#Stronger Than the Cookie: Meeting Myself in the Kitchen Doorway

I love to bake, I have since I was a teenager. While I did not roast my first turkey until my early thirties, I made my first homemade desert when I was fourteen. I made homemade fudge, with the recipe from the Kraft Marshmallow jar. I made it as a gift for a friend’s mother and it turned out right. For me, “baking + compliments = do this more often.” Who doesn’t like to get compliments for something they have made?

I did not make too many homemade cakes in those days but used package mixes. They do save time and most older cake recipes, even the simple ones call for alternating dry and wet ingredients and there are days that seemed like too much work.

In those years, I would make cakes, ostensibly as gifts, although if the cakes were gifts for my family, that meant I got to eat them; one slice at a time! I do remember making a home made chocolate cake for my dad one year. Looking back though, I am not sure if it was his favorite, or if I just wanted it to be. Pretty sure dad’s favorite was Jim Beam, but I was not yet at the point that I incorporated alcohol into my baking!

I did in later years though, one of my holiday traditions was making rum balls, and I had a “doctored” cake recipe that was basically an excuse to use rum in a cake. Yum. The cake was drenched in rum. That was in my pre-pastor days and United Methodism is a dry denomination, although many United Methodists don’t know it!

Baking gifts I do not remember my mom doing a lot of baking except at Christmas time and the menu at The Union Villa was pretty straight forward; pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, meatball sandwiches, grinders (subs) and stuffed quohogs. But at the beginning of the season for opening night and the close of the season, she went all out, and making food delicious and attractive was the name of the game. It inspired me.

Picture of 7 snow ballcupcakes in a foil tray.
One of my favorite frosting covered creations. No recipe. Make cupcakes, cover in frosting, roll in coconut! Yum!

I was also inspired by pictures of food, so if a recipe in a cookbook had a picture, I would likely choose that. There was a gorgeous chocolate chip layer cake in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, (the 1969 version) the middle layer was a butterscotch filling and the top layer was a smooth chocolate glaze. I made it to take to a church bingo game, for the refreshment stand.

When the layers did not turn out right the first time, the regular size chips sank to the bottom of the pan, I bought mini chips and started over.

Baked Alaska? Easy and elegant looking. I loved a challenge. It did not take me long into adulthood to use baking and eating as a coping mechanism. A bad one for sure. My mother once said, “Nobody knows what Michele thinks, except the refrigerator.” She was right.

The urge to bake

It is no accident that certain foods are considered “comfort foods” and my comfort foods usually had frosting. But I also learned to bake, because in my youth, I thought it was my only talent.

In my single parent years, I would often bake gifts for Christmas. One of the favorite gifts I received from a member of our parish was a box containing five pound bags of flour, white sugar as well as powdered sugar and brown sugar. Baking gifts was practical in some ways, but even in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, ingredients were costly.

It wasn’t just about eating though. I could bake to avoid doing other things. I could bake if I was bored. I baked for fun, and I taught my children how to cook.

Baking sabbaticals

Fast forward fourteen years; it took me almost eight years to get through college and seminary, as a full-time student, while serving three churches part time. My amazing husband did most of the cooking during those years. (He still does the lion’s share). I cooked for Buck Season and big holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

I would keep some cake mixes in the pantry. Now and then I would get the urge to bake something. But I opened the pantry door, took one look inside, and closed it just as quickly. It looked too much like work, and there was always an exam to study for, a paper to write, and a sermon to prepare.

Gingerbread houses

I love gingerbread houses and began making them around 1993. My houses are simple, and while I admire the complex structures that I see in magazines, movies and cooking shows, I will stick with simple.

In the early days I made some to try to sell at work or craft fairs, but I quickly settled into making a few for gifts and for my own enjoyment. But the kids are all out on their own and no one is close.

About fourteen years ago I decided to share some gingerbread joy. No kids at home? No problem. I scheduled a gingerbread workshop for the churches I was serving. I provided the gingerbread pieces, so homemade gingerbread kits, and the participants were to provide everything else.

A white round table with10 gingerbread houses on it.
Picture from 2019 Gingerbread party, photo by Deb McGhee

The first one was fun and although I aimed it at the adults, the kids had a good time too. So gingerbread house workshops were a fun tradition that I continued through three appointments (three sets of church assignments).

It was always a cooperative venture, but I made the gingerbread. However, in 2013 I went back to school to get my Doctor of Ministry Degree, while serving two churches full time. The other youth group leaders and I reverted to splitting the cost of ready made kits, but the kids continued to enjoy making the houses, and I enjoyed it too.

Motivation While I like to bake, I generally need a reason, especially now that I am working very hard at being #Stronger Than the Cookie. It has been five and a half months since my wake-up call, since my last cookie or candy bar and I am very careful about what I eat.

I have not lost my love of cakes, especially cakes with lots of frosting, candy or cookies. I am just not eating them. We are not on speaking terms. I still like to bake, but have to have a good reason. Company is a good reason, fall, cranberries, Thanksgiving, the Christmas Cookie season (that is a thing, right?) are all good reasons in my book.

I have not done the marathon of baking that I aspired too, because other commitments take priority. Sometimes, I underestimate how long a task will take. But I have managed to make cranberry muffins, molasses ginger cookies, zucchini walnut muffins (Check Esme Salon @esmelsalon.com ), peanut butter fudge, and cranberry bread, spread out over the last two weeks.

