Monday, December 24, 2001

I wish you food, and warmth, and safety, and love. God bless us, every one.

Sunday, December 23, 2001

James Beard was a really, really good cook, but he must have been much more dextrous than I am.

You shape Parker House rolls by rolling the dough flat, cutting it into circles with a biscuit cutter, brushing the top with melted butter, and pressing a chopstick ("or other cylindrical object", says Beard helpfully) across the diameter of the circle. You fold the circle along the compressed line, brush the top of the half-circle with butter, and put it on a baking sheet to rise. After the rolls have risen, you put them into the oven.

Where, while baking, each roll neatly unfolds itself into an oval with an indented line down the middle. Creating the hallowed Jonquil family tradition, the Christmas yoni.

If this leads to our household's being blessed with fertility in the coming year, I am going to be exceptionally cross.

A sponge for Parker House rolls is rising in the oven, and suddenly the world is a more orderly and harmonious place.

The dangerous thing about blogging is that you begin to observe your life in advance, to edit what is happening into seemly patterns. Which leads to inattention. Which led, in particular, to my forgetting to melt the butter in the hot milk before pouring the flour into the milk. Fortunately, yeast baking is robust, and will tolerate mid-course corrections. I sliced the butter into tiny bits and turned up the speed on the KitchenAid, and all is (so far) well.

Baking is magic. Since we had children, my husband does all of the main-course cooking; before that, we shared supper and he baked all the bread. Nowadays I scarcely cook at all, but if I do, I'm baking. Christmas just isn't right without that yeast smell.

This year it's James Beard's recipe from Beard On Bread. Beard is a cook after my own heart: cranky, opinionated, and right. You have to watch him -- in his superb James Beard's American Cooking, he will sometimes begin a recipe with "I cannot imagine why people eat this." When you see one of those recipes, run. If he didn't love the food, he couldn't cook it. But his character and personality shine through, and he knew his bread. I've tried other people's roll recipes, but I come back to Beard's, which is neither leaden nor so fluffy that it doesn't taste like bread any more.