I have a low tolerance for disorder. Though not as obsessive as friends at the gym where I work part-time who actually fold and tidy the tumble of t-shirts, towels, socks and what-have-you that make up our lost and found bin, I think I spend too much time picking up and putting away.
With our nation in a mess, the Church in chaos, and my mind in its usual muddle, to quote from The Mikado, “a thing of shreds and patches,” it’s no wonder that my urge to organize is on over-drive.
The reality is I can’t do a lot for the nation other than raise great kids, which I’ve done, unless it’s to help get out the vote for our next election. The Church? I’ve written what I can for the appropriate channels. And my brain?
So, perhaps time for a kind of retreat from the mess to what I can do, a kind of “il faut cultiver notre jardin,” to quote Voltaire’s oft-quoted phrase from the conclusion to Candide.
Not literally: until the weather turns, I have to leave the gardening to James, who isn’t bothered by heat and humidity. It’s books, baking, and the small things of domestic tranquility I have on the brain right now.
The baking isn’t exactly a new interest. I’ve been doing that since my grandmother gave me this now much-battered cookbook for Christmas the year I was eight. I pored over its recipes and anecdotes the way other kids read comic books, which weren’t allowed in our house anyway. Betty Crocker’s Boys and Girls Cook Book had everything from scrambled eggs and Mother’s Day menus to a castle cake complete with turrets and drawbridge which I longed to create but never had the ingredients for. My first-ever bake was much simpler: “Sparkling Sugar Cookies,” which I still make to family applause.
As a young parent, I baked all our family’s bread, cookies, cakes, bagels, and muffins from scratch with as much whole-grain and as little sugar as possible. To the point that my kids accused me of adding bran to their birthday cakes (nope: that was grated zucchini). We even had a grain mill attached to our porch railing, and one of the kids’ daily chores was to grind a cup of fresh flour.
As an older parent, there was just too much else to do to bother with baking, and anyway, any one of the kids could turn out a batch of cookies. A skill they all retain: Tommy drove down from Indiana last Mother’s Day to present me with a Death-by-Chocolate pie he’d created.
So why mess with baking now, especially as an empty nester? Well, I haven’t much–until Tommy introduced me to The Great British Baking Show.
Watching those gifted, patient contestants turn out elegant petit fours, show-stopper cakes, filled and braided and sculpted breads, I realize how creative an act baking can be, indeed, in their hands, an art. I started wondering, can it also be a meditative act, as mind-calming as being lost in a good book?
That’s what I want to find out, as I try for the next few weekends to make my way through some new recipes. Some will be British classics; others, my more health-conscious offerings, though I have to admit I have a much more liberal hand with sugar than in the old days.
I invite you to join in the journey.
Do you bake? Favorite recipe?