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A Note from Marcy

June 2006
The Bountiful Berry Baking Issue

 

From that day on, her domain was the kitchen. This explains the sixth sense she developed about everything concerning food.

Like Water For Chocolate
Laura Esquivel
1992 Anchor Books

Dear Fellow Bakers and Friends of BetterBaking.Com,

Welcome to the June 2006, Bountiful Berry Issue of Betterbaking.com. 

The treats in this issue were sampled by several discerning eaters and all agreed: there is ‘something’ in ‘those scones’ ‘that biscotti’ and ‘that cake’. I think this speaks to a particular food energy that adds to the marvelous taste of home baking, just as one’s personal warmth adds to a feeling of hospitality. Speaking of which, people think I am a good hostess partly because I am a good chef. But mostly I am a good hostess (and a good chef) because I appreciate how, why and what people eat.  This is a skill I have honed both deliberately and unconsciously and yet rarely acknowledge. I am in fact, almost a witch - in a good, Glenda, good witch of the West circa Oz sort of way as most bakers and food people are.

Over the years, I have become attuned to the appetites of friends and family.
I know how to coax a sick child to nibble on cinnamon toast, slurp soothing, egg-drop broths, and spoon up neon-colored Jell-O (the trick is to use less water; makes the Jell-O set faster and firmer; never follow the package directions). I am adept at seducing someone who swears ‘they have to leave’, into somehow lingering over not one, but three cups of coffee and scads of scones. I can change a ‘no thank-you’ into a ‘Maybe I’ll have just one’ faster than anyone I know. I have listened to people tell me they are not hungry in the least and yet manage to sit at my table, (sometimes with their coats on, poised to leave at any moment) and spirit away a plate of warm French bread, cheese, lemony olives and a pot of special herbal tea.  Of the tea, they often say, ‘what is this?” It is any number of potions I custom blend but once – each brew done to the order of the guest at hand. Some guests get chamomile, others get mango/peach, and some merit a gutsy Irish Breakfast. So much depends on what I think they might like or better yet, need.

As a baking intuitive, I have come to know a little about the human soul and what it hungers for, making me a kitchen empath. Once you get that level of your craft, then the least of your time at the range is about recipes. It is not about spices or even technique. Those things follow that first premise of knowing where someone resides – not just in the stomach or appetite but also on the very palate of their spirit. If the soul is hungry, the pangs will resonate until the body listens. What sometimes seems to be physical appetite is often the voice of the soul. When the food served also contains the missing ingredient for both body and soul, harmony and balance return.

You can see this happen when people enjoy your food; they smile and breathe widely as if inhaling pure oxygen with each morsel. No, it’s not about the recipe anymore than it is, as Lance Armstrong puts it, about the bike.

Doubtless it is magic but in culinary terms, we just say –‘ she or he has a touch’ or ‘a way’ with food. It is indeed an alchemy of a sort and one they don’t teach at the Cordon Bleu. You have to be born with it and then pay attention. It you add training, expertise, and then log on miles of kitchen time – it becomes a calling as well as a métier. Baker, pastry chef or chef cuisiniere are just mainstream terms for what is more aptly a culinary practitioner. In fact, hundreds of years ago, ancient medicine men, then pharmacists, chefs and gastronomes were all loosely tethered together; it was quietly accepted that these pursuits were seamless. The notion of  a 'dietician' or a 'nutritionist' was foreign; more strange would be the notion of pitting a gastronome or gourmet against a nutritionist or physician. It would have baffled those of Da Vinci's time and well before him. Food was holistic; what we needed, and was mindfully cooked or baked, was at once 'good' -in terms of both taste and benefit. One's 'diet' referred to food and sustenance. It did not mean either starvation or feast.

What brings on these thoughts? Recently, I was reading various blogs – on food, on baking, on politics, books and perfume. There is a feast of stuff out there. It borders on a feeding frenzy. There is tons of substance and there is also prettily packaged……air. Reminds me of Nilo, a product my brothers and I once tried to mock-market in K-Tel style. Nilo was….nothing. It was air but it was served up like Chanel #5. (Nilo – tastes clean and fresh; has no calories, and goes with anything. Ask for it by name; it’s Nilo or Nothing!)

I was reading baking blogs in particular and got lost in a wealth of neat recipes, gorgeous photos, and write-ups of a bread mishap, or triumph of a rice pudding, or best-ever cupcake. It was so exciting. How much has changed since BB went live in 1997! I  got full just reading. I got so stuffed that I felt saturated and had to close the computer and just breathe.

I wondered:  how do you choose what to read, let alone bake? How do all these blogs survive and who has the energy to blog daily, forgetting that I myself have been blogging rather consistently for the last decade.

This all considered – the plethora of places people can go to collect their baking/reading fare, I realized how lucky I am to have people dropping by BetterBaking.com in the numbers they do. Our art is spare and borrowed; our design is simple and our concept eclectic. I always tell other media types BB is sort of like to baking with an O Magazine slant. We start with baking and we stray off a ways. There is no editor alter ego to say nay. The same free spirit that rows the boats, captains the ship. So, you can find Apple Pie Hamantashen in these digital pages and you can find spirited chat on Jane Austen, rhapsodies on tango, diatribes on scent, and a passion for wheat in all its forms.It is a baking stew – a distillation of moods and baker’s whims that play out in a seemingly cohesive theme each month. There is always an editorial blueprint but by the time publishing time draws near, a primal shift occurs and I am as surprised, as any of you, at what emerges on the home page of BetterBaking.com.

Remarkably, mystically, somehow, the things that are vibrantly appealing to me, however tangential, seem to appeal to many other people. In knowing what my spirit hungers for, I have tapped into a broader appetite. There is not quite six degrees of separation between what I want to explore and what my guests what to bake and explore. Either that, or I have managed to infuse others with my zeal and Piped Piper style, have bid you ease on down the road with me. My baking hunch is born out by your reciprocal taste. Or maybe, it is your energy winging its way back to me. It makes for a busy, pulsing kitchen. Didn't Whitman pen, I hear America singing? I hear America, Canada and the global village baking. I hear the collective crackle of breads cooling, and can imagine the steam swirling out of a blueberry pie somewhere, anywhere from Maine to Manitoba. Geography narrows when flour is in the wind, blowing from cyber recipe to reality bites. Someone is baking; someone else is partaking of the magic. It’s the original food chain.  For that, I thank you for sharing that experience with me. In the end, if I am a good hostess, perhaps it is the company I keep. 

Welcome to summer, brought to you by BB's fresh berry patch of recipes. We wish you happy Father’s Day, glorious convocations (celebrating one here), or wedding bells and start of your vacation – or, all of the above in whatever order they occur. As always, happy baking.

Marcy Goldman
Editor and Host
www.BetterBaking.Com

This issue is dedicated with special thanks, to the BetterBaking.com Test Kitchen testers, and Test Kitchen Manager, Ellen Fuss.

 

 

 


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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