Posts tagged ‘walnuts’
17 and Baking turns two years old this week. I almost missed it.
In the past, I spent afternoons alone in the kitchen, flour dusting my palms and lots of quiet thoughts in my head. Afterwards I wrote about the baking process, my love for fresh ingredients, the joy of brainstorming desserts and sharing them with my family. I had more ideas than photographs.
I went a record-breakingly long time without posting as of today. Looking at my life it’s clear why I’m struggling to blog. Though I’m happier than ever, I’m living between sips of coffee and half hour power-naps. The biggest issue is that I haven’t been baking. At all. I use photographs of desserts I baked last summer to keep this blog running. While there’s a trunk of baking supplies beneath my bed and a working oven in the dorm building down the street, I haven’t used it once this year.
Over Thanksgiving and winter break, reunited with family, I obligingly creamed butter and whipped cream, but frankly, much of the magic was gone. I’ve never lost my passions for writing, photography and baking, but my weariness shows. I’m scared that 17 and Baking is in decline, that I’m losing something I consider such an important part of myself.
My boyfriend I-’s birthday was a few Fridays ago. He wanted to go up to Maine and spend several days with his family, and at the last minute I went along too.
“You’ll be able to bake,” he said, convincing me to come.
I was nervous to meet his parents and sister and his friends, more nervous than I wanted to let on. But for the first time in a long time, I was excited to make something for his birthday. That outburst of butterflies in my chest was so comfortingly familiar, so nearly forgotten, it was almost painful.
The next afternoon we drove to the local grocery store. I’m not used to buying staples at once – usually I have all the basic ingredients on hand, though I might need more chocolate slabs or an unusual spice. We picked up flour, sugar, heavy cream, local homemade butter. But I couldn’t decide what to make. I hadn’t flipped through a cookbook or wanted to make something in so long, and I actually felt out of my element in the baking aisle.
I- kept making suggestions, and I kept shooting them down. The possibilities were overwhelming. “You have to pick something,” he said finally as we wheeled the cart around the entire store for the third or fourth time. “Make a pecan pie.”
We threw pecans into the cart. “Maybe some walnuts?” I- was holding another bag. “Those might be good with the pecans.” Into the cart. “Milk chocolate toffee bits? In the pie? Yes?” Yes. He kept smiling whenever he saw me start to smile back.
I don’t always like getting a million suggestions from someone else when it comes to baking, but I didn’t mind. Even when he paused at the end of the aisle and added, “You should put in some coconut.” I know my dad will picture my usual eye-roll and heavy sigh but instead I said, “Why not?”
I watched every bag, carton, box pass across the scanner and pack into shopping bags. I helped carry them to the car trunk. At the house, I arranged them on the counter and stared for a good minute. It felt unreal.
I winged a good deal of the recipe, just throwing things in. I-’s mom and sister popped in a few times to see how I was making the pie totally from scratch. There was a moment when the crust was in the freezer and the nuts were all chopped in a bowl and suddenly I felt like I was breathing for the first time in months.
I-’s family and I ate dinner together as the pie cooled in the kitchen. When the plates were cleared, I’-s dad went next door to borrow a bit of bourbon so I could make bourbon whipped cream. I beat the cream to stiff peaks, folded in the bourbon, and cut the pie. I could feel my heart thumping and the heat rising to my cheeks as the first slices made it to the table, so nervous. What if it wasn’t good? What if I was really, really out of practice?
“Oh my gosh,” somebody said, and round 2 of pie became a reality.
Later I- and I brought a wedge of pie over to the neighbors, along with some whipped cream. It turned out the bourbon was decades old, saved from a wedding. I couldn’t believe something so special had been opened and shared. When I- and I headed back to his house, I kept hoping the pie would be delicious, wanting them to get as much happiness from it as possible.
None of the whipped cream survived the night, but in the morning, I pulled out the Canon and shot some food photography for the first time in too long.
An out-of-the-blue pecan pie, dropped into my life weeks before 17 and Baking turns two. There are a lot of things I love about this pie – it’s sophisticated and rustic, unfussy with complex flavors. It isn’t overly sweet or sticky and there’s no light corn syrup involved. I love that my boyfriend came up with most of it. I love that it was shared and gobbled up embarrassingly fast. In so many ways, this pie reminded me of why I love to bake and why I’ll continue to blog.
