April 20, 2004
Last week I told you about the Chocolate Cremes that Alicia had sent me in her Foods From Maryland parcel. This parcel, neatly packed up in a large box of chicken bakes, also contained three boxes of assorted baking mixes.
We do have baking mixes in France of course (yup, got 'em about the same time as electricity, early last year), but they are mostly for French specialties : crêpes, madeleines, gâteau au chocolat, entremets, crème renversée... We have dry mixes, but also liquid mixes, where the batter is completely ready to use, in a soft stand-up pouch (I just had to use the word "pouch", it's one of my favorites). I've never bought any of those mixes though, and I'm not sure how good they are, or how well they sell. Especially the latter "just-dump-it-in-a-pan" type, which seem to rob the pseudo-baker of all the fun and glory : hey, at least give me a chance to beat a darn egg in, pretend I am of some use!
We don't even have a proper word for baking mixes. They're called "préparation pour <fill in the blank>". But anyway, try as we might, we could never have reached the coolness level of the expression "baking mix". How wonderful and magic do those two simple words sound? Baking Mix. They evoke such a vivid image of the All-American home-maker in the fifties - cheerful and rosy-cheeked, with a fluffy polka-dotted skirt and pointy breasts, whipping up a batch of cupcakes for her hand-clapping little kids, a boy and a girl, blond and neatly combed - that I can't help but feel excited to hold a box in my hands. Especially when it is as great as the ones Alicia selected for me.
The first box is for blueberry muffins, and the brand is "Raga Muffins". I thought it an ever-so-cheeky name, but was rather surprised to see that the brand's logo was a little girl's head with curly hair. To me, a ragamuffin was more a weed-smokin' rastafarian reggae enthusiast with a big Jamaican cap and a thick mane of dreadlocks, but the Merriam-Webster tells me that it is, in fact "a ragged often disreputable person; especially : a poorly clothed often dirty child". Which denotes the good image reggae fans benefit from, and explains the little girl on the box, too. Now that you mention it, her hair does seem a little unruly. In any case, that baking mix sounds lovely, it was Alicia's favorite as a kid, and you can even make muffins in the microwave! Muffins! Microwave! What could be more American than that! Although, as a stern, lawsuit-repellant disclaimer warns us, hopes must not be set too high, for this baking method may lead to less-than-stellar results. We'll probably go for the conventional oven method, and Maxence will be delighted, for he is truly a blueberry muff fan. And he likes reggae, too.
The second box is for corn muffins. Oh, Cornbread, Cornbread, I've missed you so! Cornbread muffin mix, in the Jiffy brand (any connection with the lube I wonder?), is actually the first mix I ever used, upon our arrival in the US. Maxence knew about them, and said "we have to get these". But corn? in bread? for muffins? didn't that sound weird? I was very soon convinced though, and boy, did we fight for the last one! This was one in a string of things I reluctantly tried, thought I wouldn't like, but did. It is actually around that time, four years ago, that I officially converted from assuming food wouldn't taste good until proven otherwise, to assuming I would like it, until proven otherwise. So cornbread has a special value to me, I call it "conversion bread". No, I just made that up.
And the last and final box is a box of Old-Fashioned Spoon Bread mix, in the Washington brand, just like the corn muffins. Hm. Wonder how he found the time to bake. Baking mixes, I suppose! I had never heard of Spoon Bread, so I looked it up : "soft bread made of cornmeal and sometimes rice or hominy; must be served with a spoon (chiefly Southern)". Which only brings us to the next question : what in the world is hominy? "Dried white or yellow corn kernels with their hulls and germ removed. Also called 'samp'. Ground hominy is called 'grits'. This popular staple in the South and Southwest came to us from the Algonquin Indians." Aha! Grits! Heard of 'em, never had 'em! So grits or no grits, that'll be a very interesting tasting session. The box has directions to make a tempting spoon bread cheese soufflé (nothing too wildly ambitious, just add grated cheese), so although the rule of thumb should be "taste the thing on its own first", I have a hard time doing that, and we may branch out on this one -- fret not, you'll be the first to know.
And stay tuned for the writeup of the last item in Alicia's package!
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