Sometimes, when I am tired, or hungry, or cranky, or confused, or happy, or sad, or listless, or excited, or directionless, or restless, I love to bake. In other words, baking sets me right (and left). It is one of my ways of making sense and order around me. It gives me direction, a task, a reason. I flick on the oven, search for a battered and batter-covered recipe card, and reach for ingredients. I measure and pour, sift and stir, level and beat. Depending upon the mood and the recipe, the time in the kitchen can be full of labor or just a dash of effort. Sometimes I ponder a dilemma while I work bread dough. Other times I create routine with Sunday morning blueberry muffins. Corn bread brings me back to the wonder of sustenance and memories of my grandparents. Chocolate chip cookies bring smiles and the smells of my mother’s kitchen. New recipes challenge me and old recipes return me to other places, kitchens, and memories like no time travel machine ever could.
I am not the most talented or patient baker. Sometimes my dream life interferes with my baking life and I end up with slightly burned or over-beaten creations. I am a passionate baker, if neither imaginative nor original. Occasionally, I reach out for new and different baking adventures, but usually I tend to favor a few recipes that are flour-covered and fastened into my memory, that have become part of my being. Sometimes an old reliable does the trick. Sometimes that is brownies. When I want maximum enjoyment and minimum effort, with a warm pan of deliciousness to share or to sustain me through lunches and desserts for a week, I reach for my old brownie recipe. I do not know or remember the exact origin of the recipe, but I know the recipe card goes back to when I wrote reliably in cursive. “Brownies” is written in my teenage script, which has not been seen since my first year of college. I think I copied the recipe from some card in my grandmother’s recipe box, although I am sure that it was not original to her.
It is simple and sweet. Flour, sugar, cocoa powder, butter, vanilla, eggs, a bit of salt, and sometimes nuts if I have them. The original calls for oleo, but I have only ever used butter. A healthy recipe this is not, but it is soothing and magical and restorative.
I can assemble the ingredients rather quickly. A little mixing, the satisfying cracking of two eggs. It is better if I remember to leave the eggs and butter out early and bring them to room temperature. It is best if the butter is somewhat melted. The oven preheats quickly while the ancient-but-not-antique glass baking dish gets coated in the remaining melty bits of butter from the stick wrapper. The rubber spatula, like a magic wand, smooths out the light brown batter, while the spatula wielder smooths out her soul. The recipe calls for just a little clean up, one dirty bowl.
Twenty minutes in the oven can seem like an eternity, but while the scents waft in the air it is just enough time to wash the bowl, spatula, measuring cup, and ring of measuring spoons. A kettle of hot water hisses in the background. Preparations for tea and coffee begin. The butter knife waits in anticipation.
My sister and I sit down. The square glass pan is between us. Coffee, tea, and milk are poured. A square of brownie is cut. Details of the day are shared.
Baking brings me closer to others. Baking and sharing make me human. Baking and sharing keep me human. I remember who I am and dream of who I want to be. Sometimes the difference between the two is not so far apart. I can see that on the three-inch-by-five-inch card, scribbled in my 17-year-old bubble cursive and printed letters. I cover the brownies, brush up the crumbs, and savor the taste. Love and life are sometimes measured in crumbs and conversations.