Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Like: Bread and Chuck Berry

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm

So every holiday season I bake. A lot. Manic-ly. Maniacally. I usually bake with my kids, which means I’ll be finding flour in odd places — the silverware drawer, electrical outlets, underwear — for weeks.

I write a lot about this baking thing, and a few years back, The Washington Post ran one of my essays that explains my family’s holiday-flour mess making. (A Christmas Season in Flour)

One of the things I bake is paska, a rich, sweet, egg-y bread that’s a tradition in my family. It’s supposed to look like this:


But the past two years, it’s been more like this:

Close up of a brick

I couldn’t figure out what I’d been doing wrong until now. Usually, I use my mother’s recipe. This year and last, I used my grandmother’s, thinking it would be more authentic, more rooted.

My grandmother was a nearly-300-pound Slovak woman who loved soap operas, styrofoam refrigerator magnets, and Chuck Berry’s completely un-grandmother-like song”My Ding A Ling,” which she played on repeat on her stereo every Sunday.

And she prided herself on her cooking. She liked to tell people she was Italian because Italians were better cooks. This was in the 1980s, before celebrity chefs and image management. For authenticity, my grandmother would even make up words she thought sounded Italian by adding “anza” to the end of just about anything, as in “stupidanza,” her favorite nickname for me.

My grandmother also loved to leave things out of her recipes. That way, anyone who tried to match her would fail. That way, she’d go on living forever because she’d always be missed.

“No one can make bread like mother’s,” my mother, her daughter, would say.

Who wouldn’t want to be irreplaceable?

How could I have forgotten this?

My grandmother’s bread recipe is vague on sugar — “if you want” — and on the amount of flour, “about 15 handfuls.” My grandmother’s hands were the size of lightbulbs, despite her girth. My hands are more like shoeboxes.

“You’ll learn, stupidanza,” my grandmother liked to say. “One of these days.”

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