How Baking Has Become Part of My Legacy
Photograph by Alicia Thurston Photography
In these uncertain times, so many of us are struggling to find a sense of balance and normalcy when the status quo has been thrown out the window with no idea of when things will be any different. I often wonder if what we are living now is a snapshot of what our new normal will be like. It worries me.
Many of us are struggling with how to home-school our kids, pay rent, pay bills or to put food on the table. With social distancing, staying connected with family and friends has become a struggle, too. On top of all these struggles, there is the anxiety and stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Living with cancer during this pandemic adds an extra layer of anxiety to the everyday struggles that the Coronavirus has brought into our lives such as the fear of going out to get treatment and picking up the virus or the fear of not getting treatment at all. All of this weighs heavily on my mind.
I’m not one of those people who wakes up in the morning and hits the ground running with a plan ready to put into action. But I do look for ways to ground myself when I feel like the anxious thoughts start creeping in. And believe it or not, the way I ground myself is through baking.
When my dad died unexpectedly several years ago, I felt a sadness for all the recipes that I never had the time to learn from him, especially his sweetbread, a Trinidadian treasure! I remember how on the weekends as a little girl I could find him grating coconuts by hand on a box grater in the basement (and how he’d always save a few small pieces of coconut for me to nibble on, which I would always excitedly gobble up!). He’d measure the dry ingredients in the giant palms of his hands. And I always got to taste the sweet gooey bits that stuck to his fingers before everything went into the oven. Years later, whenever I came home from university, there would always be a loaf of sweetbread ready for me to take back to school and a few extra muffins for us to share at breakfast during my visit.
So how has this global pandemic affected my baking habits? Baking is an opportunity for me to leave my worries behind, even if for an hour. During this pandemic, I’ve been frustrated about how many things I can’t control. But baking gives me a moment to take back that control. When I feel like I’m losing my balance, baking gives me the structure, reliability and predictability I crave. I pull out my kitchen scale and my recipes and go to work. I know that no matter what is going on around me, I can simply follow the directions in a recipe and get reliable results. With my own two hands I can activate yeast, give structure to bread and watch it rise! It is practically a metaphor for life.
And all this baking is not only for me! I try to get the whole family involved. Baking during the stress of this pandemic is our time to bond as a family…it’s messy, it’s loud, it’s crazy and it’s fun.
What are we baking, you might ask? Multigrain pancakes with blueberry sauce, buckwheat crepes, waffles, fresh pasta tofu ravioli, bran muffins, banana muffins, lemon pound cake, plum frangipane, apple tarts and crisps, focaccia, ciabatta, tortillas, baguettes, pita bread, Portuguese cornbread and bagels. We celebrated two birthdays during this pandemic, so birthday cakes, too! Every week we have family pizza night and the kids get to help roll out the dough and put on the toppings. We’ve made challah (and even learned to braid it in a circle…thank you, YouTube!). All of this may seem like a lot, but it really isn’t, especially when you consider the lasting memories that baking creates. It’s my way of sharing a piece of me and my happy place with my family.
Unlike my dad who kept his best recipes in his head, I’ve taken to writing mine down with my daughter. We have a notebook out and a pen ready on the counter for whenever we are feeling creative and decide to try developing something new! I look at it as part of my legacy that I’m building with my kids that they will have when I’m gone.
As for my dad’s Trinidadian sweetbread recipe, after lots of research and recipe tweaking, I’m pleased to say, I have something that I think he would be proud of! It is a labour of love and every time I make it, I feel like a kid again baking with her dad! – Michelle Audoin