A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.
- Mark Twain
My son always wonders why I don’t listen to music while I bake, the lilting strains of something jazzy or a bit of old rock-n-roll blasting from the radio sitting on the kitchen counter. My husband brings in his ipad and sets it up near my cutting board, near my mixing bowl and offers to leave it for me, wondering why I wouldn’t want to watch a film or even a cooking show while I bake. I shake my head and say no to both. I used to always listen to the radio when I baked but now I prefer silence and the spectacle offered by my kitchen window.
Spectacle. No, not really for what do I stare at out of my kitchen window? The large tree, naked and brown, long, slender branches stretched across the milky sky, the pewter sky come winter like arms reaching for the sun, begging for light, the large tree bright and bristling with greenery come springtime, long, slender branches holding nests or the dance floor, boxing ring for fat magpies and shimmering black ravens, the large tree is what I see from my kitchen window against a backdrop of apartments, rows of windows like vacant eyes staring back at me offering nothing but deep grey secrets. What I see from my kitchen window while I mix, blend, knead is what is in my own head, words and ideas flitting, cavorting, drifting through my mind.
A history of kitchen windows reaching back through time. One first floor window overlooking the city street bustling with movement, activity, shoppers and the homeless, groups of ravaged youths with painted hair and ripped clothing and a huddle of dogs in stark, deep contrast to the shoppers (eyes averted). Another tiny window staring out and I don’t remember what but most likely the mirror image of our cement-block apartment building, sad and unadorned, with the slightly acrid smell of yeast wafting into that kitchen from the factory close by. Another kitchen window, high up and wood-framed, offering me a bucolic view of forest and field, blue sky and white clouds like sheep. An Italian paysage. And my mother’s kitchen window opening up into the family room, no outdoors in sight.
I love working in the silence of the kitchen, staring out the window at the blue skies and fluttering leaves, or the rain beating against the panes, darkening the kitchen, darkening my thoughts. Or dreaming into the inky sky of an evening as I roll out pizza dough. Catch a glimpse of a bird or two, or a shadow flicking across a window opposite, my thoughts, my ideas floating lazily around my head, telling me stories, or skipping joyously, romping crazily, dancing violently as I stare out the window at nothing. This is how I bake.
How many times have I stood in the kitchen and stared through the oven window watching things bake? Macarons, cakes, cookies, and puddings, staring in through the window into the dim, hazy yellow light, willing them to set, rise, succeed. A long slim streak of something or other, long dry, slides down the oven window in a perpetual, eternal drip, lingering on the oven window.
Delicate sponge and angel food cakes, don’t open the oven door, don’t slam the front door! barely peeping above the rim of the very tall cake pan, soufflé after soufflé barely glancing above the rim of the aluminum foil collar wrapped around the edge, the top, standing tall, supporting the weight and guiding the height, I strain my eyes trying to see if indeed that is the top of the cake, the surface of the soufflé just underneath the oven ceiling or simply an illusion, a reflection against the oven window giving false hope. I only have the oven window to survey and judge, an oven window allowing a dubious glimpse into a steamy darkness.
I don’t know how others bake with a windowless oven. Those fancy, retro AGA cookers. I would never be able to. I would feel out of control, as if everything I slipped into that deep, dark space would wither, burn and die a horrible food death.
Lèche-Vitrine. The French call it lèche-vitrine, window licking, which really isn’t that what we crave to do? Windows filled with artisan chocolates, pastries and fancy confections topped with froths of whipped cream or dripping with caramel or slick with chocolate glaze. Shoes shoes! Towering on needle-thin heels, beribboned, bejeweled, in glistening leather or elegant python, or baskets, sneakers in pink or aubergine or lettuce green. Oh a stunning coat or a little black dress. Pearl earrings, silver bangles, rings of lustrous garnets and citrines, turquoise the color of the ocean.
Pastry shop windows offering an inviting glance into a boutique filled with luscious treasures, row upon row of macarons in every color of the rainbow, in astonishing blends of flavors, or tartlets in lemon yellow, dark chocolate, rings of cream-filled choux, perfect, concentric rings of perfect raspberries, impeccably parallel lines of chocolate éclairs. Do you press your nose up against the window, your hot breath mirroring the steam clinging to the other side of the window, the heat from the kitchen misting up the window, blurring your view? Breathe deeply, inhale the scent of fresh bread as you peer in the window of the boulangerie at rows of baguettes, baskets of brioche, piles of croissants and sugar-speckled chouquettes, because what window can keep out the scents of fresh bread, chocolate, perfume? Lick lick lèche-vitrine.
“I am looking through my little window, and I see that thou art resting. Wilt thou go on at once?” – The Brothers Grimm
Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open. - George Bernard Shaw
Standing at an open window catching the cool evening breeze in the warmth of summer, let the serenading begin! Soft music, soft words float up in the dusk, language as tenebrous as the twilight. Romeo and Juliet, Roxanne and Christian, Maria and Tony, what could be more romantic? She leans out of the window yet not too far, not far enough to break the mood for will she still love if she sees the man? She remains at the window listening to soft music, soft words, poetry and love, held captive by his voice or the dulcet strains of an instrument or some evil force, a jealous person? Rapunzel.
Have I ever been serenaded at an open window? The drunken revelry of college men yelping, singing at the top of their lungs below a dorm window, a boyfriend, guitar in hand, in a vain, innocent attempt to stand out from the others? Maybe. But maybe not.
Heavens, I’ve adored you, it’s true, since that evening
when, under my window, in a voice I didn’t know,
your soul began to reveal itself…..
- Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac
Rear Window. I spy. Out one window into another, eyes scanning rows of windows. Binoculars, a telescope, shhhhh I never said this, did I? Fascination, curiosity getting the better of me, of my better judgment but who doesn’t love to sit at a window and stare into other windows making up stories, creating situations, inventing tales and adventures, spying on one's neighbors.
Leaning out the window to smoke a cigarette doesn’t count, does it? It isn’t really smoking in the house…