A week ago today I turned 30 years old. Normally I enjoy large celebrations for another year of life, but this year I didn't want to be the planner, the baker, the jello shot maker. And so I didn't do anything. I contemplated starting a blog about baking and my various stupid adventures in the kitchen and the world but didn't feel like writing. I thought about the various things I should do to feel more lady-like. Maybe I should paint my nails more often? Maybe I should get rid of all my shirts that have deodorant stains on them? Sign up for more tango lessons asap?
What ended up happening after all was baking. I wanted to make a challah bread and so I did it. It was my first challah bread, actually my first bread altogether. The recipe seemed easy enough, but I didn't think that the dough was rising. I seriously stood there watching it for several minutes at a time as if I could will it to do something before my very eyes. The book recommended letting it sit for two hours and then kneading and then resting for another hour and a half. It was a lengthy process. I spent most of that time talking to my parents, my Grandma, and my uncle back home in Chicago. They were astonished that I was trying to make a challah bread for my 30th birthday. My mom was angry that I was spending the day in my kitchen and not in some fancy restaurant being showered with diamonds but my grandma had more helpful words of wisdom.
"Don be discourage. If no rise then try again. No big deal."
"Yeah but Grandma I followed the recipe exactly except for I put honey instead of sugar and all purpose flour instead of bread flour. What is bread flour anyway?"
"Avivitcha I no know. Flour is a flour. Altough maybe they no have good flour in Seattle. My mama put milk in the challah. You put milk?"
"No it didn't call for milk, but that sounds good. I'll do it next time."
"You put eggs?"
"Of course silly."
"I no know whats happen then. You know I make a honey cake yesterday but I forgot eggs. Can you believe? No eggs. It came so low and I said sometink wrong here, and then ah! No eggs. Stupid."
"Oh yeah? Well a couple weeks ago I made a perfect little blueberry coffee cake and then right before I put it into the oven I thought a little cinnamon would be nice on top. So, I grabbed the cinnamon and covered the whole thing and but then had a whiff of something else and just yelled right there in the kitchen. It was cumin. I put cumin all over my blueberry coffee cake."
I think she laughed so hard I made her spine hurt. I am a lucky girl to make my grandma laugh like that on my 30th birthday. I guess I couldn't ask for a better birthday present.
I asked her what she did for her 30th birthday and she said, "I no do notink." Well being that she was already married for 12 years had moved to 3 different countries and had 2 kids, her circumstances were quite a bit different. Still I had hoped that there was some ice cream or a dance or a movie she remembered from that day. I asked her what Grandpa did for her birthdays.
"Oh he alvays doing tings for me. He come home and put jacket on chair and I yell why you no put jacket away? And he oh I tired you know. So I angry vas and I grab jacket and under jacket was fabric for me for new dress! Beautiful color! Oh sometimes he hide tings in house and then I vater plant one day and behind plant, new hat! Sometimes he remin me, tell me go check pockets before vash clothes and he put a gift in pocket for me. He very surprise me all time. When we move America he give me a sapphire rink for annibersary. I yell on him, why you spend money? But beautiful vas. I never vare it. Too nice. The robbers took you know. If not happen I give you."
It never seems enough really to hear these stories even though many of them have a sad ending. The more I try to do in the kitchen the more I have to talk to her about. I can get her to open her world to me. Sometimes she tells me that she doesn't remember how to do it anymore but if you talk it out enough it comes back, a little garbled but there. I have developed an incredible fear that I will lose these gifts because I am in a race with time. It's weird how I had zero interest in cooking and baking until I got my own apartment and even then it took years to realize that I should learn what she knows and not just what is in the Moosewood cook book.
My challah did rise a little. She said I needed to put it somewhere warm but it was too late for that. It was near the back door. Huge mistake. It ended up tasty but dense and I will certainly make it again, although she thinks I should try rye next.