Thursday, April 12, 2012

Baking Bread

Edna Staebler changed my life. After we moved to Kitchener from Montreal, I had a really hard time fitting in. It was a complete culture shock to go from French to German cultural background, from a small private girls' school where the focus was academic excellence (we wrote an entrance exam and only the top 50 were accepted. 75 was failing.) to a separate, much larger Catholic girls' school that seemed to applaud athletics and student council more than academics. I skipped Grade 9 and started in Grade 10 and had a tough time dealing with the very different atmosphere.

I discovered baking sometime around then. My mom didn't bake much-chocolate chip cookies, muffins, Sheriff lemon pie and boston creme pie out of a box. My mom's claim to fame, though, are her butter tarts. I tried to make them this year and murdered them. What mom made, she made well-I still remember coming home from school to vanilla cupcakes with leftover lemon pie filling in them, but she didn't take joy in the process.

 I'm not sure how "Food that Really Schmecks" made it into our house. My mom owns about 3 cookbooks-an old 5 Roses Flour one, an ancient Joy of Cooking and one that my dad picked up in the Maritimes full of squares and cookies.  Mom is strictly utilitarian in her approach and only has what she needs, so someone must have gifted her the cookbook.

I started reading it one day when I was home sick (and homesick). Edna Staebler's description of how to cook good, simple food resonated with me, and I started trying some of the recipes.  My aunt makes the most amazing buns on the face of the planet, and the recipe in the book was similar, so one day when I was alone in the house I baked bread. I had no idea baking could be therapy until I baked bread for the first time.

Edna Staebler turned me into a bit of a baking snob. I only bake from scratch now, and when I need reassurance or comfort, I bake. When I was an insecure teen and young adult seeking approval, I discovered the ability to bake pie and cookies was a sought after quality. I would make dozens of different kinds of cookies to seek approval from others and feel that I was adequate at something. I once wrote Ms. Staebler a fan letter, and she responded. I still have the note.

My standing mixer has made bread making much faster and simpler, but baking is still therapeutic. I collect cookbooks and I still enjoy baking more than cooking. I still use baking as therapy, although not so much for approval any more. My birth name, I discovered a couple of years ago, was Sara-Lee-coincidence? I don't think so.

My daughter stayed home today with what seems to be a migraine. She certainly gave a very good description of a migraine for someone who has never had one. I dug out my mixer and giant tub of flour. She wandered into the kitchen to see what I was doing, and was very happy to hear I was baking. She knows mommy likes to bake, and was amazed to learn that icing can come out of a can and cakes can come out of a box (not in mommy's kitchen, honey.) She's helped me make cinnamon buns before, and of course, the best part of any baking process is licking the beaters, a job she takes very seriously. She assisted the process by punching down the risen dough and is peeking under the towel periodically to give me status updates on the 2nd rising. Baking is imminent and then the house will smell wonderful.

Sometimes, you just have to bake bread.