By Tess Malone
"I think I felt really out of control of my surroundings. I was just baking all the time. There were stacks of things in the kitchen that nobody could possibly go through. It seemed like it made me feel, if I put these in, I'll know what the outcome is. I was over-baking."
I’m pouring a shot of bourbon at 10 p.m. on a school night. Grad school is a baptism by fire and demands alcohol that has also been matured in something charred. Tonight, however, this bourbon is going into banana bread batter. I must resist the urge to do shots of the batter but diligently mix in the brain-like walnuts and chocolate chips, instead. I love mixing things that shouldn’t go together such as wearing plaid and paisley or salting my speech with GRE vocabulary and swear words. My greatest juxtapositions happen in the kitchen: zucchini and chocolate, apples and Mountain Dew — things that don’t even make sense when my wooden spoon mashes them in the mixing bowl, but the oven brings together.
I don’t bake for other people, initially. I bake for myself — to stir in some sense of control into my life along with the vanilla and eggs. I bake when my life is messier than my kitchen floor. When I should be reading for class, accidentally highlighting my books with cookie dough. When I should be in bed, setting my chicken oven timer instead of an alarm. But I have to create one thing for myself, even if it’s an ephemeral mix of sugar, butter and flour. It can take me hours to write an essay that never quite comes together, but it will take me less than an hour to bake perfect brownies that crack with semisweet pride when I cut myself a piece.
I can bake it myself, but I can’t eat it alone. With my shark oven mitt, I will transport hot pans straight from the oven to my car, so I can have an excuse to come over with hot gossip and apple walnut bundt cake when you open the door. I carry baked goods with me like a talisman. I accidentally swap tupperware and bring snickerdoodles, not a turkey sandwich, for lunch and share my serendipity with you. I will rip out chunks of banana bread with my hands for you to take home in a parking garage at night, like some dessert Deep Throat. I deal baked goods. At dinner parties, I’ll mooch off your meals and drink all of your wine, but I will compensate with buttery cookies that will leave you covered in a puff of powdered sugar when you bite into them or with cake that bleeds three types of milk when you spear your fork into it. As a bossy only child, baking gives me a chance to do what comes naturally — show off, and what doesn’t — share. All I ask for in return is that you ask for seconds.
Baking is all about precision and in a time in my life when nothing can be certain, it’s comforting to know that a few ingredients at 375 can turn into something good.