November 2008 A Note From Marcy
Pack Up Some Cranberry Biscotti for a Friend
The Note from Marcy Essay
Oh You Got to Have Friends – and other things to be grateful for on Thanksgiving…….
Dear Baking Friends,
Each issue of BB, I spend alot of time thinking about if I should write an editorial (why bother people with my observations when most folks just want a better banana bread?), and if I do write a missive, what I can write about. It's a mission I can't quite seem to let go of and it has a routine to it that I could graph with poignant precision.
Early in any given month, I am catatonic with relief that I managed my last website deadline. I probably should do the editorial then - and be way ahead but if I did, said essay would be about fatigue and relief or filled with the euphoria of a job done on time, too much coffee and too little fresh air. By mid month, of course, I’ve settled down, am refreshed and have more time to reflect. While out for a walk, I consider a few half-baked treatise on the economy, or fall fashion or the nostalgia of autumn or, always a winner: about being cozy and home baking. But then suddenly near the end of the month and a new issue of BB is pending. None of my friends talk to me much at this point for after 11 1/2 years, they know better. I can't talk; I'm publishing the site soon, I say as if the whole world shuts down. I become uncannily maudlin and tense and my life views are narrowed by the approaching deadline. I have this thing: BB must be published on the first day, of the month and before noon, Eastern Standard Time.
In short, before pub time, I am acutely impossible and can get into all sorts of trouble. That week before the new issue, it is one wild fest of recipe coding and this month – (bless my Test Kitchen Manager Ellen Fuss as well as Ellen Gold for their proof reading) about editing, copy editing (Marcy- you mentioned raisins twice but never once called for them or where to put them in), recipe inventing and testing and food shoots. Then I am again – at the twilight hour and I cannot think of a thing to write for the essay. Somehow I hate to send out just recipes without words to frame them or at least offer a sense of where I am when the recipes were created.
Where are those fine thoughts that chased me two weeks prior? What’s worse, if I am in some sort of personal state (work or publishing perils, adventures in parenting, the state of romance, or tango, or ups/downs of friends), the mood at hand colors any and everything I write. At least three friends will actually read the essay and later ask: are you ok? Did something happen you forgot to tell us? It cuts two ways - because I am either too happy or too grumpy and will write something seemingly revealing (people read fiction between the lines) causing people to read Far Too Much into Much Too Little. I don't do blogs. I do editorials. But I do recall my editor at the New York Times once said I was too much ‘first person’ and frankly, it was not a good thing. I totally agree but it is not so much ego-centric as a case of writers simply have a lot of time in solitude which makes for a lot of ongoing, inner conversations - the sort of conversations that make so much sense until you actually share them. It is the world as told to me, by me, according to me, and about me, ergo: too much First Person.
But as luck would have it – despite being a heavy duty parenting, work, and personal stuff sort of month, I do feel, as is fitting, (albeit it is your holiday, not mine), to say something about gratitude. As in: I am grateful to be a bread winner and bread baker. Grateful for new (and installed) winter tires and a new roof on the house before a Canadian winter sets in. I am blessed and grateful for my three sons of course and the gift of health. I am grateful that after a five year hiatus, I’ve discovered running again (and a new pink sports bra/harness) and the thrill of the chilled morning air, a song-replete I pod, and a way to erase the calories of test baking pancetta cheese scones. It is only tinged by the dubious blessing of a Lindt chocolate outlet store that opened up across the street from my gym. Nature abhors a vacuum.
I am beholden to the fact that lately, out of the blue, I fell in love again with baking. No – I mean, really, really in love. I look at old cookbooks and everything seems new again. I rediscovered second hand book stores, finding treasures like Paula Peck’s Baking Book and a vintage Moosewood and farm Journal’s Book of Pies. Did I mention I had to buy my own Best of BetterBaking.com on EBay I look at these amazing older cookbooks with recipes that can get away with saying '1 cup sugar, scant' and wonder – has all this goodness – these sparkling things, been here all the time. But most of all, in the month of American Thanksgiving, darker days, elections, and that unmistakable feeling of change in the air, I am particularly grateful for what doesn’t change. Considering some losses I have witnessed this month, I am grateful for friends that are still here and who light up my days. Yes – the friends thing – accept no substitutes – it’s the real thing and more so – with each passing year.
