My group is responsible for much of tomorrow's Fresh Start session. We will be doing worship, providing a brunch of sorts, and our mentor/leader will be doing the plenary session.
I got the worship bulletin done a couple of days ago, so tonight was spent in the very soothing activity of baking for the hospitality. I made madeleines*, those lovely little shell-shaped cakes beloved of Proust's memory, and a crumb coffeecake. The madeleines were Julia's recipe, ones that I've been making for 36 years (!). The only improvement on the original recipe is using the silicon-based Gastroflex molds, much easier to use and simpler to store. The crumb coffeecake was out of Cooks Illustrated, a wonderful advertising-free magazine for food nerds. Chemistry for gourmands. My house now smells like Mrs. Claus's kitchen. Damn this low-carb diet I'm currently on - the others will have to report to me tomorrow whether the goodies were truly good.
My mother was a wonderful cook, but she was not comfortable with baking - she usually used mixes out of a box. They weren't bad, but, oh!, the difference in making something from scratch.
One of the differences, of course, is that it does take longer to make things from scratch. I think I mentioned the other day that I had experimented with Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread. It's a remarkable recipe - just a 1/4 tsp yeast for a whole loaf, made possible by an extremely long first rise - 12 to 18 hours. It is incredibly simple...the challenge is living with a recipe that becomes part of your household for two days.
In past years, I used to make my own chicken and beef stocks, actually cooking them down to demiglace. There was a difference in flavor, but I no longer have the patience or the time to do the work - at least a days' work.
But there is something most satisfying about understanding how to start something from scratch and see it through to completion. Maybe it is my age that now gives me the ability to ride the time curve, or maybe it is a desire to fully taste food that is real. All I know is that it is a pleasurable process, when I can eke out the minutes, hours, days to do this, and it is meditative work.
Brother Lawrence was right.
* No, this isn't Julia's precise recipe, but it's quite close, and the blog post is charming. My recipe is from Julia's "The French Chef" cookbook.