Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Life as We DON’T Know It: “The Great British Baking Show”

I have been known to sit down with family members to play the board game rather modestly called The Game of LIFE. This particular amusement has been around for decades: the copyright on my version is 1985. Even ‘way back then, I knew that the game had little to do with life as I knew it. If you recall, you start out making the choice of attending college or going into business. If you go the college route, you are assigned a profession (law, medicine, journalism) and thereafter can count on a regular salary every time you pass Pay Day (It’s not a lot of money, but still!)

I should mention that your individual game piece is a small plastic car. You travel alone until, inevitably, you get married (which generates monetary gifts from the other players) and then add children, represented by small plastic pegs that are either pink or blue. Naturally you and your growing family face a few ups and downs, like business reversals and relatives moving in when least expected. But I certainly don’t recall anything drastic, like (let us say) war, tornado, earthquake, or global pandemic.

How do you win at LIFE? I just went back to the game to check. I had thought that all those tiny cars, with their teeny plastic passengers, might be heading toward something like Happy Acres (a rest home, or – shall we say? – final resting place). I looked hard, but couldn’t find this End of the Road destination on the gameboard. Instead, the rules on the box told me the following: “If there is no TYCOON, the game ends when the last player reaches BANKRUPT or MILLIONAIRE.” I should have known: in a game that sanctifies a capitalist outlook, the goal is to wipe out everyone else economically and stand alone, secure in your millions.

Particularly these days, that’s a message that has little appeal for me. Which is a long way of getting around to my favorite TV program to binge-watch. While sheltering in place, no longer allowed to drive my little car through the highways and byways of LIFE, I find myself really keen on seeing who can turn out a perfect kouign amann (for those not in the know, that’s a sweet and buttery Breton pastry) in three hours flat.

The Great British Baking Show serves a slice of life that is warm and comforting, if perhaps a trifle sugary. The contestants (carefully chosen to represent a wide swath of ages, races, and geographies) are given baking tasks that are increasingly challenging. As the clock ticks down, they follow cryptic recipes, make up their own inventive blends of flavors, and try to outdo one another with razzle-dazzle presentations. One thing that’s lovable is the show’s setting: the kitchens are set up in a big white tent, nestled on the verdant lawn of an English country manor. But it’s also heartening to see the genuine affection between the various contestants. The judges, the warm-hearted Mary Berry and the impishly acerbic Paul Hollywood (where do they get those names?) may be strict in their kitchen standards, but you sense that they’re fully on the side of these talented amateurs.

I’m not a baker: my  biggest baking successes involve a boxed cake mix with a few added ingredients. So I’m not about to be inspired to try baklava with homemade filo dough, or that German cake made up of twenty thin layers, each grilled to the perfect shade of brown. But it’s refreshing at this troubled time to lose myself in uplift of the delicious kind. 
This post is dedicated to Hilary Bienstock Grayver, whose sourdough loaves are to die(t) for.


  1. I love this, Mom! Glad you've been getting to watch some recreational TV!