December 10, 2003

Before I head off to the gym and come up with new things to complain about for this page, here are a few interstitial thoughts for your consideration:

On Snowball‘s sage advice, I have registered http://www.bakerina.com, and as of now you can use it to access this little page.  The old URL (bakerina.typepad.com) still works, though.  It’s all about choices here.

Like a fellow blogger ‘round these parts, I have spent thousands of hours at a website called Plastic, where members are invited to write discussion pieces about vital issues of the day, and then discuss them. When I started PTMYB, I put a link to it on my Plastic member page. Because my Plastic-universe name is jenmac (a combination of my first and last names), one of my buddies asked me if I am also nakedjen. Holy cow, dude, how much free time do you think I have? I mean, no, I am not also nakedjen. nakedjen and I live on opposite sides of the country, and I am not nearly as pretty naked as she is. Go visit Jen’s site; you’ll be glad you did.  (Keep in mind, though, that although the banner photo of Jen is beautiful, it is probably not safe for work, at least if you work at a company like mine.)

My most excellent brother (who, until I get permission to use his name, will be known in this space as BOB, not as in short for Robert but as in Brother of Bakerina) gave me an e gift certificate for my birthday, which I used to buy, among other things, this beautiful new book by the Canadian husband-and-wife team of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Even if it were just a collection of excellent recipes and beautiful photographs, it would be a book well worth having. But it is more: it is also a collection of essays on their travels around the world, alone and together, and the introduction contains a loving apologia for home baking, and why it is worth our while to not let this tradition die out. That said, the recipes look terrific, and I am at a loss for what to try first: the rye quick bread? the Silk Country Road naan? kouignamann, the sublime Breton yeasted butter cake? the fascinating Thai tuiles, sweet rice-flour cookies wrapped around a savory scallion filling? the Persian cardamom cookies, made with rice flour instead of wheat? I might just have to call in sick for the rest of the month.

Back in August, I went to Pittsburgh for a week to visit my college roommate, find a neighborhood to which Lloyd and I might like to move, and scout out locations for what was supposed to be my bakery, and now appears to be “the futile obsession over which I spin my wheels nightly.” From the news weasels at Plastic comes this AP story, which states that Pittsburgh is so broke that its credit rating has been reduced to junk-bond status and the mayor has asked for both a “distressed city” designation and a team of state receivers to review the city’s budget.  I went to college in Pittsburgh.  I loved this city from the first moment I laid eyes on it, I love it still, and the thought of this happening to it makes my heart hurt in a way that nothing else ever has.

Posted by Bakerina at 01:15 PM in stuff and nonsense • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 09, 2003

At the beginning of November my pal Walt, who lives in Phoenix, spent a long weekend in New York, two days with a friend in Morningside Heights, two days with Lloyd and me.  (He has asked that I refer to him as “architectural consultant Walt Lockley,” because, uh, that’s who he is and what he does, but Walt, honey, I can only do it once, or else this post will need a whole ‘nother paragraph.) Walt is not only an architectural consultant, he is an architecture fiend. The phrase “encyclopedic knowledge” gets bandied out much too frequently, in my opinion, but Walt is one of those rare examples of the form defined. Everyone should have a Walt in his/her life. It’s not just that he has fascinating stories and informational tidbits at his fingertips; when he points out interesting facades, sconces, details, he makes you want to learn more. When he encounters something on which he hasn’t read extensively (trust me,this is rare indeed), he doesn’t think twice about going on the building tour. Going out to lunch is now filled with new observations; I look up, I peer at a ledge at this grand old building on 52nd and Lexington (Walt, what is that building? Never mind, I’ll look it up in the AIA Guide!), and wonder at who had the bright idea to put so many rococo pieces on such an Art Deco-ish building. It is because Walt went on the Grand Central Terminal tour that he learned that the famous main concourse ceiling, which was cleaned in a massive and controversial restoration project just a few years ago, has a tiny piece that was left uncleaned, so that anyone who can find it can marvel at how dark and filthy it used to be, and how deep-blue and beautiful it is now. It is because he told me this that I now look for it every night on my commute home. I check to make sure I am not cutting off the flow of traffic, I stop, I look up, and I feel better somehow for having spotted it.

One of the spots he asked to visit was Rockefeller Center. Now, as a midtown worker bee, and one who works just blocks away from Rockefeller Center at that, I viewed his request initially with trepidation. There is almost never a time when Rockefeller Center is not teeming with humanity, particularly ever since the Today show moved into the studio with the picture window. (If you are a traveler to New York City who either visited or plans to visit Rockefeller Center so that the NBC cameras will capture you waving your “Hi Mom!"/"Hi, Katie, Matt and Al!"/"Hi, Texas!” signs, welcome to New York. No, really, we are glad to see you, we know you could have spent your vacation anywhere, I will be glad to give you directions to the subway and I’ll throw in a recommendation for a nice place to have lunch. Just please, please, please remember that while you are standing 12 deep on the sidewalk, I need to get to work. If the NYCTA is up to its usual shenanigans, I am probably late for work. I recognize that you are all very cute, but I am not in a mood to appreciate your cuteness right now.) It only gets better at Christmas, when the Rock Center Christmas tree is lit, and the ice rink is open. Of course I took him there, because it was the only thing he specifically asked for on that day. I crossed my fingers, hoping silently that the throngs of people visiting the NBC Experience store, taking the virtual NBC Studios tour, would not render our visit painful and headachy.

Silly me. I needn’t have feared. Those throngs weren’t interested in the lobby of the Associated Press building, and most of the people at our ultimate destination building, the GE Building, a/k/a the RCA Building, a/k/a 30 Rock, were headed to the NBC store. Walt, on the other hand, was much more interested in checking out the wall murals, which were conceived as a paean to industry and technology as our steppingstone to a Cleaner, Brighter, Better Future. There is nothing quite like the sight of painted gods, 30 feet high, giving birth to airplanes. This is Big Art. Sadly, the one piece of Big Art we would have really liked to see was Diego Rivera’s famous mural, in which Lenin is depicted as a Really Super Guy, while John D. Rockefeller Jr. is shown sipping a martini underneath an ellipsis containing pictures of venereal disease germs. Apparently John D. was not impressed, because he ordered the whole thing painted over. You would think that anyone who allowed gods to give birth to airplanes in his lobby would have more of a sense of humor about this, but there you are.

Before we left, Walt asked if we could look at the mosaic over the Sixth Avenue entrance to the building. I still can’t believe that I worked across the street from this mosaic for over a year and I never noticed it. It is another piece of Big Art, made from over a million tiny tiles. Because it depicts Big Ideas, I feel like I should give it some big, writerly thoughts, but I can’t. It’s just too damn funny.

The mosaic in question was designed by an artist named Barry Faulkner. He was the best friend of another artist with a Rockefeller Center commission, Paul Manship. Faulkner’s vision was to depict Thought as a god, saving the proletariat from the evils of Ignorance, Poverty, Cruelty and Fear, depicted as green coppery wraiths being flung into fiery pits. Said fiery pits are on each end of the mosaic. Averting their eyes from the pits and toward the winged seraphim beckoning them are two pairs of what are meant to be average working-class men and women (it’s the overalls that give it away). The seraphim are assigned names such as “History,” “Religion,” “Drama,” “Politics,” etc. They are all watched over by two angels, department supervisors, apparently, one named “Written Words” and one named “Spoken Words.” Between them is the big boss Thought, of indeterminate gender but dressed rather like the Virgin Mary. We are not talking about subtlety here. This mural ate subtlety for breakfast. The New York Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell said as much when he wrote:  “I have been trying to decide where, in the wide, wide world, this acre of mosaic might make a nice spot, but for the life of me I can’t...As a work of art it is one of the most inept, graceless, empty pieces of mural decoration I have ever seen,” although he did note that at lease the tiles appeared to be cemented correctly.  (Credit for this should probably go to the Ravenna Mosaic Company of Long Island City, Queens, though.) *

The best part of this mural, at least to me, is that three of the seraphim in Spoken Word’s department are named Philosophy, Hygiene and Publicity. (A-ha! So she didn’t just make that up!)

Why, yes, there are photos. See right.

If you have a friend like Walt in your life, keep him, or her, close to you. If you don’t, find one as soon as you possibly can. You have no idea how much fun you will have until you do.

*I found this quote in a new history of Rock Center called Great Fortune:  The Epic of Rockefeller Center. It is written by Daniel Okrent, one of the best and most readable historians extant. In his hands, it is fun to read about rich old plutocrats. We are lucky to call ourselves his contemporaries. Get it at the library, or better yet, ask for it as a winter-holiday-of-your-choice gift.

Posted by Bakerina at 09:18 PM in • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 08, 2003

Before I even begin, I will lay my cards on the table:

I am not an anti-consumerist. I do loathe an overproliferation of advertising as much as anyone, and I am weary of being unable to look at a nice big brick building without seeing some 100-foot fabric nightmare trying to sell me Altoids or Diesel jeans or Smirnoff. I get vaguely anxious when I see corporate sponsorship splashed about hither and yon, as in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, which is supposed to be about the history of skirts in menswear, but is really just an excuse for him to show off his new designs, which, unsurprisingly, feature skirts for men. I am a wary, cautious consumer, but a consumer nonetheless. Anyone who doubts me need only come home with me and be greeted by the hundredweight of books and specialty grains and French baking equipment that threatens to overtake our living space.

I do not hate fine jewelry. Admittedly, I am not nuts about diamonds. I am more of an emerald girl, so much so that I once nearly talked myself into buying a pair of emerald stud earrings at Bloomingdale’s that I did not need, could not afford and certainly would be too nervous to wear. I should have charged tickets to the performance of the inner monologue on this: “Wow! 50% off! And the sales guy said that all jewelry is an additional 15% on top of that! And if I apply for a Bloomie’s card, I’ll get 10% on top of that! So, if the price is $2,800, that makes $1,400 with the 50% off, minus $420 makes $980, minus $280 if I get the Bloomie’s card...wait a minute, that’s still $700! I can buy two years’ worth of clothes for $700.00! Go home, fool!”

I do not wish for another husband. I think that the one I have is just perfect for me, as I’ve mentioned in this space before and will try not to do overmuch.  I did not follow the New York striver-girl path of sussing out a man’s future earning potential.  From our first date I knew that Lloyd was the fella for me, even if we spent the rest of our lives working at our low-paying retail bookselling jobs.  (Thankfully, we did not.) I want him to do any work that makes him happy.  I do not want him to become a stockbroker, unless he decides it would be a fun thing to do, which I don’t think he will.

Having declared all that, I must confess that today I was driven to a state of simultaneous anger, guilt and self-loathing by advertising.  I realize that in even mentioning this ad, I am rewarding the company that brought me to this state.  If one takes the view that any ad that generates attention and discussion is a good ad, then these ads have done their job.  I admit this freely.  The company in question is De Beers, and they do a brilliant job creating ads that stick in the mind.  Unfortunately.

One thing I like about commuting via Grand Central is that if the weather is really dreadful, I can take advantage of an underground walkway, which the MTA has named, evocatively, the Northeast Passage.  If you follow it all the way to the end, it lets you out literally at my office building.  In bitter cold or pounding rainstorms, it is a godsend.  One tradeoff of staying dry is that you are treated to a good 1/4 mile of advertising, all for the same company; the MTA seems to be selling the ad space as single-vendor space.  This month’s advertiser is De Beers, rolling out all their stops for Christmas, showing giant photographs of diamond rings, earrings, necklaces and tennis bracelets, along with pearls of wisdom, in a full-caps aggressive font, like these:

YOU GOT HER.  SHE GOT YOU.  YOU MIGHT WANT TO DO SOMETHING BEFORE THAT SINKS IN.

SHE’LL STILL HAVE SOMETHING NICE TO LOOK AT WHEN YOU START GAINING WEIGHT AND LOSING HAIR.

HOPE YOU’RE PAYING ATTENTION, BECAUSE THERE WILL BE A TEST ON DECEMBER 25.

WHITE HORSE AND SHINING ARMOR SOLD SEPARATELY.

APPEASE THE GODDESS AND SHE MIGHT LET YOU LIVE ANOTHER YEAR.

And the kicker, the one that nearly made blood gout out of my scalp:

EVER WONDER WHY SO MANY BABIES ARE BORN IN SEPTEMBER?

In case I haven’t made my feelings manifest, I hate, hate, hate these ads.

The thing I hate about these ads is not that they make me want something I don’t have. I hate them because they play on that consumer-striver sentiment. Normally my biggest issue with De Beers ads is that they create desire for baubles in people who can ill-afford to buy them, as witnessed by the ageless chestnut tag line, “How else can two months’ salary last forever?”

The new ads, though, these are different. If I am reading them correctly, they are there to create desire for baubles in people who not only can afford to buy them, but are smug about being able to afford them. I work on Park Avenue, in a giant slab of a building surrounded by other giant slab buildings. UBS is in our building. JPMorganChase is across the street. SalomonSmithBarney, Bank of New York, Citigroup, they’re all right here, and you can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who works for one of these titans, works like a dog, yes, but even in slow years there is money to burn. These are the people for whom De Beers is gunning.

These guys work out at my gym, or, I should say, I work out at their gym, because they are the target market for the gym. It’s a private club, more money than I should be spending for working out, but I suck it up and pay the Amex bill every month because the gym is right across the street, I get my own permanent locker and all workout clothing is provided by the gym, and there isn’t any of that pseudo-high-school-meat-market-plus-snotty-competitive-girls atmosphere. By and large, the people who work out there have 40 minutes to work out, they have no time to waste, they want to do their thing and get out. So the bankers and brokers show up, sometimes they run, sometimes they lift, but most often they play basketball. Apparently their jobs engender a lot of anger and stress, because for all of the pre- and post-game backslapping and high-fiving, these guys play mean. I have seen foreheads split open. I have heard the story, told to me by the saleswoman who sold me my membership, that one time four guys slammed into the supposedly-shatterproof glass wall hard enough to shatter it, and then complained that the management wouldn’t just let them play around the broken glass.

So these are the guys that De Beers is courting, men hopped up on money and stress and basketball endorphins and good Scotch and a cigar at Christmas, to act out these fantasies of being Big Daddy to the Little Woman while simultaneously being the Dumb Little Kid to the Ball and Chain That is Far Too Good for You.  A lot of these guys have stay-at-home wives, and of course I will never castigate a woman for staying at home, because that’s a deeply personal choice that needs no justification or apology.  But I’ve noticed that some of the gym guys get a real charge out of the idea of bringing home a piece of ice for the little woman, and bragging about it to their basketball crew.  Maybe it is a genuine declaration of love, but sometimes it also sounds like a tacit reminder of just who is earning the money that made that piece of ice possible.  At its worst, it is a real declaration of power, the iron fist in the velvet glove.  Yet with that power, De Beers is also selling a weird kind of anti-power, a winking acknowledgment that the little woman gets to be the real adult in the relationship, because you, bringer-home-of-bacon, you don’t have a clue.  Without her, you’d never find your clean socks, you wouldn’t know if the mortgage had been paid, your kids would be eating frosting out of a can for breakfast, and you wouldn’t even remember your own mother’s birthday!  Of course, you could try to be a little less dependent, a little more self-sufficient, buy your mom a damn birthday card and mail it yourself, but wouldn’t it just be more fun to admit that you’re a fuckup and buy her something pretty instead?

By the time I got up to the street, I should have been in a good lather of righteous indignation, but I wasn’t.  I was depressed.  I was depressed because I’ve never wanted that kind of life for myself, and I never wanted to have that kind of relationship with Lloyd, but when you are surrounded by advertising that caters to this desired demographic, it can make a person feel insignificant.  Or maybe not insignificant; maybe it’s more of a sense of redundancy, or extraneousness.  These ads say to me, we’re looking for the real economic muscle of the city, and we’re going to remind them of their significance in the great scheme of things.  Is our message for you?  No?  Piss off then.

I could be extrapolating a bit.  And I definitely feel a bit arrogant assigning my own motives to men who really, truly might want to give their wives a tennis bracelet because they love them.  I will confess that I once went on a rant like this around Valentine’s Day, when De Beers ran a similar set of irritating ads, to a once-friend of mine.  She looked at me with incredulity and said, “How do you know all this?  Who gave you the right to judge?  Are you the CEO of love?” I thought that was a great line, and was about to laugh and agree with her that I was being ridiculous, when she added, “Maybe you’re just angry because you know that you could never get a guy like that.” Uh, beg pardon?  “Oh, come on.  You know that a guy like that isn’t going to look twice at you.” I couldn’t completely disagree with her—I make lousy trophy-wife material—but I was left bemused by what people will say out loud to each other.

I can’t wait until all this nonsense is over and the Horatio Hornblower ads come back.

Posted by Bakerina at 10:10 PM in anger is an energy • (0) Comments
December 07, 2003

Note:  I wanted to refer to any shorter pieces as Station Breaks, as an homage to the good folks at teevee.org, who refer to the little pieces they intersperse with larger articles as “station breaks.” But since I don’t yet know my way around copyright law and fair use, and since their copyright citation says that one of their writers is a hungry lawyer, I will refrain from stealing their nomenclature.  If you’ve never been to teevee.org, go visit them as soon as you have at least three hours on your hands, because once you start reading them, you will want to dip into the archive.  Trust me.

Normally, I don’t hold much truck with people who complain about cheesy horror movies.  I’m not talking about people who legitimately don’t like them; my beef is not with you.  I’m talking about people who should know better, people who should be skilled at watching a trailer, or reading a movie poster, or, heck, looking it up in Leonard Maltin or on imdb, recognizing that they are in the presence of something terrible, but hey, sometimes you’re in the mood for two hours of something laughably terrible, watching it and still complaining about it.  When I was a retail bookselling wage slave, one of my coworkers said she couldn’t understand why Lloyd and I were such big fans of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, because “the movies are so terrible!” Well, yes.  Considering that the story of MST3K is of a guy who is marooned in space and is forced to watch bad movies as part of a lab experiment, we weren’t tuning into it looking for The Thin Man, or Local Hero, or even Death in Venice—although, come to think of it, the Best Brains crew would probably make a nice tasty hash out of Death in Venice, and I for one would tune in.  (The real reason I am an MST3K fan is that I am convinced that Michael J. Nelson is my twin brother, from whom I was separated at birth, and whose existence my parents still deny, but they can’t fool me.  We have the same evil dark side, we both enjoy a good hot dish, and we look almost exactly alike, which is fine if you’re a guy like Mike, but not exactly attractive if you’re a gal like me.)

