While my focaccia for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge proofs in the refrigerator, I am taking a challenge of another sort. Inspired by Shauna, aka Gluten-Free Girl, I began searching my memory for the first meal I ever made as a child. It didn't take long to think of it. It wasn't organic. It wasn't natural. It wasn't even made in a real kitchen. It was brownies, baked with love in an Easy Bake Oven.
I can still remember huddling with my sisters around the "oven, " which resembled a tiny orange microwave, and blended perfectly with the decor of our 1970s rec room. We just opened a package of powdery chocolate, added some water and slid the pan into the oven. And how did our brownies bake? By the heat of an incandescent light bulb. The Easy Bake Oven was nothing more than an oven-shaped lamp, disguised as a toy. Genius!
We could hardly wait for the brownies to cool before devouring them, and scorched our taste buds in the process. They were raw in the middle, and the edges were crunchy if not slightly burnt.
My inner Alice Waters grows faint at the memory. But my inner 6-year-old wants to kick Alice to the curb. Those Easy Bake brownies were one of my first experiences with the alchemy of cooking. Powder + Water + Heat = Chocolatey Goodness. What could be more magical for a child? I still carry that wonder with me, every time I see flour, water and yeast transformed into bread. I see it in my five-year-old's eyes, as he kneads the dough for English muffins, and then enjoys them for breakfast.
I don't necessarily endorse the Easy Bake Oven as the most natural place to discover a love for food and cooking. In fact, I was kind of surprised to discover that it's still around. It seems like a naive relic of the 1970s when lawsuits and toy recalls weren't so plentiful. (I remember burning my fingers regularly.) It also seems to go against today's trend towards all things healthy, organic and sustainable. But when it comes to cooking, you have to start somewhere. In 30 years, I've gone from half-baked brownies to fresh, seasonal strawberry cake that's worthy of my daughter's birthday celebration. To quote another wacky relic of the 70s: You've come a long way, baby.