Every morning when I wake up, I dread the news alerts on my phone. Cases of new illnesses are soaring, a missing person has been found dead, there’s a new misspelled tweet, the Internet is ablaze with fresh outrage, a celebrity has died, a storm is coming, yet another role model has been exposed as a creep — I can’t take it.
My first reaction is Fuuuuuuu….dge. Fudge.
I need to make a triple chocolate fudge torte immediately. It should have a thick ganache, bittersweet mousse and raspberry jam between the layers. There will be vats of whipped cream. Or perhaps I’ll go with a childhood throwback. I could make an old-fashioned sour cherry pie with a streusel topping and a hand-rolled flaky crust. I could swoon just thinking about it.
Baking is how I cope. I feel like I’m constantly stuck between a desperate need for self-care, which means not watching or reading the news, and being obligated to be an informed, active member of a society that at present is a never-ending dumpster fire. It’s a hard balance to strike. I can’t just bury my head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening — that’s irresponsible, so I must find ways to manage my stress, anger and disillusionment.
Last weekend I baked a rosemary, sea-salt focaccia from scratch. Last week, after an hour of cable news I sighed, went into my kitchen and started slicing strawberries. Half of them became the filling for a buttery shortcake, and the rest I transformed into several jars of homemade jam. When I finished, I leaned against my countertop, wiped the flour from my brow, and felt a little better.
For years I’ve called what I do “stress-baking.” I’ve been known to make “anxiety pie,” and “disillusionment muffins,” and until recently, I had no idea that there were lots of other people who also use baking as a fun, productive coping mechanism. I’m glad I’m not the only one.
Baking helps me deal with life in a toxic society. It’s about creating something good and beautiful in an era defined by hatefulness and vitriol. The acts of stirring, kneading, and rolling, lifting the pans from the hot oven, help me focus, and calm the physical symptoms of anxiety that I experience far too often. When I bake, I find I am able to shift my focus from fear and anger into creating something positive. It gives me hope to be able to make something delicious and pretty.
I couldn’t possibly eat all that I cook, so I prefer to share my baked goods. They go to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I’ve even been known to bring pastries to my yoga studio. If there’s a funeral, if someone is ill, or has just welcomed a new baby, I run to my kitchen, pull out the flour canister, and start greasing the pans.
Through baking I can be of service to those around me. It makes me proud that I can spread nourishment, and when I can give away cupcakes, pastries, and loaves of homemade bread, I feel a renewed sense of community and connection with those around me. Community and connection are antidotes to loneliness and despair.
My kitchen is the place where I feel safest and most empowered. The world we live in may be a disaster. It’s chaos out there, but baking gives me a sense of control over, well, something. There is comfort in the structure of the recipes I follow, and nothing bad has ever started with the words “cream together the butter and sugar.” I like that one and a half cups of flour, and exactly three ripe, mashed bananas, plus a few other key ingredients always results in the exact banana bread my grandmother made me for me when I was little.
When I bake, I’m immersed in my favorite sensory memories of the best times of my life. I’m also carrying on important culinary traditions and bonding with the women in my family who cooked before me. I may not have met many of them, but it makes me happy knowing that I’m baking the same cakes, canning the same jams and relishes, and cutting out the same biscuits that they did. A hundred years later, I’m still rolling the same slippery dumplings as my great-grandmothers. An apple cake from my Canadian ancestors dating back (we think) to the 1800s is still a family favorite. I make it often, and plan to pass the recipe to my own daughter.
Baking is my favorite kind of therapy. Having my hands in a mixing bowl keeps me grounded. Baked goods are my bridge to the communities in which I participate, and they connect me to my heritage. Recipes bring to life my fondest memories, and baking is an act of creation. It’s the perfect way for me to channel my anxious energy and gain a sense of control when the world feels so chaotic and hopeless.
I like to remind myself that while life may be tough, at least my quick breads are tender.