It might surprise you to know as a kid – my friend list was scarce. Considered quirky and creative and coming from a chaotic house, not being particularly sporty, social, typical and armed with a quick, incisive armadillo response to anything perceived as an offence, attracting, making and keeping friends was no mean feat. Nonetheless I always had one or two and that was still a richesse. That considered, I could never have imagined the sheer wealth and spectrum of the friends I now have nor foreseen that at midlife, one does make and keep new friends.
I have an inner circle of old friends, some newer ones from tango or the gym, friends from kindergarten, or childhood, and some, readers of my website, my test bakers and adopted friends like our surrogate grandmother Doris. There are a few nearby friends who are nearby for quick coffees to vent over husbands, boyfriends, kids, and bills and being too busy. There are when-the-boys-were-toddlers play-date friends, and friends on the phone and email friends who camel up on long catch up letters. I have friends for spur of the moment let’s-discover-the-city or play hooky for I-just-found-a-warehouse-lingerie-sale friends. I have friends I have little in common with but we share a history and over time, the sheer quantity of years, becomes a quality of friendship. How dear are the people who knew us when and then. I have friends I adore because they listen and don’t give advice and those that cautiously offer it and can stand me anyway –when I don’t listen, jump off the proverbial cliff, and limp back to cry on their shoulders. There are friends who can tell me about fashion, or tomato soup on sale, and those that steer me out of trouble in my personal life. There are those who are compassionate safe harbors and those those cheerily but firmly tell me to ‘snap out of it’ or lighten up. These are the cold water on my face friends vs. the warm blanket friends. In some friendships, I am the mentor; in others, I am the mentee. I need them all – those who are somewhat like me, and those who just like me when they are not like me at all. They are a bountiful palate with which I paint my life. What they all have in common, this special feminine collective is that they are the brightest, warmest, creative, curious and most decent people you will ever meet.
What I like most about friends is that they remind you who you are and why they like you –on the days when you don’t like you.
When the website is finaly done, the relief is huge. And I like nothing better than to simply call Marla or Wendy or Janet, Laurie or Caryn in Leonia, or Donna around the corner, Trudy at the gym, or email Leone in New Zealand, Ellen in New York State, Susan in Toronto, or Hye, a young minister with five babies to manage while she writes her sermons. All I want to do in those times is simply ask – what are you making for dinner tonight? Nothing heavy – just hausfrau stuff that is centering. I am unashamed to admit that it's how we bond - even in 2008.
As we mature, we will have those losses, some of which I’ve seen this month. Families shrink and expand; births and deaths and feuds and forgiveness- this is the nature of the quilt. But for the stitches that bind, when even family can disappoint – and they can – let’s face it – maybe the newer or enlarged definition of family for this life, these times, these days - is the network of friends - the loving matrix around us. I cherish them like family. They are the blood I choose versus the blood I was born into. I only wish they know, whether they read this editorial or not, or if I forget to mention it or blather through a moment I could have spent in stillness - just how glad I am they are in my life. It makes each moment spent with them, a reunion of the spirit.
And to my baking friends at large – to Mike at the CBC in Toronto, and Michael the bakery owner who worries about me being tired, and yet another Mike, the biscotti maker, to Marla the Mandelbrot maker, Brenda in Cape Cod, Louise, as always, in beautiful New Hampshire, Kitt who shares my love of perfume, and everyone else who comes and goes but sends nice words that land on my computer screen, I wish you all, happy November and happy baking. The days are shorter and darker, true enough - but that only compresses the loving glow from within.
Wishing you sweet times in the kitchen, at the table, and between friends - on both sides of the border.
Editor, Host, Baker
Visit www.BetterBaking.com to see the new Baker's Stash of recipes.
And a little nostalgia:
Bette Midler, Friends
Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy: