Monday, September 15, 2008

So the question that has been posed to me is:

What does the name of this blog mean?

The name came to me in a moment of reflection and boredom; I was sitting in the basement of the library at school between the stacks, participating in a frosh activity against my better judgement.

The faculty head, in her wisdom, decided that the members of the baking school needed to bond and arranged a scavenger hunt of sorts. I was chosen to hide out at the library, fittingly, and had taken a chair and perched in the two small sections of ancient baking books that are supposed to inspire us and guide our careers.

I had a pocket full of clues, a head full of confusion and a heart full of anger.

While there, bored, with no cell reception, trapped in my starched uniform I began to browse.

Amongst the ancient tomes my mind began to spin, as it usually does-forming thoughts and pondering my feelings.

As I flipped through the meagre selection I reflected on what the base of baking is...what gives baking life.

Why I am so passionate about it.

Simply put, flour and sugar are the bases for most everything. One could argue there are five elements I suppose- flour, sugar, eggs, butter and cream. A bread baker would tell you he could live with only flour, salt, water and yeast. A purist would tell you there is no life without vanilla and salt.

As I pondered the basis of baking, I thought about the base elements that give life.

We can live a long time without food-but can survive only a short time without water.

Without blood, there is nothing.

And so, as I sat and thought about how crazy it was that at 35 I was in my second year of college, my third career and as confused about everything as I was at 17, I decided I needed to write again. I had to express some of the parallels I had noted over the last year between baking and life.

It is all one big metaphor.

Baking is a solitary venture. We bakers are often stuck in corners or basements, trusted to make the bread and pastry that everyone desires. We are considered the neurosurgeons of the kitchen-cautious, rigid, picky...crazy-and not in the romantic way people adore chefs.

Our lives are dictated by rules, tradition and lists.

Not many people think about where they would be without the bread we make every day. They don't understand that unlike cooking we spend hours nursing "the bitch", (bread starter) talking to her, assessing her health, murmuring nurturing words.

It is not about throwing things together to make beautiful taste, its not a quickfire line with a screaming Chef and a service that ends with a fag and a beer.

It is hours of thought,
a deep understanding of chemistry,
a steady hand
and a passionate heart.

Bakers are loners.
Bakers are thinkers.
Bakers are defective.

Even the craziest of cooks works in a brigade-no matter how dysfunctional the relationships are, they need relationships, partnership, teamwork to succeed.

A team of bakers can work independently and only meet to assemble the final product.

The chocolatier works alone in the cool room. The patisserie works near the fridge where the icing is kept. The bread baker is over by the oven, watching the racks rotate, flipping hot bread out of the pans. The Chef is in the back hall, under the stairs making a sugar piece. Some of us work in silence, others have the radio playing softly.

We spend hours not speaking.

An apprentice cook in a kitchen I work in told me that he could never be a baker because he could never be so alone, so silent.


He loved to come to the bakery to enjoy the silence-and watch all the things he just didn't understand.

Funny enough, it is to the bakery that the desperate cooks wander...tired, tearful, wanting. I have observed that the bakers tend to be the bartenders of the kitchen: our space is quiet, warm and smells like love. The sad, the angry and the frustrated find our corners under stairs, in the basement, in the back room and come to talk, rest, get away.

You'll find many a Chef crying in the bakery, poor laundry workers and dishwashers come daily knowing we have saved bags of day old bread and croissant for their families, the servers come for cookies and a chance to air frustrations. In all of this we knead the bread, bake the cake, make the chocolate and listen.

I find it comforting, that on a Sunday morning the stock boy will come to see if I'm ok if he doesn't smell chocolate chip cookies by 6am.

I know that the delivery drivers will arrive at 7 for muffins.

The Executive Chef likes a little whipped cream in his coffee. I also give him a few pieces of chocolate. He always eats them in silence and watches me ice cakes.

The dishwasher doesn't speak English, but loves a fresh bun with butter.

The maintenance men wait patiently at the door for napkins full of warm bread sticks.

I've been writing for years, on scraps of paper, in long lost diaries--in my head...this medium is an effort to push out the things that are building inside of me, see them written and real and:

move on.

Its not chronological, it doesn't always make sense, its just the things I think about that need to be sorted. I seriously considered turning off comments, because visits and comments are not the goal. Of course, I left them, because I always want to know what you think.

Flaw #1.

So again, I find myself at the precipice of change and rather than let it drive me crazy perhaps this will allow me the time and space to reflect rather than obsess.

Who knows.

So as I work amid the flour and the sugar I will reflect on my days: the water and the blood.

I thank you for your interest.

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