Posts tagged ‘breakfast’

Cream Cheese Rippled Pumpkin Bread

Last week I turned in my senior quote. I did a slight twist on Harriet van Horne’s quote and submitted, “Baking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.” Every aspect of my life, baking no exception, intertwines with heartfelt emotion, passion, and optimism. I have always been, and will always be, a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve.

I’m the kind of person who is confident about true love, believes that all people deep down are born good, and can’t help but suspect that karma really exists. I have never been someone who places priorities on logic and cold hard facts, but instead intuition and what your heart is telling you.

English, history, and topics involving different cultures and philosophies are predictably my favorite classes. I despise science and math. To me, those subjects emphasize a detachment that I can’t get past. I don’t see the beauty in numbers and unchanging, unemotional laws.

It seems that I would see baking the way that I see everything else – throw my soul into it, use feel instead of precise measurement, and consider recipes more like suggestions. There’s such a romance to imagine being in the kitchen without notes, just using your heart to produce something beautiful, and yet, it’s just not how I work.

On Halloween, my friends D- and M- came over to bake. If they were expecting me to approach baking the way I see the rest of the world, with a carefree attitude and sentimental lightheartedness, they were surprised. They did all the measuring and mixing themselves, but they had to be as precise as my standards. As M- measured out the flour, I showed him how to fluff it up in the bin, fill the cup using a spoon, and level it off with a knife. I showed D- how to use the scale when portioning the cream cheese.

M- began to use the wrong side of the knife to level the sugar, using the curved edge and measuring out less than the full cup. When I pointed this out, he rolled his eyes and said, “Jeez, Elissa, baking isn’t a science.”

Without even thinking, acting on pure instinct, I told him, “Yes it is.”

Yes, there is a romance to imagine someone working without recipes, knowing the exact feel of the dough. But I’m not experienced enough to know everything by feel and create recipes in my head. And while I’ll frequently swap ingredients in recipes to match my preferences, I am as exact and scientific about measuring as possible. While it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of my outlook on the world, it works for me.

In science especially, I find the need for precision exhausting. I’m not patient enough to pipette liquid into a beaker drop by drop to get exactly 30 ml. I just get bored repeating the same experiment five times to get enough trials for an accurate average. But weirdly enough, this is one of my favorite parts of baking.

When I chop and measure out exactly 4 ounces of chocolate, using my little scale, I focus so intently that I don’t think about anything else. Classes, college apps, my social life – none of it even makes an appearance when I bake. It’s not possible for my mind to totally clear while I have so many responsibilities, but there isn’t much room left over to think about my grades while I’m weighing 100 grams of sugar.

It was weird to realize that I see baking as a science, but I stand by it. I love knowing how the ingredients work together, seeing how a slight change in ingredient or technique can drastically change a dessert. Even though I love the idea of an Italian grandmother making gnocchi by memory, or a patient baker kneading dough entirely on feel, I also love the way I feel when the scale reads exactly three ounces. Somehow, I can see a beauty in that too.

The pumpkin bread that I made with D- and M- was devoured in minutes that night at a Halloween party. When I arrived with the warm loaf, only one person was hungry enough to cut a small slice. But when he went back to practically inhale another, everyone followed, and the loaf was cut into huge square chunks until every last crumb was gone.

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November 12, 2009 at 2:41 am 76 comments

School, Seattle, The Northwest… The World?

I think the first time it happened was near the end of April last year.

I was standing in line for lunch, feeling bored and hungry and a little irritated, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and faced a girl I didn’t recognize, whom I’d never met before. She looked a little nervous and said, “Sorry, I just had to ask – are you the girl with the food blog? My mom and I really like your photography.”

It was such a strange feeling and such an unexpected moment, to be recognized. It didn’t feel like fame, but I had no idea how else to put it. I thanked her, gave a real smile because I was grateful and honored, and went on with my day in a much better mood. But it’s happened over and over again since then.

