Thursday, December 22, 2016
A few days ago, I wrote about how the pleasures of my life have ... mellowed as I've gotten older. No more all-day work-up baseball games, no more 3-on-3 in the gym after hours, no more 6-mile runs around Hudson. Etc.
Instead, as I said, I bake. Not nearly so aerobic but lots better tasting.
I didn't bake much when I was growing up. Then, in my denseness, I thought that sort of thing was, you know, what girls did. Though both my brothers and I liked to bake those Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that came (and still come) in a tube. As I've written before, there were eight rolls per tube; there were three boys. Do the math. There were a few ... conflicts about who got three and who didn't. (Dividing them evenly, with a knife, was never a possibility.)
And I tried a pie now and then, never with much success. I have no idea, by the way, why I baked a pie now and then. I'm guessing it had something to do with the bottomless adolescent hunger ... for all sorts of things.
After I got married (December 20, 1969), I started baking bread strictly because of penury. Joyce had a grad assistantship at Kent State (not a massive amount, as I'm sure you can imagine), and I was still making less than $10,000 a year as a full-time middle school teacher. So ... baking bread was cheaper, plain and simple.
I used the recipe right out of one of the old cookbooks I'd inherited from Mom when I got married. Dry yeast. Warm water. Salt. Sugar. Pillsbury white flour. The first loaves were a disaster (there were a few bad words, I would guess). But I gradually caught on. And soon I was making loaves of bread about every week. I don't know that we've bought any bread since then.
I gradually grew more ... adventurous ... and added whole wheat flour. And honey instead of sugar. Wild stuff, you know?
But my baking really took off and became a full-blown obsession when I acquired some sourdough starter up in Skagway, Alaska, when my son and I went there in the summer of 1986 to check out both some family history and some Jack London sites (one of my great-grandfathers had gone on the Klondike Gold Rush--and left a diary, which I now have, courtesy of Uncle Clark and my dad).
Anyway, after a couple of early disasters with the sourdough I figured it out (pretty much--still an occasional disaster when I get too ... cocky). And ever since 1986 I've baked with it at least once a week--and gradually expanded my products: bread for daily use, biscuits, pizza dough, waffles, pancakes, sandwich rolls, muffins, Christmas tree-bread, cornbread, and some others.
I should add that I'm a practical baker--pragmatic. I rarely try anything too esoteric or odd. Basically, I'm a family servant whose assigned task is the baking.
Don't get me wrong. I love it. Wouldn't do it otherwise.
And I also bake non-sourdough products (baking-powder stuff)--mostly scones these days. (I eat one every morning at the coffee shop, alternating maple-pecan, cherry-walnut, and apricot-walnut for the most part.) I also like to make the cornbread recipe in the old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that my mom used to have. Stick to it strictly. Get that taste I remember.
And here's the damnedest thing I've discovered: I feel better on the days I bake. I feel, I guess, that I've done something useful. I've made our daily bread. Just as I've done since 1970 or so. When first I fell in love.
Even more--in these days of battling age and illness, I find that it ... heals.
***PS--I also clean up, all by myself!