Monday, January 21, 2013

Baking Blackout

This weekend I had a baking blackout.  Have you ever experienced this?  Here's how it starts: It's Saturday morning and you're devouring whatever food media strikes your fancy.  You've just listened to Lynne Rossetto Kasper's supportive, upbeat, incredibly knowledgable voice on an episode of The Splendid Table while preparing your morning coffee.  You nibble on your breakfast toast while watching an old video of Craig Ponsford of Artisan Bakers in Sonoma, California, where Ponsford discusses his love for the science of baking. This leads you lurk around conversations on Chowhound, which brings you to some perusing of recipes on Pinterest, which causes you to scan through your Google Reader to catch up on the food blogosphere feeds.  You bounce around between Epicurious, Food and Wine, Saveur, Afar, and Cook's Illustrated. So much food media, so little time. It's impossible to mention all of the great content out there, and you know you're just scratching the surface.  Then with a few simple clicks, you land upon a recipe.  You're not sure how you got there, but your eyes land on this recipe and you start to scan the ingredients list. You just happen to have every ingredient required in the cupboard.  And it begins. 

You start to brown the butter for the brown butter, brown sugar, espresso cookies.  You're stirring and stirring, and the pre-heating oven helps you forget it's winter outside.  While carefully watching the pot, the nutty scent of brown butter fills the kitchen. And then you think to yourself: when did I decide this project would be born?  You can't quite pinpoint it, but you know it was somewhere in between the morning episode of The Splendid Table, your first sip of coffee, and the final catalyst, the words 'brown butter' flashing on your screen, like a beacon leading you to your kitchen.  Your Google search history says it all. You're suddenly covered in brown sugar, ingredients are everywhere, and morning has turned into late afternoon.  That, my friends, is a classic baking black out.  Are any of you guilty of this?  I have found that the wealth of excellent culinary content on the web is both a blessing and a curse.  So much inspiration is everywhere!  So some days, if you're like me, you "forget" to do your laundry and spend that time baking instead.

The final step of the espresso cookie recipe, before baking, is to dip the rounds of dough into a brown sugar mixture. Luckily for me, this jar of homemade vanilla sugar has been waiting for a purpose, so I added a few tablespoons to the brown sugar mix.

A jar of vanilla sugar seems like the type of thing that every woman should have in her arsenal of kitchen tools.  (As a temporary resident of Denmark, I have noticed it's very uncommon to see vanilla extract on the supermarket shelves.  This means that purchasing vanilla pods gives you ample opportunity to jar up batches of vanilla sugar.)  

While the cookies baked, I started to clean up from the aftermath of my baking blackout.  Deciding to take a break from food media, I started an episode of the podcast This American Life (the recent "Mapping" episode) while rinsing the dishes.  But food media consumed me again, this time unexpectedly. All of a sudden, Jonathan Gold's voice came through the speakers, with the tale of how he started his career mapping the LA food landscape.  
Gold is most well known for being the first food critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize, but to Southern California locals who care about food, he was a legend long before this award.
As the podcast explains, it all started along Pico Boulevard-- a street where many food cultures combine along one stretch of Los Angeles. Gold's local column not only put so many hidden gem establishments on the map, but through his explorations, he framed the way people could appreciate the city and its diversity.  As I listened to Gold explain getting his start, and heard his heartfelt appreciation for the city of Los Angeles, it made me miss my California roots.  But it also empowered me-- because around each new corner in Copenhagen is a new bakery or cafe to discover, and his words are encouragement to wander a little further down the block each day.
  There are so many voices in the food world driving us to explore our neighborhoods, open ourselves up to experimenting with new ingredients, or simply put our aprons on and get down to business.  I am thankful for the passion they share with their readers, listeners, and fans-- and I'll always treasure any Saturday afternoon seized by inspiration in the kitchen. 

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