Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!
Today is gonna be a little different, and it’s gonna be a long one- because it’s going to be my story.
I tend to drop a lot of little tidbits about my life and experience throughout the blog, especially as the subject matter calls for. It makes a good story- good stories are easier to remember, and that’s why the lessons in them stick.
It’s why I love stories. It’s why I memorize them, and retell them, and share my own- because knowledge is something that, so long as you remember it, can never be taken from you.
Words have power. Stories magnify that power.
Good morning, friends and neighbors!
The night before last, I had discovered Overdrive and Libby- apps for Kindle/iPad/etc that let you borrow ebooks and audiobooks from any library you have a library card for, and download them straight to your device.
So after running through the catalog like a kid in a candy store, I decided to go ahead and borrow a recipe book by a famous pastry chef I'd never heard of. If that sounds odd in your head, don't worry- there's a lot of famous people you've never heard of.
I honestly do like a good, well-written, lovingly photographed or illustrated cookbook. One thing that does sometimes happen, though- and this is no one's fault but my own- is that really beautiful work and food can make me utterly depressed.
Good evening friends and neighbors!
Today’s blog isn’t directly about baking or cooking. It’s not even especially motivational, though you absolutely can- and maybe should consider it so.
Instead, I’m going to tell you a true story- true, because otherwise I might call it a fable- about “the rules.” It’s a story about how I wound up on the business-end of them, got out of a tight spot because me and a sympathetic voice decided to bend them, and why knowing when to break the rules can be the best thing you learn in life.
It starts with my 2007 Jeep Cherokee Laredo, and ends with an accident.
Here we go.
Good evening, friends and neighbors.
I’ve been looking back over my last few entries here and, frankly, it seems like I’ve been a bit down recently. Especially after that last one. One of my old poetry teachers, Peter Murphy, would often tell us that if what we were writing wasn’t surprising or scaring us about ourselves, we weren’t doing it right. If that’s the case, after this past week I suppose my Pulitzer is lost in the mail.
In general the past few weeks have been a bit of a bumpy road emotionally, and while I stand by everything I’ve written, it can’t rain all the time. Yes, I am WELL aware of the usual winter weather in Portland by now.
The Pacific Northwest notwithstanding, however, external weather and internal “weather” need not be the same. Sitting as I am in a warm coffee shop, sipping a tasty cappuccino and watching the sky fall outside, I think it’s about time I write about something positive.
For starters- I still totally rock a fedora and Eldredge tie knot.
Good evening, friends and neighbors.
This post is dedicated to the women who have saved my life- they’ll know who they are.
This blog post is… well, it’s going to be a little rough. I’m going to be talking about kitchen culture, of course- but in particular some of the big problems with it. Ones that we ourselves are causing and perpetuating- the abusive, macho, meathead culture that we have glorified, and how it hurts our female comrades and ourselves. We have seen icons fall, and powerful culinary empires crumble, simply because the man in charge decided he was going to be a “guy” rather than a man.
I promised myself a long time ago that I would never EVER discuss politics on this blog, and I am holding to that. Regardless of the political twists that other pundits have put on the topic, this state of affairs transcends political philosophies- it cannot be allowed to continue.
This blog post is aimed mostly at the guys in the audience, and especially those who are frowning or wincing after that first paragraph. If this is a little much for you, then carry on- hopefully the next topic will be a bit more lighthearted, maybe with some goofy pictures or foodporn.
Guys, I hope you stick around though- because fixing this is absolutely, 100% on us- all of us- and I will tell you exactly why.
I’ll start with one time I was a coward.
Good evening, friends and neighbors.
About a year ago this past December, I got my first tattoo.
Good evening, friends and neighbors! I apologize for the week of silence- the reason why will become clear momentarily.
First, a couple of my favorite food quotes:
"What does cookery mean? It means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe, and of Calypso, and Sheba. It means knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms and spices... It means the economy of your great-grandmother and the science of modern chemistry, and French art, and Arabian hospitality. It means, in fine, that you are to see imperatively that everyone has something nice to eat." - John Ruskin
"The fact is, I love to feed other people. I love their pleasure, their comfort, their delight in being cared for. Cooking gives me the means to make other people feel better, which in a very simple equation makes me feel better. I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words. My Gruyere cheese puffs straight from the oven say 'I'm glad you're here. Sit down, relax. I'll look after everything.'
- Ann Patchett, "Dinner For One, Please, James"
In a previous entry, I discussed (likely at annoying length) my feelings about what hospitality means- the welcoming of guests in one's house, and kindness to the stranger at your door. In a way, I feel that charity is another form of hospitality- perhaps a different definition of the same word: giving of oneself to make others comfortable.
