick.
  5. Mix in salt to taste.

ASSEMBLY

  1. Using a small knife or piping tip, carve out a small ball of cake in the center of each cupcake top.
  2. Fill the hole with the sweet tea curd filling.
  3. Pipe the frosting onto each cupcake, covering the filling.
  4. Top as desired (I used lemon zest and home made sweet tea caramel), and enjoy!

IMG_0469

Lemon Candied-Ginger Muffins (V)

IMG_9716Exciting things are happening this week for Waltz of the Flours! The first is a much needed website facelift, which you hopefully already noticed (cheers to a URL you can actually memorize!) The next is something you’ll see if you just scroll down a little…yes, I made my first recipe video! Of course, with this being a new endeavour, I have a lot to learn and improve upon–but it’s certainly a start. I’m looking forward to creating more in the future and bringing you along for the learning process!

It’ll come as no surprise, then, that this week has led me to contemplate change–its role in practically every aspect of our lives, who it’s affecting around me currently, why it scares us so darn easily. While it’s arguably impossible to experience a time that’s purely static, I think you’ll agree that sometimes it just feels as though more things are shifting than are staying the same. I’ll waste no time and inform you that BOY am I in a place like that–so many of the things I’ve come to accept as givens, as the metaphorical controls from middle school science class, have decided to suddenly become variables. Naturally, this has resulted in plenty of emotional meltdowns. However, sprinkled between the moments of anxiety that I’ve experienced has been another, undoubtedly God-given sensation–an unexplainable peace, of sorts. Though I’m far from holding on firmly to this strange and fickle sense of calm, I had an epiphany of sorts last night, and I’d like to think it helped me get just a little better of a grip. IMG_9759

Some of you might know that I used to work at a Chinese Restaurant in Bloomfield–while still a student at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, I waited tables sometimes five nights a week there. By the time three years had passed, it had become one of my many Pittsburgh homes, and the people there one of my many Pittsburgh families. Of all the 364 days per year that Wai Wai Chinese Cuisine was open, though (yes, we only closed on Thanksgiving), my absolute favorite was always Chinese New Year. My boss, Leo, would plan for weeks in advance; then when the holiday finally arrived, he’d disappear, laboring in the kitchen for the entire day. The restaurant closed early, and everyone would pull together six of our dining tables to create one massive family-style setup.

Then, the shining moment: with the swing of the kitchen door and a puff of hot steam, the dishes would begin to emerge from the kitchen. Trays of lobster, crab legs, fish, noodle dishes, soup, whole pineapples spilling with meat and fruit, vegetables, things that I’d never seen but couldn’t wait to try, all in a grand procession deserving of royal fanfare. Each year, I was certain he couldn’t possibly expand on the quantity of food from the last dinner, and each year I was wrong. Then, after we’d had a moment to regain our grasp on reality and survey the delicious myriad before us, Leo would finally make his entrance, greeting everyone happily and handing out decorative envelopes with fresh $20 bills to everyone at the table. Then, he’d enthusiastically toast the evening, and the celebration would commence.

Last night, I had the privilege of being invited back to this occasion as a former employee and forever friend. Around 9pm I walked up the very familiar rampway with my friend Nicole and a tray of these Lemon Candied-Ginger Muffins (V), eager to be back and participate in the beloved Chinese New Year Dinner. We talked, ate, watched the delivery drivers belt ballads on the karaoke machine across the dining room, and reminisced. At one point, I found myself especially adrift in memories I’d made in that very building. I looked around the restaurant between bites and started spewing a stream of old stories to Nicole as they came to me: I used to learn entire ballets from the video right on this floor while I worked the closing shift; my friend and I would watch Dr. Pimple Popper videos back there to pass the time on slow days; Monique is the one who trained me when I first started working here, and then she became my closest friend; that’s Leo’s daughter, Joyce–I can’t believe she remembers me! I became lost in the excitement of sharing the experiences I’d had when I worked there. IMG_9730 (1)

There’s a key detail in those sentences, though. They’re all past tense. I don’t work at Wai Wai’s Chinese Cuisine now. I’m not still doing all those things I explained to Nicole yesterday. The only reason that I’m able to look back on them fondly and reminisce is because, eventually, I stopped doing them. You can’t look back on experiences that you’re doing right now. I realized, as juvenile a revelation as it might seem, that the only things in our lives that become cherished memories are the things that change. Change is what transforms something from being standard into being something worth remembering; it’s what wraps up the letters of your life and allows you to fold them away safely until something sparks your heart to pull them out and ask your friend “Remember when…?”

Consistency and predictability and routine and all those wonderfully stagnant things sure can be comforting in the present. But who ever looks back and thanks God for keeping things the way they were? I don’t often encourage people to spend time contemplating the future or dwelling in the past, but thanks to the two of them I gotta say I sure am feeling better about my relationship with the unexpected.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

 

Lemon Candied-Ginger Muffins (V)

Ingredients

STREUSEL TOPPING

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup vegan sugar
  • 1 TBSP lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP melted vegan butter

MUFFIN BATTER

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup vegan sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 flax egg (1 TBSP ground flax mixed with 3 TBSP cold water, left to thicken in fridge for at least 5 minutes)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup candied ginger, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 12 cups of a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

STREUSEL

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt.
  2. Add melted butter, and mix in–first with the whisk, and then with your hands until mixture forms small crumbles. Set aside.

MUFFINS

  1. In a small bowl, mix together canola oil, sugar, lemon juice, and flax egg. Set aside.
  2. In a larger bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.
  3. Mix candied ginger into flour mixture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and pour the wet ingredients into it.
  5. Whisk just until combined–don’t worry about the batter being a bit lumpy.
  6. Distribute batter evenly between muffin cups, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top of each one.
  7. Sprinkle streusel on top of each cup of batter.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Allow to cool in the trays for five minutes; then transfer to a cooling rack if desired.
  10. Enjoy!

IMG_9700