There was that time when I bought the REALLY expensive chicken by accident.
$75+ worth of On-Sale, free-range, raised-with-classical-music-in-the-barn-and-wearing-knitted-chicken-sweaters kind of chicken, instead of the On-Sale chicken for the non-fancy-pants folks.
So, I can’t be trusted in the grocery store.
Now, we have an excess of sour cream: in fact, an entire, unopened container, ready to expire.
Doesn’t that sound perilous? “Ready to expire”.
Refrigerator products are so melodramatic.
Anyhoo, I thought I could be trusted. In fact, I felt rather like Ma in Little House on the Prairie when I had a light bulb moment this evening about the nearly-dead dairy product.
I know, I thought. I’ll make Grandma Helen’s coffee cake.
She used to feed it to us for special breakfasts and it’s all brown-sugary and sour-cream-donut-y and NOT CHOCOLATE, so clearly suitable for breakfast because that’s a rule.
I rushed off on a surge of pride to tell Practical Man as these Ma-in-Little-House-frugal moments are rare from me. Grandma Helen’s coffee cake has lots of sour cream in it and would use up most of the almost-at-the-pearly-gates container.
While Practical Man was doing the garbage/recycling in the garage (and no doubt marveling at my frugal brilliance), I made my usual mess in the kitchen.
In addition to flour on the floor, nuts behind the canisters, and butter up my arm, while whipping up the batter, I managed to lift it out of the bowl to “clean” the beaters and they sprayed batter all over the entire world. There was some in my eyebrow, some on the backsplash, some on Mars, I’m pretty sure. And, it’s a sticky batter, this sour-cream extravaganza.
As in: not easily remedied before certain people come in from the garage.
But, I got that sorted (I think – this will explain the weird blobs you see on our light fixtures a few months from now) and grabbed the one-foot-in-the-grave, but un-opened sour cream container from the fridge.
I opened it and stopped short.
It looked funny.
White, like sour cream.
But, also not.
Kind of chunky.
Maybe it had already gone off?
Or, maybe, maybe, maybe…
I realized with a sudden taste of sour dairy in my mouth,
it was not drama-queen sour cream
highly-tricky-and-well-disguised-all-except-for-the-dastardly-label-oh-please-say-this-happens-to-you-too-won’t-you, COTTAGE CHEESE.
This is precisely, almost exactly like that time I was wondering why the ginger we had frozen in the freezer was so uncooperatively melty when I was trying to grate it.
(It was blobs of frozen garlic puree, hardy-har-har).
I have worked at an institute for higher learning for nearly 25 years. Honest.
Luckily, Practical Man had brought home a new container of sour cream this very evening.
So, instead of using up excess sour cream, I had to use brand-new sour cream so now, we have to buy some more.
And, I have to figure out what to do with on-its-last-breath cottage cheese.
I’m pretty sure I can’t be trusted though.
The cake is really good.
Pie or cake?
When it comes to the choice, I’m definitely more of a cake girl.
Cake has icing.
And, unless I’m making layers (So. Very. Traumatic), I can generally handle the baking of a cake.
Or, even little cakes, like these:
Ooooh, pies are so much more mysterious and complicated.
They are the risotto or souffles of the baking world.
Or, rather, the pastry is. That is to say, finicky, persnikkety, and prone to drama, drama, drama.
Oh wait, maybe that’s me.
Anyway, you have to admit, pastry is one of the mean girls of the dessert world. I think that’s why the pie thing never went as viral as the whole cupcake extravaganza did in the last few years. Making pie pastry seems vintage and quaint and tricky in 2015 (and there’s no icing to use as incentive for generally dough-challenged people like me). That’s why a great many of us resort to finding our pies at church potlucks and community bake sales.
Shhhhh. I won’t tell, if you won’t.
Then, there’s my sister-in-law, Roadrunner. She’s like a female version of Practical Man, with awesome pie-making capabilities. Not only that, but, Roadrunner’s got all the vintage baking/franco-Canadian/northern-Ontarian pie bases covered: Meat pies. Sugar pies. And, the things that are not pies, but are still kind of mean girls anyway because they are made of some of the same stuff–like The Evil Pastry, cinnamon and brown sugar and butter–as pies:
Translation: “Nun’s farts”.
(Feel free to giggle like a 9 year-old, now).
Or, you can call them their boring English name: cinnamon pinwheels (but where’s the fun in that?)
