From the vaults – Baking bagels and writing, April 9, 2011

Since I made a resolution not to write about writing any longer, as in how to write or get published or how to self-publish, I began digging back into old blog posts and discovered I already have quite a large number of these blogs already written, and they’re just languishing there in the vaults, dormant and unread. So I decided to begin resurrecting them and will repost (updating if need be) for the benefit of any new followers who may have missed them the first time around.

I’m trying something new here today at The View… Not baking bagels – I can`t count the number of bagels I may have churned out of this kitchen since I first tried my hand at making them. Here’s what half an order looked like when I supplied the Firefly Hotel on Mustique with 22 dozen. They were catering a Tommy Hilfiger photo shoot and asked me to pre-slice the entire order, for their ease in serving. (I think I remember cutting my hand in the process, and that I bled on a few before the rest were bagged…)

At that time, I’d tried setting up a baking business out of my house, and celebrities on Mustique, such as the late Felix Dennis, proclaimed mine to be the best bagels they’d ever tasted, or so I was told. I was baking healthy breads, using ingredients my neighbour packed down for me from Canada – nuts, seeds, special flours – that made my baked goods more expensive than what was available locally, but also unique. Unfortunately for me, my “friends” on Bequia were too cheap to pay the higher price for artisanal breads (and one even asked if I could deliver – on a 7-sq. mile island, fer cryin’ out loud!), so that shut down any pretensions I had for becoming a professional baker.

Now I bake for the sheer pleasure of it; I find all cooking to be extremely meditative. I love the entire process – poring over cookbooks, looking for new recipes to try, developing my own, and then the actual cooking/baking part, not to mention devouring the finished dish. It struck me many years ago, when I was taking the Humber Creative Writing Course online while living here in Bequia, trying to bake at the same time I was writing for Paul Quarrington, my mentor, that baking and writing are a lot alike – A LOT! I came up with a complete correlation of the two activities, and was going to share my idea on the student chat forum, but never got around to writing the damn thing down! I was reminded of it when I read Stephen King’s On Writing recently where he makes a comparison between the two activities. Double damn! My idea had not been unique after all.

But here’s another aspect where baking and writing are similar that I hadn’t thought of until writing this post today – few people are willing to pay what your “craft” is actually worth, because they refuse to value the work as highly as we creators value what we’ve created – both bakers and writers.

A long circuitous route around to my initial point for writing this blog, which is to tell you that this morning, when I decided it was time to start making bagels, I had the laptop set up on the verandah, and the file for my novel open so that I could, once again, commence eradicating adverbs from the MS. I walked into the kitchen, came up with a better way to rephrase something, went back out to the verandah to correct that, then thought – Bingo! Why not bring the computer into the kitchen, wipe the flour from my hands whenever I have another idea, or a few minutes during yeast fermenting or dough rising, when I can turn my attention back to my writing.

And that’s when I came up with the idea for writing this blog instead. So, editing avoidance extraordinaire! Only one change made so far on the novel, because I’ve been too busy writing for my blog. Plus, I keep looking up at this …

Dennis doesn’t want to light the pizza oven for me today – too much trouble, he says. (In fact, I haven’t been able to use the oven the entire time I’ve been here this time. He’s the pizza-oven builder, so he also lays claim to deciding when it can and can’t be used, it seems …) So these bagels won’t be wood-fired today. Instead I’m baking bagels, and a Pecan Pie, in the stove-oven … But, in the meantime, and while the bagel dough is spending time in the fridge before it needs to be formed, boiled and baked, maybe I’ll be able to get back to that novel editing.

13 responses

  1. If I had a view like yours, Susan, I don’t think I’d get much done, probably much less than you. Now you’ve made me hungry for bagels. 🙂 — Suzanne

    1. It can be difficult at times …

  2. Timothy Phillips

    I love the imagery of the artist and artisanal baker working side by side.

