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A Note from Marcy

April 2004
The Springtime in the Bakery Issue

Hello fellow bakers and friends of BetterBaking.com,

April is finally here and to herald its arrival, this issue offers some springy tastes in the way of classic but new , or Hot Cross Scones if you are a baker in a hurry. For the quintessential maple moment there is a tender Crusty Maple Loaf, or a palate pleasing, lighter-than-springtime Carrot Ginger,Cilantro and Orange Soup. Try either Rhubarb Apple Strudel or Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie to make the most of our first crop of the season. Just in case you need yet another last minute Passover treat, there is Passover Walnut Honey Biscotti. Last, if you tire of holiday fare and need a quick, funky nibble, try the amazing, sweet, crunchy and sassy Peanut Butter and Jam Biscotti.

If you check out www.Epicurious.com as well as Cooking Light Magazine, you will find more recipes in my Passover features for both that site and magazine, respectively. There are also some some great pictures of the recipes.

The BB Test Kitchen has been deluged with questions of late. Each month, more visitors, new friends, and simply wonderful people (and incredibly zealous bakers) like you, find their way to my baking shores. It always feels to me as if we are simply talking over the fence, outside our kitchen windows – sharing not only our ways of baking but a bit of life's wisdom, wit, and wonder. To those who write with some regularity over the years, I say thank you for your thoughtfulness. To my friend Tony S., Dana in Florida as well as Dana in Dallas (or somewhere in Texas) to Janet M. (who has started a home baking operation) and Karen F. who has taken over her synagogue kitchen, gone back to pastry school and launched a dessert business (kudos and hugs to her), to Denise in my test kitchen and a pastry chef in training (at mid life), to Tonia in the heart of the Wenatchee Valley (who reads my notes, sitting in her own bakery), Carolyn-and-daughter in Ottawa, Fredericka, the Philadephia baking grandmother and Michael D.over at the CBC who is a prolific baking wonder,  Debbie at the Opaline Restaurant in L.A. and Dante-the-dancer in L.A.,  Illanya in London, England, Leone of BetterBaking.com Test Kitchens, in New Zealand, Ann in Denisport, MA, and Daniele in New York, (for whom we all say bravo – her son is up for an Emmy re: the Ellen Show) and Morris P. all the way in Missouri, and so many others, I am sending you my warmest appreciation. I know I left people out but ALL your notes, which indicate time on your part , are so cherished. Hearing from those of you who have left social work, law offices, and teaching to become bakers, caterers, bed-and-breakfast owners is also heartening. Yes - believe it or not, there is a baking revolution taking place. (And as for Steven T, culinary student -  that is the last time I am helping you cram for your pastry final at the CIA. Next time, remember to start studying earlier! Besides, I know choux paste basics already!)

Interestingly, several people from across the pond emailed recently, having bought their copy of The Best of BetterBaking.Com from the Books for Cooks store in Notting Hill, England. One wrote to say she bought the book and ran home and immediately made the Notting Hill Brownies from the book. I am going to have to name more of my recipes after places – it is such fun.

Please enjoy this sweet little spring crop of recipes, as well as the Passover Supplement that came out a short while back (it is also appended at the bottom of this note if you missed the recipes). Still breathless from the effort of all this (but rest assured, it is a labor of love), I am already preparing for May. In the meanwhile, with deference to the changing of the clocks in Spring, as well as the Passover story and renewal of Easter,  I share this month’s essay, Waiting for Happy or If I Won the Lotto.

Waiting for Happy or If I Won the Lotto. 

Is it ‘spring ahead; fall back? I always get confused. It is like right and left for me. Never learned it, never learned how or found the trick, and consequently I make wrong turns as a matter of habit and am late for my first scheduled anything in April, post clock-changing, and early, of course, each fall, for the same reason.  Apparently, I have an issue with Time, which might explain my iffy relationship with kitchen timers. I resent being summoned by a bell to tell me the bread is ready or the cookies are burning. So, I always set the timer longer than I need and rely on my sense of scent to let me know the law of return, vis a vis the kitchen. This ties into the fact that I also hate rushing. (Which famous, achieving writer or composer had a butler wake him up at 5 am just so he could go back to sleep and remember he was now a man of leisure?). I get balky if I have to scurry. Not that I am a dawdler, I simply like the luxury of thinking I have time to go at my own pace. It is a richesse of a sort. My household may be a whirling dervish around me (three sons, one main bathroom) but I like to pretend that life is not a millennium madness of too many tasks in too-short day; a day accompanied by the varying rings of cell phones – from the one in my own handbag to the those belonging to others that gleefully play the William Tell Overture in electronic mimicry everywhere you go. But my feelings about time expand to other aspects.

Time, on its own, is neutral. It is what and how we fill it. Time, in math class, says my son Ben, seems to go oh-so-slowly and yet the clock, the very same classroom clock speeds up in music class. How is that possible? The very same clock, reports my son. He is convinced something slows the clocks hands down and then speeds them up again.

