I want to bake!

Fall weather, that wonderfully cool, crisp time of year, entices many of us back into our kitchens to whip up quick breads, muffins, biscuits, scones, pies and cookies. Seasonal spices that evoke sharp memories of childhood – cinnamon, pumpkin, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom – will soon fill our homes with the heady aromas of autumn.

Three overripe bananas sit on my countertop and fortunately, I have a new banana bread recipe to try. Facebook recipes jump out at me left and right as do offerings found in several of my favorite magazines. I peruse each of these publications when they arrive in my mailbox, scribbling small ‘to try’ notes in the margins. Interesting how, despite my best – and lofty – intentions, I often find myself baking the same ‘tried and true’ concoctions. Still though, I love to seek out new ideas to implement in my pursuit of Adventures in Baking. Occasionally I hit upon a real winner now and then, something to add to my entertaining tool belt.

Although I grew up the eldest of six girls, I never picked up any kitchen domestic skills from my mother nor (to be fair) did I have an interest in acquiring them. For family get-togethers it was understood that my contributions would fall into the category of food stuffs and eating supplies such as hamburger buns, potato chips, plastic silverware or a six-pack of soda. After Bill and I were married I became interested in learning to cook and bake. In recent years cable television programs such as those aired on Food TV and the Cooking Channel have further whet my culinary appetite and aided my self-confidence in navigating previously daunting tasks such as ‘turning on the oven’.

Early in our marriage I stumbled across a recipe for a Two Ton Bourbon Pound cake. It looked scrumptious and (most importantly) doable. I made it for a family Christmas and proudly posed for a photo that my husband snapped before we left for my parent’s house. The thing was massive (hence the name), covered with nuts and flavored with bourbon whiskey. I recall that it tasted very good and was really quite lovely. Unfortunately my family is not that much into sweets and hardly anyone touched it. Despite this seeming rejection, I now had more confidence in the kitchen and was eager to try new recipes.

Some folks love pie, others cake or cookies. As for me, I love bread (scones come in a close second). Two years ago I decided to try working with yeast bread recipes. Quick breads are easy to make and delicious but there’s just something wonderfully appealing about the aroma and texture of the dough and the satisfaction of baking delicious bread from so few ingredients. The pièce de résistance, a moment even more gratifying than the time I made my bourbon-infused cake, was when I first made ciabatta ‘Italian slipper’ bread. The whole process of making the bread is like a circus for all of my senses: getting the yeast to activate, preparing the dough in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, hearing the whir of the dough hook and the slap, slap, slapping sound as the dough encircles the mixing bowl, kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, shaping the loaves, savoring the heady aroma as it bakes, pulling those beautifully colored ‘slippers’ out of the oven, slathering them with butter and then – oh! – sinking your teeth into that fabulous crumb. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Yes, fall is a wonderful time to reacquaint oneself with the kitchen preparing comfort food at its finest. Soups, stews, harvest vegetables – my taste buds relish the change of pace this time of year – but mostly, I just want to bake!

Here it is: the middle of July and that means summer is pretty much half over. Thanks to a nasty trio of infections I enviously watch healthy children, teens and adults enjoying the wonderful summer weather. They are blissfully unaware that losers like myself are confined indoors or swaddled in layers of clothing when venturing outdoors.

That’s fine. Not the end of the world although it is frustrating. On the upside there is still plenty of summer left in what remains of July and all of August. Beyond that we have the lovely month of September and then the very best season of the entire year: FALL! Crisp air, changing colors, leaves crunching underfoot, kids going back to school, football games, apple festivals, HALLOWEEN! While some (negative people) discount the beauty of the season and grumble about what comes next, I love this time of year. Not only is there the delightfully fun trick-or-treat celebration of crazy and color that falls on October 31st there is also Thanksgiving – the precursor to the wonderful Christmas holiday season. Christmas and winter and the first snowstorm and comfort food and hot chocolate eventually yield to the downside of the calendar – that long stretch of cold and snow and wind and ice that us Midwesterners grapple with (in varying degrees) every year. Then there is spring which runs a close second (for me anyway) with all its new growth and green and lovely blue skies and birds chirping and flowers, flowers, FLOWERS!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are still many summer days ahead of us and just as soon as I kick this nasty cough I plan to grab the bull by the horns and enjoy what’s left of it!