The It’s All Greek To Me Baking Issue of August 2004
Baker’s Recipes For August
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Dear Friends and Fellow Bakers of BetterBaking.com,
Welcome to August everyone. Back from vacation, or just taking off, the high energy of summer is still in the air. What is that pulse? Olympic fever? The crunchy part of summer balking as it smells back-to-school and the first of those leaves turning?
Whatever it is, it should have its own spice jar name, becaus you can almost taste it: yearning, waiting, impatient, and restless in a good way. August is a month of fits, starts and finishes: the rise, peak and fall of baseball and soccer playoffs, the last sand out of the trunk of the car, the matchbook from a restaurant in cottage or resort country, and that proverbial ‘one shoe’ on Interstate 87 or 104, or the TCan (dat’s Trans Canada Highway, kiddos). The month reluctantly dwindles down – but not without a fight. August is like that once a year party that you will do anything to get to, knowing it ends at midnight and the wake up call is Labor Day, which as everybody knows, is no man’s land, plain and simple. C’est la vie. C’est summer.
Summer and The Curse of Multi-Tasking….
What’s also true of summer, even as it fades, is that it is never too hot to bake or think about baking. Somehow, the more you do, the more you remember you want to do. It’s a vicious circle. The other day, I remarked to someone, that had I known that I would only learn more about baking, expand my tastes and skills, only to find out there is less time, more choices and possibilities and wind up in a chaotic frenzy of inspiration, desire, and limitations, I would have simply read Harlequin romances and ate bonbons as my day job. While it’s nice to know ‘stuff’, it’s overwhelming to know and want to do too much. Wanting and doing way too much is my default state. Some days, it crosses over from inspiration in the kitchen to simply, ah…..frantic. People do observe I am ‘high energy’ and ask me ‘how do you do it?” I sometimes simply respond by saying that I am often, very, very nervous, which brings a chuckle from everyone but me. Well, I am not often nervous but there is this high wire, high on too much joy and sourdough starter feeling sometimes. I begin something small and copable and before I know it, I am almost running alongside my car in the fervor that comes from too much ‘wanna/gotta do’ and too little time.
Frantic is what happens when I multi-task. Oh sure, I can do it. Who doesn't?But frankly, it is a horrid little word and an awful silly little concept. Multi task?
Count to ten. Take a breath….because suddenly, it is one task too much.
Instead of Walden Pond and Ms. Buddha, I experience breathlessness – not in a good way but in a racing mind and a blank look on my face as I forget my cell phone number or garage door code sort of way. Know the feeling? I see it on the faces of the Gap cashiers and drive-by window kids at McDonalds. It is overload. It is not gender nor age exclusive. It is this life, these times, these days, this world. One day, we may be in fact, up to speed and be able to better download email on a Blackberry, while re-programming a cell phone to play a digital William Tell Overture (whilst snapping pictures of a mattress on sale at Wal-Mart), drive a stick shift car, and do a neat lipstick re-application. But until at least one more generation of kids become 18, we are not quite yet there, not quite yet competent. This is the downshift and reverse era of adaptation. Makes me cranky sometimes, have to say. Old enough to remember radios with tubes, that Tang was part in the space program, and long playing records; not young enough to instantly master my CD burner, and not yet old enough to get away with not learning new things by saying ‘I am too old’. Indeed, I am at the awkward age.
But the real problem is that too much of a good thing is simply: too much. It is a real quantity over quality collision.
So, I read Walden Pond. I take notes on simplicity and economy.
Thoreau’s words swim before my eyes. My son Jonathan (who at 19 is actually reading Thoreau instead of just quoting Thoreau like some people), comments, that “Thoreau did not keep house on his own for three kids’. Right. Thoreau just had to feed and entertain himself. Thoreau, bless him, did not tango, carpool, re-program DVD’s so as not to miss Michael McDonald In Concert on A&E, or have to spend 2 hours finding a jock cup that fell behind the washer with 'someone' nearby (let's call him Benjamin, how bout?), accusing me of ‘hiding it on purpose’ (Me hiding the jock cup? Like I hide and lose jock cups for the express thrill of seeing someone go to baseball unprepared? That is what I do for kicks? I am amazed I have yet been asked to guest on Dr. Phil: Rogue Mothers Who Sabotage Jock Straps. I can just imagine the video footage. We should get a copy; maybe show it at the next bar mitzvah).
But Thoreau did write eloquently enough on economy and simplicity to have had people read his words for nigh 150 years. Says he, “We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander’.
