Monday, March 9, 2009
I did not get much reading accomplished this weekend, although the stack on the coffee table was glowering at me. I did, however, have lots of fun in the kitchen. Aside from being good at my paying job (I hate to sound immodest), I think I could have been a fairly good chef. In my spare time, I test recipes for a well-known national food magazine. I ignored the e-mail that asked me to test a recipe for Raspberry Cookie Bars. I am not a dessert eater, and just reading the list of ingredients made my teeth ache. I therefore felt compelled to jump into this week's recipe that involved another of my food "hates," cornbread. Alas. Although I live in the South, I was not raised here, and aside from polenta, my Yankee parents did not cook much with corn meal. The test turned out dry and disappointing, but the day was bright and cool and I wanted to salvage my kitchen time - so I baked bread. I love cookbooks, and have collected them for decades. I pulled down an old New York Times Cookbook, compiled by the late Craig Claiborne from recipes published in the newspaper during the '50s and '60s, and found one for Onion Rye Bread. From the splatters and splashes on the page, and the tell-tale remnants of bygone flour that had settled into the binding, I suspect I have baked this bread before. If there is something more peaceful and ultimately more satisfying than bread baking, I haven't found it yet. (Some may argue sex with the right partner is right up there on the list, however.) Every aspect of baking bread is pure pleasure: testing to see if the yeast is alive, feeling it respond to human touch, punching down its billowing doughy-ness after the first rise, shaping the fat round loaves. The pursuit was probably not much fun for the women who blazed trails for those of us who followed. But in a world that has become too fast, and too slick, and too instant, taking the time to make something by hand fills one with self assurance and pride - not to mention how baking bread fills the house with a fragrance that says "home."