Good evening, friends and neighbors!
You likely don't know who Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is. You MAY know of a creamy spreading cheese named after him, or possibly the rich, spherical dessert.
If you're like me, however, and you loved watching Iron Chef Japan, you know the quote that started each episode before Chairman Kaga's monologue:
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
As I said last entry, I try to keep things on here apolitical. I really hate bringing up social policy, economics, and other junk on here that would encourage any of my readers to assign me to a specific camp- or assign themselves to one. Instead, I like covering things everyone loves and can agree or disagree on good-naturedly: food and drink, and how to enjoy it.
Alas, a quick look at any cookbook or history textbook will show that such attempts are ultimately foolhardy. Whatever we may wish to be the case, food and dining are intimately tied to people, and that means their histories, economic backgrounds, and yes- their politics too. If you want to discuss food and its enjoyment with any kind of intelligence, the impact of these forces cannot be denied.
That said, how does that actually work? What actually moves food forward in this world?
AAAAAND I'm back.
Good evening, friends and neighbors. It's been a while!
Between a few moderate life upheavals- a new job, shakeups at the new job, moving to a new apartment, making the new apartment habitable, and so on- and simply lacking the energy to write or revise possible entries, On The Bench has been...well, benched for close to the last month or so.
With things starting to settle down a bit though, and my new baking education service slowly gaining steam, I finally have the time and opportunity to sneak out to a friendly pub and write.
So where am I? What am I?
Emily and I moved from quiet, suburban, strip-mall-riddled Beaverton to the busier, more colorful and more accessible Southeast Portland proper, close to Mount Tabor (apparently the only volcano within city limits in the US.) Where once there was pavement and strip malls, now there are trees, trails, and hole-in-the-wall cafes.
As of this writing, I'm belly-up to the bar of the Horse Brass Pub. A large, warm bar, it specializes in craft beers and English fare. The decor is stereotypically British, pleasantly hodge-podgy, and appropriate to the attitude: "Sit down, have a pint, and let it go."
I also happen to be treating myself to a short tumbler of Lagvulin 16, my favorite scotch. After the last few weeks and recent events, I don't feel terrible about treating myself- and if I did, that's what scotch is for.
With all the nightmarish news coming out of different parts of America in the last few weeks, there is quite a temptation to write something about it. I do desperately try to keep On The Bench apolitical, and focused on the pleasant aspects of life rather than omnipresent schisms and feuds Internet-savvy folks get bombarded with.
Unfortunately, as central as good food and dining are to humanity, our troubles are just as prevalent- and often they come hand-in-hand.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a neat little essay out of my feelings and concerns after the Orlando night club shooting. As I look at it sitting in my sidebar, though, all the words in it feel small. Helpless. Inconsequential. It's truly a troubling thing that, if one wants to write about such horrors these days, the writing needs to be quick and off-the-cuff, or else you'll be back-logged by the NEXT atrocity already in progress.
It's so easy to lose track.
It's so easy to give up hope.
It's so easy to want to cut off ties, hide from the world, and wait for the whole mess to blow over or burn itself out, and pray that there is something left to work with in the end. Even the things one takes joy in can feel hollow and pointless against a backdrop of misery and grief.
Silly as it may seem, though, it's times like this that I find the last words of Thorin Oakenshield of J. R. R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit" especially needed and comforting:
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."
I have never been especially religious, or even much of a praying man, but I've come to realize something important about myself and my place in this world.
The "gold" Thorin speaks of could be many things today- money, power, even social dominance. Everyone feels like they have the best reasons for wanting more and more of these things. What can one do against that- a greed and anger so hungry and angry, it feels like it NEEDS to exist, and has reasons to do so?
What I do, or have realized that I do, is have faith in the good things- even quietly.
Every day I put on my apron and start up my oven, every time I crack an egg or weigh out flour, it is a silent prayer that food, cheer, and song- the things that bring us together- will one day overwhelm the things that want to drive us apart.
Every question I get about baking, every laugh I share at bar like the Horse Brass- it's an earnest hymn to heaven begging that someday soon, the sound of songs, toasts, cheers, and laughter will drown out the voices of schismatics and demagogues.
Regardless of the god(s) you worship, or skin color, or your political leanings- I think good friends, good drink, and good food are things everyone can get behind.
If you want to march and protest, please do. Fight for what you believe in. You have a voice, and you should use it. When you protest, though- or when you take to social media, or when you get into arguments- always remember that the person you are fighting against or yelling at woke up this morning too. Maybe they went to work, maybe they couldn't- but they all want to wake up again tomorrow to maybe a better world. You don't have to agree with what they say- hell, maybe you CAN'T- but remember that to them, you ARE the "them." Be the person you would want to debate and discuss with. Listen as much as you want to be listened to. Speak in the way you want to be spoken too.
Everyone wants to wake up tomorrow, have a nice breakfast, and get on with their day.
Tomorrow, I'll be fortunate enough to wake up in a decent apartment next to the person I love.
I'll be lucky enough to eat breakfast, exercise, and go to work-
And when I get to work, I'll check my production list, tie on my apron, and get my hands dirty praying the best way I know how.
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
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