GBBO Season 7 Episode 1—Bakers Aweigh

Bake Off’s back! That’d be The Great British Bake Off, airing over there in Merrie Olde on BBC One. I watch it here in Southern California through VPN magick.

GBBO 4If you’ve seen the show on PBS, unfortunately re-titled The Great British Baking Show, apparently due to Pillsbury having a trademark lock on “Bake Off,” you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. And it’ll be a long, cold day indeed before they let you see more—was the same situation with Downton Abbey that spurred me to seek out an alternative. Aren’t the days long past when television networks get to dictate when we consume television? Rhetorical question, but the sort of rhetorical that happens to have an answer, and that answer is YES.

So, if you’re in a non-BBC place, and plan to try to watch this season of GBBO when—maybe if, think about that!—PBS deigns to show it, you might want to give my recaps a miss, even though as in-fact recaps they’ll leave something to be desired. Of course this will be to your detriment, but as free men and women it is your right to decide and we shan’t speak of this further. I happen to be the sort of person that has no problem with spoilers of any stripe no matter the show. Maybe there are a few more out there like me. In which case, welcome. And let’s get to the bakes.

But firstly: Meet the Bakers, if you haven’t previously. Place your early-bird wagers now; announce your predictions; keep your secret crushes to yourselves.

Episode 1: Cake Week! My favorite week, unless you count Bread Week, upcoming—biscuit week is immediately next, howevah.

The sig bake was the very British, and I can only imagine before long the world’s, drizzle cake. Sponges of various shapes, poked and soaked. Then, for the tech bake, Mary Berry charged the bakers with jaffa cakes, the beloved packaged treat that probably most of us picture being manufactured entirely untouched by human hands. Not so, here in The Tent. In The Tent, jaffa cakes are artisanal. The showstopper is, truth be told, my least-favorite event. I am sure I am quite in the minority with this view, and that’s OK with me. Occasionally we get something really fantastic in this segment, like the bread lion face, lion bread face, from contestant Paul last season. The mirror-finish cakes of this first episode were not bad at all, blessedly lacking the over-the-topness that’s usually what puts me off more outlandish assemblages. The problem with several was they also lacked a, you know, mirror finish. A couple looked nomworthy, though, and having to no one’s surprise affable banker Selasi’s won the category. Jane was made Star Baker, and the token Old White Guy was sent home. A shame, he seemed nice, but do you hear the world-wide brain scream? For God’s sake how in the world did he make it into The Tent with those subpar skills? Bye-bye, ta very much, see you on An Extra Slice.

An Extra Slice is a bonus not only for the dismissed baker of the week, but also for viewers, as we get to retread the episode just past with acerbic yet sympathetic Jo Brand and guests, often comedians or chefs. Both are good, but most days I’ll take the comedians. The charming Josh Widdicombe was very funny last season, for instance—hope we see him again.

Jaffa cakes photo

 

Here’s the recipe for Mary Berry’s Jaffa Cakes. See if you can’t get them right-way-up, with a thin disc of orange gelée perfectly napped in hash-marked choccy, just like they emerge from the McVitie’s factory.

Micro Road Trips—They Exist

We call an overnighter a Mini Road Trip. So what about one that transpires completely inside of a single day? I submit: Micro Road Trip. In little more time than would be spent on regular errand-running, it’s entirely possible to see and do a lot of interesting stuff.

Billy's Egg Farm barn

(Photo courtesy VMB Foto)

In connection with a regular visit to the grandparents, a destination that by itself is a solid hour’s drive, we took a micro road trip. Spurred by needing eggs and more than need specifically wanting eggs from Billy’s Egg Farm in Chino, I checked and ascertained that a drive-by of drive-through Billy’s would add a mere 6 minutes to our travel.

Billy's Egg Farm sign

Seems an improbably tiny amount of extra time, but you know how numbers and distance are magical and weird, sometimes revealing surprises like that. A huge concomitant plus of this plan was the avoidance of the very worst part of the suburban-sprawl freeway grind—indeed, the drive instantly becomes good. And the bonuses keep on coming: Collaterally, this route makes possible a jaunt on Carbon Canyon Road, which passes through the mysterious community of Sleepy Hollow as San Bernardino County becomes Orange. The next Carbon Canyon landmark a few miles on would have been La Vida Hot Springs, only it is no more. Its built environment, at least—no reason to suspect the natural hot springs aren’t still a-burbling.

My La Vida memories are considerably more noisy and less health-giving than they would have been if I’d gone there to take the waters and indulge in spa treatments. For a short, lovely time, a teensy subset of the surrounding, larger-but-still-short late 1970s, a couple of ambitious Cal State Fullerton students put on multi-act punk shows at La Vida. The gone-to-seed health resort/biker bar—and I do mean actual bikers, not the craft-beer-swilling RUBBies who keep Cook’s Corner, our local canyon biker bar, in business, and God bless ‘em for that—turned out to be downright idyllic as a venue for all the best people’s favorite music. For some reason it was completely unsurprising that the bikers enjoyed the shows, too. Today, there’s nothing left of La Vida, nor of the mini, and, as it turns out, entirely ephemeral, world that produced punk.

And what of Sleepy Hollow? It looks much as any of our California canyons, including the one in which I live. As a child I wondered who lived in the houses and cabins built in the style I grew up to call Canyon Vernacular, sited here and there on non-standard parcels along the curvy road. The whole place seemed mysteriously overgrown, quite a contrast to the suburban front yards I saw every day with their bloodlessly manicured juniper shrubs. Up close, junipers are prickly, awful, welt-raising things, whether carved into spheres, cones, or cubes. My family’s front yard was blessedly juniper-free—maybe the Japanese owner of Sandan Nursery, from whom my Dad got his landscaping advice and supplies, didn’t favor them.