Pasturing freely? Does that sound like wasting time or the best advice you have heard all week?
Our lives are more complicated 150 years later. But as Henry David remarked, in a few different ways in Walden, (and for just about the nicest edition, check out Walden at http://www.shambhala.com/html/catalog/items/ISBN/1-59030-088-2.cfm. So much of our efforts, labors and inventions seem more means designed to make us scurry and hurry mindlessly forward, without wit or reason. Surely, if Thoreau felt this in 1854, and we feel it now, it is not modern life that is the culprit, it is human nature.
We need set limits on our energies (not to mention whims and impulses, and need to do it now, and have it all, instantly, and at once) lest they become the carts that drive the horse. The logical feeling is – the more you do, the more you will get done. In reality, as sensible logical as that sounds, it is akin to rubbing out an ink spot with an inky sponge. It just seems to sprawl out to yet more you can do. Takes a huge centering to appreciate less is more. It is. It just seems like less in your head. The resonating feeling tells another story.
So, these days, I opt to bake just a bit less or rather, I bake sequentially, nor in parallel acres of production baking. I can make one dozen muffins. I can make another, a different type, tomorrow. I can make one sort of bread today; I can toddle around with rolls tomorrow. Maybe, Wednesday will be croissant day or just one great soup. Friday is definitely playing hooky day. It does, in fact, all get done. It becomes a winning argument for quality over quantity; serenity over mindless hurtling. You only get serenity if you complete something. Chances neither are you can complete one thing and one thing well; not twelve, nor do twelve perfectly. Actually, forget perfect. Even Olympians try for ‘their best’, not ‘perfect’. When’s the last time anyone held up perfect scores of ‘6’ for your banana bread? Get the point? Who are we doing it for? Our inner judge – the one from the Eastern Republic of Blamania who scours at us rather than gives us a well deserved thumbs up just for showing up. You show up; you’re a contender.
At any rate, doing one thing, one thing at the time, is all you need. You will get to the finish line. A little one. Then another one. By Friday, line up five such finish lines and you have a whole string. Try it. It is a tonic. Tomorrow is, another day. And no, there is always something more to bake, to read, another race to run – unless you opt for higher ground by stopping the madness. One step, one task, maybe even one recipe, at a time.
By the way, I did get to the country with my sons this summer and spent some time on horses, rescuing fish off hooks, and finding out I liked miniature golf (sort of). I inhaled the forest and tucked it in my memory. I also thought of all the things I used to bake when I used to visit my brother Mark in the country. Minutes after I arrived, I would plunk myself in his kitchen-by-the-lake and have bread going, pie apples peeled, pie dough chilling, and a few batches of cookies baking. What was I thinking? And I did this with three little boys in tow. This time, I decided not to bake and simply be a guest. (Heck, they are still talking about the wedding sweet table I made for his wedding. I’m clear until Rosh Hashanah).
Supper drew near and a barbecue was started. Salad was made; dessert was the Tiramisu cake I had brought up. There was really not a whole lot to do or needed added. I had time to putter and I did. But then, I found a jar of baking powder, a wee bit of flour, a smidge of butter, and a touch of shortening. I spied a new canister of salt. I doused some sweet milk with lemon juice to curdle it and the next thing I knew, I was knee deep in biscuit dough. It felt like velvet. It handled like silk. It baked like clouds. The biscuits made the meal. The last thing I remember when I fell asleep, listening to the loons (or maybe it was the electronic loon sounds CD I left on) was that batch of biscuits, golden, light, feathery wisps were the best I had ever made. Maybe more so because they were the only fresh, baked good we served and there was no competition on the table. Maybe because, all my efforts, care, and baker’s touch were distilled down into 2 cups of flour.
One thing, done well. That’s the key. Having so few ingredients and tools, made me focus. I think I appreciated the biscuits more than anyone else. I was reminded that the point is to be a baker; not master the bakery or tame all the wheat, on any one given day. I think even the goddess Demeter would agree.
If it is any comfort, baking is best done slower, done carefully, and meticulously. The results tell all. No one misses the extra stuff you didn’t bake or cook, or the table setting you really had in mind, or the grand plans that were as much about impressing them as it was about feeding anyone. What they see before them, IS the only reality they need know. So is the reality of you being really present with them; happy and part of the gathering, not frantic with lofty goals of a churning master from within. Calm is good; not multi-tasking and heavens forbid, multi-baking.
Bon appetit, happy baking, peace in the kitchen, peace in sports,
Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy: