Although I have fond memories of baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom: my favorite part was putting the just-shelled walnuts through the chopper – yes, we did it all by hand! – I’ve always been more of a cook than a baker. Becoming a vegetarian at age 15 made me more aware and inquisitive of food than most of my peers and spurred a lifelong passion for cooking for myself and others. I even worked as a private chef and caterer in my 20s. I had some memorable gigs that showed a lot of chutzpah for a self-taught cook. (Something I had in spades when I was younger.)
Alas life can throw us for a loop and mine has led to a certain level of burnout that’s included among a list of things I formerly did and enjoyed a diminishment of cooking interest; that is, I still have the appetite for and enjoyment of a great home cooked meal but the thought of all that slicing and chopping and other work, let alone the clean up – well, I’m just not up for it much of the time. I do what I must but don’t feel the energy to be all inventive and energized to create a small feast, something I used to do regularly.
Meanwhile I bake a bit more for two reasons: after going gluten-free a few years ago at my doctor’s suggestion, I wanted versions of snacks like oatmeal cookies or banana bread but better and cheaper than what’s available at a store.
Second, V started baking at home with a home therapist who helped out some weekday afternoons. He had been in the Marines and taught V good habits like cleaning up as you go, as well as how to crack an egg and mis en place. V also did some baking in the past with B, who’s a very kind and patient big brother. And on occasion I would try to get him to help out with my baking projects. So it’s something V has done well at, which helps build confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Important stuff.
This week I baked for Fabulous Friday, the breakfast I’m helping to coordinate for V’s school faculty, all 200+ of them. I decided on my scones since they are a staff favorite and made them seasonal with dried cranberries instead of currants. I have been making this recipe since receiving the Vegetarian Epicure as a gift when I was 16. So for 46 years! It’s been my go to for authentic scones. (my aunt and uncle lived in Oxford when I was little and schooled me on all things English from a young age: ) I’ve made these so often that I know how to make them just right, when the dough is that perfect elasticity: not sticky nor dry. It’s a satisfying activity, requiring complete concentration yet at the same time relaxing.
I also made a gluten free version of cookies from a NYT recipe, with banana and oatmeal. I used coconut oil instead of butter so they’re vegan too. And I threw in some tart dried cherries. They taste as delicious as any other cookie but can be eaten by staff on special diets.
It was fun spending the whole morning baking: 4 dozen scones and 3 dozen cookies. Just to go into a zone and whisk and blend and knead and shape and keep putting things into our little oven and once everything cooled down getting it all into containers. T drove me down to school on Thursday where the staff happily stored them for Friday’s event. It’s a really gratifying way to show gratitude and love. I’m hoping to get back to cooking as the weather cools and it becomes soup season. For now a day of baking hit the spot.