Okay, so I've been a slacker. I never was too good at keeping a lot of balls in the air, and this one fell in the midst of a whole bunch of issues, vacations, and just plain LIFE. I've made a date with myself to post to my blog every Monday morning, first thing. I'm even putting it on my calendar so I remember. Meanwhile, I'm sending along this essay that I did for a local newspaper. That committment has at least kept me writing something. Enjoy!
Fall comes with a slight tilt to the sun that brings thoughts of fuzzy socks and wool sweaters and a sudden longing for a bowl of soup and a chunk of hearty bread.
Like Richard Nixon, I am not a cook. Something like that. What I mean is that in over four decades of being the primary source of meals in our family, never once did anyone ever complain about e-coli or salmonella. You may, to this day, hear them cast aspersions about my Creamed Tuna on Toast or Peanut Butter Meatballs, but they had the good sense to wait until they were out of the house.
There is one area, however, where I shine. Or at least throw off a few glints. Baking.
Some might argue that there’s no difference between baking and cooking, but I disagree. The difference is simple: ingredients.
With cooking, you’re always faced with buying stuff like jicama and tahini and bean threads and orzo and a thousand other ingredients that you might use once and then spend the next several years worrying about their expiration dates.
Baking is a lot less complicated: flour, butter, eggs, yeast, salt, maybe some honey and seeds and oatmeal, things like that. It just depends on how you put them together. I recently made some rye bread and used caraway seeds that I guessed were at least 25 years and three or four moves old. (Not to worry. Nobody in this viewing area had occasion to ingest them and those that did, didn’t die. To my knowledge.)
Another thing about baking. With cooking, there’s always what I call the Euwww factor, as in “Euwww. I don’t like turnips (or venison or Brussels spouts or garbanzo beans or fill in the blank).” That’s why the entrée offerings on a menu are always more plentiful than the dessert list. Rarely do you see anyone turn a nose up at a chocolate brownie, for example, or a thick slab of Italian bread, or a doughnut.
Baking is also a lot more fun than cooking. With cooking, you have hoards of family or company hovering like vultures, often drooling, right there in the kitchen, waiting for you to put something on the table. You have to placate them with offerings of wine and little crackers on which they spread all kinds of weird stuff like artichokes or sauerkraut or goat cheese or jalapenos or crab meat. You might get a few minutes of rest while you’re eating, but then it’s time to clean up the dishes.
When I bake, it’s very often a quiet day, on the cool side, and with nobody else around. I put on my apron (or not—jeans often suffice) and soon I’m happily covered with flour and stirring and mixing and kneading my frustrations out with a vengeance. By the end of the preparation process, I throw the whole thing in the oven or in a bowl to rise and spend the next half hour or so reading a good book. When I feel like it, I leisurely wash up the measuring cups and spoons and add the bowls to the dishwasher.
Later, when whoever shows up for dinner, they enter the house and immediately exclaim, “Oooohhh! What smells so good!” This is the power of yeast and/or chocolate—the Oooohhh factor that is the complete opposite of the Euwww factor. I smile, pull boxes of frozen chicken and frozen broccoli out of the freezer, grab a potato or two and toss everything in the oven, serving it by the time you can boot up a computer and check e-mails, complete with a slab of warm bread and butter. Fresh bread that has the power to overcome any culinary deficit.