Dear Bakers and Friends,
Welcome to the December 2021 issue of Betterbaking.com!
The year is winding down and for me it’s been a good one, filled with new adventures and opportunities despite the general state of world chaos. I believe you can find both misery and joy on your own inner scoresheet no matter what’s going on externally. For those of you who've been reading me since the beginning, we've spent a quarter of a century witnessing alot of stuff. But on the precipice of this holiday season things feel less isolated, less frantic or maybe we’re all more weathered.
There are always concerns at the macro and micro level but I’m beginning to parse out some pathways for myself. Forget about the ‘new normal’ – there is only the now. The truth is we all change all the time, pandemic or not. In fact even your own bones are different from the bones you had a year ago! Experts maintain that we change 100% of our atoms every 5-7 years. So if you ascribe to this theory you are in fact a totally new person at the most basic level about twice a decade throughout your life. Talk about the ultimate make-over.
Culinary Confessions: I don't like baby carrots - never did.
2021 has been a time where I’ve refined what I like and don’t like and started listening to myself more. What I’ve learned as far as my culinary leanings go. I’m not a fan of hummus and I don’t mind if I never see a baby carrot again. Like Granny Smith apples, baby carrots are eye appealing but let’s be honest; they aren’t shining stars of taste. I can also forgo skin-less chicken filets for a long while, do without pickles, kimchi and pea soup – once all favorites. Let's admit it: nothing tastes more like apple cider vinegar and seltzer water than Kombucha and the former is a fraction of the price.
I recently fibbed to a friend, saying I’m going to eat all plant-based but at least once a week I char a beautiful lean-beef hamburger, replete with caramelized onions and a hunk of ice-berg lettuce and serve it on a homemade roll. Admittedly it’s not very plant forward but it is a feast. I’m also slurping back black tea as if I’m in Boston 1776 and heard some sort of tea-dumping rumour and am making up for pending loss. I still love coffee and discovered Stumptown Coffee Roasters and still adore 49th Parallel Epic Espresso with which I make pour-over coffee. Have you ever had a cup of coffee that was so good you stopped whatever you were doing and re-checked what you brewed? That’s how good Epic Espresso from 49th Parallel is. Oddly, I’ve given up chocolate, chips and ice-cream along with weigh-in days and food tracking. If there’s a diet that promotes some sort of deprivation or excludes whole food groups and tells me I need eight classes of water a day – you won’t find me on it.
And then there’s bread….
For many of you, even you diehard bakers, I know sourdough was just a brief love affair - a brief lockdown stroll through Yeast Town and Dutch Ovenville that lasted a few months in 2020. But I committed and actually married the darned thing. I feed my starter every day and bake every three days or so, experimenting with various flours. As my house has gotten cooler at night my starter also has gotten more reticent. Now I totally appreciate why Gold Rush prospectors slept with a crock of sourdough in their sleeping bags. I stopped short of that but now either wrap the starter in a blanket at night or put it in the oven with the oven light turned on for some warmth. Every morning my better half, i.e. my sourdough starter greets me. It’s either frothing or pouting (no bubble and no froth). If it’s frothing I toss it a smile and make breakfast knowing I have a window of time before I deal with it. If it’s flat line, I remove a half cup of the glop and add back some flour and water. Two hours later it’s expanding with new vigour. Me and my sourdough starter: it’s a whole conversation between two living entities. Are you hungry, I ask it? What do you need? Do you want to be fed or can I let you relax? Is the water too cold; should I warm it up? Was that last floury snack not organic? I’ve begun to realize that life is easier when you just listen and take note. And so goes my dialogue with bread these days. Then there’s the moment our yeasty chats blossom into full song when the bread is baked and sputters and crackles in that melody of a perfect crust.
Being sourdough centric has slowed me down. My doughy marriage is like breathing in and out at this point – an organic rhythm between two life forms. It’s quite beyond bread; I now share my household with a (live) something and am in a committed relationship with it.
In other news, I think I’ve got a handle on the book clubs I host. It’s a total joy discovering new books with new friends. As winter settles in, nothing is more agreeable than to gather with like-minded readers, share a cup of tea or coffee and warm up the Zoom cloud with our discussions. As for my own books, in the New Year, I’ll be moving onto a new cookbook (since Scones is ever closer to being published) and also launching a three-part Wellness series with a local college. It sounds like I’m busy but most of the time, I am in Bath and Body exchanging candles or building outdoor greenery displays – a whole new hobby.
Since Hanukkah is early this year this month's recipe offerings are tilted in that direction. Perhaps I’ll be back before Christmas with some other treats for that holiday (although anything you can bake for Hanukkah will be welcome at Christmas and vice versa) and to wish you Happy New Year. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these selections for the Festival of Lights.
Warm wishes, and happy holidays, and stay safe,
Free Recipe Melted Butter Hanukkah Rugelach
Hanukkah Jelly Doughnuts
Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Babka
Classic Hanukkah Sugar Cookies