Saturday, June 25, 2011

there's so many different places to call home

I was going to start this post by writing that I sometimes wish I didn't take baking so personally. And then I called shenanigans on myself, laughed, and realized how absurd a statement that is.

Very simple things, like flour, butter, sugar, and eggs have brought me great peace, have filled me with a contentment that I only otherwise get from my chosen profession, and have made me feel productive when I am at my most laziest. Baking has humbled me, and it has given me confidence.

I tie a lot of emotion to baking, which sounds hokey, but I do not really care. I own my weirdness about it. I bake when I get stressed, but when I get too stressed, too upset, really down in the dumps, I can't do anything in the kitchen because I am paralyzed. And that just makes it all the more satisfying when I make amends with the mixing bowl.

There is an unnecessarily dramatic story behind a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer that entered my life. I have had it for about eight months now, and only today did I finally allow it to be part of my kitchen. Even when I moved into a new place, I put the mixer straight into the garage, until today, when I realized I was holding onto something I shouldn't.

I've never been one to ease into anything. In medical school, I became fond of experiments to do with yeasted things- pizza, rolls, bread. Things that required a rise and a fall, firm kneading and patience. On one such experiment, I madly ignored everything I had read and thought I could attack the making of brioche with nothing but my own elbow grease. And oh my, how wrong I was. It was a spectacular failure. Brioche failure stings even more because it requires such a lot of butter and eggs that it feels more wasteful than other kitchen disasters. The handmade failure brioche, I could not accept it was a fiasco, so I kept at it, and even tried to bake it into individual pain au chocolat, which only resulted in wasting good chocolate in addition to all of the butter and eggs.

Well, when I finally put that stand mixer on my counter today, I knew there was only one thing to be tackled. The brioche dough is now on its second rise, and looks to be turning out exactly as planned. The only question is what to do with it- simple brioche loaf, sticky buns, little pillows of brioche with chocolate inside? So many possibilities.

Update: I opted for a few different options, but here is one of the best- cinnamon rolls made with brioche dough:
I hope it will not be my last opportunity to bake this year...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

tables they turn sometimes

Life has weird shifts, sometimes predictable, sometimes not. Even though I knew this good time was coming, even when I was in the dumps, it still surprised me when it arrived, the sudden nature of it and the intense contrast.

Even though it is coming on scorching season here, I sat down with a sweater I'd been working on ages ago. It was something I had started at least a year ago. I would work on it a bit, and then set it aside, then pick it up again. The yarn was very fine in weight, which meant it took forever to make any progress. But eventually, it also became clear that I kept putting it down because it wasn't really working. The variegated yarn wasn't quite meshing with the patterned stitches, and the sizing seemed off. But it seemed like something I'd been working on for so long that I'd hesitated to give it up.

Sometimes salvaging is the right call, other times ripping. A lot of the good things that happen in life are from salvaging a less-than-ideal situation; I've certainly had my share of making lemonade from lemons (or, in the case of last weekend, making chocolate dipped brownie truffles when a pesky batch of brownies stuck to the pan). I had stared at that sweater-in-progress for a while- lengthen it, shorten it, make it short-sleeved, make it a vest? I had considered lots of different angles, but nothing seemed to fit the idea I had in my head of what I wanted the sweater to be.

And finally, I ripped the whole thing back down to skeins. Yes, I had invested a lot of energy in the sweater up to that point, but I had not rushed into destruction. I had assessed. It was a losing proposition. It was time to let go.

So today, when I had a free morning, I felt a sense of validation. I had re-knitted the entire sweater in an eighth of the time it had taken me the previous time, and the moment of truth had arrived. I stitched all the pieces together and the finished product was exactly as I had wanted it to be.

Speaking of which, here is a picture of rose macarons:

Being a little (ahem) taken with baking and challenges, I had become intrigued with macarons over the years. So I was surprised that a lot of my friends had never heard of the little wonders. They sound simple, and therein lies the peril of the macaron. The cookie shells are made of ground almonds, sugar, and egg whites. Just three ingredients. How complicated could it be? Answer- very complicated. The suckers are notoriously finicky, sensitive to humidity and the batter consistency. A slight imprecision in measurement can also cause an epic fail. I had read on the interwebs so many tales of horror regarding these cookies that I had avoided giving them a go for years. But my friend SP nudged me into it recently by presenting me with a macaron making class as a graduation present. It was phenomenal. I got to make and pipe this batch of macarons myself, though truth be told, I'm still skeptical as to whether I can recreate them in my kitchen. I should probably try again soon, before the wave of good juju rolls on by.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I think I'm in love but it makes me kind of nervous to say so

It is the end of what may seem to some an uneventful day. In the morning, I transferred frozen tilapia to the refrigerator to thaw. Since everyone has been moving away, I have been inheriting all sorts of things I would never usually use- thus, tilapia. Then I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies under the guise of needing to test out my new oven. I did a load of new laundry in my new washer. I went to my old apartment and packed some final boxes, then returned to the new place and unpacked them.

Having cried uncle by the late afternoon, I asked AP to come help me position some of the more awkward items (ladder, a large framed Modigliani print, the usual stuff) into my car. She came over in the late evening, and we both had a hearty laugh at how ridiculously sweltering it was in my old apartment.

Sometimes you do not realize how bad things were, or how your circumstances were affecting your happiness until you've moved on. That has been a big theme of late for me. I could not explain why I felt so much happier the past few days, or why I was sleeping like a rock. It did not occur to me until AP and I were sitting at the dining table sipping iced tea (if ever you should be looking for a good choice for making Iced Tea, wow, Good Earth is fantastic for this purpose), she nibbling on the cookies I had baked, me playing with the table mat while urging her to watch Justified. Only then did I realize how much happier I am now than I have been, perhaps for the past few years.

It's so inexplicable, how we go from a place of deep sadness, to numbness, to contentment, to sudden, sincere happiness. The progression is a mystery. Medical students used to joke fake it til you make it, and I wonder if there is not some component of that to life in general.

AP begged off, and it was late, but the tilapia were waiting, thawed. I roasted them in the oven while making mashed potatoes. When the filets emerged from the oven, I placed one hot on a bed of baby spinach. I stood at the kitchen counter for a moment, staring at the plate. And then I sat down and had dinner, and felt a wave of all sorts of emotions. I can't really explain it in any other way except to say: I'm back.