on the range

The Food Issue: The 'Chronicle' Is Baked

Confessions from a full-time addict

By Monica Riese, 9:00AM, Mon. Jun. 10, 2013

After five-plus years interning, proofreading, minding the news desk, and now heading up the Screens and Books sections, I'm confident in saying I've become indispensible to the Chronicle … but it ain't for my way with words.

Don't get me wrong; I know what I'm doing. (I mean, not to toot my own horn, but sometimes I'm even pretty good at this editing stuff.) But the real reason they'll never let me go is my kitchen.

Photos by Monica Riese

You see, the Chronicle staff is a notoriously hungry bunch. I've watched piles of donuts and gallons of ice cream disappear in minutes. The guys at Pok-e-Jo's and Pei Wei know some staffers by name (and, more embarrassingly, by order). Hell, they'll even tear through half-eaten leftovers and "this didn't turn out the way I intended" experiments.

Me? I'm the enabler.

I started baking in college – stress-baking, to be precise – with the gateway drugs of box mixes and five-ingredient pies. After I realized that the mixes are just premixing four dry ingredients together to save you the effort of measuring them yourself, I ditched the training wheels and dove right in.

I've made cakes, I've made pies, I've made cookies and candies and breads and … Seriously, I've made enough baked goods in the past few years that I probably could've single-handedly solved world hunger if only the corresponding diabetes epidemic wouldn't do us all in. But instead of eating everything myself, I got in the habit of bringing in leftovers for co-workers, giving their tastebuds and waistlines a love/hate relationship with me early on. (One of my favorites was when a Music staffer told me: "You have a disease. … And I hope you never get cured.)

Over the years, I've used my talents for good and evil, to celebrate birthdays and bribe writers, but most of all, I've noticed that it's a uniting force among the office; I have something to talk about with everyone on staff, even someone on the opposite side of the complex who I don't normally see. (In fact, if I go too long between treats, folks usually start to ask if everything's OK.)

Considering research has shown quality of life improves when a family shares mealtime together, I'm not surprised the folks here have come to feel like one great, big messed-up family. In fact, they've even included my baked goods at everything from weddings and kids' birthdays to housewarmings and post-surgery recovery plans. (I guess I bring something else to the table besides my puns.)

It turns out both of the old adages are true: Home is where the heart is, but the way to the heart is through the stomach, so my treats and I are home sweet home with this ragtag bunch, and I get the feeling everybody's pretty happy with that arrangement.

(Well, everybody but ChronDog Hank. Dog biscuits are next, buddy!)

Read more Food stories at austinchronicle.com/blogs. The Austin Chronicle’s Food Issue hit the stands Thursday, June 13.

Monica Riese blogs about baking over at The Yeast I Can Do.

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