A layer of chocolate on the bottom
Those brownies made me feel so much better
A pug-nosed pal of my own
I rarely post anything personal in this first section, the “prompt” section, but I came across this piece today, and wanted to share it for the new year.
Yes, I know the new year is an artificially created date in some ways; the day after December 31st is not so different than the one before it. Still, we humans need these checkpoints, these ritualistic times when we can reflect, and re-evaluate, and plan for the future.
I share this piece with you so that you will be inspired to write about what you hope for and dream of in the future. And to remind you to write it down. (How many times do I have to say that?) When you write it down, you begin to manifest it, to make sense of it, to make it real. Write it down. It’s always the first step.
Happy, happy new year, everyone.
In my darkest moments, when I can’t turn off the chatter in my head, when the boulders in my path stop me dead in my tracks, I bake. Blondies with dark chocolate chips, lemon bundt cake drizzled with a lemon sugar glaze, pecan pie with a layer of chocolate melted on the bottom. Old standbys that comfort me: blending butter and sugar and eggs, buttering and flouring pans, rolling out pie dough.
Baking is the ultimate act of living in the moment. If you aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing—sifting baking powder into unbleached flour, adding salt and vanilla, cracking eggs on the side of a green Pyrex bowl (the same one your mother used to prepare chocolate chip cookies)—if you aren’t right there in the moment, you’ll surely screw something up.
Baking also creates a wonderful anticipation, a sense of hope and joy. As the alchemy begins you can witness the crust browning, the cookies rising, the cake pulling away from the sides of the pan. And of course, you can dream about how it will taste, what you might serve it with: crème frâiche with lemon zest, or salted caramel gelato.
But in those darker moments, baking also helps me to dream. While I’m baking, I will conjure up ideas for what’s next: a blackberry upside down cake, coconut mini-muffins with dark chocolate frosting, rose macaroons, lavender meringue cookies, sweet potato pie with a graham flour crust. Things I’ve never made before.
As I grow older, I find baking more and more therapeutic, and I wonder if I might be able to use it as a model for manifesting other important parts of my future: for instance, a house or a partner, a cottage industry, a short film, a song with my voice in it, a dog I can love and call my own. Maybe the coffee date is the beginning of that, maybe my medicinal brownies will win an award, maybe my favorite deejay will want to play my humble little track loud at Mighty on a Saturday night, maybe my love for my ex’s bulldog will lead me to a pug-nosed pal of my own.
The difference, you might argue, is that baking is more dependable: you buy the ingredients and follow the recipe, right? Well, not always. Some recipes are faulty; all pans don’t conduct heat the same way; changing the type of sugar or flour can ruin a cake; melted butter can flatten a cookie.
There’s a lesson here. When I want to bake something and it flops, I try it again. I adjust the oven temperature, buy a new pan, add an additional 1/4 cup of flour or sugar or buttermilk. I omit the egg yolks or substitute canola oil. But I rarely give up until I reach the goal I set out to reach. I don’t give up.
It’s wonderful to think about, isn’t it, this sweet discipline? To practice thinking and acting this way. To practice, and practice, and practice again. To not give up so easily. It’s wonderful to think about.