When Life Gets Stressful, I Get Baking
It starts when I start to fantasize about cookies. Cookies studded with chunks of melted chocolate, cobbled with hunks of walnut, heavy with raisins. Then I move onto pies. Crisp, buttery crusts, velvety lemon custard, rustic chunks of apple. I can tell I’m having a very bad day when I start in on cakes. Layer cakes, each painstakingly spread with raspberry preserves and buttercream. Whipped marshmallow frosting. I’ll come home from work and thumb through my glossiest cookbook, savoring the images.
I’m not interested in eating any of these things. I just want to make them.
I often turn to baking when my life feels like it’s spinning out of control, or I’ve taken on way too much to manage—which I do so often, I should really know better by now. For me, there’s a mind-clearing therapy in baking that I’ve never found on a yoga mat. I’ve discovered that the object is not to clear my mind completely (it never works; my thoughts are naughty children who do what they please) but to direct my mind into focusing on a singular task, the more complicated the better.
There’s a glorious immediacy to it. The world is narrowed down to the six inches of the recipe and the instructions it gives, those manageable, present-tense tasks. Measure out a cup of flour. Crack two eggs. Chop walnuts into bite-sized pieces. Savor the satisfaction in completing trickier tasks, like making caramel or beating a meringue. Nothing is impossible in the kitchen, especially if you have good instructions.
Novice bakers more or less need to follow the directions exactly or their creation won’t turn out. As if everything could follow such precise steps to a near-certain, tested conclusion. But there’s still a modicum of accountability required, just to keep things interesting. Yes, you are at fault if the recipe fails, but the stakes are low. There are many, many worse things in the world than a slightly overdone cookie.
Usually, the drive to bake clues me in that I need to take a step back or an afternoon off. In times of great stress, cooking will do in a pinch, but it’s never as good; there are just too many variables. Cooking is never an exact science; it’s the bohemian little sister of straight-laced baking.