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A Note from Marcy

   
 
Peace From Wheatland
Shortbread Dove of Peace

Dear Fellow Bakers and Friends of BetterBaking.Com,

Welcome to My Favorite Things Issue, a very apt name for the December 2006 issue of this holiday baking magazine. It is also the first day of the Winter Quarterly Subscription. For those who wish to renew their subscriptions, now you can. Just head to the To Subscribe Page.  For our regular subscribers, just keep reading and enjoy the special free recipes of the month.

December is an unofficial and nonstop baking month. Do you know where best vanilla is and how much flour you have on hand? Have you got tons of oil for latkes and chocolate coins to decorate a Chanukah dreidel cake? Yes, it’s a most wonderful time of a year when you need no excuse to pull out all the stops and bake yourself into a frenzy.  My hunch is that you - my esteemed visitors - have the best baking reputations in your community, as well as among your fellow office folks, family and friends. I have no doubt you have a league of fans all your own, awaiting for something great from you for yet another holiday. What are you making this year? The heat, as they say, on. But isn’t it fun, knowing people expect and anticipate something baked from you?

This is a very special issue of BB as we are perched on both a new year and BetterBaking.com looks to its 10th anniversary year. Officially, BB and me went live in May 1997 so I am premature in getting out the streamers and balloons but hey, I read the last page of books first, play my favorite cut on a new CD instantly, and as you would expect, encourage my kids to eat dessert first. But December always has that nostalgic feeling to it that makes us as reflective as we are joyous.

It hardly seems 10 years that BB has been around! I remember registering the domain name for BetterBaking.com in that first rush for domains (the url of a website) reminiscent of the Oklahoma land claim, with people (like me), who barely knew what the Internet was, staking names for notions, dreams, schemes, businesses and in my case, publishing. My intention was to create two-page home page to announce my presence and A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, my first cookbook.  Domain names such as Baker.com, Baking.com, and Bakers.com were all taken so I chose Betterbaking.com thinking it was both brief and memorable, having no idea it would become a large part of my identity as a baking author. Indeed, the original name of this site was Baker Boulanger, which only a few people remember.

Since those initial days, so much has happened behind the scenes and in full view and yet, by the first of the month, BB has magically appeared. If they asked me, (and even if they don’t), I could write a book.  Actually, I am writing a book – a few books.

In 1997, the Internet was a different sort of strange place than it is now. It was new; people were resistant, seeing it as a blip that would pass. I spent 80% of my time explaining to people what I did. Print editors told me, the Net was a phase and print would always rule. Actually, print still does but the Net, as a medium, is healthy enough in its own right.  My intention was to stay online a short time, simply to promote my first cookbook and then quietly find another sunset to walk towards. Instead, BB grew to something beyond my own byline but that is part of the unique nature of this new medium. Where else but the Internet, can you stake a claim to a domain name and plant your dreams, for all to see, worldwide? Where else but the Internet can you self-publish in seconds by launching a blog, or appearing on My Space or You Tube, proving that those proverbial 15 minutes of fame are somewhat longer than we thought.

A decade ago, I stepped out of one life, both personal and professional, and into another, and landed on a path that has been fraught and alive with challenges and victories.  In addition to raising my sons and creating a new life, I have had three webmasters, 6 computers, (34 tango partners both regular and 3 best of all time), 4 agents, 4 publishers, experienced every sort of online espionage you can imagine (there were some hairy days BB was almost kidnapped: twice in fact), managed three bar mitzvahs solo, a car accident, the dot.com bust, copyright challenges, a broken heart, legal squirmishes,  and a battle out of the blue with a trend called Atkins. I have evolved from being a quiet writer to an over-the-top communicator as you have welcomed my words as warmly as my baking. I started with one tester: me and now, I am thrilled to have a crew of bakers, headed by a test kitchen manager, all volunteering their energy and expertise to the website recipes and my newest cookbook. It is not just the contributions of their able testing that I appreciate - although that is amazing. It is the support I feel in them –as well as from those who visit this site. But what also propels me forward is my dreams, which still pulse, tapping out their impatience for me to at least meet them halfway.  

