Month: December 2010

Cookies and Cake

It’s this time of year when all the cooking magazines start showing up filled with cookie recipes for the Christmas season. With final projects for academic classes only recently submitted and tests all through the past week, I haven’t been able to find many spare minutes for looking at the recipes. When I do sit down with a cookbook, it’s generally for work. I have no complaints about “having” to bake one a week and getting paid for it. There is a challenge in finding recipes week after week that use the same basic ingredients available at an operation that caters so much more to its kitchen side that the baked goods are nearly an afterthought. There’s chocolate and there are apples, but the only other fresh fruits that show up tend to be lemons. Expense mixed with functionality means no hazelnuts, pistachios, or cashews. Doing it once a week means I have to try not to make a tart every week, or have the same flavors twice in a row.

Behind these requirements pulling at my time, this hour for economics, these hours for English class readings, these hours for work, I can sense the flavors of holiday baking and the cookie recipes, new and old, that are waiting to be made. My mother has been stocking the pantry with sugar, nuts, and different types of chocolate. There’s vanilla extract, in its bottles, and vanilla beans, in glass tubes. Measuring vanilla, with its dark liquidity and small amounts, I can always make myself feel like an alchemist.

There’s also a gingerbread house cake on the list. I’ll pair up with my brother to decorate it, and I have already forced him to bake the cake itself with me. After years of experimenting with different construction materials, from gingerbread to graham crackers, the general consensus in our house is that cake is the sturdiest base material. We call them gingerbread houses no matter the construction material – our cake is technically a spice cake. There’s a pile of candies on the side counter, ready to be turned into windows, doors, pipes, Christmas lights, and walkways. Some siblings are planning on focusing on the cake scraps, using them to build sheds, dog houses, or cottages. Since even one candy coated cake, with frosting, pretzels, gummy worms, and red hots piled around the outside, takes our family a while to get through, we’ll be giving all but one cake away, to neighbors, friends, and extended family.

So, with classes over for the semester, and work slowed down to almost nothing during the same time, and Christmas in only four days, I’ll be grabbing all those cookie recipes, decorating my cake house, and otherwise submerging myself in a cloud of powdered sugar and cocoa powder.

-The Holiday Baker

Wisdom vs. Knowledge

Deliberate art, forced rhythm and rhyme
Creating an object divorced from time
Pulling together or forcing apart
Showing that ages do not change hearts
But ethereal knowledge and fears
Entirely changeable over the years
Guidance from God needed, to soften the blow
Man never comprehends what he professes to know

Transfer Post: Need

One of my favorite remnants from Creative Non-fiction class…

I can feel a drop of water, barely moving downwards on my cheek.  My hair is wet and I am waiting my turn for a haircut.  A squeak-hum of bicycle wheels is coming from the next room, where my father is using up energy before bed.  Close to me, the metallic sounding snip of scissors, as my mother finishes with my brother’s hair.  It is so dark now that when I try to look out of the window, I only see my reflection.  The ambient sounds, the hour of the night, everything has meshed into a feeling of contentment.

I had been happy all day, but not this deep sense of everything being exactly as it should. This afternoon, browsing the books section at Costco, while waiting for tires to be changed on my car, I opened up a cookbook and, suddenly, I needed to bake something.

There is a reason that I am majoring in Culinary Arts.  I am nearly always ready to mix up some baked good or help put dinner together.  This was a different feeling though, beyond wanting to work in the kitchen or being willing to do so.  When it comes, like it did in the Costco aisle today, I feel as though if I don’t get into the kitchen soon, something will break.  Energy, pressure, builds up at the thought of mixing batter or kneading dough.   I think of all the things I have ever wanted to bake, all the things I have recently been planning to bake.  I want to stay in the kitchen for hours and days, mixing, mixing, and mixing.
I didn’t explode in the store, or in the car, either.  But as soon as we arrived home, I pulled the log of frozen puff pastry, left from my mother’s birthday dinner nearly a week past, in the refrigerator to thaw.  I left my math homework out of sight inside my bag and stepped into the backyard.  The wind was blowing wildly, but the sun was still shining and I left off shoes in favor allowing my feet to feel the rough rocks that paved the area around the oven.  The wind blew my fire out.  I lit it again and the wind blew it out again.  We repeated the pattern a few more times, until, in a lull, I managed to get it lit and block the wind out with the door.  Then, inside, I took the puff pastry, melted butter, cinnamon and sugar, and a rolling pin.  I rolled out the pastry, brushed it with butter, gave it a generous sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar, folded it up into a log, and sliced it lengthwise.  I placed each nascent cookie on a sheet and gently pressed them flat.  Then, the urge was gone.  I was still enjoying myself, but it was a relaxed enjoyment.  I finished heating the oven and baked off the cookies.  I ate one, fed one to my mother, two to my sister and left the rest for grabs on the tray.  And I took out my math homework.

I don’t have any idea, really, why I work the way I do.  Why, if I go too long without playing with food in some way or another, a feeling of unease grows.  It never has to be complicated, I just have to touch it, feel it, and manipulate it in some way.  Everyone can’t be like this, because not everyone likes to cook.  But perhaps some people needed to be created with this urge to cook that is so strong it is almost like being forced to do so.  Perhaps, in order to feed those people like my father, who will exercise every day of the week and more, and my brother, who lives in a state of perpetual motion, and my mother who always has something on her to-do list, there need to be people like me, who will bake every day of the week and more.