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