Posts tagged ‘buttermilk’
In 8th grade, my middle school French class took a trip to Paris. Back then I wasn’t interested in food the way I am now, so I didn’t take advantage of the streetside crepes and Fouchon bakery. Instead I remember how the cobblestone streets felt through the thin soles of my sneakers. The Eiffel Tower electric with lights. The fear I felt in the damp, windless corridors of the skull-lined Catacombs. And the grey parchment paper sky, wisps of clouds and the promise of rain.
Even as the trip unfolded, I knew I was making memories I wouldn’t want to forget. Every evening we’d return to our rickety two-star hotel, with bars on the windows and a spiral staircase that went up and up and up. I’d collapse onto the bed, shoes still laced. Then my friend K- and I would pull out our journals. Neither of us enjoyed updating them, but we both wanted to remember every moment of this adventure. The magic was in the details.
On our last night, we thought it would be fun to exchange journals and see what the other person had written. After all, we’d done all the same things – wouldn’t it be cool to see what each person had taken from the experience?
I giggled when I read K-’s entries – they were as practical and logical as she was. She’d dutifully recorded all the sights we’d seen and places we’d visited. She listed out every meal, every souvenir (including how much she paid) and the method we traveled. When I handed her journal back, I saw bafflement on her face.
“You wrote about such weird stuff,” she admitted. “How is this going to help you remember anything important?”
Suddenly self conscious, I flipped through the pages. No, I hadn’t listed all the monuments and souvenirs, but the information was in there if you read through it all… I’d written about my failed attempts at conversation with a cheerful woman on the subway (I later found out I’d been talking about fishbones and stars, to her amusement.) The French perception of America I’d observed, from strange fashion posters to chit chat in the park. And most importantly, every emotion, whether good or bad, I’d experienced on our trip.
I simply wrote about what I always notice – the people and the emotional connection around me. It felt more like Paris to me than any arch or shopping complex. To me, that’s what’s important – that’s what I want to remember. To me, everything is personal.
Like always, food is no exception. When I visit a farmer’s market, I am as interested in the growers themselves as I am in the produce. I always like to strike up conversation with the artisan bread bakers and chocolatiers I meet – doesn’t learning about their hard work and passion make their food taste even better?
Writing these blog posts often feels a lot like writing in a personal journal. And while food is a thread that weaves through everything, I find that I’m often not writing about baked goods at all. It’s about my mother’s smile when the ciabatta sounds hollow inside, and my father holding his fork just so, right before I snap the photo. It’s about the serenity of sprinkling dough with cinnamon sugar, the way everything has quietly become clear. Food is personal, and there’s no separating it from the rest of your life.
The recipe for these Orange-Cinnamon Sticky Buns came from Lorna Yee’s The Newlywed Kitchen. Lorna’s a friend, a fellow blogger, and a Seattle Magazine food writer. I usually don’t accept free products to blog about, but when Lorna asked me to review a copy, I couldn’t resist. I knew I was glad to have accepted when the book arrived at my door, glossy and making me hungry already.
What I really liked about this book, besides the recipes and vivid photography, was how personal it felt. Every few recipes, the book interviewed famous foodies, describing the story of how they fell in love. Where she met him, what he cooked for her, the role that food plays in their marriage. Besides being incredibly sweet and chock-full of cooking tips, every story made the distant chef feel a little more approachable and the recipe a little more familiar.
Isn’t that the ultimate purpose of food, to tell a story and bring us closer?
The story behind these sticky buns is simple. I remember the fragrance of orange oil left on the zester, and the painted texture of melted butter brushed on dough. My mother coming home and gasping, “Oh, what did you make?” and timing the buns to come out of the oven just as Dad was home. I remember telling him about the sticky glaze: “Walnuts, orange juice, honey, brown sugar, cream, and butter… It’s good stuff.” And his response: a hearty laugh that pushed up his cheeks, and “No, it isn’t!” as he took another bite.
I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything essential.
