Sunday, March 13, 2011

Control With a Measure of Creativity

Why do I love baking so much? A few weeks ago I asked my husband that question, and his response was that it affords me control with a measure of creativity. Hmmm. Control & Creativity.

Today as I suffered from a serious case of the doldrums, I decided to whip up a batch of lemon bars, gluten free recipe courtesy of my brother's wife (of January's cornbread fame). And I contemplated control. I have been baking (AKA controlling ingredients) since I was about 7. That many years of experience have taught me, in the very least, that measuring matters in baking. The years have also taught me what to expect from certain combinations of ingredients. Hence, control.

But creativity? I'm not a creative person. At least, not in the see-a-masterpiece-out-of-a-lump-of-clay sort of way. And, lately, I've been comparing my lack of creativity against everyone I know who is more skilled than me in any regard. That very comparison game figured highly in today's trip through the doldrums: everyone is smarter than me, prettier than me, and definitely more talented & creative than me. Just when I think I've found something that is uniquely my forté, I meet someone who is vastly better at it than me--baking included.

Here's where I hope to cheat those feelings of inadequacy, however: even if I'm not the best baker, I can still make something delightfully yummy and (sometimes) even attractive out of raw ingredients. And as long as I'm munching away on my lemon bars, or cookies, or pie, I don't worry about all the people whose bars & cookies & pies are better than mine. Because I'm satisfied with my baked offering to myself.

I'm still stumped on creativity. The lemon bar recipe called for 5 1/2 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice. While juicing the fresh lemons, I wondered why the recipe didn't call for lemon zest, as well. The oils released as you zest a lemon afford a much brighter lemon flavor than just juice, in my opinion. So I zested my lemons and tossed it into the mix. What? Changing a recipe is one demonstration of creativity, you say? Well, I'll be...

And I suppose all this gluten free baking could be deemed as a bit creative, too, because I've discovered that the ingredients no longer behave as I expect them to. Simply altering one ingredient--wheat flour--completely changes the outcome of my recipes. The "rules" are much looser in gluten free baking, which means I lose some control but at the same time gain freedom for creativity. After all, if it's already a 50/50 chance that they won't turn out, what's wrong with throwing in something different?

So, although I'm inadequate, I will continue baking and enjoying the reign of control while occasionally shocking myself with a little culinary creative venture or two!