On Facebook, I have an album called “Food Photography.” It has around 250 comments and is “liked” by 40 people, many of whom I never talked to until they complimented me on my baking. I’ll be sitting in environmental science when someone will quietly complain, “I’m so hungry!” and give me a meaningful look. The sophomores who ride my bus smile at me and ask if I’ve made anything neat recently. And teachers stop me in the hallway to say they’ve heard about my blog, and could I please write down the address for them?

Even though I’m a senior and my high school is relatively small, I’m not well known. I have classes with the same people over and over, and I’ve never been much of a social butterfly. And I know I’ve said this before, but it’s true – when I first created 17 and Baking I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it was embarrassing. I didn’t think it would be cool to have a food blog. I thought people would think I was weird. So I kept it to myself and tried to hide it from the world.

I only showed it to one of my friends when I’d written about him, and I thought he would get a kick out of seeing it. To my surprise he ended up making a blog of his own (suited to his own interests) and linked to mine. Unlike me, though, he wasn’t shy about sharing, and soon many of my classmates had seen his blog – and through it, mine. (If you are interested, he has a great economics blog called the Marginalist.)

To my surprise, people didn’t think it was uncool or strange. Food is universal. Food brings people together. Because really, when it comes down to it, who can resist anything warm and fresh from the oven, whether a sweet chocolatey cookie or a soft chive-studded cream cheese biscuit?

As I began to write this post this morning, I received a message on Facebook from an old friend I haven’t talked to in four years, N-. “Hi Elissa,” she wrote. “I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but my big sister goes to Berkeley and she loves to bake, and she likes your blog.” N- continued on to tell me that her sister decided to have a bake off with her new roommates. One of them suggested a certain cookie recipe from “this blog… seventeen something…” to which N-’s sister (whom I’ve never met) exclaimed, “That’s Elissa!”

It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard, to have spread not only through school and the food blogging world but to college students in California simply having a bake-off. It lifts me off my feet and makes the sun shine out of my heart. Thank you for reading my blog – thank you, thank you, thank you!

Normally I wouldn’t, but I’ve got to ask – if you’re reading this, please leave a comment! Whether it’s your first time visiting or I’m welcoming you back, I’d really appreciate it if you left your location. I’m just curious to know where my readers are. I’ll start… Seattle, WA!

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October 9, 2009 at 10:40 am 1,571 comments

In the Kitchen with Dad

This morning I woke up to Tilly and Otis. They were both sitting on top of me. Otis was staring at my bedroom window, eyes locked on a fly buzzing on the glass, and Tilly was lying on my stomach and gazing intently at me. Ever since we got Tilly back, I appreciate every moment with her more than ever and she seems to appreciate it too.

Although it’s been a week since Tilly came home, Dad still gets calls from people who think they saw her. While most are mistaken, a few have been right, and we’ve been able to piece together a bit more about what happened to her that night. Once again, I’m utterly amazed by how compassionate people are. Tilly was smack in the middle of a four lane 40 mph road, at night in the rain. A woman saw her and actually parked her car at an angle across multiple lanes to block traffic. Then she jumped out of her car to get Tilly.

Tilly ran, but this woman chased her between houses and through neighborhoods before finally realizing she couldn’t grab Tilly. She walked back, sopping wet, where a police car was parked, lights flashing, and an officer was directing traffic around her car. I honestly can’t believe it! Knowing people like that exist make me feel all warm and soft inside. Warm and soft as… a fresh bagel.

By the time I got out of bed, the house was warm and smelled like flour and yeast – one of my all time favorite smells. Dad was in pajamas too. He had already made the dough and it was rising in the microwave, one of my mom’s tricks. The kitchen counter isn’t warm enough in Seattle, so she microwaves a small cup of water for 3-4 minutes. This makes the microwave warm and humid, a great place for the bread to rise.

“Bagels?” I asked, seeing the open cookbook. “Can I help?”

The first thing I helped do was punch down the dough. As some of you might know, I have no bread experience at all and get a little nervous about it. But I’ve always wanted to make bagels, and I love the feeling of the dough. It’s soft and firm and elastic all at once.

