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A Note from Marcy

May 2004

The Bread and Roses Issue

Dear Fellow Bakers and Friends of BetterBaking.Com,

This month’s issue is about celebrating both spring and the baking gals and goddesses in our midst’s –  those that have a passion for baking or simply a passion for partaking of baking. It's all good. Appropriately, this issue is also about taking time for tea, a moment for a special brewed coffee - in other words, taking time for you. We hope to follow up with some suggestions for great teas and coffees, as well as some gift suggestions in scent and from the kitchen in an upcoming Scent of a Baker issue. New books have also recently flooded the BB Test Kitchen with all the new offerings from the publishers; so stay tuned for a review 'n round-up of great reads in food and more.

As for May's Baker’s Collection of new recipes, there are chewy  Halvah Filo Cheeecake,  a sophisticated Famous Basque Butter and Cream Cake, wholesome Whole Wheat, Date and Orange Muffins when you want to feel noble but still enjoy what you are eating, a fussy, outstanding , a savory nibble, Ramen Chicken Salad and a batch of decadent and incredible Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies.
On a technical note, please know that we  respond to each note we receive. However, because of the sometimes dubious efficiency of Spam filters, our email responses are not always received. If you have contacted us regarding technical things, such as passwords, we are trying our best to assist you and often, have to send out several responses until it is received - so double check your In basket. 

Please enjoy the recipes, and this somewhat opinionated essay on issues both feminine and feminist.   

The Bread and Roses Issue and Thorny Issues of Feminism…..

I had forgotten about the women textile strikers’ slogan, “Give us bread but give us roses’ until recently when it struck me as the perfect statement for these times and this month’s issue of BB. All things considered, Mother’s Day, baking goddesses, and notions of feminism and femininity, ‘bread and roses’ covers much ground.

What appeals to me about that slogan is the purity of its statement. It encompasses an acre of wisdom in a gem of what is virtual haiku, albeit union issue.  Would that we were all as smart and knowing as those seamstresses in New England – they knew what they needed, what they wanted and what would sustain them, body and soul. In fact, that phrase, ‘bread and roses’ is all about body and soul. We all need sustenance for both.

Nothing can compete with nostalgia and I am sure I am not alone in musing about different eras of femininity – I often think I would have been far better on the Oklahoma Trail of the 1820's then in the 21st century. Or, plant me on a settee near the Bronte sisters, or show me more women like Audrey Hepburn, Kate Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jackie O to commune with. Oh, for the days, when grace was queen and feminine strength was in beauty of manners and carriage, as well as brain born.  Was there ever such a time or is this a state of the union only in my own dreamy head? Is that style of feminine stature simply outmoded? Or is grace timeless – and something that the real goddesses among us, possess, regardless? 

Feminism and femininity, regrettably often only appearing in that mutually exclusive sort of way, can be found playing hide-and-go seek in the pendulum swing of social evolution. Remember? It was burn the roast, then burn the bra, stay at home or perish the thought, stay home a la Martha or Mirabel Morgan, or wear a three piece suit as armor against the corporate glass ceiling. 'Woman's work', became a polar, dual world of home or office; an either-or world of nurture others or nurture yourself or do the impossible: find a solution to an innately solution-less equation. For some, there were and are options; for others, necessity offers absolute clarity on what you have to do or have to defer. It was and is, a wild, crazy salad that is constantly shifting as per the economy, society, and Madison Avenue. But no spokesperson or symbol of anything female, ever spoke for all of us - although ground-breaking was done, awareness raised and precious rights were achieved. For myself, I simply never saw myself wholly reflected in any of those at the forefront. But I suspect this is probably very true of the segment of women who are in the arts, or freelance creative endeavours who are coincidentally also mothers. We got lost in shuffle as we are/were an invisible group and a lavender-collared workforce with highly individualistic approaches to all our choices and 'have-to's. I consider this community of women hybrids, for we have fashioned lives equally creative and entrepreneurial as they are hearth and domestic-oriented. For myself, the fusion of what I do, what I am and what my priorities are, has long been an impossible balancing act that I would never, for a twink of a moment, ever relinquish. I have grown to adore it and wear it as a second skin. I feel humbled by what it has taught me and the added creative spark it has given me. I know I am not alone.

As most women, of any era, I am forging my own way. I look to the ‘collective’ at times but when the sisterhood has lessons I don’t get, I simply run my own race or take the parts that make sense.  All things considered, it is, to put it mildly, very hard to find your center sometimes.

