a bake-aholic's confession

Like a lot of things in my life, in everybody's lives, they take time. Sometimes, they take a long time.

Like choosing a career, finding a mate, buying a house, selling a house, getting good at a career, getting good at anything, having a child, raising a child, establishing a community, changing careers, caring for a pet, reading Atlas Shrugged, making friends, keeping friends, changing careers again, moving, planning a trip...to name a few.

Not baking.

With baking, there is an immediate result. Along with the actual baked item, comes satisfaction, accomplishment, a sense of completion.

I am a writer and if I wrote like a baked, people would be stuffed with overindulgence. Writing takes time. At least for me it does. I suppose writing is more like cooking. Things are being chopped and trimmed, stirred and mixed. I'm letting them simmer. And that's OK. I've got several stories on the go, in various states of completion (cooked vs. raw), and that is how things will get done. For me. For now.

In the meantime, I bake. I made a two honey raspberry cakes (pictured), doubled the recipe by accident, scuffles - old family recipe for rolled up cinnamon pastries, oatmeal pecan chocolate chip cookies, carrot muffins, quinoa cranberry cake, brownies, blueberry bran muffins and oatmeal lightening squares. And that was just March.

My favourite writing teacher categorizes her writing into headings named after foods. (She bakes too)

1. Fresh Ingredients - new ideas, things you transcribe from writing classes, exercises, stuff from your notebook, random thoughts.
2. Cooking - stories that are being worked on, each gets its own folder, having graduated from Fresh Ingredients to a real 'dish'
3. Leftovers - stuff you wrote but you don't want to look at anymore. You don't want to throw it away (delete it) but it has to go somewhere.

At the moment, I make videos for a living. These have a fairly immediate result and are not as bad as feature films or documentaries, which can take years. It's probably why I've stayed at the same job for seven years. Variety. Change of subject. Something different. But even some of these short corporate videos or public service announcement projects can linger around longer than necessary. Sometimes MUCH longer and I need to bake something when I get home just to feel like something is done.

Or a theatre play. You rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, the same material for weeks on end before the show even opens. I don't know how they do it on Broadway. But a pumpkin loaf? You're out of the kitchen with a tasty snack, when the toothpick comes out clean, in about an hour.

Baking is also a good way to try something new. Similar to my work as a producer, where I have new subjects, new clients, new people, trying new recipes keeps me coming back to the kitchen. The cookbooks and online resources are endless. And once you've been at it a while, like baking, producing, or writing, you begin to see the pattern. And once you know how something works, you can change it up. Use a different flour, a new lens, another point of view. You'll still get a cake, a video or a story, the result is the same, but different.

It doesn't stop at baking, it's cooking too. I try new recipes to vary up the meals, to not get stuck in a rut.

There is a shop in the basement of St. Lawrence Market way at the back that has so many different food items in it I could stay there poking and sniffing and snooping around the bins of weird nuts and seeds, cans of imported sauces and pickled vegetables, individual vermicelli packages, dried Saskatoon berries, kamut flour, acai jam, bits of dried pear and pineapple, colourful French mustards, at least 100 kinds of chocolate, stubs of blueberry flavoured Australian licorice, saffron and halva and spinach spaghettini. I could stay for hours, but they close at six.

It's like discovering a new author. Same thing goes for music, or a new band. An interesting cocktail, or a new wine. You dive in a read and listen and taste all this newness that is inspiring, enlightening, satisfying, fulfilling. With reading, this week it's Annie Proulx. Annabel Lyon was last fall. I read Jonathan Franzen for the first time last Christmas.

Or trying a new route to the same destination. Just yesterday I took my bicycle out heading over to Bloor West. Well doesn't Glen Lake connect go all the way to Quebec Avenue which runs parallel with Gothic, where I lived for three weeks, four summers ago. Who knew?

It happens with places too. People go somewhere for the fist time and can't stop talking about it. People go somewhere new and then end up living there. I went to Montreal for the weekend once and stayed for six years.

So wash down that blood orange pistachio tart with a whiskey sour made with agave syrup, infused with earl grey tea while talking about your trip to the Galapagos, listening to jazz, which you rarely do.

It's healthy to keep things fresh and new. Experiment and grow, broaden your horizons and deepen your appreciation.

