One of the other things I decided to learn to do in my financially strapped and car-less state was learn how to bake. I was one of those spoilt white children who didn't learn how to cook until she was almost twenty, and even then, I only learned what I wanted to cook (This did result in someone from the EastCape Opera Company teaching me how to scramble eggs a few weeks before my nineteenth birthday). So while I baked a few things when I was younger and I got into the habit of making banana bread and whole-wheat bread that crumbled when you cut it in my last year in Grahamstown, this year, I resolved to become awesome.
And awesome I have become. (At least my friends and family tell me so. Bless) I must admit, this is probably not due to my precocious baking skills but more due to:
1.) my pedantic recipe following. Learning how to cook late has ensured I follow every recipe slavishly as I have had (until recently) very little faith in my own ability to make a meal taste great.
2.) My mother's amazing recipe book.
This is called "The Blue Ribbon Book of Beautiful Baking" and was published just towards the end of apartheid. I know this because there are pictures of the three women who contributed recipes in the front and two of them are white and one is black (rainbow nation, y'all). The white women have perms and are wearing white lace blouses (a "blouse" is the only accurate description) and the black woman contributed, in particular, her knowledge of baking using Maize products. I will say no more.
The design may be old-fashioned, but even that suits me because it means the portion sizes are just right (no super-sized cake slices in my kitchen!) and the icing on the cakes is modest, not a tower of added sugar that is my absolute downfall. You won't miss the taste, though, because the actual cake has so much flavour and just the right texture. The recipes are just wonderful because they are like the ones your mother used (or at least, your mother would have used if you are around my age and you grew up in KwaZulu Natal. I have two friends whose mothers have the same book). All the measurements are in cups and spoonfuls (none of this tricksy gram nonsense for which you need an actual kitchen scale) and they give you handy tips about how to measure margarine or what measurement exactly is a "pinch" of salt in the front.
I enjoyed my first foray into baking (Beer Bread: so brilliant all you need is flour, beer and some salt) but what really hooked me was standing in the kitchen in the slanting sunlight after a really hectic week of work with my hands in a pot of flour (we don't have bowls big enough to accomodate the buttermilk rusk recipe!), kneading the margarine in. After a week of engaging with my computer and with abstract concepts, it is really therapeutic to work with my hands and enjoy making something tangible. It is also gratifying to feel I am acquiring a useful skill.
It has also been absolute joy to give people things that I have made myself. I have already blogged about how much I enjoy wrapping presents and making cards for people, and being able to fill a jar with biscuits I have made with my own hands and give them to friends feels like I am giving them a jar full of homely happiness.
Part of the reason I only wrote one blog last week was that I was baking up a storm. I made
1.) scones (with jam and cream I whipped myself (sort-of with a blender))
2.) Peanut-butter biscuits
3.) marble cake. In a ring tin nogal.
It even resulted in my first Zulu birthday card. I have been trying to get around to learning Zulu for about a decade, so this is a big acheivement:
*Seriously hoping I got all my prepositions right...