In this case, they do.
Particularly this one.
I discovered Gavin Aung's webcomic Zen Pencils some time ago, since I am rather fond of collecting adages, parables, snippets of wisdom, etc. and Gavin has an elegant, inspiring, and lighthearted way of bringing them to life. This particular comic, based on the poem "Ithaka" by Constantine P. Cavafy, is one of my favorites.
I read this shortly after catching up on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show "Parts Unknown." Anthony Bourdain is something of an icon of mine- not just because I'm a sucker for great travelogues (putting him in the company of Kerouac and Steinbeck), but because he has a very human way of approaching great figures in the culinary world. So many times I read his work or watch his show and find him talking to people like Marco Pierre White, Fergus Henderson, Fernand and Albert Andria, and others- people who have figuratively shaken the world with their work. All in a field that I am barely more than a neophyte in. I look at Bourdain's work, or Whites, or the Andrias, and sometimes I can't help but feel absolutely impotent. In a field with people of this genius, creativity, and caliber- many of whom rocked the world with their works when they were around my age- what hope can a small-time baker in Southern New Jersey have of making an impact?
How can I even imagine that, someday, somehow, I might step out of their shadow and cast my own?
That is when I remember two things:
1. I remember the poem "Ithaka." The idea that it's the journey, not the destination. I am not Marco Pierre White or Albert Andria. Their lives were not mine. The goal of anyone should not be to be the facsimile of someone great, but to be great in one's own way. Where we end up doesn't matter nearly so much as how we got there, and what was learned along the way. If I want to be great and famous one day, I will be- but I am in no rush. I still have a lot to learn.
and 2. I remember the following poem by Robert Service.
The Land of Beyond
Have you ever heard of the Land of Beyond,
That dream at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,
And ever so far away;
Alluring it calls: O ye yoke of galls,
And ye of the trails overfond,
With saddle and pack, by paddle and track,
Let’s go to the Land of Beyond!
Have ever you stood where the silences brood,
And vast the horizons begin,
At the dawn of the day to behold far away
The goal you would strive for and win?
Yet ah! in the night when you gain to the height,
With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,
Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream,
Still mocks you the Land of Beyond.
Thank God! there is always the Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A fairness that never will fail;
A proud in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Behold it, our Land of Beyond!
The samurai of Japan had a saying- "The only opponent is within." The culinary industry (indeed, the world) is rife with competition, and there will be winners and losers. There will be people that get the trophy and victory lap at the end, and there will be others that just pack up and leave quietly.
In the end, however, no matter what it is, your only real competition is with yourself.
"Can I do this faster?"
"Can I tweak this formula and make it better?"
"Can I fix how I work so I have more time?"
So I as much as I might dream of one day being like them, I am not Anthony Bourdain, Marco Pierre White, or Albert Andria.
I am me- and my goal is to learn and be the best baker I can, the best person I can, and the best me I can.
All in due time.
Stay cheerful, and
Good afternoon, my friends!
I apologize for this post being late, but for the longest time yesterday I was debating what to write about. My schedule hasn't opened up enough where I can document making fondant and marzipan like I promised (I'll get around to it though!), and I was really kind of lost as to what I felt needed to be said, but hadn't yet.
As I type this, I'm sitting in a South Jersey Starbucks, sipping some Earl Grey (yes, it's plain, and no I don't go for fancy coffee drinks.) Yesterday afternoon was spent similarly, except that I was sharing my table with an old friend of mine, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend's sister.
It was during this afternoon that today's topic sprang upon me as not only something that HAS been said before, but needs to be repeated, and shared at a personal level.
This particular friend of mine and I haven't seen each other in some months. We don't live terribly far away from each other, but we simply have conflicting schedules. One thing any young adult can tell you is that, while technology may shrink distances, conflicting schedules extend them. As of yesterday, however, the planets aligned: I was free, and she was bored and in the dumps. Sounds like coffee time.
Meeting up in the coffee shop, we proceeded to laugh, joke, and share news of what's been going on in each other's lives (apart from what makes it on to Facebook.) Her boyfriend and his sister arrived, we exchanged greetings, and chatted for a while.
Then it happened.
Had I been more cynical, I might have been counting down to it's occurrence.
Everyone took out their cell phones, and conversation stopped.
I will break here to make a point. I am not a Luddite. I love technology. I have a Facebook, a Twitter, and a blog (thanks for reading, by the way!) In the old days, I even had a MySpace and a Livejournal. I will even freely admit that I do not blog/twitter/post as much as I should (particularly as a small business looking to make social media work for him.
My issue here is not about people being too connected. It's not even about people connecting in the "wrong way." There IS no wrong way to connect with others, as long as no one is harmed or brought to grief.
My issue is about people's use of time. In this case, I was sitting at a table for the first time with an old friend I had not seen or spoken to in some months, her boyfriend with whom I rarely speak, and his sister whom I meeting for the first time. This was an opportunity for us to catch up, share jokes, and laugh. This was an opportunity to talk to a new person that I knew nothing about, and who knew next to nothing about me (at least not firsthand.)
