I confess to having slipped into a food lover’s coma this weekend, offering up a plethora of culinary clichés such as broiled lobster tails, filet mignon wrapped in bacon and fresh strawberry tart. My other half and I indulged with gluttony, but the fun didn’t stop there: there where mounds upon mounds of slow-roasted asparagus in balsamic glaze, sea salt crusted baby gold potatoes and baked grouper in creamy jalapeno sauce, all cooked to perfection. Our feasts where so excessive and exuberant that we barely had enough time to bat eyelashes at each other as we gorged in unison, only taking small breaks to sigh in contentment and comment on how much we loved the food (oh, and each other.) It was a glorious two days and when it ended I felt blissful and renewed, even if it was with an extra pound or two on my waistline.
Kissing my man gingerly on the cheek as he left for his weeklong work trip that following Monday, I couldn’t help but bask in the good fortune of having both a soul mate that enjoys eating as much as I do and a fabulous oven to bake in. Dizzy with happiness, I skipped back to my boudoir (aka, kitchen) where all this love happens and decided to continue the celebration with a batch of mini chocolate chip muffins.
As the oven preheated, I sang to my red hot mixer Lulu and began whipping up tiny bundles of love. Lulu was fast and efficient and soon the muffin batter was perched inside miniscule muffin tins and ready to be baked into delight. All was well until I opened up the oven, muffin tins in hand, and was shocked to find it stone cold. Had I forgotten to turn it on, I wondered to myself, knowing this wasn’t true but no less surprised if dementia had set in early. I checked the electric panel and found that although it promised a 350 degree heat it was only delivering a cold hum.
The hairs on my neck stood up as my first warning, followed by shortness of breath and a feeling of doom in the pit of my stomach. This was the beginning of a panic attack. OH NO OH NO OH NO! I had envisioned many horrible things in my lifetime, but never my sleek, expensive, and indispensible oven not working for me! Who was I without the ability to bake?
Moving quickly, I ran through my limited technical expertise: flipping switches and fuses on and off, counting quietly until ten before beginning anew, turning the broiler from low to medium to high, switching from baking to convection features; even prayer:
‘Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…ha tanoor sheli lo oved?!’
But nothing seemed to reboot my oven back to life. The mini-chocolate chip muffins began looking glum and hopeless sagging in their tins, their tiny chips like dark eyes pleading they have a turn in the love fest grand oven.
Depression and anger replaced my failed repair attempts and I grew more frustrated with the expensive oven that was supposed to stand by me for many more years to come.
“But I made lobster tails!” I wailed, demanding an explanation. “Yesterday!
How could this be?”
A kitchen can get eerily quiet when reprimanded and that is what happened to mine. Lulu stood still, her paddle still messy with raw muffin dough. She dared not say anything, although I knew she was secretly disgusted by oven’s failure (‘I would never let her down like that’, her bright red sheen seemed to shout). The fridge just hummed gleefully, always happy to be a witness to disaster, but grateful not to be the cause of it this time (remember the leak of ’02?), and then, off in the corner, next to the canisters of sugar and flour, was my tiny Toastmaster oven, carried from house to house with me like a chewed-up stuffed animal I no longer need but can’t live without. It wanted to shout out a big “hey look at me, here I am , here I am” but was afraid I was too angry to listen.
My flaccid muffin dough insisted I pay closer attention to the neglected alternative baking source, and so I turned its forgotten dial on to 350 degrees. The Toastmaster only allowed one small tin at a go, so it took quite a while to get them all done, but as I watched and beseeched for goodness to congeal, I recalled fondly how my cooking frenzy first took off over twenty years ago inside the cozy space of a tiny toaster oven much like this one. My first apartment had a cramped kitchen with no stove, only two hot plates and an ancient Toastmaster with a broken handle. That didn’t stop the passion for cooking that was just blossoming in me to run full throttle and out of that miniscule space came many fabulous meals: freshly baked profiteroles, lemon meringue pie, orange roasted chicken, rabbit braised with tapenade. ‘If I flourished then, I can do it now’, I thought to myself, and suddenly, the hairs on my neck came down as did my blood pressure and my panic melted into a fun and familiar cocktail of nostalgia and hope.
As my incapacitated posh oven gazed in the sidelines I gave Toastmaster center stage, baking tin after tin of equally moist and delectable mini-chocolate chip muffins. Just as I had years before, I poured all my culinary energy into this abandoned appliance, and, once again, it didn’t let me down, giving me a scrumptious treat and a chance to reconnect with that youthful spirit that anything is possible, even in a tiny space.
Mini-Chocolate Chip Muffins
- 1 ¾ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1 egg
- 1 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat Toastmaster to 350 degrees*
*standard oven works well too!
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In a small bowl, mix buttermilk and vanilla.
In a standing mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed (at least five minutes).
Beat in egg.
Add flour mixture on low speed in 3 parts, alternating with buttermilk mixture until fully incorporated.
Add ¾ cup mini chocolate chips and blend well.
Spoon batter into greased mini-cupcake tins, filling ¾ full.
Sprinkle additional chips on top.
Bake until golden, 12 -15 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool in pan for 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Makes 18 mini-muffins