In my home, everyone in the household is expected to do a task to help keep things running and ensure the chores do not fall upon a single set of shoulders. Writing aside, my passion is cooking and baking; I love to do both and my family supports me in my endeavors by eating with the same fervor with which I cook. In our house, it is my job to cook the big meal of the day, which entails a bit of work considering the high standards to which our kitchen is held.
We don’t do processed foods in the Browning house. For the past ten years now, we have made all our own breads, pastries, soups, stocks and so forth from scratch. This method was begun as a way to save money. One day, while I was shopping during hard times, I realized that for the price of one loaf of bread I could buy a 5lb bag of flour and a jar of yeast and make 4 or 6 loaves of bread—furthermore, bread would have a high protein count and less preservatives. This tradition, begun as a means to economize, has become a way of life for those in our house.
For six years I worked to learn the art of baking and cooking. Unable to pick up and go to Johnson & Wales (however much I may have liked to), I checked out several textbooks from the library and practiced until I got it all down. During this time of learning, my family suffered through many flat, doughy loaves of bread but they were supportive and eventually I got the hang of it.
Holding a passion for the hearth, I went on to work for four years as an artisan baker at a local market; while I learned a great deal more about baking during my time there, making this particular passion my profession seemed to take all the joy out of it. Producing thousands of loaves per week for customers is quite a difference experience compared to making one or two loaves or a plate of scones for your family. After working 10 hours at the bakery, the last thing I wanted to do when I came home at the end of the day was cook. In time, I eventually left food service for teaching and later for writing then publishing. Some two years later now, the joy in cooking has returned and I find myself stealing away a few days a month that are my “kitchen days”.
During these kitchen days, the oven is aglow and the office is dark. On these afternoons, I go beyond the daily meals I normally prepare and reach into my recipe book for something special such as: homemade soft pretzels, chicken stew from scratch, roast pork with apple chutney and a cider sauce or a batch of chewy snickerdoodle cookies.
In an age where the days go quicker and our attention spans grow shorter, I feel it is healthy to step back and do something a bit slower from time to time—something that takes care, attention and love. It feels good to make something from scratch—to take the cheap cutoffs of meat and the old vegetable tops and peels (all that would otherwise be regarded as trash) and make four quarts of golden broth from it. In my experience, anything handcrafted or homespun inevitability has more meaning and value. It soothes my mind to go into the kitchen and focus on one thing alone and turn off that multitasking way of life we all have adopted, even if it is just for a few hours.
Having worked with teens as a high school teacher, I know full-well that the craft of making something by hand is fading with each generation. In these hard times, learning how to do things yourself—how to mend clothes, how to knit a sweater, how to make a quilt or how to stretch a few pieces of meat to feed a large family—is more important than ever.
For a while now, some of my friends and family have prodded me to start a food blog with all the economical tips and sensible recipes I have collected over the years. I don’t know if my kitchen days will over expand into their own blog but I thought I would take a moment as we approach the holidays to share my passion with you all in a hope to inspire you to make some time for yourself each week to work on a slow craft of the heart.
Connecticut, November 2012
Photos of Recent Kitchen Days