Friday, October 26, 2007

A Sordid Past, Giving Birth and Really Bad Peanut Butter Muffins...

After a great deal of soul-searching and the need to embrace an identity (hey, I just turned 40, allow me some drama), I discovered that while some can lay claim to a sordid past, mine is more of a sort-of past. As I look back upon my years at both work and play, I can proudly own the fact that I have been many things... well, sort of. The complete list would be far too long to post but for the sake of interest, here are a few:

At one time or another, I was a quilter, a primitive-rug-hooker (not to be confused with latch-hooking---if you incorrectly assume a connection between the two, it may involve jail-time if you're in the company of New Englanders), a manufacturer of novelty Christmas stockings (this is a long, ridiculous story which found redemption only in the fact that somewhere in the world there might be a few homeless and poverty-stricken souls whose feet will likely find warmth in the colorful, yet mismatched donations depicting the likes of Groovy Trolls, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Siamese Cats, Harley Davidson Motorcycles and sushi), a fabric retailer (as a direct result of an over-saturated stash of quilting fabrics--this faux pas may also be applied to the novelty stocking disaster), the owner of an online gift-basket business (which folded ten minutes after it started because I hated the whole process), a banker, a baker, a bagel shop employee, a receptionist, a ski-wear salesperson, a proofreader for a title company, a preschool teacher, a scrapbooker, a rubber-stamper, a teddy bear maker (mohair only, of course) and oh, the list goes on...

You may notice a pattern here (or lack thereof). I suppose
I don't have the gene for stick-to-it-iveness.
When I spend time pondering the whys and what fors, I am reminded that one of the few passions in my life that is a constant, is my love for and curiosity about food.

It is for this reason I have always been a sad dieter. When I say "sad," I don't mean that I am not good at dieting. I am, in fact, a very successful dieter (just ask me how many times in the past twenty five years I have lost ten pounds). What I mean is that I am truly sad when I follow a restrictive, exclusionary meal plan. I mourn the loss of good food as one might mourn the loss of a dear friend. Which is why the weight doesn't stay off for long. It took me twenty years to realize that I would have to make peace with not being thin and I would have to find a healthy method to balance my physical and nutritional needs with my love of great food (hence, walking five miles before baking a batch of cookies).

Enter the low-fat experiment and the worlds worst Peanut Butter Muffins. I'll keep this one short, and not so sweet; sometimes the proof isn't in the pudding, but is in the recipe itself. Little or no fat often results in little or no flavor. I brought said muffins in to work and my kindhearted coworkers ,who were both diplomatic and PC in their review (and let's face it, they know better than to insult the only baker in the building), devoured them in record time. But redemption would be mine. I could not leave the taste of dry, crumbly muffins on their palates for long. I promptly baked a batch of Maple Oatmeal Cranberry Jumbos (recipe follows) and thus, the planets realigned and peace was restored to the kingdom. Another valuable lesson learned (If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck, right? Well, if it looks like a low fat muffin and the recipe reads like a low fat recipe, it will likely taste like a low fat muffin). Which brings me to the countless lessons I've learned throughout the years:

I recall reading about fine artists in history and how they had their color "periods." I believe Monet had his "blue period" (among others) and I vaguely recollect some artist spending quite a bit of time experimenting with red.
So, if I'm allowed to say that food is my art, then I'd have to include the many periods (or more appropriately, periods of culinary insanity) through which I have passed.

After reading Bread Alone by Dan Leader and The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz (two of the bread-gods in the culinary world), I entered what I like to call my "Bread Period." I vowed that I would never again shell out $5 for a sub-par loaf of designer bread when I could likely make my own for less. I focused on the most basic recipes for "artisinal" loaves and I followed the advice of the bread gods to the letter. I did actually line the bottom of my oven with unglazed ceramic tiles, I did purchase five pounds of grapes for the sole purpose of letting them sit out on my counter to provide my baking environment with natural yeast. I did purchase the most expensive thermometer to correctly measure the temperature of my rising loaves and I searched endlessly on line for the correct bannetton in which I would allow my dough to rise (these were the days before Sur La Table imported every gadget known to foodies across the globe). And what was the end result, you ask? Well, I turned out a countless number of sub-par loaves of bread I could happily call my own. Quite an expensive lesson.

To date, I depend only on on one tried and true recipe for Buttermilk Bread that came from a farmers cookbook purchased at a yard sale. It needs only a few ingredients, a standard loaf pan, and a basic oven (sans tiles). These days, I willingly purchase loaf after loaf of Ecce Panis bread at my local supermarket and the homemade Wild Mushroom Soup into which I dunk it, is none the wiser.

And there have been so many other periods of culinary madness (and the bills to prove it). From canning to dehydrating, pizza making to fondant rolling, and many in between. If I had to choose a favorite, I would have to say that my "Truffle Period" was by far, the most fun, the most delicious, and the most expensive. If you don't believe me, just research the going price for Chocolate Tempering Machines and search for the current price per pound for Callebaut block chocolate. Needless to say, I had A LOT of friends during that period.

