Like, A LOT.
Perhaps not “Michael Bauer” a lot, nor “The Dapper Diner” a lot, but given that I rarely purchase clothes, electronics…anything, really…all of my disposable income has to go somewhere, and I choose food.
Like, A LOT of food.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve made my way through handfuls of pop-ups, dozens of food trucks, and countless restaurants. I’ve eaten some of the best meals of my life, experienced flavors and textures I never knew existed, and met some incredibly talented and friendly people.
Yet as much as I’ve gained from my culinary excursions – appreciation, knowledge, weight – I lost something along the way. Something so central to who I am as a person today. Something I failed to realize was even gone. I lost my first true love.
My love for baking.
The coarse grit of flour and butter on my fingers from rubbing together a biscuit dough; the whimsical whirr of my KitchenAid beating cheeses, eggs and sugar into a luscious, creamy base that will soon blossom into a light and airy cheesecake; my heart rising and falling with each successful or failed soufflé; the kitchen littered with paper towels, as if each had just barely missed some universal waste basket.
All forgotten in what now seemed like a mere distant memory.
The two of us go way, way back – to about eleventh grade, when I fell in love with the process of making something greater than the sum of its parts. For me, baking is science, baking is magic, baking is transforming food into something it isn’t, into something it shouldn’t be able to be, yet in spite, becomes.
Sadly, our love affair quickly fizzled to the back burner as my quest to conquer the impossible task of experiencing each and every establishment in San Francisco moved to the front of house. Going out more left less time for dinner parties, less time in my own kitchen, less room in my stomach.
But as oft happens with old lovers, the spark ignited instantaneously when the opportunity arose not once, but twice to return to my long lost companion.
First, a “Friendsgiving” party hosted by dear friends of mine – an orphan Thanksgiving of sorts for those in need of the warmth and comfort of turkey, stuffing, and an extra notch in the belt buckle. Having not made any dessert from my recently acquired Blue Bottle book, I was inspired to adapt Caitlin's Stout Coffee Cake into a Pumpkin, Chocolate-Stout Coffee Cake, embracing the season.
The smell emanating from my kitchen was divine – a sensation I had all but forgotten over the past few months. Though as my timer wound down and I anxiously opened the oven door, I immediately noticed something was awry. The recipe made a decent amount of pecan caraway streusel - so much so that I believed it to be extra, and didn't read too much into the line in the book that read, "I'm an advocate of putting streusel on anything."
I used about half of the mixture to top the cake. Though in all fairness, it turned out to be a beautiful, deliciously neat sort of mistake as the cake uniformly enveloped the crumbly topping from the outside in, so that a bull’s eye of streusel remained.
Never settle for Newman-Os.
Initially, there is the actual consumption of the finished product. Watching even just few people close their eyes, hearing to the occasional, “Mmm,” nodding as they close their lips around each morsel, savoring – is both heartwarming and humbling as they indulge in my craft.
Yes, I’m still talking about baking – stay with me.
Then, I rewind to the kitchen and reflect: the mere collection of ingredients sending shivers down my spine; the hours spent whipping, beating (still baking…), folding, mixing and measuring, and realize I love nothing more than the process itself: the feeling the coarse grit of butter and flower on my fingers and the whimsical whirr of my KitchenAid...
For so many months I have put my stomach in the hands of others…so to speak. Yet these two small gatherings afforded me the opportunity to rekindle what I once thought lost.
Inspired, I baked thrice that week – adding an attempt to tackle the incensing, elusive challenge of biscuit perfection, simply because I could. Simply because I remembered that no matter how many missteps I made in our relationship, I knew that if I made a concerted effort to learn from every moment, I could never be burned enough to stray too far away from her.
I fell in love all over again.