Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Can’t beat the classics

I think I’m stealing a catch phrase here—isn’t it the ladies’ wear giant Talbots that uses this? I checked their site and I don’t see it word for word, but the ring of it feels so familiar… Well, they won’t care if I borrow it. It’s not like I’m selling clothing or anything. I can’t even lay claim to a Talbots item of clothing—except for that great grey sweater I found at the Vietnam Vets’ resale shop over on the Boulevard…

Anyway, I always spout this “classics” phrase to Todd when he’s shopping for clothes. I keep pointing him to L. L. Bean and Lands’ End and that sort of thing, the straight-laced polo and oxford shirts, flat-front trousers and the like that fill those catalogs. I love the classics. They shift subtly from year to year, but they never really go out of style, not in their truest essence. They’re a wise investment. And it’s not a brand name so much as it is a timelessness, the kind of presence that makes Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn fashionable even today.

The great thing is that the same is true of foods. I’m thinking about it at this time of year because the wonderful holiday baking season is upon us. And while a number of my gal pals will probably be stressed out, trying crazy, complicated recipes for various sweets, frantically shoving tray after tray in the oven for the next cookie exchange, I’ll be baking the same old shortbread, pumpkin breads, and variations on oatmeal cookies this year. I try some new stuff now and then, but it never measures up. It’s too hard to do, or you have to refrigerate dough before you roll it out, or I’m in the midst of preparation when suddenly I notice that the recipe calls for parchment paper and I have none. (Nor do I have any of those fancy schmancy silicone baking sheets, although I’ve been eyeing them up. I’m in love with all silicone bakeware items. Try ‘em if you haven’t.)

My point is, I don’t want to waste time baking something that might fail, requires ingredients I would never normally buy, and is made not for the love of baking or eating but to impress others. I don’t have time to squander on pastries that will likely pass out of favor in a year or two. I don’t want to bake fragile, risky goods. I spent too much time at design firms catering to the whims of delicate geniuses; frankly, anything delicate had better get out of my way in the kitchen. I want proven, sure thing, sturdy, wonderful classics: Breads, muffins, little cookies that transport easily and melt in your mouth. I want the basics because they’ve earned their place in my baking repertoire. I want the basics because they stand the test of time—and taste. I’m also lazy, and recipes with too many steps are a turn-off. And lastly, I'll confess: I’m not terribly detail oriented. I want a recipe that has some breathing room, some space to personalize—in short, recipes that won’t fall flat if I don’t measure off the top of the flour with a knife. (As IF.)

So, don’t look for anything too prissy from my kitchen this year, or next. Or the one after that. I’m all about the classics, man.


Anonymous said...

I always be sure to make a few "tried and true" cookies that everyone loves and expects -- Thumbprints, Russian Teacakes, Pecan Tassies, Apricot Squares -- and then try a few new ones. If they make the cut, they get added to the list. You're right, not all do -- either too much trouble, too hard to store, or just plain not good enough.

Anonymous said...

You're right - the old favorites are the best - which is why I'll be sure to make some ginger cookies and snickerdoodles. But you do have to try something new occasionally - otherwise how would I have found my tiger butter? But in the end, the oldies are the goodies - that's why they've been around so long, eh?

Mel said...

I do try to bake something new now and again, and I actually found one I love a few months ago--an almond butter cookie. so simple, so smooth, a real keeper... so I'll continue experimenting when I feel up to the challenge. but those prized favorites are keeping their front row seats in my recipe box. : )