As an older teenager, I heard that Sleepy Hollow was a place where Orange County gay people felt comfortable living. I have no idea if this is in fact true, but however improbably Brea was always quite a bit gayer than the other small cities surrounding it. Other than that, it really doesn’t have much going for it at all. I was able to conclude at a very young age that it was clear most gay people want what most people in general want: a job, a home, a quiet life. And, God knows, Brea was so up to providing the latter.

Billy's Egg Farm guests of honor

Anythewho, micro road trips. My infatuation with Billy’s Egg Farm is the result of an odysseggy or eggyssey (we’ve tried both on for size), a micro road trip on the topic of eggs. We visited a whole slew of egg ranches in the great Inland Empire, and Billy’s was the winner in a walkaway, or rather a drive-through, and not just because we happened to get Billy his own darn self at the window only too glad to expound on his chickens, 80 percent of which are cage-free, and of course the rest in the expanded cages required by California law. Billy’s eggs won because they were so far superior in taste and freshness, it’s not even funny.

Billy's Egg Farm in context

We quickly came up with several scenarios for working a Billy’s stop into daily life, in addition to grandparent visits: driving in from the desert, driving to the nearest, only-in-the-I.E. Baker’s Drive-Thru for one of their excellent burgers, driving to… buy eggs. Great eggs are their own raison de road trip.

 

Route 66—Helendale Breakfast and Oro Grande Eggs

Like many of the road-trip stories in my head, this one’s about Route 66. But also eggs, and dust storms, and weird I-don’t-get-it hybrid weather of dust-sun-rain-wind. But we’ll begin with corned beef hash.

Corned beef hash on Route 66, actually. Molly Brown’s Country Café, one of apparently four locations, though I don’t know this empirically since I’ve only been to the one in Helendale, is on one of the Route 66 segments euphemistically called National Trails Highway, but don’t let that fool you. And order the corned beef hash, which might be the best ever if I’d never had Tadich Grill’s: Tadich corned beef hash 12-2015

But since I have had Tadich Grill’s, and will continue to, whenever I can, we’ll call it—a contender.

Oeufs pochée, X-toasted English muffin—and that, as Mario Batali used to say on “Molto Mario,” is the dish.

Molly Brown's cbh, cfs

Unless your dish is chicken-fried steak, because Molly Brown’s is the best-ever iteration of that dish, no additional qualifier needed. I only ever get a mooched bite (or two), because I’m so way gone on the hash, but I know a best-ever chicken-fried steak when I taste it, don’t I. SUPER SPECIAL COFFEE NOTE: I love Molly Brown’s coffee, which one drinks like water all through the meal, plus before and after.

Driving on what I think of as the Helendale loop, the segment of Route 66 that goes from Victorville to Barstow, or vice-versa, depending, you could stop at Emma Jean’s Holland Burger, which isn’t a bad place at all. But drive over the excellent 1930 Rockview Bridge, which, if it existed anywhere east of California, would be venerated as one of the finest on Route 66:

Rockview Bridge Route 66 Victorville

and continue a further just-over-10 miles, making a mental note to return to charming, tiny Oro Grande as you pass through, and eat at Molly Brown’s. Breakfast and lunch only—you can thank me later.

So, Oro Grande. Built on the promise of gold and the cash delivery of cement, charming and tiny as aforementioned, with a lot worth stopping for, if, like me, you’re at all interested in looking at other people’s cast-off junk. I’m not so interested in edited—curated, in today’s hypervocabularization—vintage-ware shopping. What I like to do is sift through passels of stuff and make my own decisions, and this is easy to do in Oro Grande, where there’s a surprising number of unassuming yet merch-packed shops. Pyrexers, especially, might want to pause to peruse. In the Antique Station, a large, rabbit-warren-y place, I saw masses of sets and singletons, including a lot of the awful 1970s colors I adore. Also, not a few pieces of Hall China. That said, I didn’t buy anything because I have too g.d. much stuff already, but I note it here as a public service to you, my reader(s). Would have bought any Midwinter Stonehenge crossing my purview… as my regular dinnerware it is exempt from the do-not-buy rule.

For me, the best find was the little feed store around back of the main strip of shops. Eggs! Yes, again with the eggs, for which we’re constantly on the lookout, gorgeous brown eggs from the building owner’s own chickens, which are soon to be relocated to an enclosure right out back there. If the feed store’s closed, you can buy them from Annie’s Transformed Treasures on the street side.

While we shopped—for eggs, as it turned out–oh and a letterbach for the person in the family who didn’t have one of his own already, the wind was increasing. It was whipping things around when we first parked. Very evocative, for Route 66 Sunday drivers like us, but unusual, according to the locals.

More evocative: A freight train rumbled down one of the parallel tracks just across the street, blasting his horn a bunch of times, maybe even extra because I was standing there gorping.

dust storm coming Route 66 Oro Grande 31 January 2016

See that cloud down the street there? Brown sandy dust. It was on its way, right quick. We drove out through it, wild whipping wind, thick dust and grit, a little rain, and, sun. All at the same time. And then, a gigantic rainbow over Victorville when we stopped for the requisite Costco gas.

VV rainbow

Thus concludes this Route 66 mini-chapter, and the continuing, not to say neverending, mega-story My Life with Eggs. Assume more to come on both subjects.