Time always flies when we keep tempo with its sedate, benign pace; it is only when we want to escape where we are or hasten the minutes that we end up in a no-win battle against time itself. It is like trying to accelerate when your car hand brake is on.

Someone complained to me the other day, not just about time, but about their work - and how they wish they could win the lotto and then not be ‘stuck’ in their job. They envied me my writer’s life for its less confining structure and oodles of ‘free time’ I must have.  All types of work have their trade offs - there are non-negotiables with a regular 9-5 job but some perks too such as niceties like a dental plan and some pension and security. With a self-employed, creative job - you have more freedom/creativity and whole vistas and worlds to visit, if you apply your crafts and luck shines on you – and very often, sometimes not. In the end, it is not about the job because any job or station in life has both its great moments and yucky ones. There is always someone with more, someone with less. You can get pretty pre-occupied sometimes, on where you have been and where you are going and never quite be ‘arrived’.  So, it has to be about living and accepting where we are. And that is where the notion of time, as in, living in the present, is really all about.

I try and live each day as if I am ‘already’ where I am on the way to. I like to feel as if I already had won the lottery ticket. Because, if I or we did win the lotto, what would change? Certain problems would still be challenges, certain pains would still be there and the things I love would still be the things I love. Maybe I would have a false sense of having more opportunity to love what I love. 

How I came to this wisdom was not the result of a sabbatical in Cape Cod watching the tide roll in and out. No, it came from difficulty. I remember, not that many years ago, a plethora of horrors seem to befall me. Not a few or minor ones and not for a month or two but for what seemed an endless spat of time. Frankly, it was almost biblical. Eventually, I stopped looking up and waiting for things to change. I decided to ‘be’ where I was and revel in it all, regardless, because there was no telling when the rain would stop. While I believe all things happen for a reason, the reason has yet to reveal itself. Sometimes, stuff just happens. A friend commented on my happy mood one day, despite events of the day, and questioned how I could be cheery in light of the outer landscape. I responded “I guess I have been down so long it feels like ‘up’ to me’. (I stole that line – I think it is from a Broadway show or tune as is most of my life).

Somewhere along the line and in the valley of those difficulties, I decided that rather than ‘wait for happy’ I simply behave as if I was already there. My mood was mine, and like the Gershwin tune, ‘they can’t take that away from me’.

From that obscure moment, I elected to try my best, to make a picnic, mood-wise, wherever I was in my journey. If this is as good as it was going to get, I figured, I would put down tent pegs anywhere I happened to find myself and start the party now. I refuse waiting on the passage of time, lotto results, and better times, in particular, in order to partake of life.

Previous to that epiphany, I remember thinking I would be happy when I met Mr. Right, when I win the lottery, when this, when that or when and what/if I make the New York Times bestseller list. Ah, take a moment here. Just imagine…….

Extra! Extra!

Cookbook Author Turned Novelist Lands Highest Ever Book Advance

At the recent who’s who publisher gala press event, Phoenix Publishers and emerging cookbook author-turned novelist Marcy Goldman shared the spotlight.  Nora Ephron and Jacques Pepin did the honors in reading excerpts form new novel, Wheat Siren, an upbeat tale of a baking entrepreneur who beats the odds, fuses words and wheat in a riveting story of redemption that the author says, is a true passion play. The book, heralded as a not-so-cautionary tale, is connecting audiences worldwide, of all generations. The buzz for Wheat Siren is loud and in an odd offshoot of its popularity, bread sales are up. Although some ardent Atkins followers have voiced some protests concerning text, the book has scored high points on Oprah’s Book Club throughout the nation. “Art is life. Bread is life. Goldman gets it’, says America’s top talk show host.

The book advance announcement was the event of the year. Held at the prestigious restaurant landmark, La Cirque, the occasion marked another first wherein the author herself baked prize-winning desserts, oversaw the pastry staff and at mid evening, doffed both toque and chef’s jacket to take a stint at reading an excerpt, enjoy the kudos and mingle with the crème de la crème of both the literary and culinary worlds.

Commented Steven Spielberg, on hand to sign movie rights/book deal, “Goldman’s way with words, not to mention her Pulitzer-prize winning rugulah, pack a punch”.  Spielberg, chatting with a dark- haired, vibrant ingénue with a bright smile, who is apparently slated for the lead in the film version of the book, tucked into the evening’s memento: a silk bag filled with dulce de leche cookies, a recipe from the novel. Munching thoughtfully, the Oscar winning film maker observed,  “You know, the best films are true stories  - true stories that have a happy ending – that is what makes the movies, magic. Heck, that is what makes America great’. Asked if it made a difference that the protagonist is Canadian, the director simply said, ‘A great story is a great story. Especially a great story from the kitchen. Food is the great equalizer. Whether it takes place in Montreal or Milwaukee are details and will be ironed out in the screenplay’. The filmmaker later confirmed that the set for Wheat Siren is already in design and confided it will showcase the most authentic bakery ever shot on film. “We know the story is a classic. It is about love and bread – what could be more fundamental?”