The media too, portrays such caricature like definitions of women. It is an either-or approach – which is such an incredible disservice to the multitudes of types of women there are. It is also a disservice to men. I still see commercials that show still women competing for cleaner floors or perhaps they show a guy trying to be helpful with housework with a woman behind him to correct his scrubbing technique. Sheesh. Recently, I was pleased to see a commercial for a woman baseball coach (it was an allergy medication spot)  Hey! I do that, I thought. There’s a real image!  But then I was dismayed to see the mom/baseball coach was portrayed as masculine and tomboyish – as if the only mother to coach baseball is cut from that mold. (For the record, I have worn frocks in the dug out when I have raced from a wedding reception to coach my teams. Didn’t bother my team nor affect my coaching and we always played over 500 ball).

Then there are some who say – ‘we did not want your fight’ and refuse to take up any sort of baton, save the one of blond ambition – or again, so slick features in mainstream newspapers and magazines would have us believe. Moreover, say the fellas who no longer open doors, “You wanted equal pay. You got it. But you cannot expect me to open the door too!”  - as if fair wages for a job well done means you are waiving your right to be treated with decorum. Personally, I feel gallantry is not gone; it is simply waiting until it is welcomed back by...yes, you guessed it - us women – proof that gallantry is a two way street of bestowment and reception.

Some of us had and have quiet revolutions, and continue to have them, and nary a headline is made.

I, for one, still believe in grace and charm. It is a twin lit torch that is neither weakness nor deferment; it is about poise and internal strength. It means gossamer tresses that cloak an inner architecture of steel. It is about knowing how to croon a baby to sleep and being able to leap like a tigress if need be. Sometimes, I think of it as Ayla, the heroine from Clan of the Cave Bear – for there is a protagonist of strength, beauty, healing, nurturing, and coincidentally, is also a mother and a huntress. The attributes are woven in a seamless portrait that while fictional, has a realistic resonance.

Grace with strength is…..well,  consider what one of my tango teachers Santiago once said, “Guidees, (the word for follower, usually meaning the female partner in tango), if you want your ‘mec’ (your guy) to be a man, let him lead but do not fall down upon him nor stay directionless without him. You do not lean on him, and use his arms and shoulders to support you. You find your own balance. You hold yourself upright. A lady. Si? You do not drag him down to get your strength. And he, in turn, will be a man – at your level. In the end, in tango, it is equal. No one follows, no one leads. Both the man, the woman – they are king and queen but together. Together, they rule the dance floor.”  

There used to be archetypes in Greek and Roman myth, the bible, fairytales and fables. Consider Demeter, Aphrodite, Cupid, and Athena.  Literature has done its bit and serves up its own buffet. Are you Sister Carrie or Scarlet O'Hara? Joan of Arc or Joan of Arcadia? A Gibson girl or a Gilmore Girl? Kate the Shrew or gentle Beth from Little Women, a Madonna sort or true blue Guinevere? History of course, is another motherlode of role models, offering Helen of Troy and Helen Keller, Madame Curie, Amelia Airheart,  and Mother Theresa - the list is endless. There is no end to the feminine richesse nor the choices of what you can be. Probably the best line to counter the notion of choices we have is one  from the movie Parenthood, where in Steve Martin’s character tells his wife (Mary Steenburgen),  “Here's the thing .Women have choices. Men have responsibilities.”  Or as Chris Rock said recently on Oprah, “I can just see the day when a man tells his wife he is quitting his job to ‘find his authentic spirit’” and his wife responding, ‘Sure, hon”.  

The thing of it is – as illustrious and inspiring as other women in history, fiction, and mythology are, not one holds a candle to the goddess within you. Accept no substitutes. Respect the gifts of others but pay homage to your own.

In my mind, there is the ‘A’ List of goddesses. They are largely nameless and won’t make a reality show any time soon. Goddesses move among us, quietly, as grace is wont to do, bringing their inner light in all they do. They are not the stuff of extreme makeovers but they are, to the manner born, beautiful from within. Time and nature never obliterate their beauty for their souls shine through. Consider the two Hepburns: Kate and Audrey. Their essence is what made them; their essence  - nay, the sheer fabric of their being - is what we will remember. 

Women of grace wear the mantle of wherever they are, however they are, with that grace. It is not from a bottle or a how-to book. It is usually hard won as much as it is innate. When I look at real beauty in others or in particular, in some of my own cherished friends, it is personality and integrity of spirit that leaps out at me. It is that quality of being able to rise above, to endure, and hold steady with dignity that inspires me. That is what I aspire and I am the first to concede I fumble along that path.

So, in the end, what is a goddess? It is a different answer for each goddess – as it is for each man that is a god. When you can answer that question, own and live the answer, at least for a time. And then it will be time for another change – a downshift and reverse and one step forward as some new phrase in your life as these times redefines not just makes us male or female but genderless in the best of ways: human. It is always two steps forward, one step back. Just like tango.

This May, take time out to notice what’s new and newly green. Bake if you like or simply sit, sip, read or reflect.

Bon appetit, and best wishes, you goddesses, you.

Marcy Goldman
Editor and Head Baker

Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, ‘I’ve know the feeling; I know the place”. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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