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A Note from Marcy

March 2003
A Note from Marcy

Hello fellow bakers and friends of BetterBaking.Com,

Welcome to March. Things are still chilly but winter’s grip has been challenged with the extended sunset each day, the appearance of a fat cardinal on my deck, and that smell: clear air, with a touch of mud and promise of green under the snow. Is there a perfume headier than that? This issue is an eclectic one that covers a touch of this and a touch of that because March, while no December, has its share of baking holidays to salute. Soon enough the BB Test Kitchen, and yours, will be embroiled with Easter breads and Passover delicacies (promise – I’ll do my best) and for May, well, let’s just say, get your finest tableware ready.

Is it just me or is time racing faster?  My days seem to tumble together in one personal reality show that has no specific hook but is filled, nevertheless with twists and turns of everyday life. It is fraught with mini adventures, challenges and minor dragons to slay. The good news is that no one is filming it or me.

What keeps things steady in fact is baking and writing because they are two things I do on a regular basis – by the hour in fact. Both things are joys that require I simply stay put. You might say, it keeps me grounded.  Being grounded is a wonderful thing. But sometimes, you need to import fresh tastes in order to stir up the pot a bit.

How many times have you heard the expression, ‘you are what you eat.’ In food circles, you hear that a lot. You are what you eat means: if you eat healthy, you glow, if you eat drive-thru, it shows. But I also believe you are what you think. It just seems logical that as diet nourishes your body, whatever you ingest in the way of thoughts, notions, and ideas – food for thought, as a manner of speaking, is reflected in our thoughts, mood, and feelings. As you pep up your palate, especially this time of year, so, I for one, pep up my mood by changing the bill of fare. I would really like to take off for Paris and check out a bistro a la carte menu but instead, I pack my knapsack and head off to a huge bookstore around the corner at least once a week for a sabbatical near me.

You know the type of bookstore : Starbucks tucked inside, Brazilian guitar playing bossa nova music, green plants, benignly smiling sales ‘associates’, and heaps of magazines, and acres of green broadloom and a maze of rosewood bookcases. I am greeted by some of my favorite people: Jane, Walt, Robert, and Will. C.S. Lewis gives me a wink, Ayn Rand nods, and Laura Ingalls Wilder is  dusting off her pinnie. She is sitting near Lucy Maud Montgomery who is having a great chat with Margaret Mitchell. Lewis and Clark are regaling all who will listen with their tales…..or so I can imagine.

The bookstore is my pass to a multitude of worlds just pages away. It is a well refreshes and revitalizes me. It is also a place to get lost. Unlike Cheers, where everybody knows your name, I hunger for a place where no one knows my name and no one is asking me to sign a field trip paper. Traveling incognito is traveling light – and that is where my urban adventure begins.

I gravitate to the magazines section, reading a few that are new and wonder for the 100th time, what Wallpaper is about, decide that Real Simple is real evident, and how come I never knew about Donna Hay before and if a magazine called Marcy, would sell as well as one called Oprah. Hey, a girl can dream. Mind you, my sons would never talk to me again if Marcy Magazine ever hit the stands. They are supportive but all good men have their limits.

Magazines done, I stock up with a cup of coffee and start my bookstore journey.

Depending on the day and mood, I might start in Home Decoration and check out how to grow bonsai trees, decorate a la shabby chic, or find out how to build twig furniture. As I mosey through the Feng Shui Section (taking note: move picture in front hallway; allow breeze through kitchen, turn family photos south), soap making basics, and decoupage, I discover I have crossed over the gardening and the subject is roses. I could literally dive into those humongous photographs of vibrant, impossibly perfect, real, roses – photographed with Georgia O’Keefe intensity. Impulsively, I decide that this summer I will become a gardener. Not a get-the annuals-in-before-end-of-June-gardener but a real, study the soil, composting, plan for constant ‘show’ gardening, kind of gardener. (In that same brief flash, I also forget my terror of worms and that given the choice between plowing earth or kneading dough there is no contest.)

I make a vow to study roses and be a student of thorns, petals, and the pungent scent of heirloom tea rose buds. I outwardly wince when I read about the scentless hybrids (the mules of the rose world in a manner of speaking – a rose without scent – whoever developed that!). As changeably as the March weather, I forget the roses and give it up for wildflowers. Oh what pictures!  Cape Cod cottages with bayberry bushes, and borders of purple-blue bachelor buttons and Indian paintbrushes. Wait, there is a source guide in the Wildfowers of the North East book. I can send away for seed packets that have names that come from Little House on the Prairie. Ok – game over. I‘ve spotted a book on lavender from France.

In the end, I don’t actually buy a book on gardening but I do remember I have a new edition of Walden Pond sitting on my night table at home. I make a mental note that I have a later date with Henry David when I will commune with nature yet again without so much as having touched a house begonia.