Right……in Quebec, we call this sort of inflated fantasy  ‘dreaming in color’ – but to ‘reve en couleur’ is the only way to dream.

I think you get the point - what if I am not happy then – when things are perfect and you reach the Happy Ending? Just think, what if… everything comes to pass as I wish (or as you wish and yearn for)? What if all my (and your) ‘what ifs’ and ships come into port and we still complain? Imagine, instead of waiting and hoping, I actually do lose those last 5 pounds, balance my bankbook, meet the guy, and get the book deal. What if I discover these things were not the destination  - they are simply noble to-do list items that give the journey its form? And, that this gives me pause....what if, I end up deferring happiness until perfection drops by only to find out that I have not properly prepped for life in the positive zone? It would seem to be then, not about goals achieved but attitude mastered.

So, I try and be happy now - as is. Wasting the present, wishing it to speed up - that’s the real sin. But moreover, training for happy now means that when more blessings come, I will be schooled, so to speak, in bliss.  If I must defer anything, let it be worry.

I have never had much patience, true, but the notion of waiting on happy seems one of the self-impoverishing things to do. I imagine the Israelites fleeing Egypt. Within a 40-year trek, surely, once in four decades, they managed to stop and enjoy the moment, be with the stars and notice the glory of the dessert. I am similarly confident, and for this there is proof galore, the American and Canadian settlers, on their way west in expansion of the 1800’s, did indeed, camp out a night or two longer when they could have made more miles and challenged the seasons. I can envision the fiddles and banjos, dancing shadows on the canvas screens of the covered wagons, special vittles, the good linen, and some blackberry cordial being passed around in graniteware cups. They knew, just as those seeking the Promised Land and Mecca before them, that the promise of tomorrow is often found in the present. Best to revel where you are or you will never arrive.

Speaking of never arriving, there are people for whom the bar is always set higher. You tell them you take pilates, they respond by telling you there is a new course in Power Pilates. You speak of a great new flour, they tell you of the evils of carbohydrates. You wax lyrical over some modest achievement or lesser dragon slain; they react by asking which you next goal is or if you could have aimed yet higher. I call these people the Horizon Shifters. As far and as unreachable as the horizon is, they manage to shift it further still – like a maniacal stage crew, unobtrusively altering the set of Life, they keep moving the cardboard horizon, sun, and stars a bit further all the time. If you try and get them to see that being present is indeed a real horizon you do reach, you will only tire yourself out. So, even with these good souls, you learn not to aspire to their ‘what if’ version of their inner terrain. Never arriving is like never catching your breath and it is the antithesis of the notion of being present; being there. And yes, there is a ‘there’ there – you have to bookmark it with your own certainty. It is like an inner map in your personal Disneyland that says, ‘you are here’. (and beware of Horizon Shifters!)

At the end of the day, I don't want to wait to 'get happy' – or happier . I want ‘happy’ right where I am standing – in traffic, or a dour Monday morning when an editor emails another ‘no thank you’ or when the bread fails to rise.  If I wait for happy or wait for perfect, Time will simply, imperviously (because that is what Time does best) march by and wave at me with glee as it passes. If I tutor myself now in how to be happy by the time all my ships come into harbor, (the lotto, the weight loss, the house in the country, the guy, the book deal), I will be a spiritual warrior at the wharf, greeting the ‘happy’ boats, so to speak. Actually, forget being a spiritual warrior on the wharf greeting the returning ships of happiness - I want to be the damned lighthouse that navigates them home to begin with!

Here’s wishing you the gift of knowing where you are.  Here’s wishing we remember that in appreciating each present moment, as it ticks by we ultimately inherit a long chain of happy minutes, nay hours, nay, perhaps even an entire life that reverberates with wonder for the indelible thrill of simply being in it for the ride – however bumpy. 

Happy Spring, remember to re-set the clock, and always, sweet times in the kitchen,

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

Passover Recipe Supplement

Some Must Haves:

Horseradish, Sweet and Hot
Head clearing, none can be better than homemade

 Sweet Style Gefilte Fish
You can do it. Trust me. If you can make hamburgers, you can make gefilte fish.

Paradise or Eat-It-As-A-Main-Dish Haroses
Of everything I make, this is my personal favorite.

Some 'Sides':

Chopped Layered Salad
A new tradition in a make-ahead salad

Passover Caponata
Another hearty, flavorful surprise to serve in a sea of brisket!

Gingerale Glazed Sweet Potato, Carrot and Dried Fruit Tzimmes
Make ahead, tangy and sweet, and a beautiful orange hue.

A Main Event:
Brisket In Red Wine
What’s Passover without this?

Some Sweets:

Classic Passover Sponge Cake
Da classic – be it ever so humble

Apple Cherry Kugel
The 'bread pudding' of the matzoh set.

Passover Chocolate Walnut Truffle Torte
Decadence at the sweet table


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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