Back when I was in college I didn’t know how to cook and I certainly didn’t know how to bake. There was one exception: I could make a strawberry cheesecake. Somewhere I had picked up a recipe book and taught myself how to make my favorite dessert. I would wow and impress potential boyfriends with the one and only thing I knew how to make.
Fast forward to last weekend. I went to BlogHer12, the largest gathering of women bloggers in the United States.
One of the most popular events is something called “Voices of the Year,” where a select few bloggers will stand on stage and read one of their popular entries. It’s really great, emotional stuff.
In honor of that I decided to do my version, which I’m calling “Everyone has a voice.”
Before I go there, I need to back up again and give a little background.
There’s a great CBS reporter named Steve Hartman. From 1998 to 2004 he would get someone to throw a dart at a US map. Hartman would then travel to where the dart landed. When he got there he picked up a phone book and picked someone at random. Assuming the person was up for it, he would do a television profile on them. It was called “Everybody has a story.”
So this was my blatant rip-off of it. I decided to pick a table at this BlogHer event at random, sit down next to a person and strike up a conversation with them.
I got there about 20 minutes before the event started, just as the tables were filling up. The table I chose was about half full. There was a group of women who clearly knew each other and chatted away. And then there was a woman sitting by herself at the table. I sat down next to her. She looked like she could still be in college. She told me her name was Marni. (Turns out there was another woman at the table named Marni. Who knew that could be such a popular name?)
We exchanged cards. First our blogger cards and then our “real job” cards. She is the Digital Marketing Manager for a company called SabanBrands.
I read her blog card “HappyGoMarni. Blogger and Baker.”
“So you’re a baker?” I asked. (Not the most intelligent question. I know it should have been self-evident. But okay, I thought I would start with a softball question.)
She nodded and smiled.
I did better with my second question as I explained that I wanted to interview her for my blog. I gave her the spiel about my blog: I write stories that I think are of interest to parents and that they might find useful.
“So what is your favorite thing to bake?”
“My grandmother’s blondies,” she replied.
I told her I was really wasn’t much of a baker. So any suggestions she could offer me and my readers would be helpful.
“What are your best tips for baking?” I asked.
Now here if I were writing a traditional story I would just call it “5 Secrets of an Extreme Baker” and leave it at that.
I’ll rattle off the tips here because I do think they are really useful, but then I’ll continue with my story:
Marni’s top secrets
1. When making chocolate chip cookies, don’t use chocolate chips, cut up real chocolate. She explained how chocolate chips are designed to melt at a set temperature point. But if you use real chocolate diced or chopped up, you will bite into real chocolate, still in form, and not the gooey chocolate bits.
2. Instead of using buttermilk in a recipe, buy buttermilk powder and keep it on hand. (Say what? I had never even heard of buttermilk powder until this moment).
The advantage is you don’t have to run out to the store to buy buttermilk for a recipe that only calls for a cup and then end up throwing out the rest of it two weeks later. If you buy the powder and store in the fridge, you will always have some on hand ready to mix with water.
3. When you open up a new bag of flour, make sure you fluff it first. Marni explained, oh so patiently to me, that a cup of flour from a new (unfluffed) bag is actually way more flour than a regular cup of flour. It’s because the flour gets packed in at the top. “Don’t believe me,” she challenged, “weigh it.”
4. The Secret to making a great Blondie is in the butter and brown sugar. (I had to check out this recipe for myself so I visited her blog. (See here for top Secret Recipe)
5. And number 5, well we didn’t get to number 5 right away because I was so curious about her.
Marni is from Los Angeles. She’s a third-generation baker. Recipes have been handed down from her grandmother to mother to her. She’s been blogging since 2009. Her age is actually 29. But the fact that got me is she has more than 800 hardback cookbooks filling her book shelves that fit into 15 boxes!
I have maybe six cookbooks that I’ll dust off around Thanksgiving.
Marni thought about going to school to become a chef. Unbeknownst to her parents she applied for the Culinary Academy of San Francisco. She got in. But then decided not to go. I asked her why.
“I thought it might ruin baking for me,” she replied simply. “Baking as a career is a hard life. And when you run a bakery you’re only making about 10 things and multiplying the recipe in vats. “
“Who are some of your favorite cookbook authors?” Without hesitation, she ticked off the names… Alice Medrich, Marlene Sorosky, David Lebovitz.
If you had asked me to name my favorite authors, I would pause, look thoughtfully, censor a few out, embellish a little to make me look smarter before replying. But Marni mentioned them like they were her next-door neighbors.
Well, I guess she should. She makes a point of visiting her cookbook idols, the way some 20-something year olds would travel to see their favorite pop band.
It’s nothing for her to hop on a plane or drive to some out-of-the-way bookstore to meet a favorite cookbook author. She did this recently to meet Alice Medrich.
She has dedicated drawers in her kitchen just for colored sprinklers.
“I have just about every possible piece of equipment,” she said. Then she paused, “Well there are a few things actually on my wish list,” she said with a smile.
Marni once spent 4 days baking a layered caked, with fondant and chocolate frosting.
For her sister’s birthday she took two days making a layered chocolate cake.
“It was painful to cut into it,” she admits. Here is a picture of that gorgeous cake.
One her iPhone she showed me some of her beautiful creations.
She excitedly flipped to her challah bread. ”Check out the braiding on that,” she said with a huge smile.
She is self-taught except for the occasional class at Whole Foods.
I told her she should write her own cookbook. She said, “I’ve never been to culinary school.” I said I didn’t think that should hold her back. 800+ cookbooks that she owns….I think she’s more than qualified.
In this world, it’s nice to see someone with the kind of passion that she has. It’s something she does simply for the love of it. Baking is a hobby she shares with her mother and her friends. It binds them together. That’s apparent when you visit her blog.
And her parting bit of advice for me. I guess you could call this the missing 5th secret. These are words to live by: “You can’t ever go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter.”
Visit Marni at www.HappyGoMarni.com
Category: Cool Stuff