9/4/12

Teaspoons of love


 One teaspoon of baking soda.

Baking soda, not baking powder. I always get them confused. And how can I not help it? they're both white powdery substances, that sort of taste the same. I'm almost sure that if it weren't for the clever packaging, I would mix them up all the time.  But alas, like many a baker out there I've had to mentally train myself not to do that. 

Baking, it's been a passion of mine since I was a kid. I can't remember the first time my mom introduced me to the wonderful world of creating home baked goods. Some might find that sad but baking has been such an integral part of life, that I find comfort in knowing that the transfer of knowledge was seamless from the very beginning.  Baking is part of our family legacy, and my mom's decision to pass on her love for baking (and her trusty Betty Crocker Basics cookbook with the red gingham cover) forever connects us through space and time. 

As far as I'm concerned, the joy of preparing something from scratch--where the foundational ingredients (i.e., flour & sugar) are the only things found in a box, and presenting the treasure is the ultimate gift for both the giver and recipient. Whether baked for a family or friend, on a special occasion or an average day, nothing else spreads a genuine feeling of friendship and love.  

Mom made pies and cakes, an occasional plate of struffoli at Christmas, but her tried and true specialty were cookies. From oatmeal raisin to almond crescents to frosted sugar cookies on holidays to the staple of our childhood: the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip. My brother and I would light up at the first sight of that red, black and yellow bag emerging from the local grocer's bag.


I can still remember Mom teaching me, and the lessons of learning the trade one step at a time. It almost always started with that bag of chocolate morsels. Mom would show the bag to me, then turn to the back so we could read the recipe together. I would check the pantry as she read off the ingredients (or maybe it was the other way around), before gathering them on the dinette table. We would pause for a 1/2 hour or so to ensure everything was at room temperature before beginning.  Then Mom would preheat the oven and adjust the racks. Next we would take out the bowls and utensils, and then tie on aprons as to not soil our clothes. 

Dry ingredients first, then wet.  

Mom would spoon the dry ingredients, the flour and the sugar, each into aluminum measuring cups, leveling the tops over their respective canisters with the straight edge of a butter knife. Next, came packing the brown sugar down into the cup with our fingertips--I always loved how the brown sugar would keep its form until it folded into the batter. Then it was time to add the baking soda and powder to the flour in one bowl (no wonder I'm so confused), while pulling out the stainless steel mixing bowl (with D rings on the side for a better grip, a trick I learned once I was a teenager) to beat the butter and sugars by hand--with a wooden spoon no less!--adding in the eggs and vanilla until creamy.  My mom was a stickler about the vanilla and drilled into my baker's mind that only real vanilla extract (imported from Madagascar if you can get it) would do. No artificial anything could be added, I guess you could say she was ahead of the curve on that one. 

I don't have children of my own but any chance I get I share the process with my nieces and nephew. Many a visit has included making one bowl brownies on the stovetop or dropping cookie batter onto baking pans, only to eat them hot and fresh from the oven with a glass of cold milk 15 minutes later. There's nothing quite like the smell of vanilla and sugar wafting from the kitchen and I feel lucky to be able to share this memory with them, especially since my mom isn't here to do it herself.  

Nowadays its hard to find the time to bake and so when the urge strikes I feel compelled to follow through, even it if that means breaking an egg or two as the clock strikes midnight. The wooden spoon has been replaced by a tangerine KitchenAid mixer but the scents transport me all the same, straight to my mom's kitchen circa 1979. 
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