[PS: As we near the 4th of July, I thought I'd remind you guys of the flag cake I made last year! You might have seen this cake floating around the internet or even watched me make it on tv (you don't even know how nervous I was filming that. You don't even know.) This one's the original!]
Last week, I spent more time in the airport than in school. I was visiting colleges I’d been accepted to, hoping to find the one that spoke to me. I only applied to schools in the east coast, so there was a lot of flying in store.
My dad went with me. We took eight flights in total, and unfortunately, we weren’t lucky when it came to the Russian roulette of flight-booking. Nearly all of our flights were red-eye. I was in the middle seat almost every time, and not always next to my dad. I sat next to a baby – twice. And none of the flights came with food, though that might have been a good thing.
But for me, the worst part about it was the boredom. The amusement of my iPod faded quickly, especially without internet access: no Facebook, no Twitter, no email or WordPress for six hours. I wasn’t able to make calls or send texts. Without my phone, my iPod, and my camera, I didn’t know what to do.
I remember my impatience on our last flight home. The plane half landed, bouncing gently up and down and still moving fast enough to make my head spin. I had my phone turned on before the plane had come to a slow roll, before our pilot could say “Welcome to Seattle” and remind us to keep our seatbelts on. I texted my best girlfriend E- (and also checked to see if airport wifi went out this far. It didn’t.)
E- wasn’t texting back quickly enough, so I impatiently slapped the cell phone screen a few times. I glanced up to see the man in the aisle seat staring at me. We both laughed a little and I told him, “Sometimes she texts like she’s only got one hand.” He didn’t get it, so I added, “Super slowly.”
His expression told me that he was seeing something completely foreign, and I felt embarrassed. I pushed my cell phone into my pocket and worked on lifting out my bags. I didn’t check my phone again until my dad and I were reunited and standing outside, waiting for the car to pick us up.
I think it’s safe to say that people my age truly compose the generation of instant gratification. We say we just like to feel connected and make our voices heard, but that isn’t entirely true. We like the power of feeling up to speed, of knowing everything as it happens. When we decide we want something, we can’t get it out of our heads. We want it now, and if we have to wait, our moods sour.
I’m guilty of it. When the bus runs a few minutes off schedule, I turn up my iPod and pout a little, already impatient at my wasted time. When the mood suddenly strikes to watch a certain movie, I immediately drive out to the local Blockbuster, unable to wait for tomorrow. I hate lines, traffic, and even the amount of time it takes for a soda to fall out of the vending machine.
E-, the friend who I texted after my flight, approached me before class a month or two ago. She handed me a slice of buttermilk pound cake in a Tupperware container. It was as simple as pound cake gets, no frills or distractions – no hints of lavender, no chocolate marble swirl, no vanilla bean glaze or berry puree. Not even a dusting of powdered sugar. As the bell rang and we all found our seats, I tried a little piece.
I shouldn’t have been fooled by its humble appearances. This cake was something extraordinary.
E- told me the secret ingredient was time. She’d discovered that if she waited a day or two before cutting into it, everything about this pound cake improved – the flavor, the texture of the crumb, its dynamics. The slightly sugary crust that formed along the edges, giving it a bit of a crunch? The sweet, gentle tang of buttermilk? All side effects of her patience.
I got the recipe, determined to bake the thing and let it sit. But the trouble started even before the oven preheated. I love the taste of batter, and this batter tasted amazing. After two little dips into it I told myself I had to stop or there wouldn’t be any cake to age. I showed some uncharacteristic restraint and slid the pan into the oven.
An hour later, the house smelled incredible. Like sugar and butter and cream and home. When I opened the oven door, the kitchen filled up with warm, fragrant air. I turned the cake out onto a rack and breathed in the sugary steam rising up from it. I really, really wanted to try it. I thought about taking a little crumb from the bottom where nobody was sure to miss it. But I let the cake cool and then packed it up so I wouldn’t be tempted.
I didn’t think I could do it, but two days later, I cut the first piece of pound cake. I could feel how richly dense it was as the knife sank through. I broke off a piece the way I had a couple months ago. Completely and utterly worth waiting for.