This post comes to us courtesy of writer and Williams-Sonoma creative consultant Laura Martin Bacon.
Until Lia and Olivia came into my life, I never truly understood the connection between Play-Doh and real dough.
As a kid, I was a big fan of Play-Doh (and, for the record, still am). I loved to squish its fluorescent softness between my fingers, to roll the amorphous mass into snakes and coils – and eventually, to feel the satisfaction of flattening my creations with one capricious smack of my grubby little palm.
Real dough was equally intriguing – but much more serious. It was okay to pinch off a little piece to play with, but the sacred contents inside the bowl were reserved for those who were focused on actually producing something. Which was usually the grownups.
The unwavering devotion of a true dough believer finally descends upon me in adulthood, on a sunny afternoon when my neighborhood buddies Lia (age 11) and Olivia (age 9) come tumbling into my kitchen with their exuberant Labrador puppy, Lola.
They immediately head for the pantry: Lola sniffs around the old cooler where I’ve stashed the dog biscuits for safekeeping, while the two girls immediately reach for the bins of flour on the shelves.
“Can we touch it? Can we play with it?” they ask, their voices mingling so that I can’t tell who’s who.
“Sure,” I reply. “But let’s put it bowls, okay?”
I grab two stainless-steel mixing bowls from a cupboard and pull my measuring cups from their drawer.
The girls are watching me expectantly (so is the puppy, who apparently is now thinking that flour might be just the ticket to canine epicurean bliss).
I lay the kitchenware on the counter next to the assorted flour bins and say, “Okay: go for it!”
They both choose the bland, everyday whiteness of all-purpose flour, scooping it into their bowls with a zeal that is anything but ordinary. I watch as the two girls plunge their hands into the floury drifts inside the bowls – and can’t help but do the same.
As I ruffle my fingers aimlessly through my bowl, I consider the name “all-purpose flour.” It’s such a practical sounding moniker for a substance that’s in reality, totally dreamy.
Like Lia and Olivia, I find myself reveling in the white fluff I can only describe as airy, ethereal, evanescent. So different from stalwart semolina or homespun whole wheat flour.
With just a drizzle of water, the tiny individual grains dissolve like snowflakes, leaving me with only a sad white slurry – the soggy let-down of slush after a new snowfall.
The girls are far less sentimental. They’ve doused their mounds of flour with water, added a pinch of salt (in case they decide to actually eat the stuff), then headed outside to the deck. They squat on the weathered boards with their hands in the bowls, industriously pulling and stretching until flour, water and salt have lost their separate personalities to form a single sticky mass of dough.
When Olivia’s dough has matured enough to leave the bowl in a glistening ball, she tosses it toward the sky – tossing and catching and tossing and catching with a glee you just can’t get from a rubber ball. Lola dances at her feet, leaping up for a taste of her mistress’s delight.
When the dough lands on the deck with an unceremonious thunk, Olivia deftly scoops it up, brushes it off and begins to toss again. “Guess this one’s gonna be dog biscuits,” she observes. “Or maybe deer food.”
Meanwhile, Lia, who has a baker’s instinct for mothering her creations, is methodically kneading and smoothing her dough. When it reaches the perfect elasticity, she’ll stretch it into rounds and we’ll bake them on a hot griddle. After it cools down a bit, we’ll tear the warm flatbread into pieces and pop it into our mouths – and Lola’s.
Right now, the girls are sharing Olivia’s grimy dough ball, spontaneously seasoned with dog hair, dirt and bits of grass. They pull it apart and twist it into artful loops, which they balance gracefully on their heads. Arm in arm, they skip around the fenced pasture that passes for our backyard: floury little queens with their homemade crowns of dough.
From my vantage point on the deck, it occurs to me that our all-purpose flour has truly lived up to its name, giving us everything we could want from this beautiful summer day.
Captivated, inspired, entertained and nourished us.
Our very own play dough – but ours was real, which made it even better.
About the author: Laura is a longtime writer and creative consultant for Williams-Sonoma and other well-known entities. She’s also the Culinary Creative Director of DooF (“food” backwards), an organization that uses multi-media entertainment, education and live events to help kids and families discover the magic of food. DooF explores every aspect of food – from flavors, history, science and cultural traditions to the exciting journey from source-to-table. Laura’s mission: to make good food fun – at home, in the classroom and beyond.