Bread is on the first rise downstairs and I meant to come upstairs and work on the new quilt. That was what I meant to do. I bake most days, and I do that because I enjoy baking.
I took up cooking and baking while I was a teenager partially in contrast to my mother. I saw it as an opportunity for creativity. My mother saw it as drudgery. My mother was skilled but unimaginative in the kitchen. Resistant. She was of the generation that produced syndicated columnist Erma Bombeck (1927-1996) who wrote a series of satirical books about Midcentury Modern Life with titles such as The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank and If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?
My mother embraced every new kitchen labor-saving device as it became available—boxed cake mixes, instant mashed potatoes, and an electric dishwasher. She put the dishwasher where the washing machine was originally located in the kitchen beside the back door, had a cabinet built to replace the dryer, and chose to go to the laundromat to do her laundry. I grew up doing laundry at Westgate with Mom once a week, many loads. I sorted and folded and ironed my father’s office shirts.
Typical meals were dry cereal for breakfast and white bread with mustard and bologna for my packed school lunch. (Milk was up to 5¢ for a half-pint at school by the time I was seven years old, still cheaper than the quarts of brought by the milkman.) Dinner might have fruit cocktail with pears and peaches and tiny bit of pineapple canned in heavy syrup with two dyed-red cherry-halves, all pretty much indistinguishable in flavor. (And the red dye turned out to be poisonous.) Our dinner plates had three colors: white, green, and brown. Usually instant mashed potatoes, usually frozen peas, and usually hamburger patties. Mom cooked pork chops and lamb chops and fried chicken, pot roasts and standing rib roasts, and roast lamb for Easter. Always dessert. (I took over pies and preserves and roasting the Thanksgiving turkey.) Mom also made enchiladas, maybe because my dad was raised in Southern California and he asked? Or maybe it was an inheritance from my Mexican great grandmother Rosa Garcia? Most likely it was a recipe from Sunset Magazine. The most exotic ingredient in our kitchen besides tortillas was avocados in our salads, which were always iceberg lettuce, tasteless tomato wedges, and sweet Thousand Island or Catalina dressing.
When I first tasted herbed oil and vinegar dressing on leaf lettuce in Home Ec at the age of eleven, it was a revelation. Who knew salad could taste so good! The Home Ec teacher treated Foods like a science. We cooked frozen peas several different way and compared the results. My teacher did not particularly like me, it was Seventh and Eight Grade (inevitably miserable years), but I attended an excellent public school system, had superior Social Studies teachers by then (Thank you, Mrs. Ice) and good English teachers and Science and a wonderful Algebra teacher (Mr. Adler), not to mention my Art teacher Mr. Del Hansen, who followed me to the high school. Mr. Hansen had me cast a bronze hawk at Cordell Hull Junior High School, making the original in clay, casting it in wax, investing, burning out the wax, and going to the foundry where molten bronze was poured into the mold. My MFA residency ID tags hang from the piece which perches on a bookcase a few feet away from where I sit typing this.
But I meant to write about baking. Didn’t I?
I checked out cookbooks from the library and began experimenting when I was still young. My mother made wonderful angel food cakes when I was little, but when Daddy revealed he’d had to eat it every Wednesday of his childhood, she stopped. I baked my first one when I was a teenager. I made jam and pies and fancy salads. By the time I had my own tiny kitchen in 1973, I was stewing Boeuf Bourguignon, experimenting with curries, baking massive braided loaves of bread, and reading books on nutrition. I subscribed to Rodale’s Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, visited farms, and had friends who were vegan.
Maybe I was a little ahead of my time. Poor Mr. Rodale died during a taping of The Dick Cavett Show of a heart attack at age 72. I had already embraced whole wheat but decided that if I wanted sweet, I might as well use the sweetener that gave me the flavor I liked best. (None of it is good for you, not really.) I thought about becoming vegetarian, and we moved to Oregon.
A lot has happened since then. I still consider cooking and baking creative activities. I do literally sometimes cook a meal in my head in the same way that I design a warp or a quilt—figuring it out in every detail before beginning to make it from scratch.
The bread still has another hour to rise. Gary is chasing a chipmunk out of the woodpile and the weather is changing.
In the mean time, I figured out my next quilt last week after stewing about it in my head, and I began laying out fabric after the last warp came off the loom. (Because I cleared that space and moved the loom aside to make space.) Then, all at once, it was complete in my imagination—the center panel of eighty-one 6″ squares, the wide split frame, the border with a detail cut into it. I could see it all.
Now the work: I cut all the center squares the other day, laying them out on the floor, and rearranging them. It is a deceptive process because I must oversize the pieces to allow for seaming. I want a balance between logical progression but also randomness. I got up in the light and looked at them in moonlight, then at dawn, and rearranged them again.
Then I began cutting stripes from black and white batiks. All these fabrics have come from my stash. One of the 7″ squares was cut from a small leftover from another quilt, several are themselves pieced from scraps.
Originally I thought there would be two stripes for each square, as shown in the photo, but I’ve cut more stripes and added a third stripe to
about half each of the squares. I would take another photograph showing that change, but I think I am stalling.
The black and white and grey batiks are leftovers too. The center panel will eventually be a 54″ square using over a hundred different prints and over 500 pieces. It will take me a
week couple of weeks to complete this panel. Then I will piece and add a 3″ frame. Then I will piece and add the border, mostly from a particularly gorgeous print I have hoarded for some time.
The bread dough has another slow hour to rise. I need to get to work cutting, pressing, and sewing. It might be a while before I post.
- I thought the pattern would work with two stripes on each square since I pieced one yesterday and cropped it and it looked good. Then, after posting, I intended to piece another 26 squares to complete three of the nine rows. I pieced three squares and realized my mistake before I cropped them. These squares need four stripes (except for three of them, and I might change my mind about them). So I cut more strips and moved things around, and cut more and moved more stuff around. I think it’s right now, but the bread is coming out of the oven in a few minutes, it’s already past noon, and there is no freaking way I am going to get even one row of squares done today, much less complete three rows with 27 squares.
- But we found eight pieces of seaglass this morning.
Okay, it’s 5pm and we ate half a loaf of raisin bread for lunch and I completed piecing and trimming the first row of nine squares. The rest are “dry fit” in place but not sewn. Whew!