As the air turns a little cooler and loved ones gather I’m finding myself returning to a creative task I have long enjoyed; baking. The joy of mixing together ingredients and seeing them transform into something beautiful, delicious and warm is something I can remember from as far back as seven years of age. My mother had been sharing some of her recipes with me, showing me how our creations developed in the oven, and she told me that just this once I could “make up” my own recipe. I didn’t understand the science behind it at all, but I knew I needed an egg or two and some flour and something sweet and as I told her what I wanted in my recipe my mother mixed and helped me and I made my first very own… cake-bread. It was kind of a cake, round and small, but the consistency was terrible. I think I can still imagine the flavor of it; bad, but intensely satisfying to me.
I offered a slice of my cake-bread to everyone who dropped by our house for the next two days, and they politely accepted while it hardened throughout and became completely inedible.
A few years later I was gifted an Easy-bake oven for Christmas, and this was satisfying in an all new way, as I was old enough to play with it without supervision, and my creations came to life far quicker than conventional baking. My affair with the Easy-bake was short lived, however. Somehow it never felt exactly like the real thing.
I wouldn’t say I baked constantly, or even consistently in high-school. I would get the itch, or a craving, and I’d wake up one day determined to make x—. Pumpkin bread with chocolate chunks. Sugar cookies that didn’t taste like they had come from a box. Fresh bread. There are many, many books written on the topic of bread alone, and for good reason as far as I’m concerned . What could be more satisfying than that tap of your loaf, the crunch of crust and the steam rising from the crumb while you spread a little butter and take a bite?
I was never very good at bread. I made some decent small loaves, and my mother and I would enjoy them with a homemade foamy caramel macchiato in the mornings on foggy days when we could barely see the valley across the hills from the back porch. My mother was always more gifted than I, though she told me repeatedly that I only needed practice.
After I had graduated, when I️ first started encountering health problems that my doctor thought would be helped by changing my nutrition, I stopped eating sugar, gluten and carbohydrates in general. Having no reason to eat what I might bake, and not being disciplined enough to see the value of the practice of baking for the sake of other’s enjoyment, I quit.
And I’m sad to say, I barely realized that something I had enjoyed so much was gone from my life. Preoccupied with other creative pursuits (painting, music, writing) and focused on healing my body, baking was an absurd luxury that would effectively poison me if it contained the ingredients I had used for years.
Several years have gone by, and just as this season is unfolding, I feel a new season approaching for myself. Though it’s hardly cold in Los Angeles, it has cooled somewhat and the air has a new flavor to it. Outside in the mornings before work, the people taking their dogs for a walk have all got sweaters and hoodies on. I’ve been craving something hot during my commute instead of my normal iced rooibos honey tea. Thanksgiving and Christmas plans are flying back and forth between relatives, and the excitement on friend’s faces as they discuss how they plan to spend the holidays is contagious.
I’ve been finding myself reminiscing lately. Nostalgia will pour over me from the smells of the Korean-Parisian bakery around the corner. I’ve caught myself in a reverie of Christmas and Thanksgiving; pecan pie and yams with crispy brown sugar crumble on top.
Meanwhile, for the past few weeks, I have become practically obsessed with watching cake decorating videos. Frosting cupcakes, fondant and decoration on a three-tier cake, special frosting tips, food color without corn syrup- these are all things in my recent search history. I’ve found certain artists (there’s just no other word for these master cake decorators) who I especially love to watch as they explain something extremely complicated and make it look very easy.
Aside from a few mild attempts at recipes that were gluten-free, paleo, sugar-free, etc, I haven’t truly rediscovered this passion for baking until now.
As I write this I have the ingredients for a cheesecake in my kitchen, ready to be mixed for my coworker’s birthday. I made carrot cake cupcakes with a cream cheese coconut sugar frosting last week, as well as white chocolate chip cookies and banana cupcakes with buttercream. Due to my health constraints I am trying to learn or create alternative solutions to some of the trickier ingredients. But I am also quite happy to make these treats for my loved ones and see their faces light up.
I am, by no means, a talented person in the kitchen. My husband has so frequently had to explain to me how not to burn toast that it’s become a household joke. Aside from quiche, chicken soup, french toast, and sweet potato fries, my repertoire is sorrowfully lean. He can throw some shrimp in a pan with some green onions and end up somehow with a delicious curry over brown rice, while I have learned the art of the sausage. In truth, I wouldn’t say I’m anything special in the baking department either.
Yet I have been finding lately that one doesn’t need to be established as good at something before trying to be better at it, and as long as my enjoyment is equal to my effort, I find immense satisfaction in leaning down over a hot oven and feeling the makeup on my face melt as I check if the muffins need any more time.
If you’ve been considering tackling a new recipe, or trying to bake something from scratch for the first time, I encourage you to give it a shot. There have been times in the past week and a half when I can safely say that using a hand mixer has saved my sanity. Coming home exhausted and still getting excited to spend some time in the kitchen is a thrill I thought I’d left behind, but coming up on the cookie season of the year my recipe list is starting to grow long.
It’s transformative to the mood. Maybe it’s the analogy of seeing ourselves churned up inside until something beautiful is created through our chaos. Or maybe it’s just because nothing is as comforting at the end of the day as a cool glass of milk and a cookie stuffed with chocolate chips.
About the Author: Emma Gazley
Emma Gazley is an artist, musician, writer, adventurer and teacher. Born to two adventurous parents, Emma was destined to be an explorer of the world, and from her earliest moments displayed signs of creativity and curiosity. She has spent time in Europe, Asia, Canada, and currently resides in the U.S. She began her journey of discovering her identity as an artist in 2012, after encountering critical health problems that caused her to lose her job and the ability to do most everyday activities. Many of her projects have, as a result of this event and others, a twinge of the painful and tragic aspects of life.
Emma is interested in learning about grief and how to cope with it, as well as passionate about finding joy in the day to day.