Daily Diversion #123: Baking, Not Crying/Dutch Baby

It wasn’t all tears and boredom whilst my Internet was down. I made this scrumptious Dutch Baby for my mom’s birthday breakfast. If I cannot write, I bake. It’s therapeutic, creative, and opens my writing mind like a fierce, bracing gust of wind.

Mixed Berry Dutch Baby

Mixed Berry Dutch Baby

Easy, gorgeous, and light.

Slice of life

Slice of life

What beautiful berries!

Cast-iron skillet

Cast-iron skillet

This is no ordinary skillet. No, it has an impressive pedigree. It was purchased, second-hand from a Goodwill, for my mother-in-law by her mother-in-law in 1953. She, in turn, gave it to my husband, The Chef, about 3 1/2 years ago. Before we married, before I became part of its story. Now, by baking this simple Dutch Baby, I’ve joined the line. Melded myself to their family history. Our family history.

Baking Madeleines for Proust

I baked my first cake from scratch when I was nine years old: a simple cocoa cake, round, one-layer. I decorated it by throwing a handful of confectioners’ sugar on top, the powder landing sparse and uneven in spots, heavy like a snowdrift in others. It was beautiful, and tasted like spongy hot chocolate. From that moment on, standing triumphantly in my aunt Lauree’s small kitchen, I had a new hobby.

I found my sole domestic comfort early, unless brewing a perfect pot of tea counts. To this day, I would rather write and read than do anything else. Baking is my only life-long hobby, the one non-verbal art I have never ignored or repudiated altogether. My favourite time to bake is in winter, when the cold starts pushing through the walls of even the most solid structure. I meet Jack Frost head-on, with a hot oven and a swirl of sugar and spices at the ready.

I’m in the habit of reading as I bake. Consuming a few sentences of Hardy or Plath or Trollope whilst blending cake batter or folding in nuts and sultanas is appropriately meditative for this most serene of the creative arts. The uncontrollable frenzy of the holidays officially starts in America on Thursday. The next month will be a kaleidoscopic whirl of shopping, parties, and working with all of my settings broken, but one: overdrive. A few hours spent baking cookies, bars, brownies, and pies will preserve my nerves and restore my balance close to something I can call normal.

I am dedicating today, the 18th of November, this lovely calm before the holiday storm, to Proust and his madeleines. I was born on Marcel Proust’s birthday, 10th July. Today marks the 90th anniversary of his death. He was 51 years old, and left some of the most lyrical, evocative, and intensely beautiful writing in literature. All of that, and an unbreakable association with French tea-cakes called madeleines? Delicious.

Madeleines require very few ingredients, are easy and quick to make, and can be adapted to fit your whimsies. As they are shaped like shells, they require a special but inexpensive tray, but if you are ambitious you could try shaping them by hand!


  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • the zest of 1 lemon

Ingredients (minus milk + a decorative pumpkin). Ingredients (minus milk + a decorative pumpkin). Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 93: Retro Happy Hour

  • Title: Retro Happy Hour Drinks and Eats with a ’50s Beat
  • Author: Linda Everett
  • Year Published: 2003 (Collectors Press, Inc.)
  • Year Purchased: n/a
  • Source: This was a gift from a close friend.
  • About: This is one gaudy book. From the bright, hilarious vintage photographs and illustrations that decorate every page to the cheesy, mysteriously appetizing recipes, it’s a step back into the best of the colorfully bland, chipper Eisenhower Era. If the photos of my grandparents’ home, circa 1955, could be colorized and re-animated, I’m pretty sure this is what it would look like. The menus can, with very few exceptions, be made with on-hand ingredients. Go ahead and plant your tongue firmly in your cheek; now just try to resist deliciously middle-brow dishes with zany names like Elfin Mushrooms, Southern Belle Hot Pecans, Front Porch Nibblin’ Corn, Flip-Flop Fizzee, Red Dawn and Swindler’s Bay Punch. You can’t, it’s impossible! Every time I flip through this not-quite-a-cookbook, I have the throbbing urge to dress up like Amy Sedaris and throw a retro-tastic shindig.
  • Motivation: I borrowed this book from a friend on behalf of my mom, who was throwing some kind of small bites and booze party for her lady friends. When I tried to return it to its owner, she insisted that I keep it. Aww, I have fabulous friends!
  • Times Read: ?
  • Random Excerpt/Page 15: “That’s What I Call Entertainment!: If your budget can handle it, consider hiring professional entertainment other than a band: a magician, juggler, fortune-teller, comedian, clown, or Santa. Be creative!” (I think that I am going to throw a party in December just so that I can hire a Santa. Who does that? Me, I do!)
  • Happiness Scale: 10

A Year in Books/Day 22: I Like You

  • Title: I Like You Hospitality Under the Influence
  • Author: Amy Sedaris
  • Year Published: 2006 (Warner Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2006
  • Source: This was a Christmas gift from my lovely Mother.
  • About: A refreshingly fun, kooky entertaining guide full of peculiar crafts and seriously good recipes.
  • Motivation: I want to be Amy Sedaris when I grow up. Really, I think she’s the best. I also enjoy throwing anything-but-boring parties whenever I can pry myself from the keyboard.
  • Times Read: Cover-to-cover-1. As a cookbook-frequently.
  • Random Excerpt/Page 73: “Don’t question a lumberjack and never look one in the eye. Be polite when suggesting they remove their cleats, but be prepared if they don’t. I always have a clear path to the table, and another to the bathroom. Feeding lumberjacks can be very rewarding when you take care to follow all the necessary precautions.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10++
    English: Amy Sedaris book signing (Simple Time...

    Image via Wikipedia