To say that my trip to New York for the vegan baking workshop at the Natural Gourmet Institute was fantastic is a disservice. To say that it was perfect sounds like a lie. But I'm not lying. It was perfect.
In the workshop, I learned more correct technical tricks and about more efficient equipment, sure, and I got a lot of new recipes -- of course! But it was an underlying feeling that changed for me during the course of the workshop. To be able to clearly and really organically answer my own questions about what exactly baking means to me was invaluable. Baking, it seems, means a lot. And I'm not so bad at it. There was no way to really know this until I went to a program like this and shared a kitchen with other serious-minded bakers. The entire process was exhilarating.
This last week, I realized something kind of obvious. It starts with the acute awareness that I'm moved by many -- way too many -- things that are usually artistic in nature; things that span too wide of a spectrum. This has often been an overwhelming characteristic that leaves me confused, only as far as direction and focus go. (Actually being lost in the awe of details is a clear practice for me, not confusing.) And I realized that in the tiniest of capacities I may be able to capture glimpses of a wide range of beauty through baking. Any of it, all of it; from touches of radical and fine art, patterns of indigenous textiles, to odd and patchwork religious elements, things in nature to the molding of an old door. I suddenly feel I can do this: Create a small snapshot or interpretation of an interesting detail and get it on a cupcake, on a teacake, a three-layer cake. Cake is my temporary offering of beauty. I know I've written about this before, about when I used to watch the Tibetan Buddhist teachers create gorgeous sculpture out of butter that took days, and it melted away in as much time. It was a gesture that everything is temporary. You offer up your best, creating an artistic and profound impact -- in symbol and in living -- and then it's gone. The offering dissolves, but the impact lingers. The thoughts of compassion will last and do more work than anything physical. Our vehicle melts away and we come back to try to do better.
But then there are times when you just want to shove something delicious in your face without a goddamn philosophical or humanities reference. I'm working on that too. This is harder for me.
The structure of the workshop was well done. Thirteen students bustled around in a big professional kitchen and around workstations, and we had dreamy assistants waiting on us hand and foot. Fran Costigan was terrific; generous with time and information. Her joy for baking trumped all other elements of the class, which was infectious, and she gushed when we did well; our end products genuinely thrilled her. Those things, the honesty of her emotions, endeared me most to her. We baked seven hours a day. We were assigned recipes as groups and as individuals and were told to try variations. When we made good time, Fran assigned us more. She gave us some room to experiment with the recipes too. It was an industrious atmosphere, but the over-all energy was charged, and we were focused in a jazzed way. I thought I'd be much more tired at the end of the days, but I was fine. I was more than fine.
I also learned that after a year of corresponding and loving someone via the internet, that my instincts were dead on and that I could love them more fiercely in person. This was part of the perfection of the trip, hanging with Emilie. It was effortless and fulfilling. We partnered in workshop -- I caught many tips then -- and we roamed vegan eateries and cake supply shops and the streets of Chelsea and the lower eastside, sometimes talking a lot and sometimes lost in our own minds until we spilled back into conversation. We're kindred, yo. Here we are at the Vere Chocolate Factory where we had a blast learning about their beautiful and thoughtful facility right there in NYC.
During the flight back home I sketched for hours in a note pad, drawing cakes and frantically scribbling ideas. I filled pages. I still can't see where this baking path is leading me, but after this week I, without a question, have made legitimate space for the path. It's wide and well raked.
Today was a little murderous. I knew work would be out of control. I want to whine about coming back to endless piles of high maintenance customer-care crap, but it's pointless. I have to do this working thing. Getting all bent about it makes it almost more unbearable. So, I'm exhausted and Mina is home with an ear ache and Carmen's right paw is swollen -- she's walking with a limp -- and the entire house could use a good scrub down. I'm trying not to spew the piles back with a geyser of overwhelmingness. I feel it building a bit. I keep thinking, I can't wait to bake this and that, but I've had no chance yet. I just keep eying my sketch pad of pen-drawn cakes trying not to lose the fervor that was built so freestyle in New York. On my work lamp on my work desk, I've tapped a fortune I got at Red Bamboo in the Village on Sunday night. It reads: "You have an important new business development shaping up." On the back it teaches me how to say "I need money" in Chinese.
I just want to thank everyone again for the kind and supportive comments over the last week. I'll post more workshop photos in the flickr soon.
2 days ago