Posted by: hallthecrazybaker | August 11, 2009

Why I Do It

I, too often, find myself eating out at the Stardust Café.  This wonderful little café in Lewisburg, West Virginia has an incredibly inviting atmosphere with great food.  The desserts are prepared by yours truly, The Crazy Baker.

It is with some puzzlement that I watch people eat:  Here they are pushing flora and fauna into a red hole in their face and enjoying it and doing over and over and over again!  It is a site to see!  Then what’s fun for me is dessert.  First with Pavlovian reactions, the diners peer over the dessert tray and make very difficult decisions.  The dessert is served and received with great anticipation.  The ingestion of the sweet course commences: then come the sounds that emanate from within which articulate their happiness with the experience.  This is why I love being a pastry chef.  While the appetizers and entrees are wonderful and very necessary, it appears that dessert, for some but not all, is the special reward part of the dinner.  And I made it!

I have to tell you, it is amazing to know that I have fed as many people as I have.  Not always pleasing them, but for the most part I have.  I could, with relative ease, calculate the number of dessert servings I have prepared for the café, of which most have been eaten.  Then to think of the outcome of this food that I have made with such care and passion!  Ooo lah lah, let’s not go there.  But what do I do with this curious knowledge?  Is it mere trivia or something esoteric?  Why should I put so much of my self and time into this career?  For an aircraft mechanic it is an easy justification: they are keeping people safe.  For a pastry chef, am I keeping people alive?  Maybe only happy for a brief time.  So what is it for me?  Am I doing this for my reaction and pleasure, knowing how people  are reacting to my creations?  What else could it be?

Posted by: kaegw | February 19, 2009

Why I Love Panforte

Traditional food is very popular these days. From Stollen to polenta there is an innate draw to our heritage. I have the bug too. I love to perfect a traditional sweet dish. I am drawn to the tradition and the history of foods.

Take Panforte di Siena for instance. Panforte is an Italian confection made with almonds, spices, and candied citrus. The name literally means strong bread, but the translation reflects the strong flavors and spices that it is made with.

Here is a confection that dates back to the 1200’s in Italy. First recorded as being used to pay a tithe to a monastery. Then the crusaders wrote in their journals about panforte. Next the recipe was reformulated to appease Queen Margherita as she didn’t appreciate the spiciness. It is now sold throughout the world with each pasticceria in Siena with their own recipe, which of course is the original and the best!

I was inspired with this delicacy by the panforte that my sister brought me from England. It was incredible. Wrapped in a rustic paper with no pretence. The flavor was incredible: complex and enveloping. Just a sliver of the panforte would draw me into a myriad of different flavors and textures.

Of course I had to make this confection. But where was I to get a recipe? I researched and tried many, many recipes. I finally found a method and a basis for a recipe. But I had to come up with the final set of ingredients and their relationship to each other. But what satisfaction when I got there.

I can say I am proud of each of my panforte. I love that some of us hunt for something representative of our history. Thank goodness we do find and preserve these things, I sure enjoy them.

Posted by: kaegw | October 30, 2008

Food Choices

Why does one person choose Wal-Mart and another Whole Foods?

Why does one person choose an artisan producer and another a factory style producer?

 

Recently I have had interesting discussions with friends about Slow Food.  I have been working to start a Slow Food Convivium in West Virginia, the first in our state.  In light of that, I have been trying to enroll people in the mission of Slow Food. 

 

Slow Food is an international organization whose mission is to educate people about food, to promote food biodiversity, and tradition and conviviality at the table.  Slow Food supports school gardens, community gardens, and small farmers.  Several large gatherings are hosted each year as well, from Italy to San Francisco!  For a complete education about Slow Food, check out their website.

 

In the US, Slow Food has unfortunately garnered a reputation for being “elitist” in the pejorative sense of the word.  How very unfortunate.  But how has that reputation come to pass?   And what does it have to do with Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Stores?

 

Well, it seems that the people who feel that Slow Food is elitist are the same ones who support Wal-Mart and abhor Whole Foods.  I know these people on both sides of the argument are intelligent and thoughtful people who have made a conscious decision of value.

 

Why do some folks go one way, and others, another?  Some of the arguments for Wal-Mart and factory foods are: inexpensive, so the disadvantaged people can eat: single parent families and others on limited budgets really have to work hard to survive, and these foods are the only option.  Convenience; all the variety at the huge store in one place.

 

What is bad about Whole Foods and artisan foods?  Expensive. Known by some as “Whole Paycheck Foods”.  Possibly some economic pressures against small businesses in the Whole Foods neighborhoods.  Practices large business techniques, such as accepting deliveries only during certain hours, and formal periodic product reviews of their product line in detached ways.  And artisan produced foods are expensive.  What in the world makes these foods so expensive and out of reach of so many?

