Time to get real.
I have to admit that I haven’t been fully truthful on this blog. I’ve posted recipes, and talked about how baking has helped get through difficult moments in my life, and while all of that is true, I did bake all of those things, and the practice is more helpful to me than I can ever say, something else was going on too. Often, when I bake, I don’t eat a single bite of what I’ve made. Sometimes I will have one and give the rest away. I am always painfully aware, even when I try not to be, of the calorie content of everything I eat throughout the day, of each ingredient that goes into my baked goods and dinners. I don’t want it to be this way. I’ve been trying, for the past year, to redefine my relationship with food, to separate it from my self-image and self worth. But the truth is I don’t really know how.
The obsession with thinness is not new, especially in America. I recognize the ways in which controlling what women consume is not about health, but about pacification. It is easy to impose your will on someone when they are literally hungry, literally small, and literally tired. I know a deep network of rotting roots stretches underneath the shiny aesthetics, the aspirational lifestyle blogs, and the beautifully and carefully curated photos that make up an instagram grid. I know all of these things. But in the same way that I sometimes find it difficult to practice my feminism in my dating life, I am often at a loss for how to apply that knowledge and internalize its truths when looking in the mirror or stepping on a scale.
I love food. I love baking and cooking. There is something magical about the way ingredients come together to be more than the sum of their parts. The way the act of making something and sharing it with someone else can bridge the alienation we so often feel from one another and from our own labor. Feeling bread dough or pie crust come together in my hands, watching jam thicken on the stove, finally getting a crème patisserie to set perfectly, or temper chocolate so it shines brings me a kind of joy I can’t find in other ways. But I haven’t been finding joy when I consume the things I make, or the joy is fleeting and quickly replaced by feelings of guilt when the numbers associated with whatever I’m eating find their way into my head.
So I am trying to change my vocabulary. Terms like indulge and guilty pleasure make food seem like something secretive and shameful, rather than what is really is: the thing that nourishes me and makes it possible for me to do the things I love every day. I want to talk openly about my relationship with food, and my relationship with beauty. Because when I really think about, the people I find most beautiful in my life aren’t the thinnest or those that fit most neatly into our narrowly defined standards. They’re the people that are passionate and open and give themselves fully to their art or their families or their friends. They’re human and imperfect and interesting and confident. That’s the kind of beautiful I want to be. And I think sometimes it feels easier to control what I eat than it is to admit that so much of what I want and what I hope for is not in my control and choose to love myself and love this world anyway.
I want to be intentional about eating things that I enjoy, that nourish me in whatever way I need, without calculating a number in my head. And sometimes what nourishes us isn’t a “healthy choice.” Sometimes we really need to savor a pumpkin chocolate chip scone because its fall, or eat spaghetti and meatballs with our best friend after a difficult day. Food is so much more than numbers. And I want to think of more than numbers when I cook it and eat it. Something that helped me to both realize how fraught my relationship with food was and to begin to change it was watching Samin Nosrat’s show Salt Fat Acid Heat. The care with which she approaches each simple ingredient and the appreciation she has for each person that contributes to its making made me realize just how lucky I am to live in a world with such endless possibilities. I don’t want to miss out on any of that because I am worried about an utterly meaningless number on a scale. I’ve watched that show again and again and again.
This past year two of my closest friends moved to different cities. And when I miss them most I eat the things we used to eat together. The other day I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the way my friend used to for car trips. There wasn’t anything fancy about it. But I teared up with each bite because those flavors held the memory of all the time we spent together, and all the time we will spend together. That’s how I always want to feel when I eat something. Grateful. Loving. That’s how I want us all to feel, whether we’re eating peanut butter and jelly or a fresh baked croissant, a gourmet meal or a home cooked one. I want us all to nourish ourselves.
Something I love baking and eating, maybe above all other sweets are soft shell, shaped madeleine cookies. I’ve added a favorite tea flavor and some citrus to this recipe for Lemon Earl Grey Madeleines. I think they are perfect on their own, but if you’re feeling brave you can find a guide to tempering white chocolate here.
(I tinted a little bit of the chocolate pink for the decoration)
Lemon Earl Grey Madeleines
(adapted from Martha Collison)
Prep: 1.5 hours, Bake: 10 minutes Yield: 12 cookies
100 grams white sugar
2 large eggs
100 grams all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
½ tsp earl grey tea (from the bag is usually finer ground that loose leaf)
zest of 1 lemon
100 grams of butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
stand or hand held mixer
Using the whisk attachment beat the sugar and eggs together on high for 6-8 minutes until very fluffy. To check that enough air has been added to the mixture pull the whisk out and drizzle a figure 8. If it lasts for three seconds before disappearing the eggs are ready. If not continue to mix for another minute of so.
Combine flour, baking powder, and tea then sift over the egg mixture. Using the rubber spatula gently fold the flour into the eggs and sugar, taking care not to knock out too much air as you make sure the flour is mixed.
Stir the vanilla and lemon zest into the melted butter. Add it to the batter a little at time, stirring to combine. It will be very runny. Chill the mixture in the fridge for 30-45 minutes or overnight.
Grease the madeleine pan with softened butter, making sure to get butter into all of the ridges. Place it the freezer to chill. Preheat the oven to 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spoon one heaped tablespoon into each shell. It will spread as it bakes to they do not need to be completely filled.
Bake for 8-10 minutes until they have the classic dome shape and are a golden brown color. Let cool in the tin until you can touch them, then carefully pop them out.
As the cookies are cooling temper your white chocolate (or dark chocolate if you prefer!) Once the cookies are completely cooled dip them into the melted chocolate and leave to set on a parchment lined cookie sheet. If the chocolate has been tempered correctly they will set at room temperature. Otherwise pop them in the fridge to set (there is no shame in failing at tempering chocolate. I’d say I only do it correctly about half of the time.)