So by now, you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with the price of tea in China (an expression I've always wanted to use). Well, the fact is, I have always believed that human beings fall into one of two categories; There are the Doers and there are the Dreamers. Until recently, I have always believed that I was a doer. I believed that someday I would be rich and famous, I would blaze trails and leave my mark on the world. And I support this with the following:
(1) I am the worlds most paranoid, white-knuckled, anxious driver--clearly God wanted me to have a chauffeur. And...
(2) Although I have no formal training, I somehow have known since birth, how to shop with reckless abandon.

Once I realized that fame and fortune were not within my reach, I decided that I would find my bliss in owning a bakery. The problem is, I haven't yet found anyone willing to donate a bakery on my behalf.
And so, the truth is, I am a dreamer.

Which brings me to labor and delivery, or actually the birthing of this blog. I have given this whole blog-thing some serious thought. I almost allowed my fear of the unknown to stifle my ambition, but then I was reminded (by my dear friend, Oprah), that we will likely regret that which we didn't do, more than we will regret what we actually did. So, in that spirit, I decided to forge ahead.

Here are some of my reasons for wanting to start my own blog:
(1) I wanted to move my game piece from dreamer to doer, if just for a moment. My hope is that the journey will be enjoyable and the goal reachable. It seemed like a no-brainer from its inception.
(2) I have spent countless hours reading cookbooks. Some find it hard to believe that I actually find enjoyment in this. I have to believe that I am not alone (while there might only be a handful of us out there, I know I am not alone). Who better to share my culinary thoughts with, than those who are like- minded and who find joy in the simplicity of everyday life and the meals that sustain us? And...
(3) It has to be cheaper than therapy.

So, I invite you to join me on this adventure. I welcome your input and I encourage you to post.
And when you have some time, ponder the question; Are you a doer or a dreamer ?

Until then,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


(This recipe is adapted from Elinor Klivans book Big Fat Cookies)

1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt **I increased salt to a generous 1/2 tsp.
2 tsp. ground cinnamon ** mine were generous teaspoons
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temp.
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar **I used a scant bit less than 1/3 cup because I knew I wanted to add 2 TBS of LYLES GOLDEN SYRUP--my reason being that I read that the addition of corn syrup makes for a very chewy cookie. I love the flavor of Lyle's so, I decided to take a chance and add 2 TBS--I'm not sure if it had anything to do with the great flavor--but it didn't hurt!!!
2 large eggs
1/2 cup PURE maple syrup*** I also added 1/2 tsp. of Lor-Ann Maple Flavoring
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups oatmeal ***I used Bob's Red Mill large cut oats. I am not a fan of very "oaty" cookies so, I put 3/4 cup of the oats into my mini food processor and ground it into oat flour. I left the remaining one cup of oats as whole oats (for a total of 1 3/4 cups). I added the oat flour along with the dry ingredients and then followed the recipe accordingly.
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
Turbinado Sugar (Sugar in the Raw, or coarse sugar)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smoothly blended--about one minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. On low speed, add the eggs, maple syrup, Lyles Golden Syrup, vanilla extract and maple flavoring (if using) and mix until blended. Mix in the flour mixture to incorporate, add ground oats and mix. Mix in oatmeal and fold in cranberries until combined.Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measure, scoop onto parchment lined baking sheet, spacing at least 2 inches apart (these will spread). Sprinkle Turbinado sugar on top of each cookie and using the bottom of a glass coated with sugar (I lightly butter the glass bottom and then dip into sugar), gently depress each cookie so it flattens just a bit. Bake the cookies ONE SHEET AT A TIME until the tops feel firm and the bottoms are lightly browned, about 18 minutes (*** mine took only 16 minutes to bake and they were generously sized). Cool the cookies on baking sheet for about 10 minutes then transfer to wire rack until completely cooled.



PKD said...

Love how you start the recipe instructions with where to place the oven rack. Perhaps a minor, assumed detail for the confident baker; but, for the timid novice, a welcomed instruction. Also appreciate explaining why you are adding certain ingredients and why you choose particular brands. Knowing why, I am more comfortable substituting what I prefer without risking the integrity of the cookie. That is, if I am a fan of “oaty” cookies, I can choose my own brand without worrying that I completely screwed up the recipe. Again, the details and the explanations foster confidence. Best of luck with Hey, Jeet Yet?

CoachH said...

Okay, so where the heck was I during your Truffle Period??!! (By chance, do you see a Pizza period in your future?) Remember, I know where you live... better yet, I know where your kitchen is located. I have lock picks I'm not afraid to use. (Actualy, yes I am.) Another good one - I really enjoy the peace of sitting here during Quiet Time (would that the whole day consisted of Quiet Time) and reading your blog. Got anything good cooking for Superbowl Sunday?? That's quick?? And easy?? And doesn't require much thought or effort or mess?? Better yet, can I come to your house??