Today, though, I’ve found where to draw the line.  Two sweet hours of my life will never be reclaimed, because I gave it up to Frogs.  Even though I knew, nay, embraced the potential for badness as soon as I saw on the screen “Samuel Z. Arkoff presents an American International Picture,” even though I knew that there would be improbable events aplenty to drive the plot along (one of the characters is killed in a greenhouse after a malevolent gila monster—I am not making this up—deliberately knocks a bottle labeled POISON off a narrow shelf), I still found myself feeling dirty at the end of Frogs, to a degree that bad movies don’t usually leave in me.  I think it was watching Ray Milland, who I loved so in Dial M for Murder and The Lost Weekend and Reap the Wild Wind, playing the cranky old Southern patriarch who sets the murderous amphibian rampage in motion by having chemical waste dumped in the bayou.  In fact, the last time I felt this dirty was watching Ray in The Thing with Two Heads, which is so horrifying-but-not-in-a-cheesy-fun-way that I cannot speak of it further.  If you love Ray Milland at all, stay far away from these, as they’ll just make you wonder in how much debt he was when he consented to make these.  If you’re not familiar with his work, start with Dial M for Murder.  Ray would thank you for it, I’m sure.

I will admit to one laugh:  We were watching this on Showtime Beyond, one of the zillion channels we picked up when we switched to digital cable and high-speed Internet.  Showtime Beyond bills itself as a vaguely sci-fi/fantasy/horror/Tales of the Unknown type of channel.  After Frogs ended, the next film began immediately:  Mr. Destiny, a shameless It’s a Wonderful Life-style knockoff starring Jim Belushi and Michael Caine, who really should have known better.  I thought that whoever decided to put these films back-to-back was a genius, and I finally knew the answer to the question “you know what you should do?” Yes, I do!  I should be a program planner for a cheesy pay-tv network!  Sign me up!  Sign me up now!

Posted by Bakerina at 05:54 PM in stuff and nonsense • (1) Comments
December 06, 2003

There is pie in our immediate future.  We are receiving 6 inches of snow today on top of the 6 inches of snow we got yesterday.  This morning I had the bright idea to go outside with digital camera and take pictures of my neighborhood, the famous beautiful uptown Astoria, and its new cover of snow.  I lasted long enough to take one picture, a long shot of the block where we live, and then decided that I could wait until the temperature got above 22 before heading to the park.  So there will not be pictures, but there will be pie.  Maybe there will be pictures of pie, since I am one of those sad sacks who takes pictures of my own loaves of bread when they turn out nicely.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been on a bit of a pie bender this fall, ever since I went to a bread class in Vermont and picked up a book called Apple Pie Perfect by Ken Haedrich.  Although I’ve been baking pies, at least twice a year, for most of my adult life, I didn’t really feel that I had got the hang of them until about four years ago.  Everything I made would be almost-but-not-quite right, at least to me.  (Lloyd would have the same comment every time:  “Don’t be sad.  You always have a little learning curve with a recipe, but after you make it once, you get the hang of it.  Is there more?  Is there ice cream left to go with it?")

I didn’t have a lot of patience with Lloyd’s observation, or with the oft-repeated advice in cookbooks that experience is the best teacher—if that’s the case, then why did I just shell out $35.00 for your book?—but having bought plenty of those books, and having made plenty of pies, I will now allow that the more you do it, the more you know what to look for.  John Thorne, the author/publisher of the newsletter Simple Cooking, has said that there are bread people and there are pastry people in the way that there are dog people and there are cat people.  I would add that there are dog and cat people, and there are bread and pastry people.  Thorne describes the differences as a matter of methodology:  bread people enjoy the shaggy-dog-love straightforwardness of bread dough, which, within limits, will cheerfully take any rough play, any pummelling, you want to give it.  Pastry people, on the other hand, appreciate some coolness, a restrained hand, an understanding that if you handle your pie crust just so, it will reward you in its own self-contained, flinty-eyed way.  I don’t disagree with him, but I think there is more to bread love, and pastry love, than that.  I think it’s all part of a bigger animal, namely ingredient love.  I love the feel of bread dough in my hands; I love building a starter, when you start with nothing but water and flour exuding the scent of clean wheat, feeding it over five days until you end up with a starter, redolent of whatever wild yeast is abundant on the grain and/or in your kitchen.  For some reason, every starter I’ve ever cultured in this kitchen takes on an apple-like tang, even though I’ve never put a single slice of apple in a single starter.  I love knowing that you don’t have to knead the dough into submission to develop gluten properly, that you can use a light touch to blend the ingredients together, then put the dough up to ferment, then go back to that dough after an hour and give it a series of folds, and when you’re done folding it, the dough feels tighter and firmer, the gluten is starting to do its job.  I also love putting a pie crust together, taking loose amalgamations of flour, fat and liquid, so resistant to joining up, and yet they do join up, and nicely enough that you can roll them into a sheet.  I love that as long as you take care of your butter, don’t try to moosh it completely into the dough, it will reward you by yielding a flaky crust and a warm golden hue.  Even though I have washed my hands carefully so as not to smut up my spiffy new laptop with butter and flour, my fingers are still redolent of butter and flour.  It is driving me crazy, happily so.