But in the end, it's about balance.

Everyone is different and we all have our favourite: books, bands, booze, food, routes, places. Our staples. Something you count on. Somewhere to turn. Someone you trust.

With baking, I know I will never go wrong with the cranberry streusel recipe I've been using for years. (It's because of the sour cream). My never-fail-doesn't-get-old seafood soup, is a hit every time. If I need to read something solid and rich that will not disappoint, I turn to Alice Munro. As for music, anything from Weezer is good, but I keep going back to REM's Automatic for the People and Cirque du Soleil's soundtrack from Alegria. Wine? On a Pelee Island kick, especially the Shiraz Cabernet blend. But once in a while I splurge on the tried and true Californian Zinfandel from Ravenswood, or Henry of Pelham's Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé that sparkles, for sparkly occasions.

I bake to make myself feel better.
I bake to enjoy the achievement.
I bake to savour a conclusion.

Thank goodness we have a freezer.

Paris; a food diary

I spent the first week of June in Paris, France on business.

The French have a few things I admire.

1. A direct way of communicating. Some call it rude, I call it effective.
2. Bakeries. The smell of warm butter wraps around you like a fuzzy blanket upon entering these magical sweet spaces. A welcome change from the stink of smoke, piss and diesel on the streets. The boulangeries are packed with stacks of pain au chocolat and croissant, trays of flan, meringues the size of cantaloupes, piles of baguette sandwiches, cakes, tarts, mousse, pies and biscuits.
3. Wine.
4. An excellent transit system. The Paris Metro is very well thought out with plenty of arrows, signs and logically planned routes. As a directionally challenged person, I can't say enough good things about how easy it was for me to get around the city.
5. Mustard. So many flavours, so little time.
6. Meals. The French take their eating seriously. Quality is king.

In addition to seeing Bastille, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysée and the Eiffel Tower, below is a list of what I ate:

AirFrance in flight meal:
Glass of Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top champagne
Chicken fricasse with egg and cream supreme sauce, wild rice medley, carrot and yellow zucchini julienne
Fruit compote
Cranberry-orange cake
Glass of Vins de Pay d'Oc Vermentina 2009 Coleurs du Sud

DAY 1 (cont'd)
Pain au chocolat
Cafe creme
(NOTE: this is the modern way to say 'cafe au lait' as the energetic waiter told me I was in the wrong century when I ordered a cafe au lait)
Baguette with tomato, goat cheese, proscuitto, lettuce and mayonnaise
Can of Heiniken from the minibar
Filet of salmon with a cream pepper sauce, green beans
Glass of Cote du Rhone

Red berry fruit blend smoothie
Cafe creme and a small pain au chocolat
Apple juice
Traditional "Train Bleu" lobster bisque
Sauteed lamb with pistachio and almond sauce served with dried apricot polenta
Fresh fruit with raspberry sorbet
Glass of Vin du Pays d'Oc Viognier
Glass of Cotes de Castillon Chateau Moulin de Bouty
Bottle of Orangina
Can of Heiniken from the minibar
Avocado shrimp cocktail
Marinated mussels and frites
Glass of Beaujoulais

Vanilla maple yogurt drink
Mango passionfruit fruit blend smoothie
"Amuse bouche" - a small glass of chopped cucumber, tomato and corn with oregano and chiles
Salade Parisienne
Glass of white wine
Can of Kronenberg from a corner store
Martini Rosso
Goat cheese pizza with fresh tomotoes, tomato sauce, mozzarella, oregano, arugula
Glass of red wine
Chocolat mousse

Pain au chocolat
Cafe creme
Kiwi pineapple fruit blend smoothie
AirFrance in flight meal:
Glass of Jacquart Brut Mosaique champagne
Chicken with blanquette cream sauce, rice and carrots
Camembert cheese
Chocolate mousse
Berry tartlet
Glass of Vins de Pays d'Oc 2008 Coleurs du Sud

A tasty trip but the highlight above all was watching a couple water hens with their five red headed baby chicks float around in a small pond at the Jardin des Plantes.

Here is the work I did.

It's nice to go away...but nicer to come home.
Especially with a couple of bottles of Lanson champagne in tow from the duty free shop.