Is it the weekend yet? *Groan.*
What a week it’s been so far. Two cars broken down, our household heat on the fritz, and various little personal squabbles and dramas have given me a permanent ache in my neck and shoulders that nothing other than about 12 hours of sleep and a great massage could possibly fix. Thankfully, eating well has not been a concern; as always, we’ve just stuck to our plan and made the meals we’ve intended to make, so our diets are one thing that haven’t gone completely haywire in the past few days.
Ooops. Well, they hadn’t. Until last night.
Let me begin by explaining one very simple fact of life: J. and I should never, ever be allowed to watch anything featuring Bobby Flay when we are tired and stressed out; this edict becomes especially vital when we’ve just eaten a very virtuous dinner of whole-wheat pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, and pesto and are secretly thinking that we could probably sneak a little something naughty into our evening without much harm. And if that Bobby Flay vehicle happens to be an episode of “Throwdown” revolving around cupcakes, we should be locked up somewhere far, far away from any and all televisions.
After thirty minutes of drooling over the images of fluffy cake and creamy icing, we were of one mind: Must. Have. Cupcakes. Ordinarily, that’s about where things would have ended, because we don’t generally keep cupcakes in the house; and at 9:30 p.m. I’m not about to yank out a whole bunch of ingredients and start measuring and mixing. So on a typical night, we either would have simply abstained from any type of treat at all, or we would have tried to satisfy ourselves with a little hot cocoa or some fruit with peanut butter or a dab of Nutella. We’d have done something reasonable.
Reason, however, was in short supply last night. While most of the time, I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a stress eater, there are rare occasions –like this week — when it just seems to me that I’m exercising way too much restraint, self-control, virtue, or whatever you want to call it just to get through daily life without having my head physically pop off my shoulders and roll across the floor. At those moments, if I feel the urge for something sweet, I simply have not got the wherewithal to continue practicing restraint. I turn into a mad little wind-up toy, wheeling in circles, with only one script running through my head: Cupcakes. Cupcakes. Cupcakes.
As I felt my wheels beginning to spin, I looked at J. and saw that he had a forlorn, glazed look in his eyes — the look of utter despair mixed with simple lust. Not for me. For frosting. It pushed me straight over the edge and into the kitchen, where I stood, suddenly uncertain.
What was I going to do? Wound up or not, I was still not far gone enough to actually begin making scratch cupcakes at that time of night, particularly since I’d just finished cleaning the kitchen counters less than an hour earlier. Defeat and resignation began to permeate the fog of cupcake lust. Aimlessly, I started opening doors and staring hopelessly into the shelves, halfheartedly willing a magical, fabulous dessert to appear.
Blue box, tucked back on a shelf; blue box, unfamiliar, just barely peeking at me from behind the garbanzo beans and canned tomatoes. Blue box with a white emblem. Pillsbury.
OH MY GOD IT’S CAKE MIX.
I grabbed the box, disbelieving my good fortune. The Pillsbury dough boy grinned up at me. Hee hee! Cake mix, cake mix, I’ve got cake mix!
Cake mix cupcakes are not REAL cupcakes, as far as the labor is concerned. Adding a little water and a few eggs to a box of powdered stuff (the actual contents of which I do NOT want to examine too closely, thanks very much) is hardly even baking, really. In under five minutes, I could have chocolate cupcakes in the oven and only one bowl and a couple of beaters to wash. It was too easy.
And too convenient. I don’t know why I had a box of cake mix in my pantry; I don’t use boxed mixes for any variety of reasons, personal pride among them. I think, as I scratch my head and reach back into the foggy recesses of my memory, that I bought a couple of boxes of on-sale mix to keep on hand in case of a last-minute birthday cake emergency when we had L.’s party last summer; I’m pretty sure I used the vanilla mix to whip up a guilty and hasty donation to some event or occasion, but I’d entirely forgotten that the chocolate mix was in my hands.
Once reminded, it was a very short walk of the plank indeed — proving, in clear, glaring, neon-blinking letters — that HAVING ACCESS TO CONVENIENT JUNK FOOD MAKES YOU MORE LIKELY TO CONSUME JUNK FOOD. I mean, okay, that’s a “duh” moment, but J. and I are pretty conscious eaters, and we were more than willing, last night, to throw our usual convictions out the window for a quick fudgy fix. Within 35 minutes of finding the mix, I was able to whip up the cupcakes, bake them, cool them (albeit in the refrigerator; it was getting late), and hastily mix up a quick mock frosting using Nutella, milk, almond extract, cocoa powder, and icing sugar. Cupcakes should not be that easy to procure.
I didn’t mean to, I swear, but the mix made me do it. I’m guilty and appalled at our lack of restraint; my goal is to make this the last time a box of baking mix crosses my threshold. Yes, 35 minutes is a lot longer than it would take to rip open the Hostess package, but it’s a lot shorter than the hour and change I would have needed to make the REAL thing. And the difference, at least last night, was between eating junk or not eating junk. My pantry was like a loaded gun. I’m calling for disarmament.