Saturday, September 20, 2008

Baking Therapy

Baking for me is relaxing and yet very rewarding and productive - a perfect therapeutic activity and cheaper than, say, "retail therapy," a phrase I actually first heard from a straight male acquaintence...a well-groomed one, as you might expect.  An added benefit of baking therapy is that it tends to make people around me happy too.  I once went through a short cheesecake experimentation period, and it was just the act of making them that I found comforting.  I wound up supplying cheesecake to everyone in my immediate vicinity.  I've even been known to share my "breakup buns" with the ex-boyfriend I broke up with.  

Some cooks who are uppity about their preference for making up a recipe as they go will scoff at baking as being too restrictive and just about following rote instructions precisely (when following rather than developing recipes), but I find that there tends to be plenty of opportunity for creativity and modification; there's adjustment to taste, technique improvement through experience, the enjoyment of learning new techniques and tips, and especially a great expression of artistic creativity in the aesthetic design of the product (think crazy gingerbread people or a fabulously decorated cake), and in serving presentation (garnishes, sauces, dustings, accompaniments).  Also, by integrating multiple elements to make a dessert, you can express your creativity in flavour combinations, just as you would when coming up with a main course that has several savoury components.  I often think fondly of the six-course dessert menu with wine pairings that I had at Espai Sucre, an all dessert restaurant in Barcelona, Spain that profoundly changed my perception of what dessert can be.  There really is no limit. 

But I also enjoy the simplest desserts.  Sometimes you just can't beat a homey favourite like an old-fashioned slice of pie and coffee.  My favourite pie has been banana cream pie for years (with warm blueberry double crust pie, served with vanilla ice cream, a close second), yet I've never made one until today.  I discovered that it's really an easy thing to make, and for guidance, I used the Five Roses, A Guide to Good Cooking cookbook (as well as my usual Googling cross referencing habit when tackling a new dish).  The Five Roses is a classic Canadian cookbook first published in 1967 and given to me as a gift by someone who bakes for a living.  A good pie is one of those things that seems a bit hard to come by (or at least something I seem to be particularly particular about), so I think mastering pies at home is a worthwhile project.  

My first banana cream pie wound up being a bit too sweet, but that can be easily corrected next time.  Part of the problem was that I went for a sweet graham cracker crust because I had a bunch of graham crackers that needed using up, but I would omit the sugar recommended in the book.  I also used the very sweet meringue topping suggested in the recipe, to use up the egg whites (as the custard requires egg yolks), but I think next time I would just go with whipped cream only next time, and use the egg whites up later in an egg drop soup or something.  The meringue does make for a very pretty topping though.  But it's not a pie that keeps well.  I'm quite pleased with how simple it is to make though.  It may just wind up getting on my roster of potluck contributions one of these days.  Uh oh, I see a pie phase coming.  Maybe I'll start with a Banana Cream Pie Period, and then, of course, move onto my Blue(berry pie) Period, hehehe.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Vehicle of My Dreams

I was watching Daily Planet tonight, and they did a show on Burning Man 2008.  There were all sorts of amazing pieces shown on the show, but there's one I really crave:  a personal muffin car.  There's a group that built about a dozen muffin and cupcake cars, and have been going to Burning Man for years with them.   They even let Jay Ingram drive the blueberry muffin for the show segment.   I could just imagine riding around town in one of these, complete with little topping hat.  I hope the creators don't mind me posting this photo of their amazing vehicles.  I want to go to Burning Man one day.   Baby steps, I guess - I had a blast at the first Pemberton Festival in June this year, and now have a taste for traveling to festivals.