How to Repair Food

“Hallooo…halloo?” a happy pink apron appears in my doorway. “I’m baking Christmas cookies, do you want to come and chat?” It’s Nina from the Sudi, Dewi, and Nina show next door. They have a real kitchen with an oven. Very few Bali homes have an oven. Mine doesn’t, and as a result I’m spared the task of ever baking anything which makes me very happy. But Nina loves to bake and she explains that her Nana sent a recipe for the traditional, Italian sugar cookies (with anise! Yum!). The dough is ready and she’s about to roll, cut out, and bake.

“Yes! I’ll be right over!”

I grab my sandals and scamper across the yard to the open kitchen door.

P1050288Nana is Nina’s paternal grandmother from Poland. Her grandpa is Sicilian. The recipe is Italian. Grandma Nana wrote the directions longhand, Nina’s dad scanned them, e-mailed them, and here they are on the computer, on Nina’s countertop in Bali.  Technology!

P1050289My friend is already up to her elbows in flour and the big, pink apron has a dusting as well. She mixes and bakes and we chatter about the peculiarities of Capricorns and other zodiac signs. Nina and I are both of Capricornian persuasion and we seem to understand each other quite adequately, even though I was born a generation earlier.

During the lulls (the oven will only accommodate one cookie sheet at a time) she pulls out a little book. How to Repair Food…What to do when you discover that just about any kind of food or drink is…overcooked, stale, burned, lumpy, salty, bland, frozen, too dry, too wet, tough, too thick, too thin, wilted, curdled, stuck together, or fatty. Uh huh. I should have one of these!

I ask if maybe she should set the timer. I seem to be a disturbing element and I don’t want those tantalizing smells to become charcoal. She waves the silly thought away, says she has her eyes on the clock and it’s fine. Okay, Nina.P1050292

But back to the little volume. Just to demonstrate its value, do you know what to do when you burn rice? I so could have used this wisdom yesterday!

From How to Repair Food, and I quote: As soon as you discover you’ve burned the rice again (note the ‘again!’) turn off the flame, place the heel of a loaf of bread on top of the rice, cover the pot and wait 5 minutes. Virtually all the scorched taste should disappear into the bread. Serve the rice to friends and the bread to enemies. The authors, Marina and John Bear, have a sense of humor, right?!

But I digress. Back to cookie-baking.


Nina’s kitchen has a low plastic stool. I think it’s for five-year-old Dewi when she participates. There are no upper cabinets and both Nina and Sudi can reach the countertop, even the icebox, just fine. The stool’s definitely for Dewi. Anyway, that’s where I park whenever I’m ‘helping.’ Sometimes I BYOP, bring my own pillow. Saves wear and tear on the bony buttocks.


Today I assisted by providing the Bintang (Bali beer). Many of the world’s problems get solved in this kitchen with the help of Bintang, or homemade limoncello, or coffee flavored vodka. It’s really best that I keep my fingers out of the dough.

I come from a long line of extraordinary bakers. My grandmother’s lefse recipe is treasured by all those in the family who still haul out the griddle and rolling pins for a marathon lefse bake around this time each year. My mother’s homemade, honey whole wheat bread is heavenly beyond belief. My sister…okay. My sister is the cookie queen. Sorry Nina, but nothing I’ve ever seen short of a professional pastry shop, has pumped out Christmas cookies like Gwen’s.


Gwen’s Christmas Cookies

See what I mean? With a legacy like this you’d think I’d have some culinary talent. But why bother? When you have masters among you, just bow, smile, and feast!  Besides, I’m a Capricorn. I don’t like to compete unless I’m quite sure that I’ll win. Not a chance in this crowd!

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