Dear Friends and Fellow Bakers,
Welcome to the May 2023 Issue of Betterbaking.com!
As a Taurus I’m naturally May-centric but you have to admit there’s a lot of nice things going on this month. April is a jokester and it’s transitional and the weather is undecided. But May is a balm; it’s as pretty as a gentle sigh after hard times. There’s Cinco de Mayo aka my birthday, then there’s Mother’s Day, National Apple Pie Day, Chocolate Chip, Buttermilk Biscuit and Cherry Cobbler Day, new tulips, wee-and-white Lily-of-the Valley, and strawberry and rhubarb harvests. Of course, there’s also the coronation of King Charles III which heralds in a certain amount of history, pomp and circumstance which in this day and age has its appeal.
Ahem…now before you balk at the perhaps politically incorrect reference to anything class-conscious or ‘empire’ related just let me unpack my thoughts on some of this. It might take a bit and I’m a terrible self-editor but come on, let me in coach.
Speaking of coaches, I’m a fan of the series Ted Lasso on Apple TV about a heart-of-gold, folksie American coach who takes the helm of a floundering UK football (to me: soccer) team. Ted is what one would call a lovely man: polite, no four-letter words, all optimism and positive anecdotes. He brings his boss homebaked shortbread daily just to be nice. The tough team owner, team and fans (and Ted’s own inner demons) all try to break him but he stays the course. They are just being ‘them’ and Ted is, well unshakeably Ted. Ted’s no dope and his tenacity is a version of spine. But he is out of synch with what’s around him and for that, I feel him. I’m part of that tribe. But Ted is not without impact and as the series evolves, Ted doesn’t morph into a nasty version of himself or is otherwise thrown off his essential self. Instead, those around him are inspired and fall in behind him in the ‘Lasso way’. He is a wall of kindness that people crash into, stew over and finally begin to rise up, tapping into their better selves at the behest of that collision.
If Ted were real, I think I would get along with him. I was brought up in a family where manners were a big deal. I think my mother actually had upper/phony class aspirations which is to say, her motivations were suspect but the bottom line was the same: manners counted. It was how you carried yourself especially outside the home. It was a family value, there was an expectation and we were taught how to fulfil it. I don’t think our family was alone in this. Growing up in the 70’s, basic manners were a thing for a lot of people. It was normal to say hello to the post man or asked him to warm up inside with a coffee on a stormy winter day. You wished the cashier at the grocery store well, praised the butcher for a particular good cut, nodded to the bus driver and said ‘excuse me’ if you bumped into a stranger. Factor in that I’m also Canadian and being polite is a national credo albeit one that’s getting a little wonkier. Aside from manners, I was taught that kindness and garden variety decency was the rule, not the exception.
Fast forward to this world, these times. I don’t even want to describe the difference but I’m sure many of us are aware that the world changed long ago and that was heightened by how Covid has played out socially. I find myself telling my three sons (who ask!) what the world was like once-upon-a-time: the politeness and compassion of strangers (ok, also the racism and sexism), the ability to chit-chat with people you didn’t know about more than weather, and being able to wait patiently or simply having patience altogether. You never, ever had a scene in public, showed contempt or overt disrespect. Charm was a noble thing and relationships were built on real connections and time played a part in how things eventuated without the instant chronicling of every second of our lives in real time. We were busy being versus observing ourselves be. So these days, being polite in an uncivilized world is a challenge. Being warm in a cold world makes me want to cry ‘uncle’. I want to cave in everyday and resort to the non-Lasso, non…ah, non ‘royal’ way. But it’s not me.
How do I manage? I do two things. First, I focus on the good moments that do occur each day (the guy that me ‘the wave’ when I let him in front of me in traffic, the extra bagel in my bag or a smile from the UPS guy). I write it down at the end of the day. The second thing I’ve done is to double-down on ‘nice’. I am “Manners Spartacus” in the mall, the parking lot, the doctor’s office or on the phone with Land’s End. The way I see it I have only two choices: to go up or go down or ‘common’. If I go down, then there’s one less person modelling good stuff and my own spirit curls up. And it means the bad guys will have won. Ok – maybe some folks aren’t bad but they are oblivious. We choose how we want to walk in this life. You can choose to be a leader or teacher even if you’re a loner in all this.
Which brings me back to things that are’ royal’ and how the coronation inspires me in a small way. I don’t think of the term ‘royal’ as a class thing; I think of it as a classy thing. I can be “royal” and classy with a high-held chin. Manners, politeness, quiet, civilized moments and traditions aren’t just about history or shallow. These can be an oasis of goodness in a hard world. Does it matter when other people are suffering? Yes –because the manners and civility thing is the light end of the goodness spectrum; rudeness is the light end of the uncivilized thing. That is to say – ultimate in manners is saving someone’s life and the ultimate bad manners is war. I’m lucky I can practise the light end of positivity spectrum; some days more, some days less. One day it’s a friendly hello to a stranger; tomorrow it might be world peace. It doesn’t take money, education or a crown to be ‘royal’. It takes a higher view of the best we can be.
Btw – I didn’t say I’d be concise in this newsletter but I think I did knit it altogether!
In coronation and May news – allow me to share some treats to go with your tea whether you’re hosting a royal coronation party or giving a Mother’s Day tea or brunch. We’ve collaborated with Harney and Son’s Historic Palaces Tea series and with Spode USA and their gorgeous Blue Italian table-ware help make May 8th, on this side of the pond a little more special. For my readers in the U.K, I wish a peaceful and joyous day in Camelot.
Take a glance at the Spode Coronation collection here :
May 6th aside, I am encouraging all of us to break open the good dishes on any day. I did this recently for a new cousin and I had the best time. So have someone over for tea – not on Zoom – invite a new person, old person, a friend, a neighbour or family. Dust and vacuum, bake up some scones or bickies and make a fuss of them and yourself. Go the full nine yards. Put on Chopin or Japanese Breakfast and dance about while the tea is brewing. Talk about exalted things like perfume, organic flour, spring flowers and tea preferences. Sit outside. Breathe in and be aware of gladness.
So much of the Covid storm has passed and yes, it’s a raw world out there at times but you can make it good again – albeit in a different way - but you can model for others. It’s a pay-it-forward to yourself because someone, on some level will notice and a shift will follow and on another day, you might inherit a nice moment with a stranger. It’s either that or duke it out on the bottom and become part of what’s ailing you/us.
It’s “civility’ Spartacus’ calling. Who is with me?
With warm wishes to you all as we greet spring and the Flower Full Moon of May 5th. Happy Birthday fellow Taureans and gentle folk, world-wide.
May or not, happy baking!
Master Baker, Author
Recipes for May 2023
FREE!!! Last Tango Chocolate Cake
Cinco de Mayo Rum Cake
Classic Flakey Strawberries Cream Scones
Ted Lasso Shortbread
Spode in Canada
Spode in the US
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