I didn’t feel like writing last night, so I did this:
Baking always banishes my creative lethargy.
I could not let summer slink away without having frozen yogurt at least once. Perhaps I went a little overboard, but anything that separates me from my writing has to be worth the effort. This was.
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.
Easy, gorgeous, and light.
What beautiful berries!
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.
ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
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). Continue reading