• jaime miller

Beyond Measure

Jaime Miller writes about kitchen therapy through baked goods.

What do we do when we feel there is nothing we can do? Apparently, we bake

Nashville has been hit like a tornado this year. Oh, wait - Nashville WAS hit by an actual EF3 tornado this year. Then a pandemic, and then more bad news topped with more bad news day after day. With no leadership and so many conflicting statements from the people we've been counting on for years to keep us safe, it's hard not to have a good ole fashioned come-apart. And if you have, I don't blame you a bit.

So what do we do when there seems there is nothing you can do and no voices of reason to guide us through possibly the worst year ever? Apparently, we bake.

At the beginning of the shutdown, you were as hard-pressed to find a bag of white flour as you were hand sanitizer. Stories of barren baking goods shelves have flooded news feeds and social media posts from here to San Francisco. It kinda sounds like an onion article, but this is no joke. Kim Totzke, Chief operating officer of the independent grocer The Turnip Truck had to find alternative sourcing for their flours and yeast. “As an independently owned and operated shop, we had the ability to source bulk restaurant flours and repackage them for individual sale. 50-pound bags were divided for fifty customers. The yeast they simply sold in bulk one and two-pound units. “I had customers shipping yeast to family members all over the states that couldn’t find it in their stores.”

It seems like Nashville had a hand in our country’s baking habit.

So why, when shuttered in and faced with such uncertainty, do we turn to the oven? I decided to ask my dear friend and food writer, Jennifer Justus, her thoughts on the matter. “The first thing that comes to mind, is that when we don't feel we have control, we are drawn to the precision found in baking.” This makes a lot of sense. When our worlds are spinning out of place, our instinct is to take control of whatever we can. And if the only place control can be found is in your kitchen? Then viva la mixing bowl! Baking is a great exercise in creating order from chaos. Throw a bunch of random ingredients in exacting proportions into a vessel and viola! Harmony that you can enjoy and share.

Our sense of smell is said to be the strongest link to our memories. And as Jennifer points out, people associate the smells of freshly baked goods with childhood memories, holidays, and special moments with friends and family.

We can transport ourselves to happier times by baking ourselves there, our ovens becoming time machines. Baking can connect us to the people we love and miss if only for the time it takes to eat a cupcake.

Smell is also highly emotive. The smells from our home ovens can relax us and empower us all at once. It’s exciting to know that a perfect loaf of bread is almost ready to be pulled from the oven, and the perfume of that banana bread can be utterly intoxicating with its warmth, all such welcome distractions from what’s happening outside of the kitchen.

We also just love doing something. Anything! Americans like to stay busy. We’re a go-go-go kinda crowd. Feeling productive is important to our sense of well being, and that productivity is very grounding. It doesn’t hurt that baking is a job involving all your senses. Crying all day? You can pour your emotions into that heirloom cake you’ve baked a hundred times through your hands. Sick of crying all day? Escape the darkness in the focus it takes to measure out ingredients while reading a new recipe! Either way, You’re all in. It’s so gratifying seeing your project to the end, which Jennifer finds is yet another reason we’re in the kitchen; The speedy resolution.

We are all so tired of the pandemic. Everyone wants to get back to some semblance of normalcy. At least in our baking, we get to see something through to the end, and we get to enjoy the delicious rewards afterward.

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