There was flour everywhere. It was 6:07 am and I was baking a cake from scratch. I’d made a deal with my older daughter that if she achieved a goal we’d set together, I would bake her a cake in the morning. She had!
So there I was, in my worn pink and black pajamas, measuring sugar in the dark. My bleary-eyed daughter took one look at me standing in the kitchen, exhausted, hair in a messy bun, teeth not yet brushed, baking powder and eggs and butter littering the counter, and said, “Wow, I haven’t seen you wear those jammies since you were pregnant with my sister. Are they see-through?!” It was that kind of morning.
Little did she know that despite the chaos that ensued while trying to get her and her three siblings ready for school in the midst of my confectionery adventure, the baking that morning had helped me. Beyond words. I know it’s counter-intuitive that adding something else into my life takes stress away, but it does.
I’ve been overwhelmed this Fall. Like many parents, I survived the back-to-school chaos only to be hit by the approaching Hallowe'en festivities, parent-teacher conference sign-ups (already?!!) and assorted quiz/test dramas.
I view September like I did “shopping period” at Yale 20 years ago; at the start of each semester, we had two weeks to pop into classes before officially registering in them. That’s how I think of my kids’ classes. Did I like the Super Soccer Stars coach? (Yes.) Was gymnastics team too much? (Yes.) Could we swing Kids in Sports too? (Yes.) Finally, I got it all set up, the revised schedules pinned on our kitchen bulletin board wall. Now in October, the shuttling around takes on a predictable yet manic pace.
I probably made this Fall more stressful than it had to be. I idiotically decided to buy a dog, a 2-year-old Pomerian puppy from Serbia named Yodi, in the middle of September. This new love-of-my-life only responds to commands in Serbian.
I’m also hosting and marketing my podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,”(which just hit #9 in the Arts!!), editing my memoir, FORTY LOVE, and writing articles like these. How do I do it? A mom friend at school pick-up looked at me and said, “Do you just not sleep at all?” (Not much.)
Here’s how: I bake. I stir. I mix. I measure. I block everything else out and just look at the recipe. I grab the ingredients. I listen to the therapeutic hum of the mixer as the dough takes shape beneath the paddle. Time stops for me. I’m in the zone. The kids pop in and out of the kitchen, helping, stirring, then going about their business. By the time I've put my creation in the oven, I’m calmer. The emails waited for me. The world didn’t end.
I discovered author Dr. Beth Ricanati through an email alert for her book reading at Diesel Bookstore in Los Angeles, a bookstore I love and frequent often. Her memoir/cookbook, BRAIDED: A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND CHALLAHS (click here to buy on Amazon) spoke to me on so many levels. As a fellow mom. A nice Jewish girl. A baking lover. A stressed out woman looking for solutions.
Beth’s book outlines how she turned to a Friday ritual of baking challah, despite her complete inexperience with baking, to manage her own stress from juggling her career as a physician and being a mother/wife/daughter. Her book weaves (braids!) together her clinical experience, her parenting moments, her baking recipe and her wellness tips into a tasty, heart-warming, final product which I consumed as quickly as I do the challah I dig into with my fingers each Friday night.
As part of my podcast interview with Beth, I asked if I could bake challah with her first. I hired my babysitter’s film school friends at Box Party Films and shot the whole thing, creating the first episode of the TV/Internet version of “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” My husband, Kyle Owens, of Morning Moon Productions, produced and directed it.
Beth says in the book, “I knead for my needs.” I get it.
As we stood side-by-side in my kitchen, rolling and punching the dough with our hands, two strangers getting to know each other over this age-old ritual, I could feel my stress dissipating. The sadness from being apart from my kids on their weekend at their dad’s house momentarily ebbed. My to-do list erased from its perch in my brain like the slowly disappearing photo of Marty’s siblings in “Back to the Future.”
I bake. I stir. I mix. I measure.
We chatted as the dough rose in the Southern California sun. I interviewed her, learning about why she finds baking challah to be a better prescription than the beta-blockers she used to prescribe for her patients. We braided the dough, two mom pros after years of braiding our daughter’s hair before school. (Wait for the yearbook to see my French braid on my daughter’s recent Picture Day. Boom!)
We watched the challahs grow and take shape in the oven, the smell seriously out-of-this-world, and then dug into it, hungrily, feeding ourselves in more ways than one.
I bake. I stir. I mix. I measure.
I stop. I pause. I’m in the moment. Present. Mindful. Calm.
Yes, I bake for my sanity. The only downside of baking when I’m stretched too thin is that I’ll never actually be thin, as a result. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Everything in moderation.
I bake. I stir. I mix. I measure
Try it with me sometime. Let me know how it goes.