I have a confession, but let it be our secret. If word of my transgression gets out who knows what could happen. It’s a bit of a long story so best to start at the beginning where all good stories start. Pull up a chair and put your feet up and do your best not to judge me too harshly.
When I was first doing my impression of a grown-up and inviting people over for supper, oh so many years ago, I decided upon one of my favourite summertime dishes – potato salad. I used my mother’s recipe, a favourite of mine. Most of our favourite recipes come from our childhood. The final step was to dress the salad with paprika, a light covering, more for appearance than flavour but both were good reasons. I got a little heavy-handed with the paprika, one too many flicks of the wrist, while not paying attention, but what harm could it do. The meal was outdoors, complete with barbequed hamburgers and other summer fare. I never got around to sitting down with a plate of my own before I thanked everyone for coming and turned my attention to the dirty dishes. On many plates, the potato salad was the only remnant of the meal. I was puzzled, but then nodded knowingly – too much paprika. Better luck next time, I said to myself. I scraped food from the plates and set to washing the dishes. I happened to lick my finger after I scraped the last plate and holy cow – my eyebrows burst into flames. The whole scene came rapidly into focus with absolutely clarity. I threw open the spice cupboard and grabbed the spice container. The potato salad had not been garnished with paprika. Though of a similar hue, the culprit was – wait for it – cayenne pepper. I thought of calling my guests to apologize but instead decided to take my blunder to the grave. It was to be only the first of a long list of cooking failures and who has that much free time to be on the telephone. Fast forward forty plus years.
On Friday night of last week, I was making cinnamon buns, not the ideal project for an evening but I was determined to see the final rising and baking through to the finale before I called it a day. I had a hankering for a cinnamon bun warm from the oven. I may have been hurrying and as with haste at the best of times, things went wrong. I did all the preparation, the mixing, the kneading, the first set of rising, and then went about assembling. I rolled out the plump dough and lathered on the butter and brown sugar. I prepared two pans. I sprinkled the cinnamon and cut the roll into precise rounds, placing them gently in the first pan to rise again. I grabbed the second half of the dough to do the same and as luck would have it or the fates telling me to stop making cinnamon buns at nine o’clock at night, I licked my finger. Again, what is left of my thinning eyebrows burst into flames. I stared down at the bag of cinnamon on my work surface and yes indeed the label did start with a “C” and the colour was similar and in my defense the packaging was identical, but – cayenne pepper, the familiar foe strikes again.
I wasn’t ready to give up. I took the dough to the sink and washed off all the butter and brown sugar and the evil cayenne pepper, which left me with a gooey glob of mess. I added flour and began kneading and lo and behold, the gooey glob now resembled a blob of dough. I retrieved the cinnamon and put a large label on the cayenne pepper and returned it to the top cupboard where all bad spices go to think about what they’ve done. The dough rose, I baked the two pans, and tested the results, and then a few more taste tests to be sure. Success.
My original plan was to share one of the pans of cinnamon buns with a friend who needed a tasty surprise to brighten her day. Note to future self – do not share baked goods without sampling beforehand. It could have been the end of our friendship. Thankfully, tragedy had been averted. Cayenne pepper and I have come to the end of our fragile relationship; as with most peppers, it can’t be trusted. Maybe I have unwittingly unearthed a new baking strategy – sweet and spicy. Nah. Remember – mum’s the word.