Baking makes me feel human. It always has, because the first person in my life that helped me feel whole was our neighbor who invited me into her home when I was nine. We had just moved to Palo Alto; the only people I knew were back in Fremont, the fabric of friends I had come to rely upon. The new neighborhood was unfamiliar, intimidating really. Few children, reserved homes, and lush Modesto ash lining the street were in direct contrast to the hundreds of children running everywhere along our treeless streets of my earlier years. Our new neighbor, Caroline, lived across the street from the home we moved into, and she heartily asked me in to help her bake.
That simple request changed everything. For the first time I was not being told what to do; someone asked to rely upon me despite not having a clue about any form of cooking. To this day I believe she saw my loneliness…perhaps in herself as well…that could fuel our shared need for friendship.
Baking in her kitchen was serious business. Everything had to be perfectly measured and added just at the right time. That level of discipline helped not just my future baking but many of my daily practices as an adult. Then there was the hurry up and wait period of kneading followed by allowing time for the dough to rise…twice! We would sit in her tiny kitchen and talk, prepare the next baking steps, maybe color a picture or two.
The first loaf we made on that first day of our friendship was braided. Kids back in Fremont taught me how to braid strings for crafts, so I was eager to show Caroline my skills. Not so simple, but to this day I remember standing with her as we lifted each piece to intertwine with the next. Success! Over the years I have replicated making braided bread only a few times, but I always think of that first loaf, of my new friend, and the ability for food to connect us to ourselves and to each other.
Nowadays, carbs are my enemy, but baking still makes me connect to my own humanity and to others. I can bake a batch of anything that inspires me, have one, then share the rest with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Successful recipes are shared, too, and we exchange notes on any improvements or innovations. So, whenever I am feeling blue, I know preheating the oven will make everything right again.