  3. Now I have an irresistible desire to bake a loaf of bread, or maybe two or three loaves–your bagels look so good. How cool that you got to bake for a photo shoot. I also feel the tie between baking and writing, especially doughy foods with yeasty smells and a lot of kneading (which makes me realize that I probably need to knead my writing more, so that it rises more easily).

    1. Yes! That was my analogy … with both writing and baking you mix all the ingredients together then stir vigorouly; knead for a while until everything comes together and is no longer sticky; allow to rest, undisturbed, for a period of time while the dough, or manuscript, rises; punch down, knead briefly again, and allow to rise some more if necessary; punch down another time to form into loaves, allowing them to rise (all these rises are the structural edits and sorting out the story line, characterization, developing scenes in the manuscript, of course); once the loaves have risen enough then they go into the oven to bake (these are the manuscript’s final edits and proofs). When the bread loaves come out of the oven, they’re all golden and toasty, and ready to eat just as they are (like a final manuscript can then be read), but they really do taste so much better with a dab of butter and jam or honey – and the manuscript looks so better and appeals to the reader with the addition of some interior design and a great cover!

      To carry this analogy further, baking bagels is like writing a book of poetry, with each bagel being the separate poem in need of individual shaping and boiling before baking.

      But perhaps that is going a bit too far now!!

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Cinthia!

  4. Hello Sue and Dennis, Writing today from a wintery wonderland, chilly -24 in Cochrane this morning. I’m hibernating… just finished cooking up a pot of hearty lentil soup with some fresh, fragrant herbs left over from the Christmas feast. We had the whole family, plus a few friends for a candle-light dinner. The house felt like a home again filled with the laughter and conversation of loved ones!

    I loved your description of preparing bagels while editing your previous posts. The photo reminded me of the bags of bagels on offer at Buns and Bagels. In olden times Saturday mornings usually included a trip to pick up a dozen or so, and bags of cookies ( one cookie could feed a group but usually consumed by me in one sitting…yum).

    The view from your patio looks so lovely and peaceful. Lucky You and Dennis!

    I wish you both all the best of life’s blessings in the year to come.

    Hope you’re feeling peaceful and happy,

    Love Liz and Mike

    1. Good to hear from you, Liz and Mike! Happy New Year to wintery Cochrane!

  5. I see a bag of Everything Bagels in there! Think they’d hold up on a flight to California? 😛

    1. Not sure, as it usually takes at least 2 days of flying and flights to get to CA from Bequia. Maybe the bagel maker needs to fly out there and bake some bagels specifically for you. 🙂

  6. Wow, Amazing! It sound absolutely stunning… the laptop in the kitchen and mean time to bake bagels. You are such a personality, Susan 😉
    I didn’t try yet to make bagels… but that’s a cute idea. We don’t have a special pizza-oven (in Switzerland I never heard there are) and I shall use my steam-oven. About cooking: do you get some try with vegan as well? I though about combining recipes and story in one novel (nothing new, actually) but could be fancy. But first of all, me too, I shall get over the editing of my last novel Taiga’s dream… I wish you a lovely weekend :-)claudine

    1. I tried gluten-free baking at one time for a friend’s sake, but it’s difficult without ready access to all the special ingredients.

      My next novel will include local recipes mentioned in the story.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Claudine. Best of luck with the editing!

  7. bettyjanehegerat

    I want one of those bagels! I can taste it. It’s a chilly -17 so I won’t rush out to buy bagels — besides, they’d probably disappoint — but I am going to get the dough rising for a batch of “Susan’s Cinnamon Buns.” Your sharing of your recipe was a gift.
    I won’t have my laptop in the kitchen but kneading dough always get the wheels in my mind turning.
    Come back to Calgary. Bake bagels at my house!
    Meanwhile, blow the flour off the laptop and get back to the editing. 🙂
    Betty jane

    1. Dear Betty Jane, I will be there in your kitchen once again … as soon as your snow stops falling!! In the meantime, I too should bake some of those cinnamon buns. That is also a great recipe! (And it will be included in the next novel, too!)

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