Over the years, I have changed approaches and philosophies as an online publisher, writer and baker, but in the end, I have kept a pure and simple mission: provide content of substance, attend to my visitors, and maintain a certain print magazine look. I am surprised as well as gratified to see that simple, in a digital world, still does the job. The point then, and now, was never to find to create a presence, electronically, and share my passion for baking. In that, I think I have succeeded. BetterBaking.com has also been an unrivalled form to share stories and thoughts, beyond the kitchen in a fashion few editors would permit. It has allowed me to be baker, writer, humorist, reviewer, purveyor of scent, techno gal, and lately, food stylist and photographer.

So, after all this time, what are the most popular recipes? The homiest things you can imagine. People love chocolate and butter but if you checked the BB stats, my baking visitors download things like bran muffins and banana bread, and pancake recipes far more than anything else. (Except my Oprah Lemon Lime Cake and the Pizza Hut Dough). I started with some 50 original recipes and now BB is home to 2011 recipes, original, tested and part of an on going, ever expanding collection. I am in Canada but 90% of my traffic is from south of my own border.  I write about baking and more but the most popular feature of all time, was recently when 4000 people downloaded the Anti Aging Skin Care feature in approximately 11 minutes after it was posted online, which suggests to me that bakers are smart gals who take care of themselves. The cover art of BB, has, over the years, been begged and borrowed and graciously bestowed. Just check out Previous Issues of BB to see some of the magnificent covers. Most recently, and as you can see by the original art that graces this month's cover, I snagged a digital camera. Peace from Wheatland, featuring the rustic but pretty shortbread dove of peace, is the result of my first efforts. (It also works well with a sugar cookie dough). Don’t ask me how much butter is now smeared on the lenses of that new camera!  I also shot the Carrot Cake Fruitcake but alas could only choose one cover shot. But I emphatically suggest you make the Carrot Cake Fruitcake. It is unbelievably pretty, tasty and easy and destined for the next book (i.e. If I dare send one more recipe to an already stuffed manuscript my publisher will disown me!!!)

What’s next for BB? Change is inevitable but so is my calling, as a writer and baker – so time will tell. But it is sure to continue being an adventure and I am invite you along, however it unfolds.

With a decade of cyber publishing under my belt, I also get asked similar questions frequently. This seems an appropriate occasion to answer them, so since you asked……

Frequently Asked Questions 

Did you train professionally as a baker and pastry chef?
Yes. I did. But I baked since I was 7. Terribly, but I did.

Do you also know how to cook?
Yes. I am a bit of all right in that department. (Most bakers can cook, in the professional kitchen, incidentally whereas most professional cooks/chefs are not great at baking. This is an old fact of life in the professional kitchen)

Did you know Epicurious offers all its recipes for free?
Yes. I knew.

Do you know Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray?
No. (But I know Nigella and had a lovely dinner with Jacques Pepin in Montreal years ago; I gave him Canadian bread flour and a rolling pin; no one is a better dinner companion than Jacques). I don’t know Rachel Ray but Janis Ian wrote me once and told me her grandmother was a great baker. Also Kenny Loggins and Russell Crowe each wrote (but not about baking). I once sat on a beach with Miles Davis discussing my embouchure, careened into Nathan Lane (a longer story), met KD Lang out walking in Montreal, and literally bumped into Ethan Hawke downtown, wherein we discussed our mutual publisher (Random House). Did you know Ethan Hawke wrote a novel? (And yes, these are other stories for another Q&A). Oddly I have met alot of celebrities in serendipitous circumstances (or they have met me). Whatever the six degrees of separation is, I have someone else's share. 

Do your sons bake?
Under duress but yes. They argue hourly, 24/7 about who makes better pizza. I know when they are cooking when all the smoke alarms go off. My middle son makes the best coffee; my youngest son is the Cutlet King and my oldest son knows his way around a steak and cheese sub. All three know how to deflate rising dough, and prepare egg wash for Friday night challah. None of them know how to empty a dishwasher however.

Is it true that chefs like eating out in fancy restaurants?
No. I prefer great sourdough bread with a slab of the sharpest possible white cheddar cheese and coffee. But I would eat anything anyone else cooked for me very happily. (Except liver and innards, vanilla scented lobster tails and broiled tomatoes). Most chefs like simple things, done well (as opposed to things well-done or mediocre pretentious things) 

Speaking of restaurants, is it hard being a restaurant critic?
I don’t know because I am a baker. But I hear you have to have a great palate and not be afraid to be honest, even if your review closes a restaurant (which is another reason I am not a restaurant critic). What I will admit to is that I dislike bad salad dressing in restaurants and bad bread served as an afterthought. I generally judge a restaurant by its flavors (great soup, great vinaigrette) and forgive lots if the atmosphere and service is great.

