“What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles.”
2021 was not a good year for me. While we’re on the subject, neither was 2020…or 2022. I’m still hoping for an uptick in fortunes, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
I repeat: 2021 was not a good year for me. Everything felt completely out of my control, from where I was living, to what I was eating, to the TV shows I watched. It was like I was in a room full of doors, but each one had a sign that said “KEEP OUT (INDIA THIS MEANS YOU)”
It’s a feeling I’m sure most of you can relate to — who among us has not felt things start spiraling out of their control at one point or another? Some people throw themselves into exercise, or talk it out with a loved one or therapist. Others have that magical ability to look the situation in the face and say, “I will not let you beat me,” and grab control back with both hands.
I am not — and have never been — one of those people. In fact, I sometimes willingly let my control slip away because there are situations that call for it. I’m a middle child (those words excuse a multitude of character quirks) and I’ve worked with children for years, so I am completely comfortable with changing plans and quicksilver conversations.
However, at this particular junction of my life, I recognized that I needed to reclaim at least a small sliver of command of the quickly-melting ice cream cone my life had become. And so, I turned to the most foolproof method of capturing control.
(No, not that kind of bake. But I did some of that, too).
I have never been a domestic goddess. I don’t delight in simmering pots and pans on a stovetop, or exult in freshly-laundered sheets. The “homemaker” part of my brain is there, yes, but small and stunted. I blame it on too much caffeine.
The Barefoot Contessa, I am not, but I am a baker.
It’s something I’ve been doing ever since I was young. In addition to getting an end result of cookies or brownies, I just enjoyed the rhyme and reason of it.
Add flour, butter, eggs. Stir until smooth. And just like magic, you’ve got batter. Pour the batter in a pan, stick it in the oven, and hey! You’ve just made a cake.
And the coolest thing? You can do it again and again. The ingredients will always make batter. The batter will always make a cake. Barring some truly horrific goof, you can repeat these steps until the end of time and always end up with a cake.
Are you now seeing how this could be reassuring to someone in crisis?
My life? In shambles. My apron? On. My kitchen? Covered in powdered sugar.
I could not control my work or my relationships. I could not decide what I would eat or what movie I would watch on a Friday night. But I knew that if I mixed butter, powdered sugar, milk, and a little vanilla together, it would make icing. This was something I could control.
Today, I have a slightly better handle on things. I’m still working on untangling the knots of my life, and I’m not going to lie, it’s difficult. There are moments when I wonder how I’ll ever rebuild the things I accidentally destroyed in a prolonged moment of weakness.
But I grab a cookbook. I pull out the flour and sugar. I tie my hair back. I take back control.
And hey! You’ve just made a cake.