Instead, everyone was looking at their phones, poking through Facebook.
While this would be annoying at any time, I suppose I was struck by the irony of it being at a table with food.
Food with people, for me, has always been more of a social function than a strictly biological one. Many of my fondest childhood memories are centered around food, and particularly family dinners. My parents would impress on me basic table etiquette-
"No toys at the table."
"No reading at the dinner table."
"Say 'please' and 'thank you', and ask for things to be passed instead of reaching."
There are wonderful warm memories of gathering around my grandmothers table for holiday dinners- the whole family laughing, swapping stories and jokes, and discussing vital matters of the day.
Meals have been a cornerstone of family social life for millennia- whether gathering around the campfire, the hearth, the kitchen table, or a long table at a fine restaurant, eating has long been associated with enjoying people's company. Some of my happiest times recently are Sunday nights- I visit my girlfriend, and we make dinner together for the two of us and her mother. We sit, eat, talk, and most frequently, laugh.
Now, when I go out with my family to dinner, I can almost count down to the exact moment when conversation ceases and everyone pulls out their phones. They are checking Facebook, checking Twitter, playing games, doing anything these wonders of modern technology can do- anything besides sharing your day with the people in front of you.
I do not mean to stand on a soapbox or come across as a grouchy old man, but I can't help but find the habit of checking one's internet life at the table somewhat insulting. My motivation in becoming a baker and making food my life WAS that vital intersection of food, space, time, people, and love. I became a baker because I wish for EVERYONE to have those family dinners, those dinners at my grandmothers, and Sunday nights like I share with my girlfriend's family. This is certainly not a Norman Rockwell world, and I'd be kidding myself if I insisted that everyone shut off all their phones, hold hands, and start singing "Kumbaya." All I ask is that people today make a conscious effort.
So here is a little challenge for you, my dear readers.
Next time you are at the table, with your family, friends, or whoever, before you take out your phone, pause. Look at the faces around you. You are sharing food with them- an intimate moment. Why suck the life out of this moment? Think to yourself, "Who are these people? Do I truly not have any questions about them? Do I know everything about their lives?" The answer will likely be "no"- put your phone down and speak.
If the answer is "no, and I don't care", excuse yourself from the table and find some new people to eat with.
Be warned though- your phone is probably a lousy cook.
Be good to each other, be kind, and- very importantly-
Good afternoon, one and all!
This entry is aimed at all the Scouters, hikers, fitness nuts, campers, and anyone who enjoys the Great Outdoors.
I spent several years as a Scout, and today I still love camping, hiking, and biking around the wilderness. Combine this with a love of food and baking, and you can see why the idea of campsite cooking appeals to me greatly.
Now most people who aren't Scouts, don't know any, or don't enjoy camping will likely still be living under the misapprehension that eating on a campout involves hotdogs and marshmallows on sticks, cold meat and soup out of cans, and a lethal amount of granola and beef jerky.
Well, yes- there is that. Mostly on hiking trips (when one needs to pack light), dried provisions are a popular way to get the calories, carbs, and protein you need in a light, easy package. Canned goods are heavy and rarely happen, as are any provisions that might require a cooler (such as the hot dogs.)
Marshmallows are fair game though.
Anyway, the point is that when you are enjoying the active lifestyle of the outdoors, it helps to carry the right food with you. For a long hike, you are generally looking for food that:
You could certainly shell out for beef jerky, trail mix, ramen noodles, and dried fruit, but why not bolster that with these two handy little recipes that you can make at home? Save money, save trash, and save your tastebuds!
These tasty little buggers are an old recipe and a quintessential trail ration. Quick to make and easy to bake, bannocks taste like a cross between a biscuit and an oatmeal cookie. Functioning as a little puck of carbs and starch, travelers would eat one or two in the morning and drink some water. The bannocks would make them feel nice and full- at least till lunch!
This recipe is one of my favorites. Very simple, and thus very easy to alter and doctor as you see fit. What follows below is my recipe, modified from an original from GardenGuides.com. The original can be found here.
Swedish Hard Tack (a.k.a. "Lembas Bread)
The Lord of the Rings fans among us will recognize instantly what this is. Described in the books as a magical Elvish travel ration, one small corner can apparently fill the stomach of a grown man. In reality, this Swedish Hard Tack comes pretty close, working on the same principle as the Scottish Bannocks. Another simple recipe, this one is also very doctorable- above I riddled it with caraway seeds, but I've also made this with herbs, spices, and dried fruits (like raisins.) This recipe originally came off of AllRecipes.com
Don't let any Hobbits near them.
2 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar (switch out with honey/maple syrup/ brown sugar if you like)
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
1 cup buttermilk
Any extra ingredients you like (seeds, spices, herbs, raisins, etc.)
How did these turn out for you? Comments? Questions? Ideas for how to improve them? Share in the comments!
Stay classy, and happy trails!
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
Want to support the BHB and On The Bench? Click here!
The BHB Instagram