Saturday, July 04, 2020

I've never come close to dating a man who loves to cook. Which means, I've never earmarked cooking as a hobby designated to go in the backburner after the thing with the said gentleman ceases to work. It's true though, this ilk. I've seen it with so many things I love and distanced from and I feel I can no longer make sacrifices on the hobby end of things. 

Which means, not finding myself in the vicinity of any man who can cook and be attracted to him. 

Coming back, what I absolutely dig about cooking or pretty much leading to cooking is the process. The prep and the tools. It's like the stationery to write can really inspire the writer, but translate that to the kitchen and you'll see how cooking is not different. Okay, perhaps it is, cause the tools are expensive and not all accessible. I don't mean ingredients; they're kinda like the writing board or paper. There's only so much you can do and turn it around as many times before you put that down. 

The thing about cooking I find mindlessly therapeutic is definitely the preparation towards the act of cooking. Watching recipes online is as good a stimulation to that act, followed by mentally assessing the tools you'll layout; which knife to use to chop the onion, and whether your fork is long enough to roll gnocchi in the absence of a wooden gnocchi board. It's so much more and yet accounts for so little. 

If you don't foresee the final product and don't quite know what it will taste like when you do end up making it, you're doing it wrong. 

Part of the high, the confidence of cooking is in reading/watching/listening to someone tell you about a recipe and knowing all too well the flavours it will hold and the aftertaste it will leave. You should know the components, the raw ingredients and their weak points as well as a thorough SWOT analysis before deep diving into a recipe. 

A few days ago, I found myself obsessively going over two bakers' Instagram highlights. The only thing common between both of them was the sheer precision with which they approached recipes. Don't get me wrong, seasoned cooks will tell you that precision is bullshit but I'm talking about baking here. 

Baking is all about precision. Of weight, of prep timing, of extra whips and then the secret ingredient. The thing about baking that usually stands out is how regular cooks dismiss it as being too difficult and then novices usually find their way in baking cause the precision is easy to understand. 

I used to be able to bake rather well. I spent the first half of my 20s baking a lot. Baking for friends, for family, for the boys I loved and then for those who loved me back just as much. Baking was a meditative space, a route into whipping raw ingredients and imagining killing people who've wronged you while you worked on that batter with your hand and a fork. It was as good as a manual gym and you go all out at it. 

I don't know when and what happened for that switch to turn off but I parted ways with baking to move to the serious stuff. Ofcourse, serious stuff requires a serious audience. Pleasing a serious audience is not easy. It has to be done thrice a day and in the same intensity, with which the novice approaches on cake/dessert that is baked. 

Coming back, I think I flipped the fuck out the last few times I was presented with an opportunity to bake a dessert. I did it, and I tried being precise but it was nowhere close to my former glory of whipping a batter so good that I couldn't believe it myself. It was okay and strictly at that. I think the last six odd cakes have been so sad that I don't want to go anywhere near the idea of baking a dessert anytime soon. 

The bread, then, was a serious challenge. One to see, if precision as a cook can take you places and second to see if my baking hiatus with dessert can be broken.

Admittedly, baking is bread is one of the most difficult things one can do, second only to earning that bread. 

It takes a tshirt, all the life out of your body and your afternoon to put together everything and measure the exact proportion of ingredients. The tools for baking too take the life out of you. Which is to say, if you're lucky, you'll do everything right and get a bread at the end. No amount of practice as a cook or baker can rescue you here. 

Hokkaido, or the Japanese Milk Bread that I baked was a mediocre end product. It was strictly passable and despite it tasting delightful, I don't think the process of baking bread is something I'd like to undertake again anytime soon. It was a lot of physical labour with determination, only hoping to not throw the kneaded dough out if it failed. 

I digress but the point I'd like to share or raise is the baker/cook equipment and that making all the difference. You see, most recipes will give you a lowdown on how things are done, step A to step B to step final recipe. 

Cooks don't often talk about their equipment or machinery they use to get the desired result. Now, this may seem excessive to those who don't quite approach cooking like the spiritual hobby it ought to be, but as a means to an end to filling their bellies. Bakers on the other hand, do actually specify these in detail, as have been pointed by the two professionals I mentioned earlier. They were so precise to even tell one through a whole short montage of images taking one through the nuances of baking before one starts and mindlessly attempt to copy a recipe. That's literally the crux of baking/cooking, you need to know some basics; those never transfer along with the recipe and don't show themselves until absolutely stated in words, including that lack of equipment and machinery you need may result in a completely different end product.  

If I don't possess the gnocchi board, there's no way in hell I am going to get gnocchi that looks or feels like Nonna's recipe (grandmother of the woman whose recipe I'm intending to use). Similarly, if I don't own a damn loaf tin, there's only so much frugality that can get you a bread lookalike. 

Seasoned cooks will disagree with me, and who knows even I might in a few years. For now, I'll hold the lack of gnocchi board responsible for my dinner plans tonight and perhaps include that in my birthday wishlist with a can of Stevia Coke (seriously, did you know that?)

(Title track; reference of the day)

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