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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reverb10, Day 6: Overcoming my aversion to following recipes

Prompt: Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?
Author: Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness Project

I love to cook. Working in the field of organic agriculture for the past couple of years, and spending most of my life immersed in the flavours and aromas of the Mediterranean, cooking fresh, locally grown, colourful and tasty meals is fun and relaxing. It clears my mind, and helps me to let go of whatever has been going on throughout my day. I cook without recipes, inventing new combinations of complimentary flavours as I go. There are no rules. I use what I have, and I am creative.

Having worked with a lot of farmers, one thing I have always wanted to do more of is bake. When I was a child my family's oven broke, and we never replaced it, so I learned to cook on top of the stove, but I grew up never really using an oven. When I was out harvesting strawberries and raspberries and black currants and rhubarb, I did make preserves out of them, but I wished I knew how to create beautiful pastries or muffins, pies or cakes using the freshly harvested fruit. I am no lover of lists. I think the main reason I love to cook is because I can be spontaneous and throw random ingredients into the pot. So the idea of following a recipe is more than a little off-putting. But the idea of a freshly baked chocolate cake, or a cinnamon pie sitting on the counter is sounding rather alluring at the moment...

I have a friend on Prince Edward Island whose name is Stephen. He is a master baker. Technically it is his hobby, but he bakes beautiful loaves of bread, cookies, scones, biscuits, cakes, pies...you name it, he bakes it. When I first moved to Prince Edward Island, I often attended gatherings that culminated with refreshments, which usually included cookies or cake. Being allergic to gluten, I could never enjoy the baked goods. A few months after arriving, I went to a gathering at Stephen and Ann's (Stephen's wife) home. On the table they had their usual spread of cakes and cookies. I inhaled the delicious aromas and poured myself a cup of tea, thinking that I would not be able to eat anything on the table. Stephen came out of the kitchen,  called me back to the table and said "You can eat these cookies -- they are gluten free." If he had known that he was establishing a precedent for the entire community, he might have been more hesitant to start exploring gluten free baking, but back then he didn't realize what he was starting! For the remaining five years that I was on Prince Edward Island, Stephen, and a number of other considerate and amazingly patient members of my community always baked at least one gluten free dessert when we would get together. The beauty of his creations always blew me away, and I mentioned many times that we needed to have a baking day so that I could learn how to make some of his gluten free desserts.

We never did have that baking day (I have added it to my list of things to do when I go back to visit), but the images (and flavours!) of Stephen's amazing baked goods still linger with me. Just this week I saw a recipe for a mandarin chocolate cheesecake in the newspaper. I cut it out and put it in an envelope for Stephen, but then I thought: maybe, just maybe... I could make this.  So I took it back out and copied it into my journal before sending off the printed version to Stephen.

Gluten free baking is no easy enterprise. Even regular baking intimidates me a little, but I know from personal experience how badly gluten free desserts taste when they go wrong. So I am more than slightly apprehensive. But is is getting cooler now, and baking sounds like a good winter activity. Maybe I will take myself over to the gluten free store and see if I can find gluten free graham crackers for the crust. It is mandarin season, after all, and the markets will soon be bursting with crates of bright orange sweetness, which would mean fresh fruit for my cake. Stay tuned for a photo of how it turns out! 

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