I wrote the other day about how I no longer derive joy from baking. But I discovered that in the middle of a medium-sized bake. Later I posted pictures of the baking, and everyone exclaimed, “You’re baking! But I thought you said you weren’t going to!” Yeah… I won’t. But I didn’t realize I didn’t want to until I was too far down the road of baking this recent stuff to stop. I finished the bake, vowed only to do my planned Halloween bake next month, and then that’s it.
Meanwhile, if you want to try your hand at the things I made for my office this week, here are the recipes:
When I finally came out of hibernation and baked, I ended up making nine different things to take to my office. I had a list of more things than that but was so slow in the baking process that I was not even sure I would manage to make the nine things I did. But here is the recount and all the recipes, for those who care:
If I ever needed evidence of how cool and community-building Twitter can be, the last couple of days are a case in point. I exchanged a couple of not terribly meaningful Tweets with thinkspace (a company in the Seattle area that is a kind of office space/tech accelerator). I had heard of them but had no real reason to interact. But yesterday having crossed paths on Twitter thanks to the Mink 3D printer story making headlines in the tech world, I checked out thinkspace (awfully cool the work they’re doing in my old stomping grounds – western Washington).
But one of the coolest finds was an article in the thinkspace blog about how “baking builds community” – and this is something I can attest to – having started this blog back in 2009 or so because of my own baking obsessions and inclinations. Earlier parts of the blog are all about baking, recipes and pictures of cookies – 2014 has been almost bake-less, but somehow seeing the mention of baking mania on the thinkspace site makes me think it might be time to come out of hibernation.
Bear with me a minute – I am going to reach a point but before that will discuss a bit about the operational side of my weekly commuting life, a very impersonal and faceless grind. Each week, I spend one night and two days in Gothenburg, Sweden (where I work). Almost every week now, I stay in the same spare, no-frills hotel on the edge of the city. I don’t mind it; it is one of the least expensive options and the staff is pretty friendly. I would never go so far as to say that most Swedish companies, even those squarely in competitive consumer markets, are particularly friendly or service-oriented, but this low-end place has actually been friendlier and offered better service than I got at a lot of the city’s more upscale places.
Generally, in the year+ that I have been doing this “commute”, I have stayed in at least half of Gothenburg’s 90-ish hotels and in all parts of the city. In many cases, I have stayed in the handful of places that are actually whole apartments, which is always more comfortable for slightly longer-than-overnight stays – but they are generally expensive and impersonal, if you can actually book a flat (they are often sold out, as is almost always the case with one specific place in the city center).
This week I got an apartment that is a tiny bit off the beaten path but is nevertheless quite central – a really beautiful flat with the most personal and attentive service possible. The people running the flats (there are, I think, four or five flats there for rent) are personable and really strive to make the stay at their place fantastic. And it was. I fell in love with the apartment I stayed in (it is not one of the more spa-oriented flats that they have fashioned on the lower floor) – it was compact enough that it was not a huge amount of space but had high ceilings and skylight windows and a small loft just for sitting in natural light. It made me feel almost sad that I never found a flat just like it when I was looking to buy a flat in Gothenburg (not that I would have managed to win a bid in the cutthroat real estate market here).
The whole reason I digress and go off into this story was because I had a long conversation with the proprietress of the place – a gregarious Australian woman, and we got onto the subject of baking – my industrial-level baking habit/hobby and how I give all of it away. How it builds bridges, opens doors and of course (as she noted) probably gave me away as an American like nothing else does. Haha. I commented that Australia Day had just passed and I felt bad that I had not made any Anzac biscuits for the first time in years – and she lamented that she had not even had an Anzac biccie in 20+ years.This exchange – discussing baking – yes, just discussing, opened the door to further conversation and personalization. That really made a big difference – a human connection. And it makes me want to fire up the oven and make some cookies right now. Peanut-butter-cup-stuffed chocolate chip cookies anyone?
Baking really does build community – whether you are offering up 20 different kinds of cookies and cupcakes to the office or whether you are just discussing what you like to bake with the people you happen to meet in your daily life. Suddenly I feel inspired to get back in the kitchen.
I have written about ANZAC Day and ANZAC biscuits before. And more than that, I have baked ANZAC biscuits almost more than I have baked any other kind of cookie. You can find my recipe in the link above and make some for yourself. They are easy, probably healthier than a lot of other kinds of cookies (full of yummy oats!), quite flavorful and they keep well for longer periods of time than most other cookies. Make some now – you won’t regret it! And I won’t be bringing you any ANZACs since baking just has not happened for me much this year. So instead I can just acknowledge that it’s ANZAC Day and post a picture.
Part of this is just a lack of motivation for it. Part of it is also the occasional freelance project that pops up now and again. I have a normal full-time job that is relatively stimulating and busy – and I learn a lot. But having owned a small business for a very long time and having lived solely on freelance work alone, I find it is impossible to say no to freelance work. Not just because I always feel that old pull of “feast or famine”/you never know when your next job will come but also because it’s a challenge – it keeps the brain agile, putting together new things, learning new industries and jargon (never quite becoming a specialist). And the bottom line – I am never saying yes to things I don’t ultimately really enjoy. That often means working through weekends and nights – stuff that “normal” people are not that keen to do. The Salon article cited above captured all the feelings and experiences of being a freelancer – and never off the clock, and how that is both a blessing and a curse.
“If I love doing something, spending more time on it isn’t a chore. I’m not oppressed because I work all the time. I’m fortunate. What more could I wish for? I get paid to do everything I do. My actualization is monetized. I’ve won capitalism.
Nice as winning capitalism is, though, it’s also somewhat unsettling. In an economy more and more focused on cultural production, the line between producer and consumer and marketer just about disappears. Writers throughout history have often simultaneously exulted and despaired at the way that their lives turn into their art, but having your life turn into a content mill seems like a new, unpleasantly banal twist. Even happy cogs are still cogs — working all the better because they’re happy, and willing to turn all the time.”
