JESS KNOWS BEST #22: Jess Knows…Baking?
As an occasional writer for CWR, I’ve always felt like my columns are really only aimed at a limited audience. I’m married to a comic book author, so it would seem like I’d be a perfect fit amongst my well-read colleagues, but the truth is that I’m so busy between my full time technical job, our 12 year-old (pre-teen, OMG) son, and the few hobbies I enjoy, that I really don’t reserve time to keep up with comics. I know, I know, I should have just let the secret stay…secret.
Now, I have something else to offer that I know I have in common with you geeks: A love of food. More specifically in my case, baking, but you can bake savory as well as sweet — and I’m hoping to offer a little something for everyone here. Before I launch into what my Kitchenaid and I made this week, let me give you a little background about myself and how I’ve come around to this topic:
I was raised in a small town in Washington, and taught to cook by my mom, and by extension, her parents. A combo of Arkansas meets Texas showed me how to make a proper southern cornbread, and how to drink a really dark cup of coffee! Though both grandma and grandpa passed away before my teens, I have very clear and specific memories of being at their house – and they pretty much all involve food.
My older brother and I would both ride our bikes over to G and G’s; I enjoyed having a cup of “coffee milk” with grandma, and I learned later that Ricky would eat breakfast at home, then ride the three miles up and down some major hills in order to have Grandma cook breakfast for him all over again. Smart kid! I remember helping wrap venison with my mom, aunts, and grandma, while the men broke down the week’s hunt in the garage, and I remember my grandpa debating whether cornbread belonged in stuffing at Christmas. While I didn’t learn many of their recipes until later in life, they all taught me the basics, which is all you need to know to get started.
I was just 17 when I first met Brandon, and we were married five short months and an 18th birthday later. Scandalous, I know! Over the past 13 years, we’ve made a lot of meals together, some of which are good enough to be designated “On the Menu” for our future dream restaurant. Fast forward to now…and Brandon’s wonderful mom. Karen is the type that takes in strays and ends up being “mom” to everyone on the block. She never hesitates to offer encouragement when you need it, and she doesn’t ask for anything in return.
A couple years ago, I heard a great idea for a 4th of July cake – when you cut into it, the layers look like the United States flag. After I found the instructions online, I realized I wanted to make my cake not only look amazing, but taste amazing, and thus began my experimentation with flavors and recipe substitutions.
The recipe and cake were a hit, and unbeknownst to me, I’d suddenly picked up a hobby in common with Karen…which prompted her to do what she does best. Over the last couple years, she’s equipped my baking arsenal with a tool box full of icing bags and tips, cookie cutters, a dough mat, countless baking books, and of course, the coup de gras, a Kitchenaid stand mixer! All of that said, the biggest and best things she’s given me are confidence and encouragement. The tools are great, and for some recipes, I wouldn’t be able to make them without my super-duper mixer, but I meant it when I said that all you need to start is the basics. In this new version of Jess Knows Best, I’m hoping I can share what I’ve learned with you, and maybe pass on some of the confidence and encouragement that has been given to me. At the same time, I’m going to be working to make my recipes a little healthier for the family, without compromising flavor.
Next time, I will dive head first into one of my favorite and most-used recipes for “Breakfast Cookies.” They taste like a treat, but are actually quite good for you. A scary idea, I know, but remember this is Jess Knows Best… and I’m hoping you’ll find that’s true as this column switches gears and heads into the kitchen!