 

On the flip side, why are some folks anti Wal-Mart?  Heinous labor relations.  Economic bullying against communities and neighbors.  High costs to community infrastructure.  Predatory procurement practices.  Ugly, ugly buildings.  Local community support in name alone. 

 

And, why support small, artisan producers?  For every dollar spent with a local business, you get four times the return to the local community than if you spend that dollar at a giant out of town store like Whole Foods or Wal-Mart.  (Though a study needs to be done to see the relationship of profits going out of town versus real dollars being spent by the big store on local products.)  Small local producers are your neighbors and they hire your neighbors if not some of your own family.  You know where your food is coming from.  You have a complaint?  Just call your neighbor and complain!  You need to know the ingredients or how a food was produced? Just call your neighbor.

 

I am a small producer.  I would like everyone to feel that there is something that I can offer them.  But the fact is, nothing I make is mass produced, and a lot of the ingredients that I purchase are made by small producers.  Thus, my costs are significantly higher, thus I have to charge more.  Does that make me and my products worth any less?  Should the people who can afford my products feel guilty or feel that they should eat only mass produced foods?  Of course not.  But small producers should not be made wrong because less privileged people can’t afford their products.

 

Folks of means should support the local artisans and the organic foods to support those endeavors because the more consumers there are for artisan foods, the more people will be drawn to that line of work and eventually the price will come down.  Look at the drop in price of organic foods already!  Thanks in large part to Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.

 

Back to Slow Food.  What in the world is wrong with a group of people trying to educate a world about the pleasures of food?  The nutritive values of techno- raised foods vs. small farmed foods?  The traditions of food and food cultures?  Saving the biodiversity of food stocks?  Sustainability of our food system so that we have a quality food source available to all of us?  Of celebration of food and it’s life giving dependability.

 

We have had many discussions about that word, elitist, and all the meanings associated with it.  But let’s say that it represents exclusion.  Then, who is slow Food excluding? 

¾    We are supporting very basic farmers through the Presidia project.  We are excluding the giant monoculture corporate farmers. 

¾    We are supporting school education with mini grants.  We are excluding the soda companies and giant food producers that are selling unhealthy foods to the school systems. 

¾    We are supporting breed and plant diversity through the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.  We are excluding the huge seed producers who are patenting seeds for their own profit and are genetically modifying plants without adequate testing. 

¾    We are supporting taste education through taste workshops, farm and kitchen visits, and school gardens.  We are not supporting the producers of industrial foods who generate tons of food that has been produced for traveling huge distances and are standardizing tastes. 

¾    We are supporting food traditions by protecting those that are at risk of extinction through RAFT, a Collaboration between 7 of our country’s most prominent education, conservation, and food organizations.  We are excluding the fast food and factory food producers.

 

Is this all wrong?  Is this not to be supported?  Is Wal-Mart the way to go to the exclusion of artisan producers and Whole Foods?  Of course all the answers are correct and right.  We all make choices that resonate with our core values.  But I know who I support and would like to work with. 

 

Don’t you?

Posted by: kaegw | August 4, 2008

Water

I hate it when water is described as tasteless.  Distilled water is.  How many of us go around drinking distilled water.  I prefer mine to have some minerals and other naturally infused flavorings.  I have had water fresh out of the ground that was not drinkable due to too much natural flavoring such as sulphur or lime or iron. 

 

Our food is made of so much water as well.  Huge amounts of water!  One thinks of terroir being of the earth, but how did that individual essence of the terroir get into the food?  I am sure that over ninety-nine percent was transported into the foodstuff through the water.  Snapping asparagus off at ground level is always an anticipatory task that I love: and I notice the water (sap?) that drips out of the spears.

 

I used to live on a farm where a thin topsoil covered limestone.  All the water at the bottom of our 680 foot deep well had to percolate, slowly, through that limestone, then is stored in the limestone recesses.  We could not drink the water, but my, the sweet earth did grow a great crop!  The soil impregnated with the limestone below it.  And in our garden, watered with the sweet, but foul tasting, water, the vegetables were incredibly delicious and sweet.

 

The world’s huge population is depleting our aquifers and water tables.  Soon the very essence of our foods will be either out of reach or salty.  Conceivably it will shortly be controlled by the state for the good of the state.  Those of us with wells will no doubt have to pay a tax on our water usage as a means of controlling our water consumption.  If we need to water our garden to raise healthy food for our family, how will that financial restriction play out?

 

Meanwhile our crops are being irrigated from huge aquifers that are, in some cases, dropping tens of feet a year.  The pumps are going deeper and deeper to suck up the essence of our foods to irrigate a crop that may be powering our cars, making corn syrup, or feeding an animal that has a very low feed conversion factor.  On the other hand, it may be irrigating our vineyards that make the wine that we love, or the organic sweet corn, or other foods that we approve of.  In either case, the water is being found deeper and deeper. 