When I travel and stay in the homes of friends, I do enjoy continuing my baking obsession in their kitchens, but navigating foreign kitchens (and by foreign I mean both foreign in the sense that they are in other countries and in the sense that they are unknown to me) is a challenge. Very few people are as well-equipped as I am for baking activities, so baking in strange kitchens is always an adventure in improvisation.
An alleged attempt at onion focaccia bread
Once in Berlin I tried to make Anzac biscuits without access to brown sugar or golden syrup (and was making them with someone who was not eating sugar anyway). We went with honey and imitation sugar. He also had a wonky oven and nothing resembling baking sheets.
Most people (especially men) don’t even have mixers, so it’s all about stirring by hand.
Today’s retread of a baking adventure – onion focaccia bread. I made this last week (where the pic comes from) and am trying it again in unfamiliar environs. We’ll see how it goes.
Onion focaccia bread recipe Bread dough
3 cups bread flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ tablespoon dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm water
Sift all dry ingredients together (try this in a kitchen without a sifter or something similar!). Add the oil and warm water, stir to make a dough. If the dough is a bit too dry, as mine was, add a very small amount of water.
Knead the dough for ten minutes on a lightly floured surface until you have a smooth, stretchy dough. Place the dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and let rise until the dough is doubled. (This was a challenge because I’m in a house that has basically one bowl total.)
When dough has doubled (this took about 45 minutes for me), roll it out to a 25cm/10 inch round size and place in an appropriate pan. At home I used a 10-inch cast iron pan. Here there is no such pan so I am just baking it on a flat pan.
Cover with a damp cloth and let rise again for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cover, make deep holes in the dough, about 2.5cm/1 inch apart. Cover again and let rise for 20 minutes.
When it has risen, scatter with the onions, drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the sea salt (ingredients as listed in the “topping” items below. Not to be confused with “toppins” cast aside at a Pizza Hut and eaten by homeless Vietnam veterans living in cardboard boxes). Sprinkle a small amount of cold water on top to keep a crust from forming. Bake about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
1 red onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon coarse sea salt
I am going to start baking and see where it takes me. I made a plan and made a list but these lists easily get well out of hand with more than 20 things on them. Is this excessiveness necessary?
My dreams last night were weird. I was living at least some of the time in France, but nothing seemed at all like the France of reality. I spent most of my time in a cafe (that was a lot more like cafes I frequented in Iceland) that served coffee in French presses (which of course is what Americans call coffee presses… and French people call them Italian – and they ARE an Italian invention. Aussies and Kiwis call it a “coffee plunger” and Icelanders call this a “pressukanna”…). In the dream people went to this place specifically for the coffee, and then one day a law passed that forced all places to serve coffee in the same way (not French press). Another law was introduced at the same time that required all EU countries to harmonize car license plates!? I don’t know where any of this came from.
The anxiety and annoyance of the US election will finally be over on Tuesday. Hearing Mitt Romney speak just makes me sick. The latest global prosperity index knocked the US out of the top ten countries for the first time. Not surprised to hear that. Norway is number one (not surprised to hear that either), with Denmark and Sweden right behind. (And lands of plunger coffee and Anzac biscuits, Australia and NZ, round out the top five.) Not surprising in the least. Confirmation that I made the right choices about where to live and work (not that I had any doubt).
* means this will be a new/experimental recipe for me
I might also make the tired “normal” cookies, such as M&M cookies and white chocolate macadamia cookies. Perhaps something with peanut butter because I seem to have a lot of peanut butter on hand right now … but want to do something different than just standard peanut butter cookies. I will think about it.
Since taking on several new activities and (for the moment) spending a bit more time in the office, I have not been at home with my dear oven and beloved KitchenAid mixer in order to get some serious baking underway. As a result, Australians throughout the office will be devastated to learn that I have not been able to supply much-loved Anzac biscuits for today’s Australia Day event. (But follow the link! You still have time to make them for yourself!) Likewise, my intention to bake caramel cream cookies remains just that, an intention.
Rest assured, I have an overwhelming amount of serious writing to do for work, which means I will spend a week or so holed up in my house behind the keyboard. This always means that the oven will be going at full throttle as well.
Cookies, dear addicts, will return soon. I would like to say “…return to an office near you…” but recognize that this is misleading. Chances are, they will only turn up at the Opera HQ in Oslo. 🙂
This year, in a reversal of fortune, I am so happy not to be in Iceland for the winter! The main road between Reykjavik and Keflavik, which is NEVER closed, was closed due to snow. This means the weather has reached an insane level of inhospitability. Icelanders are hardy, tough folks for whom a normal blizzard is just “a few flakes of snow”… so I cannot even imagine what is going on over there right now.
Last night, in mildly snowy Oslo, I went to see Reggie Watts‘s live musicomedy act at Parkteatret. Hilarious in that uniquely Reggie way. A long time ago, when I lived in Iceland, I used to know Reggie (briefly). This was before his comedy had taken off, and he was mostly known for fronting the band Maktub. We both had Seattle connections and had a lot of phone conversations. I eventually messed the friendship up by being more than a bit flaky (those were difficult times).
Last night when I saw the show, it suddenly dawned on me how much time had passed since then. In many ways it felt like yesterday, but when I really reflected, I realized how much has happened in my life since we were acquainted — so I can only imagine how much had happened and changed for him. (No wonder he seemed to have very little recollection of me. Not that I am particularly memorable.) The temptation to run to Stockholm to see Reggie’s show tonight is palpable. I will be wise, though, and stick with my working and baking plans (it’s the responsible, and incidentally, selfless, plan).