[Welcome to the first of what I hope to be a regular installment: Witch Haps, in which I tell you about my moment-by-moment happenings as the witch I be.]
Last night, our dear friend, Trey-Trey, was over for our once-a-month or so movie night. That’s where he, Pam, and I watch a movie of one of our triumvirate’s choosing, accompanied by a munchable picnic-spread, or, in this case, a dinner of homemade linguine with chicken and fresh pesto, and a yummy dessert of baked-right-then Bomboloni (both dishes to one day be featured in my B*tch Bakes recipe posts!).
This time, the film was Pam’s choice: Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia, with a stellar, almost too true to Julia Child performance by Meryl Streep. This and the meal, prompted Trey-Trey to ask, “So, what’s the impetus behind all this baking, Babs?”
[For the uninitiated, “Babs” is what Pam and my closest friends call me. My initials are B.A.B.—Bethany A. Beeler—so Pam calls me Babsie, and it’s caught on.]
Interesting question. I get on jags and have done so all my life. When I had a beard down to my chest, I got into beard-grooming and oils. When I got into craft beer, I became a homebrewer with a DIY all-grain rig, with mash tun, lauter, camp burner, wort chiller, and fermenting fridge in my Texas garage.
The jag traits didn’t leave me when I transitioned (MtF) and toyed with the idea that I was a witch to boot. They stopped being jags at all. I saw that, all along, what I’d called “jags” had been spells that, in 50 years of masquerading as a dude, I didn’t know were magik.
I suppose that’s why, almost immediately upon transition, I returned to painting, something I hadn’t pursued since I was 17. Though I’ve been a writer all my life, my pursuit of that magikal art had been in the service of academia, a corporate job as a tech writer, and penning sermons as a United Methodist minister. [Yeah. I’ve lived a life: get the deets in one of my memoirs.]
But my heart-lived writing took a back-of-the-minivan seat to raising a family of three amazing kids (and enslaving myself to ratf*cked ideologies; again, deets in the memoirs^^). Transition unleashed the writing beast. In the last five years, I’ve penned and published eight novels (with seven more in progress), six memoirs, a collection of short stories, 100+ blog posts, a poetry chapbook, and a children’s book, all while working a full-time job.
I’m not bragging; just underlining that I’d pent up a lot of magik that’s exploded with transition.
The Uncharted Country
Baking isn’t like that.
In fact, I avoided baking post-transition as much as I did before.
Oh, I’ve always cooked, but in a limited way. Since college, I’ve made intense spaghetti sauce and Italian food from family recipes. I dabbled in grilling when I had a backyard with a deck.
But baking? That was the mysterious realm of everybody else’s grandma. Pam knew how to bake (uh, not from her grandma, but from a teen summer where she worked at a lodge in the Utah mountains). Baking contraptions looked weird and even mad scientist-y. You had to measure stuff exactly and follow recipes that baking devotees collected like furbies collect … um, well, fur.
Terra incognita, peeps!
Then, last fall, Pam and I double-binged all the Great British Bake-Offs. Those shows are healing, I tells ya! Watching polite British people, with Empire-era courtesy and offbeat humour (uh, “offbeat,” that is, by American standards), politely tell people when their bakes are off (“Just 5-10 minutes more in the oven, and it would’ve been perfect. It’s a shame”). All that was a delightful balm for my soul.
And as I watched, I saw the magikal art of it.
I wanted to try it.
To do something I wasn’t already experienced at.
To stumble and make mistakes, with no claim or mission to perfect anything but just be me.
Hell, yes! Writing and painting are my glory from day one of my life in this time-space continuum.
But baking is a bloody WONDER, people.
I rearranged the kitchen. I bought some items (after, of course, hours of intrawebs research) that I determined I couldn’t jury-rig at home. I dared dough—and not just any dough, but full-on, four-turn puff pastry. Go big or go home!
And I found it’s fun! I mean, it’s playtime fun!
Fun that I haven’t had since I was wee-sized and played in the dirt pile or in the den I made in my childhood basement. It’s my own world of wonders where I dip a toe in volcanoes, veer past black holes, poke rabid bears, and dance with rattlesnakes—all from the comfort of my tiny apartment kitchen and rampant imagination.
The weird thing that happened, the thing I didn’t think would happen because it was just me playing … was that other people like what I bake.
Um, that was incidental, people! I was just having fun.
But it’s even more fun when the spell I weave in enchanted play enchants others in the best ways … through their taste buds and tummies.
Baking cemented for me something that I’d previously only toyed with:
that I am a witch.
Baking made me own it, celebrate it, proclaim it.
And, uh, here’s a tiny recipe to celebrate with you!
Prep Time: 10 min Cook Time: n/a Total Time: 10 min Difficulty: Easy Servings: Covers 4-6 servings of pasta depending on how thick you put it on, baby!
Pesto warms the soul on a rainy autumn night and kicks awake the palate in a summer dish. Don't buy the pesto paste at the supermarket—make this quick and easy condiment, and you'll be in Umbria, with the locals, laughing, eating, and sipping Sambuca into the wee hours. La Vita Bella!
Small Airtight Storage Container
1 large bunch (2C heaping) fresh basil leaves, destemmed, washed, & patted dry
3 cloves garlic
⅓C pine nuts
⅔C olive oil, plus more for storing
⅛t smoked paprika
salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
⅓C freshly grated Romano cheese (NOT the sprinkle stuff, people, but an honest-to-goddess wedge of imported stuff, if you can find & afford it)
1. In food processor/blender, puree basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, alcohol, and smoked paprika.
2. While blending, drizzle in olive oil.
3. Add cheese and blend to desired texture.
4. Taste test and correct seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed. (Remember: the Romano will bring its own delightful saltiness and tang).
5. Serve fresh or spatula scrape every molecule of goodness into an airtight container and top with olive oil for refrigerator storage. (I witchily urge you to cure the pesto in the fridge for at least 8 hrs, to let the spices and cheese assimilate for maximum WOW factor from your diners.)