Dave was doing something with databases on his computer when I came up behind the desk. My shirt blotched with butter and sweat.
“Do you think I could substitute ground oats for the flour?” I asked.
“Didn’t you make a lot of substitutions already?”
“I made a few substitutions,” I admitted. “I used maple syrup and coconut sugar granules instead of the white sugar, and then I used two tablespoons less of the milk to make up for the extra liquid.”
“So… no. You shouldn’t change anything else,” he said. “Isn’t that the whole point of baking? Following the recipe?”
Unfortunately for Dave, I was not looking for advice. I was looking for validation.
“I’m going to use oats instead of the flour,” I decided, and returned to the apocalyptic fallout situation I left behind in the kitchen.
The oven had been preheated for about an hour at 400 degrees but the kitchen itself was only about 250 degrees. The windows were impenetrably fogged with steam. Batter splattered bowls and measuring cups overflowed the sink. Little cubes of Fuji apple littered the floor tiles. I can never keep the produce on the cutting board. I can never pour the almond milk without dribbling it over the sides its container.
I ground a cup of oats in the food processor and whisked it into the wet ingredients. No one was there to stop me. I spooned glops of batter into the muffin cups. As a garnish, I artfully mushed leftover apple cubes into the top of each muffin. The batter was a little runny, but that was to be expected. I had used maple syrup instead of white sugar; I had played God.
Three days before I had made sweet potato and banana muffins. I set out on a quest to create a muffin that would make you live forever and got as close as any mortal could get. I replaced all of the flour with ground buckwheat, oats, and amaranth. I pulled from the oven twelve tasty little cylinders of dietary fiber that instantaneously evacuated your intestinal tract. I thought these abominations in the eyes of the heavens were pretty good, considering I had made them almost entirely out of substitutions, but doubted that anyone else would touch them. I enjoy such cereals as Heritage Flakes and Flax Plus. Thus, my taste buds are not representative of the general American population. My fibrous Franken-muffins were perhaps too healthy.
While I was working my way through the dishes, the timer rang. I put on some oven mitts and transported the tin to the trivet. The muffins were still a warm, sticky goop. Then I checked the oven and it was turned off. I had preheated the oven and, once I put the muffins inside of the oven, turned off the heat.
Perhaps I have no business baking. I toy with the ingredients and proportions and forget to turn on the oven. It’s a miracle if I remember to set a timer. Baking requires precision. Exact timing, tools, and temperatures. What is baking if not chemistry? I almost failed high school chemistry. My radical baking was doomed to fail.
I turned the oven on again.
Then I returned to Dave and interrupted his studies again.
“Are the muffins done yet?” he asked.
It had been hours since I started mixing the batter.
“No,” I said. “I have some bad news.”
“The oats didn’t work out?”
“What? No, not that. I forgot to turn the oven on.”
Then, twenty-five minutes later, we had muffins. They were mushy and moist. They crumbled when removed from their paper. Dave and I ate a sample muffin out of a bowl with spoons.
“This is the kind of muffin that you eat in a bowl, topped with vanilla ice cream,” I explained. “That was intentional.”
I ate two more muffins and called it a night.