Even though I mostly bake cakes, cookies, and sweets, there’s something about baking breakfast that brings me unique happiness. It’s something about the soft natural light, streaming in through the windows, and the birds making their first rounds around the yard. It’s the warmth of the kitchen in comparison to the cool wood floors of the rest of the house… And the fact that I’m in pajamas still and there is no stress whatsoever.

I watched Dad separate the dough into 8 and then we started forming the bagels. He formed each 1/8th of the dough into a ball by cupping the bottom between his palms and squeezing together. He rotated the ball and kept cupping and pressing together, so that it formed a smooth sphere. Then he floured a finger and made a hole in it, pressing straight through. Then he worked the entire thing, using more fingers, to expand the hole and smooth the sides.

The bagels rise a bit longer, then you boil them and bake them. And wow… there’s really something about pulling a rack of perfect, golden, puffy bagels out of the oven. It makes your heart flutter a little bit. It makes you wonder why you even bother with cinnamon raisin or chocolate chip or blueberry when you can make these simple, delicious ones all by yourself.

Of course, I have yet to make them all by myself. But my Dad is a good teacher. He mostly cooks dinner, which may or may not interest me depending on my mood. He bakes a little… not as well as me :) But his eclairs are always delicious and he will always make me a birthday cake if I want one, even though it’s admittedly not his thing. But the one thing I always like to see him make is bread. Challah, parker house rolls, Italian flatbread, spinach rolls, it always fascinates me and makes me suddenly forget all about chocolate and vanilla beans.

We ate our bagels outside with the dogs, and it was perfect. I went pretty simple. I spread some slightly cold cream cheese, which softened right away on the warm bagel. Then I topped it with some homemade blackberry jam that our friend A- made for us. The bagel was chewy and soft and puffy, and the jam and cream cheese was perfectly sweet and tangy. I think I ate the whole thing in record speed.

But Dad is a bit more sophisticated. He went for cream cheese too, but added some capers. Then he grabbed a Mr. Stripey tomato that he grew himself in his own garden and sliced it into thick, juicy rounds.

I was starting to wonder whether I should have forgone the jam.

He topped the bagels with the tomato and pulled out some of his very own homemade lox. If there’s one type of fish I can’t resist, it’s salmon, and his lox is the best.

How can any day go wrong when it starts like this?

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August 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm 63 comments

Blueberry Coconut Cream Scones

Ah, summer… It’s filtered into everything, even school. I spend at least two periods a day outside, because even my teachers can’t stand being cooped up. We watch movies and do creative projects instead of textbook assignments, and I have never been so relaxed or felt so free.

Summer means reading lazily in the softest, greenest patch of grass.

Playing the radio as loudly as possible so I can sing along without being heard by the neighbors.

Picking fresh, full leaves of basil that beg to become fragrant green ice cream (coming soon, I promise.)

Summer means walking into the dusk in a short sleeved shirt, stargazing right on the cool driveway, and tucking plastic yellow sunglasses in my bag wherever I go.

It’s an energy that I have tried to capture in a photograph all week. But there are no words or pictures that can convey the feeling – I’ve learned to put down the camera and simply breathe in the sun.

Even in Seattle, summer means heat. It’s almost too much – for me, the ideal day is 65 degrees. With a gentle breeze. And a slightly overcast sky. Still, I can’t resist the hazy summer heat and find myself in the backyard more than the house.  But nothing can keep me away from the kitchen for long, and sure enough, I’m still baking away.

Oh, I am so lucky to be in love! With summer, with photography, with sugar, with my family. I hope you are all as happy and in love with life as I am at this very moment.

We had our first dinner outside last week. The day was so utterly lovely that we threw open every window and dusted off the old glass table. We passed around fruit salad and chicken, grilled with herbs grown in our own garden. We talked until twilight fell, and found that there is nothing quite like concluding a meal with lavender ice cream in sugar cones.

But first, we started the day with Blueberry Coconut Cream Scones.

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June 6, 2009 at 4:06 pm 31 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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