Last weekend, Roadrunner took me under her wing (see what I did there?) to teach me how to make The Evil Pastry and its giggly cousins, Pets de Soeurs.
We each had a bowl, some flour, baking powder, salt, veggie shortening, egg, vinegar and warm water.
Of course, I had a magic wand and a “get out of jail free” card from Monopoly just in case, but, it turns out that I didn’t need either of those things, because with this pastry, there was none of that finicky, persnikkety, mean girl stuff about how the:
- “butter must be extremely cold” or
- “bowls must be extremely cold” or
- “cut in with a pastry cutter until it looks like crumbs” or
- “refrigerate until cold again before rolling out”
or other mean girl malarkey, that I have come to associate with trying to make The Evil Pastry–after which, it always turns out like a brick.
Instead, Roadrunner made it seem straightforward. Like, making The Evil Pastry was something you could do on any old Monday.
Even though it’s not 1953.
Here I am, pretending I know what I’m doing:
Despite the apron, I ended up with flour on my ankles, but let’s not dwell on that.
I’m buttering the dough in stage 1 of making Pets de Soeurs. I’m pretty sure that this qualifies me as practically being a bona-fide church lady who makes pastry, and any number of other mysterious things (butter tarts jump to mind), even on a Monday.
It’s all due to Roadrunner and you needn’t snicker because, tra-la-la!
One short week after my lesson, I made a pie today.
All By Myself.
With only minimal, occasional yelling of “Pets de Soeurs!”
(It kind of sounds like a bad word, if you say it in a pastry-stricken moment, don’t you think?”
What can I say? I was thanking the nuns.
I don’t yet know if it’s an edible pie, because we haven’t tasted it because I plan to give it to my mother as a Mother’s Day gift tomorrow, but it LOOKS like a pie, doesn’t it? I also figured that in case of any taste or constructions mishaps, I’d doctor it up a wee so as to distract my audience from some of the other flaws. Check out my basket-weavy top (no matter that I had to mutter “over and under and over and under” repeatedly to myself as I manoeuvered the possibly too-thick dough) on this–may I say it–masterpiece that ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE A REAL PIE!
Yep, that’s what counts.
Happy Mother’s Day.
My husband has developed a new, dangerous habit.
It shocks me, frankly, because back in the late ’90s, as a newly-minted couple, we knew better. We were wise beyond our years. We were forward-thinking and pragmatic. Yes, indeed-y. We took one look at our wedding registry and averted a looming potential life disaster: we declined to ask for a counter-top appliance called “a bread-making machine.”
My paternal grandfather spent his childhood in the family bakery in Kitchener, Ontario, twirling pretzels in a way that decades later, he could still replicate with our Play Doh. It was perhaps inevitable that all that bread-making enthusiasm and genetics landed precisely where one would expect…around my rather bountiful bottom.
So, in 1998, I knew with utter certainty–the same certainty I felt about control-top pantyhose—that I did not need any appliance on our wedding registry that conspired to deliver hot bread to our daily lives. As for my husband (known around these parts as Practical Man), being the disciplined sort, he can resist almost anything.
That is, with the possible exception of butter.
Especially when said butter accompanies bread, hot from an oven, PEI church supper, vintage Findlay stove, vending machine (ooh, I think I may have just invented something fabulous there) or…well, anywhere.
Really, the smell of hot bread is the devil’s work, isn’t it?
Practical man and I thought so and accordingly, we strode confidently away from the treacherous Bread Machine that loomed large on the wedding registry. But, since neither of us (thankfully) suffers from Celiac Disease, over the years we have cultivated a household environment that is far from being gluten-free. We were and are terribly reckless and unfashionable with the flour proteins and these days, tend to follow more of what I call the “gluten-glee” diet.
Hurray for the wheat bellies!
Pasta? Yes, please.
Baguette? Mais, oui.
Laugenbroetchen? Ja, bitte!
Why, we can ask for the doughy goodness in at least three European languages. Yet, we aren’t pretentious in our gluten glorification. Equally desired are the hand-made creations:
Multi-grain toast with creamed honey and loads of cinnamon? Mmmm hmmm.
Cheese scones and cranberry tea biscuits?
Ahem, hem, hem: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON CARBOHYDRATES.
Bannock, crumpets, pancakes, YIPPEE!
But, the carbohydrate conundrum gets even worse.
Yes, oh yes, it does.
