Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off…

The_Great_British_Bake_Off_title

Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off

I no longer enjoy cooking. My idea of a great meal is one that someone else has cooked. And as for baking, well, I was never a baker, for baking is essentially chemistry, precise measuring, all the while considering altitude and humidity. Too much like work, when you can purchase deliciously made sweets and savories all the while supporting local businesses.

So it’s odd that I’m now enamored with The Great British Bake Off. But it’s not the baking that has captivated me. No. It’s the people, both bakers and judges and then whoever those two jocular women are who insist on picking up spoons, asking questions while bakers are trying to concentrate, and, once, toppling over a carefully arranged stack of…something that looked like a cross between a pancake and a cookie. I’m fascinated by their actions and responses and love the way that the show’s producers/directors portray them. I’ve learned a lot from them, not about cooking, but about life.

So here are three life lessons I’ll share:

First:

Sooner or later someone will take your ice cream out of the freezer without your knowing it. They will neither admit this nor apologize. It will ruin what you are attempting to do. Now, the life lesson is that you must keep your cool, though your ice cream has not, continue with what you have left, do your best, and present your product with as much aplomb as you can muster. It will get your points for poise and dash. What you should not do is throw a fit and make a production of throwing your entire creation in the trash. You will be voted off for sure and will have to live with YouTube views for the rest of your life.

Second:

There will always be someone who will want to help, sometimes officiously, even though you prefer to be left alone. They will huddle over you, they will talk to you, they will clean up what they think should be thrown away. Often it should not be. It will not matter what you say to them. And finally, as they turn to leave, they will brush against your carefully constructed skyscraper of pancakes and gingerbread. It will topple. They won’t know this because by this time they are bothering someone else. When this happens, and, to be sure, it will, though it may your ego that is toppled rather than cakes, just pile them up again as best you can and go on with life. After all, it’s only cake, or, in most cases, your self-esteem. Under no circumstances, throw whipped cream, raw eggs, or scatological insults at the perpetrator. That will only mark you as an hysteric. Time later for tears and tantrums in the privacy of your own home where, I  hope, there would be doughnuts, suitably purchased from a local bakery, certainly not a shop that specializes in doughnuts.

And, third,

There will always be a beautiful, green-eyed, gazelle of a 20-year-old, who will present her bakes with quivering lip and tear-filled eyes. She will say, her voice catching, that her work is terrible. She will enchant at least one of the judges, who will comfort her. Such comfort will involve making sure she moves to the next level, and then the next. You will seethe and try to hide it. It will give you a major migraine. But do take comfort, eventually – though we may not be around to see it – a better baker will prevail, and that person will win based on the baking, not his ability to line his/her eyes with a color that makes those green eyes even more hypnotizing. However, even though she will not win, she will be the one everyone remembers. There is no getting around this, so when this comes, and it comes to all of us, I advise finding a good book – Jane Austen, Barbara Pym or somesuch writer who appreciates excellent women.

For that is what most of us are. And, really, would you trade it?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

On Cooking

Picture 002

On Cooking —

There was quite a Facebook firestorm a few weeks ago when an adult daughter lamented that her mother no longer cooked. She interpreted this change as a sign of depression, and asked for advice on how to get mom out of restaurants and back into the kitchen.

She received a less than united response. Some readers agreed with her assessment; they pointed out how difficult, some said sad, it was to cook for one person, and recommended cookbooks, recipes, and new cookware  Others took her to task for not being more present, not visiting, not giving her mother someone to cook for.

However, a large contingent took another view. They maintained that, after who-knows-how-many years of cooking, she should give her mother a break, or, even better, a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant.

No easy answers here, and it caused me to consider my thoughts about cooking.

My mother didn’t cook. (At the time that didn’t seem odd to me, though I envied those friends whose mothers inhabited their kitchens.) But on a few Sundays each year, she would don an apron over her black silk lounging pajamas and cook a special breakfast for us. My father and I raved about it, and I was way too old before I realized that creamed chipped beef on toast was not the height of the culinary universe.

When I married, I saw cooking as a primary domestic function, and made sure that meals were, if not delicious, at least on a well-laid table most nights.  Filling the house with friends and the table with food for holidays became a focus of my year.

But then. And there’s always a “but then.”

It became harder and harder to think of what to cook. Red meat had become anathema, chicken tasteless, fish mercury-laden, and soy, well, there was only so much one could do with tofu. Too much salt, too much GMO, just too much.

I used to cook for company. Now I don’t even do that. We meet friends for dinner, or they come here for drinks and cheese and crackers. Sparkling china goes untouched; silver tarnishes in its chest. Crystal gathers dust.

We are down to the two of us now, and my husband is uncomplaining about meals. For a few years I had convinced him that a baked sweet potato was a main course. I still cook, but most of the time I don’t like it. It’s the daily-ness of the job. There is always tomorrow’s dinner to figure out.

Life has changed; we have changed. More’s the pity, because cooking, when one is in the mood, feeds the soul even more than the body.

And thinking of the daughter at the top of this post, I do think that I would be happier if I still liked to cook. Every once in a while I rally, find a new cookbook, try a few new recipes. But all in all, the thrill is gone.

So, to her, I give this advice: Ask your mom why she’s eating out. If she gives you a pitiful reply, see how you can help. If she just says, “I’m done with that,” understand. You may be there yourself before long.

And now I must go; I have a pot roast on the stove….