Confessions of a Sentimental Baker

I’m not a recreational cook. I prepare food to eat it, though I discovered that I enjoy a simple cooking process or also putting together a meal with my family or a group of friends. While the end goal is always to eat, for anyone, with time I’ve grown into my own understanding of the special moments of eating and cooking together.

My mother comes from a family with lengthy branches of extended relatives on either side, with multiple family units, and she inherited the gift for efficiently prepared and delicious meals. Not to mention sharing this gift again and again, to this day, with her own big family. Scheduling, time-saving measures, a fair amount of multi-tasking among mothers and grandmothers, gatherings around a kitchen table that would inevitably lead the way to jokes and stories that were passed on in the future – all this, together with and around the process of cooking, contributed to the fundamental base of home and family. Many of those mothers, grandmothers and aunts also developed their own recipes.

My father, being a scientist with an eye for taking things apart and seeing how individual components relate to each other to create a whole, is adept at following a complicated recipe that might involve several hours of labour. It was a treat when he had time to do this and I remember how, as children, we were entranced by one dish where the pieces of spiced meat were carefully wrapped up in foil (so shiny) and stuck in the oven. He was also always willing to lend his strength (and patience) to mixing or rolling out dough to the necessary thinness, also for layers that had to be put in the freezer first – my sister and I were very keen on puff pastry for a while.

Baking stands out to me because of childhood memories of spending time with my mother and, of course, knowing that I would get a treat. I remember my sense of importance when we were allowed to shape dough into anything we liked or use cookie cutters. My mother would regularly bake in the evenings as well for the week ahead. When we were older, sometimes we would come to the kitchen after already having gone to bed, drawn in by the aroma of baking cinnamon buns.

My sisters are both good at understanding more intricate baking recipes and proceed with focused confidence once they start. There was a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1980s in our house that had amazing photographs. My sister and I spent a large share of our early teens trying out various recipes and sitting in front of the oven, watching a cake take shape.

I’ve come back to baking at home this year, after I realized I missed it. Tonight’s cake didn’t turn out like expected, namely it crumbles easily, but it’s still perfectly edible, and thanks to the chocolate frosting (which turned out amazing) the apartment smells lovely.

 

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For the Anxious Cook

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that most of us have to cook. Whether boiling an egg or making toast, or whipping up a birthday cake to ensure you get asked to bake cakes for the rest of your life. Cooking is unavoidable. Even for those of us who may have tried.

Rewind a few years back and I was standing in my student dorm kitchen, pouring boiling water in to a big mug filled with powder from a packet promising soup. A few energetic stirs with a spoon, et voila. This was a good solution for nights when the kitchen was too crowded for “real” cooking or when one had to study for exams. Not to mention it was easy on a student budget. Later I got to know a girl who studied nutritional science. When I asked her what was actually in those “soups”, she rolled her eyes and said I didn’t want to know.

I kind of thought so all by myself, but hearing this from someone who actually dealt with food put things in a different perspective.

I switched to canned soup.

Gone are the days. Of course I didn’t exist solely on powdered products that resembled food once you poured boiling water on them, even if the kettle was my big friend. But I had gotten in to the habit of easier cooking and sometimes the choices were based on convenience due to circumstances, rather than creativity.

Once I got my own kitchen to spread out in, I discovered that I was a bit of what’s mentioned in the title of this piece, a subject I also partly addressed in my previous post about hosting a dinner party at home. I felt anxious about cooking. So what is an anxious cook to do? Well:

Don’t stop trying new things when you actually really want to

I felt even more anxious when the blueberry loaf I wanted to bake came out runny and flat from the oven. This actually led to months of not baking. Wrong action! I had wanted to continue baking, but I was a deflated by the setback. After the initial trauma and neurotic reactions you can bake a few simple things to get a good idea of how your oven works and whether you might need to change a product you use. If you do have to throw something away, breathe through your nose a few times and try again. Obviously this example translates to other types of cooking, not just baking.

Work around and polish the skills you have

We don’t always stop to think about the sometimes basic, but useful things we do in the kitchen that we are good at. A friend of mine is adept at cutting vegetables in to thin, even strips, so he worked on it with those that needed some practicing, like potatoes. He usually fries everything he slices, and after a while he started including finely sliced meat with his dishes. It became a specialty of his and I discovered there were lots of recipes and ideas for cooking around this particular skill. It didn’t have to be hard, it just needed to stay enjoyable. If you’re good at tossing salads, you already know there’s a billion ways to keep that going. It also means you might be good at mixing things in general and probably have an eye for making food look attractive.

Bottom line: you can cook!

Also: recipes, cookbooks and food blogs were put on this planet to make life easier. Find authors and sources that appeal to you.

Remember!

As a kid I’m guessing you couldn’t wait to get your hands in to that dough (even if for reasons not related to cooking), shell peas or help to carefully spoon cream on your favourite pastries?

Find that kid!

If all else fails, two options remain. You can do this:

keep-calm-and-google-it-2

Or this:

keep-calm-and-call-your-mom(Or you can order in, but sshh.)

Images: The Keep Calm-O-Matic