The other day I got up early to rise a batch of bread. My daughter, who is 8, heard me and joined me at the kitchen counter in the early hours of the morning while everyone else was asleep. We scooped and weighed flour, measured water and sourdough starter, and she began mixing the dough with her hands. After a few turns, she looked up at me and said, “It’s just so cool that flour and water become the yummy loaves that I love so much!” And I think that means I win at parenting? Just kidding – but seriously, it was a good moment.
Usually when I’m baking it’s in the early morning hours or the late night and I’m alone. I turn off my podcasts and listen to the rhythmic sounds of the kneading, slapping, and folding dough. I’m in my body. And then, often, I slip into my mind. My favorite daydream is one where I assume the mindset of my kids at their height of play and pretend I’m a famous alchemist mixing things and transforming them. Because isn’t bread the simplest and most magical alchemy in our world today? Flour + water + salt + hands = delicious sustenance.
The granolas that I concoct are the same thing. While I start with a base recipe, I create flavors and re-create memories. A favorite drink? A childhood memory? It comes down to seasonal ingredients paired with complementary spices and textures. When my love affair with cooking began, I always said I’m not a baker. Baking requires precision, which I don’t exactly excel at. Cooking is my artistic and creative expression to the world. Some of us use a canvas, some of us use words, images, etc. To be an artist is to “tinker” – a smidge of this, handful of that, pinches here and there. Going off the roadmap and letting yourself be led by the senses is what drew me to cooking. And after years of baking bread, I’ve found this also in baking. While I do start by measuring my ingredients, a truly good loaf of bread is in the sight, feel, touch of creating it. I add more water or more flour because of the way the loaf looks based on my touch, based on my senses.Ideas, but also feelings and memories, form the flavor profile that go into making a batch of granola.
And finally, cakes – oh the cakes! I never thought I’d really enjoy baking cakes and I do have a certain approach to cake baking: I pay particular attention to ingredients often using whole grain flours to create texture and flavor in the base. But my mind is always turning on how I can incorporate an herb or a vegetable. How can I blend the flavors blooming all around me on the farm to create unique flavors that you may never have experienced in cake form. And the cakes I bake for people? So much of my love of them goes into that cake I bake for them. I often recall a meal, dessert, or a drink we shared together. I think about the things they love and I try to fold it into the cake batter or frosting. I love creating cakes for people, rather than the baking itself.
So, my point? While baking is a science, I prefer to think of it as a love affair. It allows me to connect with my body, my mind, my spirit, and my heart – and for a moment, someone else, too.
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