It’s Sunday, Nov. 15. I can hear the ocean’s roar as the King Tide and rowdy weather pattern team up to crash 20-foot swells onto the shore. It’s grey, chilly, cloudy and breezy outside — perfect for my all day task of writing about safe ways to give home baked gifts and to bake, bake and package things up! A perfect day, interrupted.
At 11 a.m., Gov. Jay Inslee announced a four-week shutdown and reduction of hours for many businesses and all private social events. And although he, as well as his experts, are in agreement that the majority of Washington’s covid-19 surge has happened through private gatherings, our restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters, museums, zoos, youth sporting events, retail, personal services, religious services and more are to bear the weight of slowing the spread. It has taken the zing out of my day.
However, I was relieved to see that assisted living residents could continue outdoor visits with family — cold, but better than the isolation they endured earlier this year. Our southern neighbors have not fared as well. The ruling entity to the south ended all such visits for her state, a horrific decision. I was also glad our schools’ fates are still in the hands of school districts. But I am tired to the core of having what is in the best interests of King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane and Yakima counties continue to be the sole impetus of action for the entire state. There has not been one word of the impact these choices will have on rural counties such as ours. It’s like grouping apples and oranges. If metro areas are the rotten apples, I want the rural oranges to be included in the fruit basket. I want us included in the decision-making conversations.
Focus on home baking
Deep breath, this is supposed to be about packaging home-baked gifts.
Although we cannot gather to celebrate, there are ways to bring warmth, family traditions and joy to the table. Well, not really the table — maybe the porches of family and friends, while wearing a mask, with washed hands and a 6-foot pole. But I digress.
Many of us have favorite savory and sweet recipes that also make great gifts. We bring these favored recipes out for the holidays as they are a comfort, a connection and a celebration. We can still share these traditions in a safe way and to help get you in the mood, consider this.
Martha Stewart has stated that baking, especially for someone else, is a terrific stress releaser. In other words, it is a “good thing.” Following that thought, another baker suggested watching an episode of “The Great British Baking Show!” He firmly believes it is impossible to feel stress while watching people bake — in a tent, in England, with classical music playing. I agree. Today we were handed a bitter pill. Let’s use a little sugar to get it down.
Safe packing advice
I’ve done a lot of research about safe packaging options, prep areas and the best ways to share gifts from your kitchen. The FDA, CDC, USDA and other alphabet organizations agree that covid-19 is not a food-borne virus. They also agree that food packaging has not been found to spread the virus. So it really comes down to common sense and a few of their guidelines.
• Don’t bake or package items if you or someone in your household is ill.
• Wipe down all baking and prep counters with one of the chlorine based household cleaners. Don’t forget refrigerator and oven handles, small appliance knobs, light switches, cupboard doors, faucets and the packing area. Use disposable towels and repeat this wipe down throughout the process.
• Open a window for ventilation if possible and maintain physical distancing if you have a helper.
• Wash your hands often. If you leave your safe baking zone, wash them when you return. If you scratch your nose, wash them, when you do pretty much anything, wash them. According to the experts, with regard to the home baker, proper and frequent hand washing won out over wearing gloves.
• Wearing a mask during the baking and packaging process received mixed reviews. Some said yes and some said if you keep your hands clean and don’t cough or sneeze on the food (yuck), no mask needed. Personal choice for this one. I’ll be wearing one during the packaging.
• Something to remember, there may be restrictions at some care facilities and public organizations regarding home baked goods. It is best to call before baking to see if your treats can be received.
• The idea of packaging is to prevent contamination. I get that, but my idea of packaging is to make it pretty. There were no hard rules about the types of packaging to use, although parchment paper came up often. Cardboard type material seems to have the shortest virus livability factor, about an hour. Glass was rated high because it can be cleaned easily. Aluminum foil and plastic wrap were thought to be protective but tricky to use. Consider attaching a card with the ingredients for allergy purposes.
I shopped around for appropriate containers to pack my goodies in. You can find some of these items in our local grocery stores, but I also went to Smart Food Service Warehouse for white soup containers with lids, take-away food pails and wax paper squares. Also in Warrenton, I found oversized glass containers at Dollar Tree. I had a roll of parchment paper from Jack’s and ribbon on hand. I always have ribbon on hand.
Treats to cherish
My mother made Rocky Road and Twinkle cookies during the holidays. She actually made so many types of cookies that a neighbor gave her the nickname Cookie Lady. We also called her Tiny. Whatever my mom made, it was done with style and perfection. She was the original Martha Stewart.
Her Twinkles, made with delicious cream cheese dough, were shaped like perfect little stars with dollops of jam. Mine come from a galaxy far, far away.
Her Rocky Road was shiny and perfectly cut. I describe mine as rustic. However, my mom’s recipes were written in her shorthand style and some specifics were left to the imagination. Recipes were the only time she varied from her perfectionism. I’ve included her Rocky Road recipe here. I smile every time I read it. If you would like the Twinkle recipe, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The house smells like the holidays and I have yummy things to share. It might be much later in the evening than I had planned, but that’s OK, I am enjoying the memories. Stay well and be kind everyone. Shop local as much as possible, our business community needs us to help get them through the next weeks.