Do you know Ruth Reichel. She is so funny and risqué.  Don’t you love her work?
Yes. I do. Ruth however, does have a Montreal connection having gone to school here. I almost was her classmate in a French grammar school.

I hear you are Canadian. What's it like in Toronto?
I live in that other Canadian city: Montreal.
(I visit Toronto and love it - but I am a Montrealer)

How Do You Find Time to do everything you do?
I sleep in my clothes. I eat breakfast the night before.

How do you get there from here?
Just do it.

What bugs you in baking?
Bad bakeware, that sound of the oven hinges (you know that screech?) when you open the oven door, kitchen timers telling me ‘it’s done’ (I know when it’s done), people who tell me they can get better cheesecake, and it’s cheaper, at Costco (love Costco, prefer my own cheesecake), artificial vanilla, whipped, salted margarine in baking, and people who ask if I feel guilty for making the world fat. And diets that tell you eating bread is a crime.

How come you are not on TV with your own show?
I don’t know. It is possible I am not ready for prime time. It’s more likely I am doing what I love and am where I am supposed to be.

Who would you like to invite to dinner, if you could?
My family. And then (in no particular order or logic nor much forethought):
Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Robert Kennedy Jr., Wayne Dyer, Jon Stewart, Jeanne Garofalo, Laurie Colwin, William Shatner, Nora Ephron, Astor Pizzaiola,  Howard Roark, Aaron Copland, Michael McDonald, Stephen Sondheim, Ann Frank, any village baker from anywhere, and the man I have yet to meet.

What Is one of your favorite meals?
A great Caesar salad (ok, my own) or a salad of baby lettuces, with blue cheese or warm chevre on top with Balsamic, garlic, stoneground mustard and olive oil vinaigrette, a lean, French bistro styled peppery steak, asparagus and sourdough. After some time to digest, great coffee, Punition butter cookies (my own), a vintage apple or an extra sweet Russet apple, and then a ridiculously hot pot of Earl Grey tea. Or, a Ploughman's Platter. Or breakfast in a greasy spoon but only if they serve great coffee.

Do Chefs Criticize Other Chefs?
Not usually. We know what incredibly hard work it is.
But chefs are competitive. Pastry chefs and bakers are usually quieter than Chef Cuisinieres; they all compete with each other and more than one knockdown, drag-out fight has broken out in the walk-in fridges of places I've worked.

What Ingredients and/or Tools Could You Not Live Without?
Unbleached all-purpose flour, butter, and vanilla.
Great cinnamon. My Garland oven, my lemon zest, my own rolling pin, a huge KA mixer and a dough bread bowl for biscuits. Did I mention cast iron skillets and parchment paper? Also a trade secret: Knorr herb pastes and peeled fresh garlic.

What Ingredient are you always running out of?
Time.

What are the least known things about you?
That I am in mini Law School at McGill. That I never order dessert. That I was ahead of my time with the aromatherapy trend. That I am not keen on brunch buffets.

When did you know you wanted to be a food critic and restaurant reviewer?
Never. (See above)

Would you like to be on Oprah?
I would like Oprah to come to dinner here, and I would teach her to bake my favorite things, here. It's just easier. I have more room, a better oven, and with all the mess baking entails, it just makes more sense. Oprah? Come hungry.

There are more questions but the clock is ticking and the baking race is on. It’s time to shop, prep, bake, and bestow.

May I wish you all a month of hospitality, and a whole new year of giving, and receiving but most of all, peace.  Put Peace at the top of your gift list. Do all you can to make sure it arrives - once and for all and always. Peace doesn't start 'out there' or 'over there'. It starts within and radiates outward. It is the original string theory of the heart. Please start as many ripples as you can with as much flour as it takes.

Warm wishes from Wheatland, and thank you for making this 10th anniversary and holiday season special.

Marcy Goldman

Editor and Host
www.BetterBaking.com
Established 1997

Shortbread Dove of Peace
Courtesy of Benjamin Goldman, Photographer


Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, ‘I’ve know the feeling; I know the place”. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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