During quarantine, I was bored and blue. I spent my time walking my dog or scrolling through Instagram. My father encouraged me to find a more fulfilling activity so I looked through our myriad of cookbooks. I have always wanted to bake more as I crave baked goods, but I have never found the time to. The first thing I baked was Milk Bar’s Crack Pie, a pie with an oatmeal cookie crust and a gooey golden filling. As weeks passed, I made cookies, lemon meringue pie, Ligurian focaccia bread and much more. Baking was the sweetest activity during isolation and it transformed the way I view myself and the world around me.
Many people took up baking bread during quarantine and posted about it on social media. According to CNBC’s Make It, in March, there were 12,000 posts tagged with #quarantinebaking. However, baking is not as simple as the box cakes make it seem. It is a science. Nobody is born a baker like Mary Berry. Things can go awry quickly. And even with thorough study, things can be inedible. For example, my meringue pie took three days to make. Despite the flops, once my pie had a broiled brown meringue top, I felt a sense of accomplishment I had lacked for months. I took what I researched and learned to make something.
Since baking takes time and patience, it can also be meditative. According to articles from The New York Times as well as psychological studies, baking is a mindfulness practice, thereby decreasing the feeling of negative emotions. Instead of constantly thinking about the global pandemic, I put effort into something rewarding that increased my self-esteem and overall happiness. Making s’mores cookies filled me with nostalgia for weekends camping with my dad. When I made the focaccia, I began reminiscing about the time I spent at the beach in Pietro Ligure, Italy. It was also satisfying to press divots into the dough delicately with my fingers to allow the olive and salt brine to seep through. Baking provided stress relief, but it also allowed me to connect to old memories of better times.
Baking is also just fun. I began to not bat an eye when flour spread over the counter or something did not taste right; in fact, that merely fueled my creativity. I learned to eyeball the ingredients I was putting into my mixtures and my palette began to slowly recognize the necessity for certain flavors. When I made mistakes, I developed my own creations. If they were bad, I laughed at myself while continuing to belt Coldplay. That kind of creativity allowed me to express myself in a new way. As cliche as it seems, baking showed me that what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside. My baked goods rarely looked pretty but that did not stop my parents from enjoying them. Watching my family devour what I baked gave me great pleasure as I was able to share delectable treats with them.
So next time you are sitting in isolation, as glum and bored as I was, consider taking a look at what you have in your pantry or what is available for a low cost at Fred Meyer or Maggie’s and get to baking.