I’m not a recreational cook. I prepare food to eat it, though I discovered that I enjoy a simple cooking process or also putting together a meal with my family or a group of friends. While the end goal is always to eat, for anyone, with time I’ve grown into my own understanding of the special moments of eating and cooking together.
My mother comes from a family with lengthy branches of extended relatives on either side, with multiple family units, and she inherited the gift for efficiently prepared and delicious meals. Not to mention sharing this gift again and again, to this day, with her own big family. Scheduling, time-saving measures, a fair amount of multi-tasking among mothers and grandmothers, gatherings around a kitchen table that would inevitably lead the way to jokes and stories that were passed on in the future – all this, together with and around the process of cooking, contributed to the fundamental base of home and family. Many of those mothers, grandmothers and aunts also developed their own recipes.
My father, being a scientist with an eye for taking things apart and seeing how individual components relate to each other to create a whole, is adept at following a complicated recipe that might involve several hours of labour. It was a treat when he had time to do this and I remember how, as children, we were entranced by one dish where the pieces of spiced meat were carefully wrapped up in foil (so shiny) and stuck in the oven. He was also always willing to lend his strength (and patience) to mixing or rolling out dough to the necessary thinness, also for layers that had to be put in the freezer first – my sister and I were very keen on puff pastry for a while.
Baking stands out to me because of childhood memories of spending time with my mother and, of course, knowing that I would get a treat. I remember my sense of importance when we were allowed to shape dough into anything we liked or use cookie cutters. My mother would regularly bake in the evenings as well for the week ahead. When we were older, sometimes we would come to the kitchen after already having gone to bed, drawn in by the aroma of baking cinnamon buns.
My sisters are both good at understanding more intricate baking recipes and proceed with focused confidence once they start. There was a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1980s in our house that had amazing photographs. My sister and I spent a large share of our early teens trying out various recipes and sitting in front of the oven, watching a cake take shape.
I’ve come back to baking at home this year, after I realized I missed it. Tonight’s cake didn’t turn out like expected, namely it crumbles easily, but it’s still perfectly edible, and thanks to the chocolate frosting (which turned out amazing) the apartment smells lovely.