Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Bite of Bliss

As some of you may know, my foodie chronicle, "Consuming Passions," was set to appear in Motherwords magazine this year. Unfortunately, the economy has forced the magazine to take a hiatus. We hope it will be back on newsstands soon. What follows is my inaugural column:

The Zen of Baking

Serenity is in short order around the holidays, what with all of the complicated re-gifting strategies, forced cheer, and probing questions about Santa’s time management.

On days when your head is about to pop off your dead-tired body, I’ve got your ticket to thirty minutes of bliss. Sounds potentially kinky but alas, it’s G-rated.

It’s baking. Baking is the new yoga. Maybe not the kind that Madonna does, but hear me out. There’s no sweaty mat, no hot twenty-year-old to shame your tin-man flexibility, and no fear of ripping an Achilles tendon. And yet, it can get you to that happy place. It’s just you and the bowl—and you are one.

Packing down brown sugar, creaming butter, and adding that final splash of vanilla seem to induce a kind of in-the-moment trance. Maybe it’s the simple instructions “Add two eggs, stir, breathe.”

These baking endorphins cause time to stand still for the briefest moment and the noise of the day to recede (despite a blaring Word Girl episode streaming in from the family room).

And then of course, there’s the bliss.

The bliss part comes when you pull out that tray of caramel orbs, glistening with chocolate, filling the house with smells that purr of love and comfort.

Now I see that my mother was dabbling in the baking Zen during the 70’s.

As a little girl, I would skip home from school (or lope, or drag, depending on the day), and be engulfed at the door by waves of aromatic love. Before you choke on the Norman Rockwell image, you need to know that my Mom was not Mother Theresa in an apron. She had five kids in seven years and had little patience for tomfoolery or hugs. While her Irish sarcasm kept her sane, it kept us distant. She hugged with cookies, brownies and whoopie pies.

So, like Pavlov, when 3:00 in the afternoon rolls around, I’m looking for a little Zen, a chocolate hug, jonesing for the warm stuff. I find myself drifting into the kitchen, half-conscious, clattering bowls. At the tell-tale jingle of the measuring spoons, I’ll hear a hopeful and slightly disapproving voice from the next room, “Mommy, are you making cookies, AGAIN?”

I do bake with my daughter sometimes but that squashes the Zen. It’s like doing yoga with a ferret on your head. I get now why my Mom would banish us from the kitchen. There is a purity of moment--measuring, pouring, stirring—a creative in-the-moment-ness that baking demands.

For those health-nuts and chronic body-haters among us, I assure you that a warm cookie does the spirit good. In an age of Frankenstein tomatoes, unpronounceable food additives, and skeletal models, it is downright revolutionary to eat a cookie or brownie made by your own hand.

And if you’ve never baked, give it a shot. My sister’s kids admitted that they don’t much like my cookies, they like the “awesome” ones their mom makes, the kind in the yellow roll. I admit that I’ve hit the Pillsbury dough (usually eaten raw in pajamas) but it’s a lot like forgoing a glass of crisp Chardonnay for a swig of Boons Farm ripple—it may get you to the same place but the ride just isn’t the same.

Here is a recipe for Katharine Hepburn’s famous brownies that even the most novice baker can handle. These morsels are sure to induce Zen in the baker and trigger ecstasy in the brownie eater. You will be a hero.

I adore food that comes with a story. Here are Katharine Hepburn’s three rules for life:

  1. Never Quit
  2. Be yourself
  3. Don’t put too much flour in your brownies.

And who doesn’t need a little of what Kate had? I live my life in sweats and a baseball cap—I know I could use a shot of panache.

So park your kids in front of the TV—fear not, I was raised by a television set and I came out okay, despite my uncanny knack for relating any life experience to a Brady Bunch episode. This is your moment of Zen.

Be the brownie.