A while back, a friend of my family asked if I would donate some baked goods to a meeting of the Red Door Society, the donors group for Gilda's Club. For those who don't know, Gilda's Club is a support group for people with cancer and their families. This includes meetings and workshops for those with cancer, cancer survivors, caretakers, and even an arts-and-crafts activity group for children. The organization was started by famous Saturday Night Live comedienne Gilda Radner and her husband, Gene Wilder. Gilda was diagnosed with (and eventually succumbed to) cancer, and the couple established the organization on the belief that no one should have to face cancer alone.
Obviously, I said yes. You may have seen the pictures of my creations for that event on the BHB Facebook page (because you've liked the BHB on Facebook, right?)
If not, here they are- Red Velvet Doors, and Mocha Brownie Bites!
After I finished setting up, my friend invited me to hang around and meet some of the donors. All in all, it was a fine little party, and I'm glad they enjoyed the pastries.
That's not what this blog is about though.
Towards the end of the night, a few members of the group were invited up to share their stories. A woman told about how scary it was for her and her young family when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gilda's Club doesn't ask a penny of any of it's members, and the woman talked about how she no longer felt alone in the fight, her husband learned what to expect in caring for her, and her children could talk about everything and have fun at "Noogieland" (the children's programming.) Every evening, all the programs would break for about 15 minutes, and everyone would convene in the kitchen area to snack, talk, and chat for a bit.
Even in the terrifying face of cancer, the Irish proverb is true: "Laughter is brightest where the food is."
That night, I met the CEO of the local chapter and asked about donations. They are a non-profit organization, and start off each year with a budget of $0. Everything- EVERYTHING- they provide to their members FREE OF CHARGE, is donated or paid for with donated capital.
"...It means, in fine, that you are to see imperatively that everyone has something nice to eat."
"'I'm glad you're here. Sit down, relax. I'll take care of everything.'"
Not being an especially wealthy man, I asked if they accepted donations of baked goods. The answer was an emphatic "YES." Those 15 minute breaks the young woman had mentioned always involve food- usually donated, occasionally cooked in-house.
I asked her if she'd be terribly opposed to a few dozen cookies or a cake appearing on the table every week or so, courtesy of the Black Hat Bakery.
I guess I'll be a little more busy now.
I get to bake and try out new recipes.
The food gets eaten and enjoyed, by people who wouldn't mind having something else to smile about.
That's about as big a win-win as I can think of.
Whatever you can do for something you care about, do it.
Offer your time.
Bake cakes and cookies and give them away.
Hospitality doesn't just happen at home.
Good evening, friends and neighbors! This has been a busy last few weeks- there is a new menu on the website, and soon I will be adding a feedback page, where you can review your experiences with the Black Hat Bakery! Enjoyed a cake I made for you? Like what you read here? Soon, you'll be able to tell me- and everyone else- easily! Keep an eye out!
A while back, I assembled a basic booklist that every cook, culinary student, or pastry chef should have in their kitchen. You can find that list here, and I'm certain there will be more additions soon. Today, I began reading what might be the briefest, but most enlightening, entry on that list.
Good afternoon, friends! Merry Christmas Eve, and a happy whatever-holiday-you-celebrate-this-time-of-year!
I'm writing this from my girlfriends kitchen in Haddon Heights. Her mother is sitting and listening to NPR while knitting, while my girlfriend has just recently un-banished me from the living room where she is wrapping presents.
I'm also typing this while I wait for my focaccia dough to proof, and debate what dessert I can make for us all to have this Christmas Eve (perhaps something to go with the boozy eggnog we currently have sitting in the fridge?)
It's been a while since I really had an experience like this around the holidays. I've spent the last few months in a frantic haze- finishing school, baking cakes, arranging my schedule and so on- so this quiet, meditative moment comes as a welcome relief. The fact that I am feeling this meditative lull while baking bread is not lost on me, and reminds me of one of my favorite baking quotes-
"[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread." ~M.F.K. Fisher
In my previous post, I expressed my feelings about how the holiday season can encourage us to treat others. Baking bread, I feel, is a perfect example of how this holiday season should encourage us to treat ourselves.
Breadbaking is at once a simple and complicated business. A time-consuming activity that provides a lot of down time, an enterprise in which one person works and orchestrates, but all can share.
Sitting a few feet from me, my dough proofs. The work was mine. The thought and planning for it were mine. This rest I enjoy while my dough does it's thing is also mine- but the results will be shared with everyone.
As easy as it is to get wrapped up in getting for others, giving for others, buying for others, doing for others- every part of that can (and should) consist of just a little wholesome selfishness. My girlfriend and her family will love the focaccia, but I will also have enjoyed baking it, and this quiet peace as it proofs. There is another saying that I love- "An artist earns themselves three blessings- the first is in the work, the second is in the completion, and the third is in giving it away."
To all my friends out there, I wish you a splendid holiday season. I wish you happy baking, happy work, and happy results.
Stay warm, and
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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