I come from a long line of dessert enthusiasts. Creation and consumption of dessert have always been critical parts of family functions and extracurriculars, quests that continue to grow with fervor. I took to the cookie tenure track early on, devising a way to make no-bake cookies in the microwave when I went to a residential high school without easy access to an actual oven my junior and senior years, mastering the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe in college and expanding my repertoire in my post-college kitchen.
In 2009, I started working as a nurse in a Cardiothoracic ICU in Seattle. It was a job that I most of the time loved, but one that routinely mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted me. If you’ve worked in healthcare, particularly critical care, you can empathize with the ever delicate fine line of loving and thriving on the intensity responsible for such exhaustion and needing a break. Playing in the kitchen became an outlet on my days off. It gave me time to be alone: time when no one relied on, needed or demanded anything from me. Time when no one was trying to make a break for the white light, exsanguinate or flirt with the line of physiologic stability on my watch. Baking was predictable, could be as controlled or creative as my mood dictated and was remarkably forgiving – everything that, on its best and worst days, the ICU is not. It didn’t hurt that my job came with a ravenous pack of co-workers who devoured anything that landed on the break room table in a matter of minutes. They were the perfect, incidental test kitchen audience, though, to be fair, they were far from a picky bunch, the most critical feedback I ever received being, “What do you mean you didn’t bring more?”
The five years we lived in Seattle were filled with wonderful friends who were more than happy to pop over for dinner at the last minute, Brooklyn-style barbecues on the steps or our apartment, picnics on the beach, Thanksgivings that overheated and overfilled our living room with friends and feast and a book club that required little more than a love of wine and food as entrance criteria. There was ample opportunity to feed people I loved with food I was excited about or experimenting with and my favorite non-outdoor adventure memories center around sharing meals with our friend family.
Brown Butter Blair was born out of my book club, in which brown butter based cookies were in high demand. I narrowly escaped being tarred and feathered the night I arrived with cheese and crackers instead of cookies, having run out time, an incident for which I am still apologizing. (In my defense, I was visiting from North Carolina, couch surfing and it was the night before grad school graduation…) In addition to coining the triple B, these women deserve a lot of credit: for being exceptional human beings, friends, professionals and mothers, sure, but also for driving much of the inspiration behind this attempt at a blog through their insistent, fiery and boisterous love for my baked goods.
These days, my time and intent in the kitchen looks a little different. I’m back on the east coast, working as a nurse practitioner and trying to ingratiate new co-workers into enthusiastic mass consumption of new creations. They’re coming around, slowly, but surely. I’m out of the ICU, working regularish business hours and baking has become less of a necessary balance to a high stress work day and more of a fun, impassioned scientific and creative endeavor. I still extract a lot of joy from feeding people and feeding them well, though amassing a new target audience is a work in progress. The irony of escalating butter consumption in direct correlation to years of cardiac ICU experience is not lost on me and perhaps one day I’ll learn how to really cook more life sustaining food (you know, actual meals). But for now, I’m sticking with what I know: baked goods that nurture the soul.
Here’s to hoping that I can share a little bit of that with you here. Come on in, pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass and take a bite – I’m thrilled you’re here.