Baking is magic. Does it not seem like there’s a bit of sorcery involved when you take simple ingredients like butter, flour, salt, baking soda/powder, sugar and/or yeast and end up with so many wonderfully diverse and delicious creations? Yes, of course, it’s science and precision and part of the reason why I am drawn to it but it is so much more. This past year has definitively showcased all the different reasons why I bake but it went even further than that – baking saved me, figuratively and literally, and really showed me just how magical it could be.
At first, baking was a way to relieve stress. Everything was happening so fast. Changes and decisions were being made that seemed unimaginable just days or weeks before. How does it happen that the last two weeks of February I am having an epic vacation in Hawai’i, to the first week in March, we’re hosting an amazing employee appreciation week, to having the hotel close a few weeks later? My days were spent having to learn about and explain furloughs ~ sometimes, many times, fielding questions I didn’t have the answers to ~ sitting with employee after employee trying to navigate an overloaded unemployment system not built for the amount of traffic it was experiencing. I would leave work and spend my evenings researching about unemployment ~ deep diving into the intricacies of applications and the Colorado’s Department of Labor’s website. There was so much that I didn’t know and couldn’t do ~ so I went back to one of my favorite recipes and I sifted cocoa powder, sugar, flour and leaveners that had been measured ever so precisely together ~ mixed in the wet ingredients and divided the batter into the cake pans. Baked and cooled and then frosted. I made this first chocolate cake the last week the hotel was open in March. And made the second one, the next week when we were officially closed ~ I brought them in to provide a little bit of sweetness and maybe to remind myself that there was always something I could and knew how to do.
I baked to occupy my time. I found Jacques Torres’ chocolate chip cookie recipe the next week ~ it seemed overly complicated with two different types of flours and the LONGEST chill time but so many people have crowned them the best ever plus I figured it would make for a good project. So I scooped out, shaped and baked off eight dozen cookies. I also found a recipe that allowed me to make the most incredible biscuits (actually my first time ever making biscuits) and have been making on repeat since. I needed these projects to tear myself from the incessant googling and reading I was doing after work on the CARES act.
I baked to comfort – myself and those I loved. Food is definitely my love language. I made little care packages with those cookies and some gumbo and dropped them off to my family’s porches. Even before the pandemic, I would have marathon baking sessions when I baked dozens upon dozens of bread loaves for friends and family ~ oh the good old days when it would be rare for me to be home on a weekend. And now it was a way to bring some normalcy to my life. The familiar scent of breads that I have baked hundreds of times before wafting through my house ~ lemon pound cakes, French baguettes and of course my all time favorite, banana bread.
I baked to celebrate. With the warmer weather and the stay at home order lifted, I would finally be able to see my family again. It went from seeing them most Sundays for family dinner to having a stretch from the Vietnamese New Year in January until Memorial day for us to all get together again. Daily dad jokes text message chains and zoom calls were small consolation prizes compared to seeing them in person. So I experimented and made so many things I had never tried before from scratch: red velvet cakes, apple pie, blondies, surprise/pinata cake, a rosette smash cake, spring fling cakes, molten lava cakes – to celebrate being together and all of the birthdays for our once a month gatherings.
I baked to connect. I luckily had a close friend that knew that baking would be something more for me and he suggested that I sell my creations. So I decided to do just that and offer some cakes on Facebook and had no idea that it would blow up into something so amazing. I luckily live in an amazing neighborhood where so many people took a chance on someone they didn’t know and bought a cake from me. I sold fourteen cakes the first weekend and it just grew from there. I was blown away from the response not just in sales but also the incredibly supportive messages I was receiving about my endeavors and my skills from complete strangers.
I baked to remember and to forget. Last year was a year of immense loss for me ~ I had to say goodbye to so many important people in my life ~ from my last living grandparent to a person who had shown my family tremendous kindness when my parents first came to the US to people who showed me that family are also the people that you choose to have close to you and will always have your back to someone that I depended on more than I ever really knew until he was no longer there and and the incredible loss of someone taken away while she was still so young. Baking was a way that allowed me to still be connected to them as I was able to create cakes and desserts that honored them and their/our memories. I could also lose myself in the process ~ of creating the desserts and also in the sheer madness that some weekends were with the number of orders I had.
And this is when and where baking saved me. When my friend suggested I sell cakes, it was when I was at a very low point and definitely wasn’t ready to deal with everything that was happening around me and in my own personal life. I had guilt added as a bedfellow to my grief and they created such a large abyss of despair that I worried that I would drown in my sadness and I think he did too. But not only did baking give me obligations to hold myself responsible for, I was blessed with incredible reminders about the beauty and resilience of life. I would get to have these incredible talks with people when cakes were being ordered or handed off. People bought my cakes to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, family get-togethers and I would get pictures and videos of happiness and amazement along with notes and words of gratitude. Or sometimes, there was sadness as when people told me of their personal loss or what they were going through and how my cakes brought them some joy through those times. Baking was a sweet bridge to remind us that we were not alone.
My cousin and I talked about how baking was an important form of therapy for me. At first baking gave me something to do (which if you know me is very important) but also made me accountable to others. Truly I do not know if I would have gotten out of bed those first few weekends or how long that would have lasted and more importantly, how much deeper my depression would have gotten. It helped me with my sanity, gave me so much perspective and allowed me time and space so that I could be ready to deal with so many losses and emotions. It also showed again that when one remains open to the universe, the right person will be there at the right place and time and that was so many people for me. So, so many people who meet this descriptor for me…I always talk about how I am luckier than I have any right to be and I will be forever grateful for all those that I have and had in my life. There were so many times last year when I would start to fall down and there was someone there to help pick me back up ~ many times, it was people I connected with through my baking that would offer the sweetest compliment when I was feeling really down. And really I cannot thank you all enough to allow me to share some of my favorite memories of my favorite people through my baking that reminds me how they will still always be with me in some way. To give me a way so I would be able to pour so much of myself and my love into this endeavor, into my creations ~ to cry, to laugh, to give light to hopes and dreams and plans that wouldn’t now go as originally planned but could still be something amazing based on how I decided to proceed. And for the reminder that not only does life go on – it has the capacity to be tragic but also incredibly beautiful…and delicious. So that is how baking (and you plus actual therapy) saved me.