All this traveling calls for more coffee. I graduate from the mezzo regular brewed coffee (well, not so regular, I mix 1/2 Siren’s Blend and half Sumatra for a medium dark coffee – the barristas hate me. I am the Meg Ryan of coffee patrons: I want it this way, that way, half this, half that, and on the side). Instead, I order a hot-spiced cider – a seriously new age brew for some serious Self Help Books in a very well–traveled few aisles. I browse The Idiot’s Guide to Self-Esteem (no joke), Jump, The Net is Always There, Flying Without A Net, Toxic People, Toxic Pets, Women Who Think Too Much, Women Who Love Men Who Talk Too Much, What Every Woman Wants Every Man To Know, What Every Man Cannot Say But Would If You Could Listen, Stupid Mistakes Smart People Make, Mensa’s Guide to Manners, If Buddha Was Married, Fear of Failure, Fear of Success, and Embracing Imperfection Perfectly. Suddenly, I trip on a book that someone has left on the floor.  It is a copy of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. I put it back on a shelf but it reminds me to check my itinerary: there is only an hour left before the train leaves and I have not boarded the cookbook part of the trip yet.

Cookbooks – was there every a better section (discounting the classics and biographies?). Here I get to visit with people whose names and recipes I know and respect and some are friends and culinary pals I do know. I see how other great minds create ten amazing things with a summer tomato or read about couscous in Marrakech and how to build an outdoor bread oven. I note trends and styles in food,  peruse the acknowledgments to friends, spouses, agents, farmer markets and meticulous editors. I pause in respect for the multitude of great voices that line the shelves simply labeled Cookbooks. These are not just cookbooks; this is a universe those nexus is fusion cuisine.  Of course,  I check for my own books and give a coy look around. “Oh, were you looking for a baking book’, I want to say to some poor, unsuspecting fellow browser. “Here’s a good one” and restrain myself from whispering, “Try the Lawsuit Muffins, I hear they’re really good.”

The warm cider drink is tepid,  the sun has changed position and I realize with the same shake you elicit after waking from a good dream that my boys are due home. For someone in food, I rarely have supper planned, let alone prepared and I promised, really promised, tonight – I was going to do a real meal like the other mothers. Time to pack up. It’s a short pack. Leaving is sweet sorrow, anticipating the next visit, sweeter still.

Two hours in the bookstore is a voyage that offers lasting souvenirs for the imagination. 120 minutes later and my mind is adrift with both literary and sensory awareness. If I had things on my mind before I went into the bookstore, they have all but disappeared. Books not only offer me new thoughts, they rearrange the ones I had. What was impossible becomes unlimited potential. What was stagnant, regains its flow simply for partaking of a meal at another writer’s table. Whatever was my preoccupation before is now married to new images, and pungent possibilities. I resolve to organize a kitchen drawer a la feng shui, or have a notion to take a sprig of lavender from the potpourri bowl and crumble it up over the pine kitchen table. For a change. Just because. It is same things but new context. In fact, everything feels like a whole new ball game.

We are what we eat. We are also more than the sum total of what we read – for literary ingestion is nutrition of another order. In a word, it is stirring. Other writers, other voices – a banquet of shared humanity. On bookstore days, in lieu of a trip to Paris in springtime, I just want to consume the world – page by delicious page.

Wishing you sweet times, and happy baking,

Marcy Goldman
Writer, Head Baker, Host
www.BetterBaking.Com
1997-2004
 

A Passion for Home Baking
The Baker’s Collection of New Recipes

Paris Baguette
Ever get stuck on a grove – but a good grove? Recently, I found a way to crispy, crusty, bread that is so easy, I have been making this recipe once a day ever since. Somebody, stop me (but soon, not yet). So, they went to Paris and all they brought back was the baguette recipe? Ah heck, just bake it. There’s al

Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)
Krispie Kreme move over! These doughnuts, with a proudly Polish heritage are made of a tender brioche-like dough. A Detroit specialty at this time of year, now they’re one of ours. A Mardi Gras/Lenten treat.

Almost Cherry Garcia Cookies
One of our most requested recipes from the new cookbook. It never fails to strike a sweet chord. A bonus this month – making the Baker’s Batch a baker’s half dozen (that means 7 recipes, count ‘em)

Deep Dish Oven Apple Puffy Pancake
Two cups of pancake mix, four jaunty Macs and thou. A puffy, sweet little pancake for two or more. Memories of Fat Tuesday anytime – anywhere.
Quick, easy, gorgeous diner fare for a Sunday brunch in March.

Best Ever Apricot Hamantashen
Delicate, buttery dough. Tangy, vibrant filling. Eat one, scoff down a dozen but try to remember to share. After all, that’s the Purim spirit. For more of my recipes and ideas for  Purim Theme Baskets, check out Kosher Cuisine at www.clabbergirl.com.

Buttermilk Irish Soda Bread
One of those things that should be celebrated – a wheaty, honest, soda-risen loaf that is all heart and heart, all tradition and beautiful simplicity. If you haven’t made Irish Soda bread, had it slathered with sweet butter and a cup’o Assam tea, you’ve been missing a slice of something divine and totally unsung. Do take up the torch for this round, homey loaf.

Classic Passover Sponge Cake
Packed with chocolate, brown sugar, and butter in a confection-like classic bar that is not an Atkins recommendation. It is however, these are good for medicinal occasions such as yucky Mondays, hectic Saturdays, washing machine repairmen that didn’t show, and lost-your-car-again sort of days. Hear the Congo drumbeat? It’s saying ‘eat me’. Bada-dum.


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, Ive 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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 BakerBoulanger / BetterBaking.com 1997-2003