Still on the game plan are chocolate pecan fudge, more cranberry bread, raisin-filled cookies and some gingerbread, one batch of gingerbread, not five this year. Oh, and cranberry crunch! Cranberry crunch is basically date nut bars, only, swap out a can of whole berry cranberry sauce for the date nut filling and top with the remaining oatmeal crumb concoction.

The things I am expecting to eat, I have used a Splenda blend, to cut back on calories and carbohydrates and I do that for my husband too.

My informal and unscientific survey

I struggled and puzzled over my urge to bake, knowing that if I am not careful, I could undo all the good I have been able to achieve. So I posed my questions to Facebook Friends and to Readers of my Beach Girl Chronicles Facebook page. “Why do you bake? What calls you to the act of baking? Do you bake just for yourself and your family or do you share it? Are there certain times of year that you bake?

People were generous with their answers. Most of my friends or acquaintances bake seasonally and for their families. One woman I know bakes often, year round, mostly from scratch and for her family and the freezer. I always look forward to her posts and pictures.

A few people admitted to a sense of “Call” when it comes to baking. Perhaps not so much vocation, but a definite tug or nudge in the direction of the kitchen. Remember, this was an informal and unscientific survey. The most impressive award goes to a woman who is a committed baker, who bakes all year round, but especially now and gives away easily half of what she bakes to local groups of first responders.

Can you Trust a Skinny Cook?

I am determined to make my cranberry crunch and have a piece or two, and give the rest away. It is better to have occasional treats, than to be totally depraved. I mean, deprived. My goal continues to be healthier, not skinny. I have to believe that I will continue to succeed and put into practice the things that I have learned.

I will continue to weigh and measure my food as opposed to estimating it. This practice may sound tedious to some, but my husband needs to weigh and measure every carb, so it is really no extra work for me to weigh and measure my own food. It eliminates guesswork and mistakes.

I can make special treats just that, special, occasional visitors to my kitchen, not permanent residents. It is a journey, that involves seeking balance in food, and in activity.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, phone, selfie and indoor
Thirty-five pounds down, five more to go, then decisions.

I am not finished learning or losing weight. There are still those questions of sugar addiction to deal with, and I have to figure out what I need to do to keep my weight at healthy place. I am still a vintage chic on a journey of discovery and grateful for the journey.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

6 thoughts on “#Stronger Than the Cookie: Meeting Myself in the Kitchen Doorway

  1. Wow, Michele, you look great! Cooking and baking was always something I did when my kids were little. I prepared dessert EVERY NIGHT! I liked the giving part of baking and I guess the compliments too. I have been sugar-free (except for occasional treats) for a year and a half now. My husband’s birthday was the day after Thanksgiving and I bought him a birthday cake (chocolate with cream cheese frosting). For Thanksgiving, I made a pumpkin pie. I thought both would be no issue for me. I am not fond of pumpkin pie or bakery cake. But…the cake was delicious! I ate a sliver whenever I had a good excuse. Or a pathetic excuse. I finally gave the rest of the cake to my son and grandsons. I had to remove temptation. Sugar is addicting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Laurie, I admit both of those deserts sound really good. I would be slivering that cake to bits! I do believe sugar is addicting, it certainly has been so for me. Two things I noticed since cutting back: more foods taste delicious than I could have imagined, even an apple or string cheese taste wonderful. When I was eating all those cookies and ice cream, I did not want vegetables or fruit, even though I knew I needed them. I would have a meal that was strictly meat and potatoes or pasta. Good for you for being sugar free, I am sure that took work. BTW, the cake in my banner picture is the Orange Marmalade Cake (THE OMC) made popular in the Mitford Series by Jan Karon

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  2. Such an interesting read. I definitely prefer to cook than to bake as I am not one for exact measurements or ingredients. I did recently sign up for a plant based cooking course and I even had to buy a food scale for the exact measurements. Haha.

    Bravo to you. You look fab! Yup unfortunately sugar is very addictive. I now make raw vegan deserts and the lemon cheesecake (using cashews and dates and nuts) is my favorite by far. One can eat and enjoy without the guilt of eating unhealthy and also great is how one feels after eating something that does not have sugar or flour. A sweetener we just discovered is known as “monk fruit” and has no calories! Way better than splenda I would think. I also use dates, or date syrup or maple syrup or even honey. Sugar lost a spot in my pantry a decade ago.

    Great post, although you awakened my dormant sweet tooth… Enjoyed your humor.

    Peta

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  3. Hi Michele, I used to bake a lot of cakes and biscuits when my daughter was young. But I think they were mainly for me because she never really had a sweet tooth. Over the past few years, except for this one, I was baking a lot of bread because I found a great bread recipe and my husband loved it (as did I). However he had some health problems and had to avoid bread and other things for a while, so I stopped making it. But we both noticed the difference – his health improved and my little ‘tummy’ reduced a bit too (although I wasn’t fat by any means). So now I don’t bake bread anymore, but who knows, I might start doing it again now that we’ve got a new house (!) and a lot of time on my hands. I agree that if you allow yourself a little of your ‘poison’ you’ll be more likely to stick to your plan of not eating too much – going cold turkey is hard and not for everyone. Well done on road to better health, and that photo is fabulous!

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