 

I do not doubt that there will be wars fought over water. 

Posted by: kaegw | June 18, 2008

Food Prices and the Distribution Channel

Why is there such a surprise over the increase in food prices?  Why the indignation?  Why not take it in stride?

I wrote an article some time ago about how our food system was on the edge of a knife.  The food supply could fall off that thin, razor sharp edge, at the whisper of a breeze.  Whether it could be a delivery system strike or a natural disaster, the food supply chain is made of weak links.  And, we should not be surprised when a link breaks.  We are on an even thinner knife edge now.

We have all been tied together with this food distribution system.  Now, we are surprised and dismayed by the high cost of wheat and other foods.

We are in a pickle.  The heck with food miles.  Let’s talk about saving what farmland we have in our own backyards!  Let’s stop building Homage (ho-medj), the cookie cutter suburban sprawl.  That land is virtually lost forever for agriculture.

Yes, we are in a rough period with the rising energy costs and how that ties into our food costs.  Now, part of the thin edge of the knife is the state of the economy.  As things get tighter, the folks controlling the distribution of food have more and more power.  One truckers strike could cause calamity to the cities and suburbia, but the rural areas will also suffer.  The closer we are to the food we consume, the more power the food consumers will have.  The more security as well.

That is why we shouldn’t take these price increases as a matter of fact.  But we had better take them in stride or we will lose our power.  As for indignation, what good will that do, other than give us high blood pressure and resentment?

We need an even keel in our policy makers’ philosophy.  You encourage that by writing to your congressional representatives, as well as the state and federal agencies that impact your food availability.

Keep me posted on what you think…Hall Hitzig aka The Crazy Baker

Posted by: kaegw | May 12, 2008

Cooking for One

Repeatedly I hear folks telling me that it is really hard to cook just for yourself.

I can readily agree.  At this point in my life, I live with my wife and frequently our children drop by for a meal.  We easily cook for each other.  My wife, Amy, sometimes suffers cooking blocks where she finds it difficult to be motived to cook. I, too, suffer from that, but usually I call it lack of choice in the ice box or cabinet.

But cooking for one does have its challenges.  Sometimes it seems pointless.  Why not eat out of a can or frozen package?  it’s so much easier:  cooking and clean-up takes as long for one as two; plus there are leftovers to deal with and, even for one, lots of dishes.

Why is this?  Is cooking and eating really a social act?  Do we prepare food for the recognition or the pride in preparing food ourselves?  Where does the justification and satisfaction come from when we cook for more than ourselves?

When I was young I remember coming downstairs early in the morning to find my Mom had been in the kitchen early, blanching and peeling peaches.  All by herself, working away.

But peaches were only the beginning of the meal.  Mom would also serve eggs, bacon and fresh squeezed juice.  It was a large menu for a group of chilfren, and sometimes guest, who all expected this service.  Where did Mom find the motivation and creativity?  And, with very little thanks or recognition. 

I don’t think it’s itellect, but more instinct.  It has to be a basic, almost primordial gut command.  And now, my sisters and brothers are exactly the same!

I think some of it is taught; maybe the art form or the menu at least.  But not the need to produce food for others, but not ourselves.

So, back to my first question:  Why don’t we like to cook for ourselves?  Are we not worthy of our own art?  Don’t we need our own respect?

I suspect its pride in front of others and lack of respect for ourselves.  Or, maybe it’s just plain laziness.  We do often eat out alone and eat well at that.  Or, is eating out a hedonistic respite from cooking for one?

I see in myself a lack of inspiration when cooking for one.  But why?  That takes me back to pride.  Let me show off! I can create this and produce that.  You see, I did this for you!  Hmmmmm….., I hate to say that about myself.  But I can’t come up with any other excuse.

Is there another reason I could use?

Perplexed in WV – Hall

www.thecrazybaker.com     

sales@thecrazybaker.com                                                                                                                    

Posted by: kaegw | May 5, 2008

Welcome to the Essence of Food

The Crazy BakerIn our new blog, the Essence of Food, we want to share our thoughts with you on all aspects of food.  And we’d love to hear back from you, as well, so we can get a conversation going about how food is so vital in our lives. 

It’s not just fuel for our bodies, but it’s fellowship, love in action, caring and compassion, time shown for a loved one and so much more.

It’s also political and spiritual; art and science.

So, while I’m here baking “luscious” desserts and giving the world sweet indulgences, there’s also much more to who I am as The Crazy Baker, aka Hall Hitzig.

And that’s what I hope to share with you in our blog.  Over time, you’ll also get to know my wife, Amy, and get a first-hand glimpse at what makes a small business like a bakery operate successfully.

I hope you check out our website: www.thecrazybaker.com and see for yourself what we have to offer.  It’s all luscious. 

Back to baking…Hall

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