Thursday, January 7, 2010


I’m in the latest version of limbo. That is, I am at the airport, having checked in online, gone through US immigration, dropped off my small (checked) bag that in earlier times would have been easy light hand-carry, passed through airport security, had my boots polished by the shoe-shine guy, passed through secondary security (a pat-down and detailed search), and now find myself with two hours to kill before the flight leaves. Yikes!

All this should be good for train travel. The cushion we now need to leave before a flight means that even this short hop to New York from Toronto will take me about eight hours door to door. Yes, of course I could have been less cautious about the time I allowed for all the security, but why risk it? At least I have a book and my laptop, so I can get work done or other wise distract myself.

In earlier times, pre cell phones or pre telephones at all, people put in long waits and just assumed that travel took time. With no way of phoning to change a plan or let people know you’d been delayed, you made extra-sure to be on time, leaving cushions for weather delays or transport problems.

With telephones and now especially with cell phones and Blackberries and i-phones etc, we’ve moved into an era that kind of mirrors the way in which manufacturing is now organised in many companies. It’s called Just in time ordering. Instead of keeping inventory in case they receive an order, companies instead hold off manufacturing a product (a car or a fridge or stove, say) until they receive an order for it.

Some years ago I was in Greenwood Mississippi, home of Viking, the maker of high-end and thoughtfully designed stoves and fridges, when I first heard the just in time concept explained. It makes good sense to not have resources tied up in products until they are ordered and paid for. But it also assumes that the manufacturing will go smoothly and quickly, and most of all it shifts any waiting or delay onto the consumer. Instead of the manufacturer waiting for orders, it’s the customer who must wait until the product is made and delivered.

And the cell-phone analogy? Well if I can call you and fine tune the when and where of our ten o’clock coffee date, then I will be more casual about being there on time, and I think I’ll be sloppier generally about making sure I don’t inconvenience you. Young people, who have grown up in this last-minute decisions and changing-arrangements world operate so differently. They take the flexibility for granted; the just-in-time last-minute arrangements are normal life to them.

So how will that impatient generation handle this long-delay universe of line-ups and unpredictable airport delays and hassles? I guess they’ll distract themselves by spending more time on the phone as they wait. But they may also opt out: Who wants to be a hostage to an unpredictable and coercive schedule? Who wants to lose hours in waiting?

Perhaps we’ll end up with better train travel, if this era of high security continues... or maybe we’ll all slip into taking mobility less for granted. That will mean perhaps more car trips, and train travel, and less plane travel. So is all this going to mean that the carbon footprint of those who have in the past taken air travel for granted as an easy right will shrink? There’s a consoling thought!

It’s an interesting example of unintended consequences, perhaps. Or, put another way, maybe it’s a confirmation of the saying my friend Arlene told me yesterday, when we met for a ten am coffee, punctually, as is our way: the bad, however bad, always always has some positive effect too ...

And speaking of positive: We all so loved the oatcakes I made over the holidays that I made another batch. Last night we all kept nibbling on them and the pile shrank a little. It seemed a good thing to still be eating sweets and feeling festive, for last night was Christmas Eve for members of the Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic Churches, as well as followers of the Eastern (Orthodox) rites of Greece, Russia, Serbia, etc, and for western Christians, it was Epiphany, the day that celebrates the coming of the magi. In Barcelona on January 5 there’s a Wise Men procession, complete with camels, through the streets to enchant children and adults alike.

Here we shovel snow and return to school and tend to forget about these things. But on our street is a Russian Orthodox church (used as the church in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, incidently), so we are always reminded of Christmas Eve. Last night the street was packed with cars until late, and the church filled with dressed-up worshippers. And inside our house, we were talking and happy and sustained by oatcakes and loving warmth.

NOTE ON OATCAKES: There's a recipe in HomeBaking, but if you don't have a copy, here's how to make them:
Use rolled oats, 2 cups, and pulse them in the food processor until ground more finely (alternatively you can start with 2 cups steel-cut oats).
Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 cup light brown sugar, 1 cup whole wheat flour (I use Red Fife) and 1 cup all-purpose, and process to blend. Cut a half-pound (225 grams) cold butter into small chunks and add, then process until it is blended into fine crumbs.
Stir a teaspoon baking soda into 1 cup hot water. Start the processor (or stir it in a large bowl) and pour in the hot water, processing or stirring as you add the water. Stop once a ball of dough forms and all the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened.
Turn the (now-sticky and soft) dough out onto a floured surface and knead a little to pull it together. Put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for one hour or as long as three days. (The dough firms up to a stiff mass as the butter solidifies in the cold.)

Heat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit with a rack above centre and another below centre. Lightly butter two bakng sheets. Cut the dough into four equal pieces.
Lightly flour your work surface. Press one piece of dough flat with the heel of one hand, then roll it out with a rolling pin until thin and relatively even.
Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and then use a pizza cutter to divide it into squares. (You can instead cut out rounds with a cookie cutter or fine-edged glass, rerolling scraps as needed; this dough doesn't get noticeably tough even when rerolled.) Place in the oven and bake for about fifteen minues. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough.

When the oatcakes are done they will still be pale on top but will be firm underneath. Transfer them to a rack to cool and set (a wide spatula is the best tool for this job). When they have completely cooled and firmed up, store in a wax- or parchment paper-lined tin or tins.

Delicious on their own or with a sharp cheese... at any time of day or night.

1 comment:

Joyce said...

I just wanted to tell you how much I love your cookbooks. A few weeks ago 4 friends and I made a Mezze feast from your flatbreads cookbook. The results were beyond delicious! We are planning another feast from Mangoes and Curry Leaves for next month and are planning more until each of us has had a turn hosting.. I just made the Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls from Home Baking-also wonderful. Thanks for all those wonderful books.