WHY AM I SURPRISED
For anyone who knows me, I am on a constant partnership with myself. I am like my own science experiment when it comes to indulging in sugar, bread and alcohol. My composition and personal affirmation of yesteryear has been to label myself as an addictive personality. Drinking or not drinking, eating sugar or not, eating clean or not, the question from my friends when planning a dinner party is humorously, “are you eating sugar?” I roll my eyes at the tedious and boring person I had become. Notice the word had. Besides, labeling myself as any one thing just affirms that and I don’t know about you, but why the hell would I want to affirm addictive as a trait. I prefer charitable, kind, generous as my personal affirmations.
I made a conscious decision this 2018 to stop the madness and try to live in a more grey area. This is a big change for me, but as I had several epiphanies as of late regarding the concept of DAY 1, this notion of living in between appeals to me. So as many of us plod into January with our back pocket list of resolutions, I chose not to. I decided to just be more gentle with myself and seeing what that felt like. So as I gave up the sugar and the bread and the alcohol (like the three basic food groups of women I know) like I most often do, I made the decision that I would allow the occasional without the usual label of failure (again). What a load of crap. So the first eighteen days or so, nothing really came up that would cause the detour. Then this past week was to be the last week my son was home before headed back to college and as usual I had a menu plan that would make Julia Child proud or in this case, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the authors of my favorite cookbook as of late, Jerusalem.
I perused the page after page delectable choices, food porn, mouth watering at every turn when I came across a full two page recipe. No pictures either, just words and directions of a recipe called Chocolate Krantz cakes as the first recipe in a section categorized as Yeasted Cakes. I love a good cooking challenge and yeast is one of those ingredients ‘who’ has been my personal nemesis. I use the word ‘who’ because I seriously think of yeast as my personal antagonist over the years as I have attempted numerous times and ended up with a pile of flour mixture that resembles Playdough that had been left out for a few days. Not pretty and surely not worthy of serving warm to my twenty year old son on his last week of his holiday break of his sophomore year. Yeast to this yeast virgin is a risky proposition and mastering yeast has become my New Year resolution. So I jumped into this recipe that I would say is like a combination of streudel and chocolate babka. Two pages of directions followed by two pages of photos on assembly. Intimidating to say the least. But my new cookbook paramour, Yotam, promised me the end result would satisfy. This was followed by these opening lines: Making a krantz isn’t easy or quick (see pictures on pages 283 and 286–287). You need to let the dough rise overnight and then fill and shape it which is an elaborate process…. You know when a recipe has three pages of pictures, well say no more.
Because I am on a constant quest for mother of the year status, I decided to dive in. I mean chocolate, butter, sugar and flour, what could go wrong? So I started the night before prepping, which thank you pink Kitchen Aid and dough hook, took only about twenty minutes and went to bed. Next morning at my usual 4:30 am wake up, I got up and felt the connection with the women in the old world who didn’t have the luxury of a grocery store or Seven Stars bakery to get their bread and even if they did, wouldn’t cross their thresholds as their own cooking would always be superior. I saw Yotam’s mother or grandmother in Israel waking up before sunrise, adorning her apron and having her morning meditation along with her coffee before the kids and the bustle of the day started. I was part of this tribe as I dove in full-hearted with the hopes and dreams of a successful babka.
This was my second attempt at a Yotam yeast recipe so I had some confidence going in, but surely not a cocky one. This recipe though loaded with flour of course, didn’t have as much sugar in it as one would think looking at the dripping chocolate oozing out of the six layers of gooiness. As I made my way through the rolling and the layering and rolling and twisting, I had made the decision I was definitely chowing on this. The recipe made three loaves! I made a chocolate almond, a plain chocolate and a cinnamon sugar. Yotam, my friend and pretend lover, you did not disappoint again. I wish I could describe the taste, the smell and the joy I had in my success yesterday. I shared pieces all day with my clients, my friends and my neighbors, of course my son.. and me. Super Yum. It was that good. My friend, Morgan and I promptly named the potential store in my barn the Babka Barn.
Here’s the “why am I surprised’ part of this story. Because I barely eat sugar or bread anymore, when I do, I get the blaring reminder by my body. The tell tale signs of what I did to it that I have no regrets and would do it all over again, but this is what happens to me as I know my body so well now it is like a fine tuned machine of awareness. First off wake up two or three times in the night, 2:11, 3;11, 4:15, yes. Achy all over, yes. Swollen eyes, joints, yes. Inflamed thyroid nodule in my throat area, yes. This is not bullshit. I have tested this for the past five years and I am never wrong with the link between flour, sugar and body aching and mind spinning. The scattered thoughts, the lessening of assuredness, the questioning of decisions I never questioned just a few days ago, and the weird desire to shop come into my being like an uninvited guest who shows up at your door and you know you don’t want to spend time with them, but you let them in anyway.
The thing about food as thy medicine is that when you are hyper aware of what makes you tick, when you dive in, you know this is going to be how you feel. You also know that like a bad hangover, this too shall pass and in this case, it was worth every buttery bite (or bites in my case). Food is powerful, it represents a surplus of emotion. Food can be our worst enemy and our best friend in times of sadness, grief and celebrations. Women have a much twisted relationship with food as it comes at us at every turn tempting our weak spots like a pharmaceutical commercial. Like sex, it is all around us, but we seldom have the conversations about it. In my family, food like shopping was a loaded gun. It represented lots of love but layered with shame and lack of willpower and control as the same time. I have been my own science project and have loved the experiment in self awareness. Every buttery sugary bite brings me closer to a positive connection as I move into my 53rd year, I have made peace with my body and this is worth the occasional detour for sure.