Happy birthday, 17 and Baking. Eat some pie.
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!]
Lately, I’ve been in a writing rut.
I’ve been in food ruts where I made the same types of desserts over and over, and I’ve had weeks where inspiration simply escaped me. I’ve had photography ruts, too, where every post would somehow have the same style of photographs. I think every food blogger has those moments where you long to shoot images of vintage cars, textured bark or copper kettles, anything but another cookie.
These days, I haven’t had any recent baking disasters and my photography can only improve. But I’ve never experienced a writing rut before, and even stringing those two words together makes my heart ache like a bruised peach. I can’t describe how stifling and disheartening it feels to have nothing to say. I have never felt speechless before, and it makes me feel cloudless and empty.
I tried to pinpoint where it started, and I think I know. Last month the blog received more attention than usual and got some national exposure. I was out of town the week that it happened, and when I came home, I was startled by the sudden spike in subscriptions and Facebook friend requests. All my numbers had gone up, thirty times my usual number of hits, and more comments than I could read in an hour.
At first, I was exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to post again, and I was so touched that 17 and Baking meant something to so many new people. But as I started sifting through the comments, I encountered something I’d never expected to read on my site – wisps of negativity that deflated any of my short-lived joy.
I’ve never received disparaging comments before. I mean, it’s one thing when a recipe doesn’t work out for somebody or when I’ve made a silly mistake on my post. But amongst the flood of new comments were little pebbles of cruelty, a silt of snide comments and offhand criticisms. I knew those people shouldn’t matter. I knew nobody with a dream or a zest for life would write “Who cares?” on a 17 year old’s blog.
But honestly? I’m not kidding anyone, especially not myself. Those comments did matter to me.
I remember for the first time, dreading my next post. Although only a tiny percentage of comments from the recent exposure had been discouraging, the damage was done. I considered writing about my hesitations and reservations, or about how I found the strength to move on. But nothing I wrote rang true, and ultimately, I didn’t want to display my disappointment and tarnished confidence to the world. That isn’t the kind of person I am.
I wrote a lighthearted post instead, and kept my feelings to myself for once. And somehow, inexplicably, I lost my voice for a few weeks. I was unsatisfied with everything I wrote, and I finally had the last straw when I rewrote last week’s post four times before posting, and still was unhappy with the result. I wanted to find my passion again.
Passion, not flour or sugar, is the life of this blog. I refuse to let it wilt, because this blog has truly had a tangible impact on my life. I can feel it stirring in the back of my mind when I’m home alone, making hot chocolate and trying to find matching socks. I feel it pulsing through my veins when I walk to class, wet leaves still clinging to my boots. And I feel it most of all in my heart when I read your comments and emails, because nothing makes me as happy and enriches my life as much as your words.
Last week I discovered that I was nominated in the category of “Best Weblog By a Teen” in the 10th annual Weblog Awards, and it lifted my spirits in an unbelievable way. I felt like I was made out of thin air, or quite possibly liquid sunshine. I’m so honored and thrilled to be part of this year’s nominations!
Browsing this year’s nominees has also shown me plenty of great sites I wouldn’t have found on my own. None of the other teen nominees are specifically food bloggers, but their interests range from current issues to fashion to daily ponderings. I definitely encourage you to check out this year’s weblogs and maybe even vote for 17 and Baking! [2/28/10 Update: You might like to know that I won. :) ]
I finally feel like I have found my voice again with this post. The words came out easily once more, like the dusk I’ve been swept in has finally dissipated. When I finished writing this post and read it over in a final edit, I felt a deep satisfaction that I’d nearly forgotten.
I don’t know if it’s the nomination, the passing of time, or the fact that this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was pleasantly easy. All I know is that I am bursting with metaphors and adjectives, I have so much that I want to say and so much I want to learn. I’m so lucky to know where my passions are and to have the means to pursue them with everything I have, and I can’t help but look forward to February with a considerably lighter heart.
The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and http://www.nanaimo.ca.