Friday, January 01, 2010

Simon 1, International Conspiracy of Culinary Villians 0

I think of recipes, especially those involving yeast, as the enemy. They tend toward ambiguous language and complicated terminology, and they assume for some reason that you have done all this a hundred times before, as if you are the head chef at the Ritz and not some hungry idiot who just wants dinner. And some things are just malicious; the abbreviations alone are obviously designed to confuse.

Let us take the teaspoon and tablespoon for example. To begin with, those names are obselete. The teaspoon is used for most everything, only a small percentage of which relates to tea. It is the teaspoon that is commonly found on the table, while the tablespoon is used for serving. Unless it's Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I'm willing to bet it never leaves the kitchen.

The names are therefore nonsense, but that isn't the worst of it. The abbreviations for the names make me suspect that there exists an international conspiracy of culinary villians who long ago decided it would be to their advantage to try to mess up everyone else by making "tsp." and "tbsp." almost exactly the same. Once these amounts became standardized units of measurement, probably some soft-hearted and naive chef went to their annual conference and said, "This is silly. Hundreds of thousands of people every year are going to ruin their recipes by misreading and using one when they were supposed to use the other. Let us call them 'littlespoon' and 'bigspoon' so that we can easily tell them apart." And this unfortunate person was no doubt "disappeared" while the rest of the villians all snickered to themselves and said, "Yes, we shall use 'tsp.' and 'tbsp.' in all recipes from now on, and because we hate Australia, we shall make one their tablespoon be equal to four teaspoons rather than three, as it is in the rest of the world. Ha-HA!"

I naturally assume these are the sorts of people who have written every recipe I have ever used, which is why I have learned to treat them all with the utmost caution so as not to fall into their traps. Usually this does not work. If this blog had a search feature I would link here to the post in which some hot cross buns went terribly wrong. Or maybe I never wrote about that because I felt it would degrade my dignity.

Fortunately my dignity and I have since parted ways and I have no reputation to lose, so yesterday I decided that I would try to make some bread, which I have been meaning to do for about two years, but could never work up the courage.

First I set out my ingredients. For complicated recipes, one doesn't take chances with hurried measurements. One does it ahead of time in case suddenly one needs four and three-quarters cups of beef bullion and an eye of newt, and one realizes one hasn't dissolved the boullion yet and the newt eyes are buried in the back of the cupboard, and while one is tending to these things, one's brew is boiling over and/or coming alive. Of course it depends what you're cooking. I was cooking with yeast, and as I have intimated, when there is YEAST involved, you do NOT take RISKS. Yeast is alive but only precariously, kind of like Little Nell, so one must take precautions.

Then I did bunch of things that were boring and not worth discussing. After that, we (Ivan had arrived by this time to provide moral support) got to the YEAST. Here it is, being proofed.

Yeast is creepy. After I put this in, the dough was hot. That's not natural. I'd like to take a moment here to discuss a disturbing fact about fungi (for which we can thank Richard Dawkins): fungi are more closely related to the animal kingdom than to the plant kingdom. I repeat. Mushrooms are more closely related to you than to moss. I asked my mother about this, and she explained that they are not plants because they do not use photosynthesis, but they're not animals either because they aren't mobile. Then she said that when they stick their rhizomorphs into the ground, or whatever, what they're really doing is eating. Like us.


Then I brought this up with my sister, who insists that mushrooms are tasty, and somehow we formed the theory that mushrooms were gloomy, frustrated novelists, but I can't quite remember the logic that brought us to that point. Anyway, that's just another reason not to eat them. Not only are they creepy, and slimy, and look like slugs, but also, it comes uncomfortably close to cannibalism.

Finally I had a nice glob of dough, which I was supposed to leave alone to rise. Which it did very nicely. Thank you, weird scary yeast. I put it on wax paper because the recipe hadn't tricked me yet and I had a bad feeling it was going to get me at the kneading part. Which it did. Halfway through the rising process I realized I was supposed to have floured whatever surface it was rising on. OH NO!

At this point I consulted my Christmas present from The Clergy, which was conveniently lying on my kitchen table adjusting to its new, unrolled state.

Curiously enough, I think this is an excellent motto which applies to basically all situations except one in which your country is at risk of invasion, which is when I would prefer the British Ministry of Information to provide me with a tank and politely advise that I move to the Orkneys. But that is neither here nor there. It was sound advice for my purposes.

Having put the dough on wax paper allowed me to flip it over onto the floured counter, and the problem was solved. I must say I am very proud of myself for having outsmarted my own inability to follow instructions.

In the end all was well, and some three or four hours after starting this operation, I pulled two beautiful loaves of bread out of the oven. I must say, the lack of total ruination that I had expected was quite surprising.

It is delicious.


Pandora said...

Beautifully done. It looks just like Grandma's. Had you put the dough in a greased bowl, you would have found that when you turned it out, you would have had a nearly identical pattern of doughiness left in the bowl as you had on your wax paper. If only I had taken a photo as proof of this when I did it an hour ago....In any event, I mention this merely to point out that in no way did you fail to do things perfectly from start to finish. Bread seems to be your forte.

Simon said...

Oh good! Because there was so much stickiness (in general, not just at that part) that I actually called mom to ask whether it should really be that sticky. Apparently it should! Now I will have to make this bread all the time because the storebought kind just isn't good enough anymore.

Amy said...

As always, highly entertaining. And Pandora is odd for her insistence that mushrooms are tasty. That's just icky. ;)

Pandora said...

Oh, they are so delicious. You can add them to so many things - salads, spaghetti sauce, soup, stroganoff, quesadillas. Mmmm. But I admit I'm extra picky about them looking fresh. And those really big ones are a little suspicious.

Simon said...

On the contrary I don't think they should be added to anything. All uses of mushrooms are inappropriate uses of mushrooms. However, I'm glad we can all agree at the very least that the huge ones are UBERCREEPY.

Anonymous said...

The "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster was mentioned this morning (1/10) on NPR during an interview with one of the people who as on the 9/11 commission.

He keeps one in his office.

You are in good company. I think that always good advice.