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What happened to common sense?

It seems to be a week of rants for me.

I was chatting to my friend a while back and discussing her plans for the day (which included baking for her husband and children) when she suddenly informed me that she couldn’t bake, as she didn’t have the right ingredients. When I inquired as to what she was missing she said she was missing self-raising flour.

Startled, I asked if she had any plain flour in her pantry. She said that she did. I told her to add 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every 100 grams of flour in order to ‘make’ self-raising flour. Sift the whole thing, and voila. Problem solved.

Upset that nobody had ever taught her that, my friend trotted off to do just that. It was then that I wondered why people don’t seem to want to find solutions to their problems any more. If something isn’t cleaned, packaged, labelled, and available on supermarket shelves, people don’t really seem to want to go to any trouble to find out if there are alternatives.

I grew up in a small town in India in the eighties and nineties. We didn’t have self-raising flour. What I did have, though, was a mother and a grandmother who were passionate about food and baking – a passion they’ve passed on to me. I started young in my grandmother’s enormous stone-lined kitchen, learning about things, and what I learned more than anything else was about substitutes.

After ‘wash your hands and put on an apron’, I learned a number of tips and tricks, shortcuts, and alternative paths to achieve culinary greatness. If you don’t have something in order to make a dish, my mother always said, it didn’t mean that you couldn’t tackle it. You just needed to see it from another perspective. The one destination, I learned, has many roads. And so I learned to hang yoghurt up in muslin in order to make cream cheese, and I learned to bake blind using rice, and I learned to ‘make’ self-raising flour. I learned a lot of skills that I carried with me into my teenage years and into adulthood, and someday my children will learn them from me.

On the subject of baking blind, though, I found this product yesterday that made my jaw drop. Is that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard of? Why on earth would you want to spend money on that? I mean, what on earth is wrong with you if you decide to go and buy that? This is even worse than the garlic chopping tool that one of my friends bought (I viewed that with contempt, and advised her to learn to use a knife). I like nifty kitchen tools just as much as anyone else, but there’s nothing nifty about the Pie Weights. It’s just stupid.

Press some foil onto your pastry, advises the manual for the Pie Weights, and then fill it with the weights. BOGGLE. Or, you could press some foil onto your pastry, and fill it with uncooked rice. Baking uncooked rice in the oven does nothing to it; it doesn’t harm it in the least, and could do for your dinner another day. That’s how I learned to bake blind; that’s how I still bake blind, and I make amazing pastry, if I say so myself.

And so there you have it: We return to my original question. Whatever happened to common sense? Well, I think I have an answer. The problem with common sense, as someone once said, is that it’s not very common.

10 Comments

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    stace8383 27th April 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Always glad to inspire your writing… slightly less so when the implication is that I don’t have common sense. 😛 haha

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      Awanthi Vardaraj 27th April 2012 at 12:16 pm

      Oh, piffle. I said you lamented that you didn’t know that. You were receptive and regretted the fact that nobody had taught you that! That’s important. No, the common sense thing is more toward people who don’t bother that they don’t know things, never try to learn to see if there are alternatives, and insist on buying stupid things that they do not need. 🙁

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        stace8383 27th April 2012 at 12:25 pm

        I think, a lot of the time, people are simply unaware that there is an alternative. I mean, when you’ve done something or bought something for your entire life, why would you presume there’s another option unless you’re told? For me, I boggle when people don’t seem to realise that the meat in their supermarkets came from a real live dead cow, or that eggs need the shit cleaned off them before being sold. But that’s because I grew up surrounded in the primary production environment for those things. If I hadn’t, how would I know those things?

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    Awanthi Vardaraj 27th April 2012 at 12:32 pm

    I didn’t grow up in that environment, but I’ve always known that. Reading things out of books, having a curious mind, and sensible parents who explain things to you are all helpful. I remember helping my grandmother wash eggs. Perhaps it’s just me – I always look for other options, but that’s also a part of my upbringing – to never take ‘no’ for an answer and to find a different way.

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    Linda Maloly 27th April 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Loved the article and although I don’t know what goes on in the rest of the world, I can promise you there is an entire generation of people in the U.S. who don’t know ANYTHING about cooking, baking, etc. and I’m sure that’s the case elsewhere, too. The pie weights at Williams-Sonoma cracked me up…sad though. I sometimes think people just aren’t curious anymore, but perhaps that’s my age speaking.

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      Awanthi Vardaraj 27th April 2012 at 8:28 pm

      Linda, that is so infinitely tragic that I don’t know where to start. I mean, honestly, once I stopped boggling over those pie weights I actually started laughing about it. It’s so utterly ridiculous! And the worst part is: What do companies like that even think about their consumers? I mean, to have such a lowly opinion of the intelligence of your consumers staggered me – until I went and read some of the reviews. Then I was just depressed.

      I’m in my thirties and I still have curiosity and drive and creativity when it comes to problem-solving. Gods, it’s depressing!

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    kst 1st May 2012 at 2:07 am

    In general, I agree with your post. Substitution ideas are something I use the Internet for constantly. Sure, I have a bookcase of cookbooks, but in a pinch, I can’t remember which ones have the nice easy lists of substitutions. Plus, the internet often gives me more options that include “ethnic” ingredients or less common ingredients that I might oddly have instead.

    But I will disagree on the pie weights. 🙂 I really want some! Why? I have a perfectly good quart canning jar filled with dry black beans that I’ve been using for years, why get a specialized tool? Maneuvering hot tinfoil filled with hot beans out of my pie crust has ended in great sadness too many times. The foil has torn, the beans have stuck in my crust requiring me to burn my fingers while trying to remove them, or in trying tip some of the beans out first, the whole crust has toppled out of the pan into little buttery, flakey shards. I can conceive of tugging on one end of pie weights with tongs and pulling out the string so that I can easily remove the foil to finish baking my pie with no mishaps.

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      Awanthi Vardaraj 1st May 2012 at 12:06 pm

      I’m happy to say I have never had those misadventures with my foil and rice. 🙂 I just leave them for a bit (fifteen to twenty minutes) until I can lift the foil out. I’m happy to introduce you to the pie weights! 😉

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        kst 3rd May 2012 at 12:23 am

        My problem must be that I’m always pressed for time. So I blind bake then need to remove my weights so I can pop it back in the oven to crisp a tad and brown lightly. I need the extra time to let it cool so I can put in my filling and bake again (usually) and that extra 15-20 minutes to wait for the foil to cool I just don’t have. 🙂 Maybe I need better foil so it doesn’t rip? Or I’m just special and sometimes I manage to pour the beans out of the foil anyway. Yeah…I’m just special XD

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    emmagreenie 2nd May 2012 at 2:11 am

    Such a good post Tara! Haha I had to laugh at the pie weights! How ridiculous! I now know who to come to if I have any questions about cooking or baking 🙂

    Reply

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