I first started baking when I was in law school. It had been much different than I imagined it would be and I was feeling pretty stressed and depressed and I was watching “The Barefoot Contessa” for comfort. Ina was making Irish Soda Bread and as I watched, I thought, “that doesn’t seem all that difficult.” And as it turns out, it wasn’t. I made that bread using the recipe they gave in the show, pausing Netflix and rewinding to double check ingredient amounts and bake times and temperature. (I do not recommend this method - just look up the recipe online; it will make your life so much easier.) That was the first thing I ever made without a mix. It was underbaked on the inside and Paul Hollywood wouldn't have approved but I still ate it for breakfast all week. I felt weirdly proud to have made something as fancy as bread all on my own. It felt like an accomplishment in a way that school hadn’t felt like in a while.
After that, I started baking more often. Partly it was because law school left me little time to cook whole meals, the way I used to, so it was nice to have food around the house to snack on whenever I got hungry, but it was also more than that. Baking felt like time away from work that was still productive, like a break that was justifiable because I was still accomplishing something. When I was baking, I couldn’t read law books at the same time or try to write an outline. I could only bake. It was a task that felt relaxing and meditative and at the end I got something nice to eat for less money than I’d have spent at a store.
And even beyond that, baking felt like a way to make some order out of the chaos I was feeling in my life. I could take all this stuff that I had sitting around the kitchen and make something good out of it. If I followed the directions, it would always work out. And if it didn’t, I could figure out where things had gone wrong, and I could make it work next time. And best of all, there was no grade attached to it. I wasn’t being judged on it. It wasn’t my job, so nothing depended on it, not my rent or my health insurance, or even my ego. It was something I could invest my time in that was only for me.
As time went on, I started baking more complicated things. I started watching The Great British Bakeoff and wanted to reproduce the things that I saw on the show, so I taught myself new techniques and played around with the recipes I was using to make them different or more suited to my taste. I started being the girl who got a bunch of baking books for her birthday, and I loved it. I sometimes even read cookbooks just for fun. Even after I dropped out of law school, I kept having stress and anxiety in my life, and the best way I have to make myself feel a semblance of order in chaotic times is to bake something, to take a bunch of messy ingredients and make something delicious and beautiful. Nothing else makes me feel so accomplished and so in control. If everything else in my life feels completely unmanageable and it feels like everything is falling apart at the seams, I can pull out a recipe for scones and know that at least this will go exactly as I plan for it to go. I’ll get exactly the outcome I want as long as I follow the directions. It would be nice if all of like were that simple and predictable, but at least I know that when times get rough, I have one little corner of the kitchen where I’m in control.