Saturday, May 23, 2009

In the Morning Kitchen (not to be confused with In the Night Kitchen, one of SIlas's favorite books)

(I just posted this entry but it came up in April 2nd so I'm posting it again here)

Oh, mornings.

I've always been a morning person. The women in my family for decades have awakened early and savored the soft pocket of time before anyone else wakes.

But mornings alone and mornings with small children are different beasts. And the definition of "morning" tends to be different too.

Today, Eden woke up hungry at 5:45, and by 6, Silas was calling for me. We piled them both in our bed, pretending we could buy a few more minutes of sleep. As usual all we got was wiggling, little bodies inexplicably edging us almost off the mattress and wild elbows and knees hitting our eyes, noses, and chins.

So down we went.

Eden sat in her high chair squinting at the lights and squeezing banana in her fists. Silas knelt on a chair scooping up spoonfuls of oatmeal and asking incessantly for the rice krispie treats we made for school. And I stood at the counter holding a hot mug, watching them.

I have been wanting to make bread for weeks now. The thought of kneading and punching down the airy dough, of shaping a loaf, of watching it rise and brown, and of eating my own warm bread has been calling.

So I reached for my binder of recipes and flipped through the pages:

-Lucy's Basic Bread -- Lucy, my mom's long-haired-Montessori-teacher friend who never had children and always baked bread, who now lives somewhere in the Northwest, who was always beautiful, appealing, and inaccessible, who drove across country with my mom and a huge brown bag of buttery popcorn.

-Auntie Anne's Baguette -- my white-haired Minnesotan great-Aunt, who is sweet, full of faith and looks just like Mrs Claus (and whose husband may as well BE Santa)

-Gail Mott's Porridge Bread -- for years, Annemarie and I filed through the Mott kitchen door with coats and bags and textbooks (and now toddlers) and pried lids off round tins of cookies or hunted for a wax paper-wrapped loaves of banana bread. Most of my favorite baking recipes are Gail's.

I decided on Gail Mott's Porridge Bread, and beat my tiredness into the dough on the counter, folding it and folding it as I added at least 3 more cups of flour than the recipes called for to get rid of the stickiness (somehow, the bread was still good).

Later in the day, I came across the blog The Wednesday Chef, which sparkles and inspires. Her entry from March 30th, which is below, hummed right to me:

Sunday morning, pad quietly into the kitchen. Kettle on, cupboards open. Pull out the box of cake flour, just the right amount still in the bag, the bottle of inky molasses, soda, baking powder. Two eggs from the fridge, cold and smooth in my hands; spices from the freezer, their bottles frosting immediately in the warm kitchen.

Baking first thing in the morning, before the first cup of tea, before opening the door to get the paper, before even being entirely awake, is one of life's small pleasures. One of my life's small pleasures. I love the silent, solitary work in the kitchen, the concentration, the satisfaction at seeing a few simple ingredients come together under my hands and blossom into something else entirely.

It so happens that the best recipes for this kind of early morning venture are plain and homey ones. They have to be. I'm not interested in four-layer cakes at 9:00 am on a Sunday, or in rolled fondant, or pastry cream. What I revel in making are recipes that dirty just one bowl, that surprise you with their ease, that come laden with history, the knowledge that they've been made a hundred thousand times before, in thousands of kitchens, by thousands of slightly sleepy home cooks who don't have the luxury to worry about whether or not the cake will rise or turn out as it should.

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