The Peace of Cake

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I have a low tolerance for disorder. Though not as obsessive as friends at the gym where I work part-time who actually fold and tidy the tumble of t-shirts, towels, socks and what-have-you that make up our lost and found bin, I think I spend too much time picking up and putting away.

With our nation in a mess, the Church in chaos, and my mind in its usual muddle, to quote from The Mikado, “a thing of shreds and patches,” it’s no wonder that my urge to organize is on over-drive.

The reality is I can’t do a lot for the nation other than raise great kids, which I’ve done, unless it’s to help get out the vote for our next election. The Church? I’ve written what I can for the appropriate channels. And my brain?

Oh well.

So, perhaps time for a kind of retreat from the mess to what I can do, a kind of “il faut cultiver notre jardin,” to quote Voltaire’s oft-quoted phrase from the conclusion to Candide.

Not literally: until the weather turns, I have to leave the gardening to James, who isn’t bothered by heat and humidity.  It’s books, baking, and the small things of domestic tranquility I have on the brain right now.

The baking isn’t exactly a new interest. I’ve been doing that since my grandmother gave me this now much-battered cookbook for Christmas the year I was eight. IMG_2532 (1)I pored over its recipes and anecdotes the way other kids  read comic books, which weren’t allowed in our house anyway. Betty Crocker’s Boys and Girls Cook Book  had everything from scrambled eggs and Mother’s Day menus to a castle cake complete with turrets and drawbridge which I longed to create but never had the ingredients for. My first-ever bake was much simpler: “Sparkling Sugar Cookies,” which I still make to family applause.

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As a young parent, I baked all our family’s bread, cookies, cakes, bagels, and muffins from scratch with as much whole-grain and as little sugar as possible. To the point that my kids accused me of adding bran to their birthday cakes (nope: that was grated zucchini). We even had a grain mill attached to our porch railing, and one of the kids’ daily chores was to grind a cup of fresh flour.

As an older parent, there was just too much else to do to bother with baking, and anyway, any one of the kids could turn out a batch of cookies. A skill they all retain: Tommy drove down from Indiana last Mother’s Day to present me with a Death-by-Chocolate pie he’d created.

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So why mess with baking now, especially as an empty nester? Well, I haven’t much–until Tommy introduced me to The Great British Baking Show.

Watching those gifted, patient contestants turn out elegant petit fours, show-stopper cakes, filled and braided and sculpted breads, I realize how creative an act baking can be, indeed, in their hands, an art. I started wondering, can it also be a meditative act, as mind-calming as being lost in a good book?

That’s what I want to find out, as I try for the next few weekends to make my way through some new recipes. Some will be British classics; others, my more health-conscious offerings, though I have to admit I have a much more liberal hand with sugar than in the old days.

I invite you to join in the journey.

Do you bake? Favorite recipe?

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Peace of Cake

  1. Liz

    Handiwork alters brain chemistry. I saw it on CBS Sunday Morning (must be true). Actually, we all know it’s true, right? Knitting, sewing, gardening,backing…all like Meditation.

    I love to cook and bake but would never turn on the oven in the summer (my German mother would never approve of heating the house in summer).

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    1. Margaret Post author

      It’s unusual for me to turn the ‘big oven’ on in summer as well. Grew up in a house in the south with no AC (my German-descent father didn’t believe in it……) and I still think of summer INSIDE as sweltering, despite very-much-relied-upon AC nowadays! Often I’ll just do small batches of things in our toaster oven.
      I’ve read that about handiwork as well. I have several works-in-progress of knits, just…well…. a little warm right now to deal with yarn!~

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  2. Ginny

    I love the pun in your title.

    This summer we had a bumper crop of saskatoon berries on the bushes that grow wild in our yard. My husband finds picking them a meditation for him. (I find I can last for about an hour, and that’s it.) The deal is, then, he picks and I make the pies. This year I returned to the very basics–only berries, with a little flour, sugar, and butter. No spices or lemon. And because these berries do not have a lot of juice, minimal flour for thickening. I stopped eating wheat 25 years ago, and have developed a spelt flour crust that turns out for me every time.

    I find I take a great a satisfaction in the product (I put one together last night for our grandson, who surprised us with a 48 h visit before he goes back to university), but I still would rather be reading. Although because of the way our kitchen dining area is set up, I was able to chat with him while I was making the pie. My husband had earned the freedom to play cards because he had banked time by picking the berries.

    May the Peace of berry pie be with you.

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    1. Margaret Post author

      OK, I’ve never heard of saskatoon berries. A northwest/Canadian thing?
      When I do fruit pies, I also prefer them pretty basic. My family, however, discovered that the ”real” recipe for apple pie (for instance) includes masses of butter and sugar. sigh.

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