Katharine Hepburn’s Famous Brownies

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a heavy saucepan over very low heat, melt 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate and 8 Tbsp. butter (1 stick)

3. Remove pan from heat and stir in 1 cup sugar.

4. Beat in 2 eggs and ½ tsp vanilla

5. Quickly stir in 1 cup chopped walnuts (not if you want kids to eat them), ¼ cup all-purpose flour (not a typo—only ¼ cup flour), and ¼ tsp. salt

6. Spread batter in a well-greased 8” by 8” baking pan. Bake 40-45 minutes. Remove pan to a rack to cool.

--Recipe excerpted from Dishing (Simon & Schuster) by Liz Smith


  1. cool blog linda - now I'm thinking I need to
    blog! I just got onto facebook - to think
    I used to be high tech!


  2. Linda,

    welcome to the blogosphere!
    You are off to a good start.
    Enjoy, you quirky gal!

    Laura Baltzell

  3. I'm going to try Kate's recipe...I love your writing. Thanks, Linda!
    Dana Hyland

  4. GO LIN!! This is great. I love. Fun to see your many talents. And your passions are the passions of many...I mean who doesn't love a good brownie, the beautiful written word or killer art?! So thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work.

  5. Hey Lin,
    Love, love, love the article. I laughed out loud several times. Too fun when you know the characters within...did mom see this gem?! LOL. She'd love it. The bug plates are killer too. Would recommend that everyone get one fast while they can. These will be collector items one day. Keep those passions coming. They're fun to share! ~Sue

  6. Lin - you made me look up this word when you wrote how you started loving scarab beetles after dad got you the book. LOVE THIS NEW WORD TO ADD TO MY VOC::::
    n. pl. el·y·tra (-trÉ™)
    Either of the leathery or chitinous forewings of a beetle or a related insect, serving to encase the thin, membranous hind wings used in flight. Also called wing case.
    [New Latin, from Greek elutron, sheath; see wel-2 in Indo-European roots.]
    THANKS, Sue

  7. I love you mommy!And I love your plates and drawings!


  8. i will never forget the pleasure of sharing the contents of the tinfoil bundle that often accommpanied you back to the dorms after a visit home - THE BEST G__ D_MN cookies ever!!!
    thank you for sharing your creativity with me. and good for you - art and baking are things that have saddly fallen to the bottom of my hectic list. I will live vicariously through you.
    Miss you - love you.

  9. Hey Linda: I found you. Love the blog. I am not a blog girl normally, but I do enjoy reading others thoughts. Let's talk books and bugs next time we bump into each other in the halls.
    BTW: It is almost West Beach time. I am chilling the rose for you.
    Cheers, Devlyn

  10. Wow..your blog is a bonus..haha..I came t o see your art ..And I get awesome brownies..hehe, Yuor ink drawingsare so cool!

  11. I'll have to try out that recipe. It sounds delicious. Your writing is wonderful! So glad I found you via the AEDM link.

    I'm totally with you on the baking -- and cooking in general. I consider it an artist brain activity par excellence. Zen? Definitely. And it also goes with autumn. I've been baking up a storm lately... it is so soothing.

  12. I love you and your drawings.I love you more, of course.

    lots of laughs,


  13. i love this piece Linda! Baker to baker - i get it so completely.

  14. Modern Love in Modern Times

    A hard day at work leaves a man with his wife and tv.
    He chooses tv.
    A hard day at work leaves a woman with hubby and tv.
    She watches tv.
    She doesn't have a choice.
    A lonely night compels man to surf channels.
    A lonely night compels wife to watch him surf.

    The man goes to grab a beer.
    Takes the remote with him.
    Wife gets up and grabs a yogurt.
    They sit back down.
    "Do you still love me?" she asks.
    "It's fourth and goal. Ask me later."

    "Prove to me you still love me.
    A wife needs to know these things."
    The man thinks . . .
    Looks over to his twenty-year companion . . .
    Gives her the remote.

  15. Linda,

    Just wrote this long message and it got erased somehow. So this is the short one. Can you contact me via my email address? You can find it on MovieBytes. I have a paid assignment you might be interested in. Nothing major. But maybe enough to take the family out for dinner.