Baking Therapy

Greetings, and welcome to this edition of  Friday Rambles. Did everyone have a great holiday?  Mine was quieter than expected due to snow and ice; we stayed home instead of driving out of state to visit family. Given how busy my life’s been the last six months, that was an unanticipated slice of heaven. I sat in front of the fire most of the day and wrote (I’m working on Matt Archer 3 at the moment, in addition to thinking through a serial novel I plan to launch in the second half of the year). After weeks of stress prepping for Christmas while in the midst of my busiest time at work, a day with nothing on the docket was just what I needed.

But what if those little moments of rest don’t come? How can you maintain your sanity in a society that is perpetually getting busier, faster and more complex? For me, I go old school.

My grandmother always said she was a terrible cook, evidenced by the fact that the rest of us fought over the last piece of fried chicken or spoonful of black-eyed peas like a band of ravening wolves. Modesty was her motto, and even if we argued the dinner was magnificent, she’d find some flaw to point out. See, Grandma was a perfectionist (gee, wonder where I got that personality trait), and did all of her cooking by hand. For big holiday meals, she’d spend twenty minutes chopping up five onions at the kitchen table. She didn’t know the trick about how to slice the onion into strips and dice it quickly, and no food processor was going to invade her kitchen. No, she carefully cut those onions up, one section at a time, into uniform pieces no matter how long it took.

This is also how she made pies.

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she’d mix and roll out her pie crust from scratch, make the chocolate pie filling…from scratch…and whip the meringue (she cheated here, using an electric hand mixer instead of stirring, thank goodness). Grandma would bake pecan pies and caramel pies and cobbler, too, all of it from the basic ingredients. I didn’t even know what canned pie-filling was until I saw it in the baking aisle at the grocery store when I was in high school.

Thanksgiving Pie

A Chocolate Meringue Pie I made for Christmas Eve dinner.

Grandma taught me to bake, and once I got the hang of it, I never looked at boxed mixes again. There’s something so therapeutic about working flour and Crisco into dough that’s still dry enough to be flaky without falling apart, fighting to roll it out so that it doesn’t crumble and carefully transferring it from the baking parchment to the pie dish. Baking is chemistry, artistry and magic. Whether it’s cookies or a double-crust apple tart, you have to  work with your dough, through trial and error, to figure out the little quirks that will make it perfect. And there’s gratification in the end-result–a well-made pie doesn’t last very long.

Books are like that, too. It takes an author a lot of time (and some chemistry, artistry and magic) to create a novel, and the end result–if the story is done right–is devoured quickly, but with great enjoyment.

What about you? Do you love baking? Hate it? Any other holiday stress relievers to share?