The pie crust adventure came close to ending less than happily, though.  Old habits die hard, and one of my oldest habits was underhydrating pie dough, and then wondering why it would crumble underneath the rolling pin.  For years, I thought that the problem was with me, that I just didn’t have the touch.  Then I read Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay “Pies from Paradise,” in The Man Who Ate Everything, in which he identifies the Nasty Gluten Theory of Flaky Tender Crisp American Piecrust.  The prevailing wisdom in baking books is that you want to avoid everything you can to develop gluten in a crust, since gluten is what makes a pie crust tough, and makes it shrink in baking.  Certainly too much gluten will yield you a crust that looks like parchment and chews like gum, and yet, as Steingarten says, too little gluten is as bad as too much.  This should not be radical advice—if you want this dough to stand up in a pie pan, of course it should have enough structural integrity to do so—but most pie crust recipes I’ve read are fond of warning you that even a teaspoon too much liquid will result in hideous gluten overdevelopment, and once you’re past the point of no return, you might as well hang it up and go buy your pie at McDonald’s, you clumsy oaf.  Jeffrey Steingarten taught me otherwise.  Jeffrey Steingarten is my hero.

I mix the pie crust.  It’s crumbly.  Add more water.  Still crumbly.  Add more water.  Still crumbly, but basically holding together.  I compress the crumbs into two semi-cohesive piles, wrap ‘em up, let ‘em sit in the fridge to relax the gluten and hydrate the crust evenly.  I join Lloyd in the living room, where he is watching Black Rain.  Michael Douglas still has his own structural integrity.  Andy Garcia looks about 12.  I head back out to the kitchen, retrieve the pie crust from the fridge and start rolling.  Cracking, crumbling, unmitigated disaster.  I try patching the dough with more scraps cut from the perimeter of the dough.  Crack, crumble, crack, crumble.  I wonder if kneading the dough will help—but you can’t knead pie crust!  Nasty gluten!  Nasty gluten!  Then I calm down, breathe, get quiet inside.  I remember the best piece of cooking advice I ever got, from the assistant pastry chef at the hip-n-fancy Italian restaurant where I interned after culinary school.  I can’t remember what I was working with on that day, chocolate maybe, but it wasn’t working, and I was nervous, frustrated and terrified of screwing up.  I didn’t realize she was watching me, because she was busy simultaneously making caramel and pate brisee and quince sorbet base, all without breaking a sweat, but she walked over to me and said, nicely, “Never fight with your ingredients, because your ingredients will always win.”

So I consider what is in front of me, what kind of touch it requires.  I start to knead it, gently, so as not to melt the pieces of butter in the dough, and surprise!  it smoothes out, that what was crumbly now is cohesive, that which wanted to split apart now wants to stay together.  I rewrap everything, throw it back in the fridge to give it a rest, knowing that when the time comes to roll it out, it will roll.  There is pie in our immediate future.

Posted by Bakerina at 06:07 PM in stuff and nonsense • (1) Comments
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