Despite our early marital wisdom and restraint, we have recently succumbed to the perils of something called a “Sourdough Starter”.
It began innocently enough. My godson’s father gave Practical Man the sourdough goo “to try”.
I should have known better. Practical Man loves a challenge, especially when it comes with a high likelihood of built-in failure. He is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team (Skyhawks) and all-around daredevil inclined to getting wa-a-a-y too close to things like the cliff edges on Grand Manan Island.
I should have known never to let The Sourdough Starter darken our doors.
Far from languishing in the fridge and growing into either a vigorous or lonely, abandoned science experiment (as it would have done for me) or exploding all over (the way it did for my aunt, years ago), The Sourdough Starter was a raving success.
Every Sunday, Practical Man and The Sourdough Starter have bonding time. First, he dumps the goo from its jar into a bowl. He carefully weighs out and feeds it flour and water. Then, he covers it tenderly with a clean tea towel and sets it gently in a warm place. A hush falls over the kitchen as The Sourdough Starter has its little, bubbly nap. Later, Practical Man does some sort of incantation over it, throws a bunch more flour around and voila: the Sourdough Starter turns into fresh-baked bread.
Two loaves, at least.
The last few weeks alone have produced multiples of plain sourdough, roasted garlic, caramelized onion, banana and smoked cheddar varieties.
And, not amuse-bouche, nouvelle-cuisine-sized morsels either. These loaves are the stuff of gluten-glee dreams: Hearty, floured (and–even better–sometimes buttered) boules and gigantic loaves of the sort that I picture rumbling across a field on the laps of French peasants from the ’50s, riding in a Citroen 2CV.
Happy, happy, happy. With double chins.
Centuries back, I come from good, double-chinned peasant stock, like this. Let’s face it, I still AM good double-chinned peasant stock, like this.
Last week, Practical Man started converting some of The Sourdough Starter into whole wheat. Now, we have two jars of goo in the fridge. Count ‘em, that’s FOUR future loaves of hot bread coming out of the oven.
Nearly two decades into our marriage, all our early restraint and wisdom was apparently for nought. Instead of merely registering for it, I am now married to it:
Practical Man has become a bread-making machine.
A darn good one.
There’s no help for it so now, when the charming, evil man pulls his latest carbohydrate creation out of the oven, I immediately order myself to the nearest carb confessional (any old Paleo diet website will do). When I’m truly desperate, I launch myself out into The Nature (which I usually avoid even more than control-top pantyhose). I go anywhere that will allow me to escape the tantalizing smell of hot, fresh-baked heaven.
And that, dear friends, is what is called: the Gluten Flee.
In our household, we often joke that we have a role reversal going. Case in point: I spent one sunny, Saturday afternoon rummaging through a junkyard with my friend, Trevor.
When I returned home, dusty, with a heart and camera full of rusty, tree-entwined vintage vehicles, the glorious smell of baking bread wafted out to greet me…as did my amused husband who had been home slaving over a hot oven all day. If that doesn’t describe a perfect day, then I don’t know what does.
My husband drew the line at wearing one of my fun, vintage aprons though.
I find them in second-hand stores or at yard sales and often, can’t bear to leave them behind. They’re usually homemade (and for much tinier waists than I possess) with kitschy vintage touches like rick-rack, scalloped edges and even, smocking. They evoke a time of beautiful, rounded fridges (not a fingerprinted, stainless steel front in sight), one grainy TV channel and the advent of margarine, pastel-coloured marshmallow “salads” and other foods not found in nature.
I’m happy to don one of these sartorial time machines and spend an afternoon baking another vintage-turned-fashionable treat: cupcakes. I find them manageable, for one who sometimes needs a life preserver when wading into the stew that is cooking and baking.
I stumble through the measuring and mixing, put up with the plopping into pans and baking parts…all so I can get to the hypnotic peace of using a pastry bag to pipe icing on their little, rounded tops.
It’s like Thai Chi, piping is. Seriously. You should try it.
I believe it’s how those women-of-a-certain-era managed to welcome everyone home in Leave it to Beaver fashion day after day, even when life in bouffants and polyester chafed.
Piping icing: it’s probably why they didn’t need yoga.
Even though I may look like the picture of vintage domesticity, working in my kitchen, apron apparently tied to the stove, I know the truth: my modern vintage life is about zen-cupcake-making and a partner who loves bread baking and future junkyards to explore.
Now, if I could just get my hands on one of those great vintage-inspired fridges!