Baking as Healing and Care
By Sav Schlauderaff
Growing up my house always smelled like freshly baked cookies or bread or muffins or apple crisp.
They would line the kitchen counter tops, waiting for us to get home from school or practice.
But I don’t think I even tried to help my mom cook or tried to bake by myself until I left for college.
In fact, in home-ec in middle school I was the person who set off the smoke detector because I burnt butter. And had definitely messed up more than one cake you make from a box.
I had labelled myself indefinitely bad at baking.
Like many things, I felt that I couldn’t do things that I wasn’t “good” at.
I was “bad” at singing, and playing pretty much all sports that required hand-eye coordination, bad at acting, bad at drawing, bad at playing music, bad at math, bad at swimming, bad at card games, bad at public speaking, and on and on.
I never gave myself time to be bad or time to learn.
But, my senior year of college I got my mom’s old bread making machine. Where you would put all the ingredients in together, the machine would mix them up, let them rise, and bake everything to perfection.
Baking bread became frequent for me. I eventually starting hand mixing my own bread and got rid of the bread maker.
I looked up new recipes online, some definitely “failed” but I began to enjoy this time with myself.
I started tending to a sourdough starter, a living organism on top of my fridge
To make chewy and tangy sourdough bread.
Truly a labor of love, spanning days and demanding my attention and care.
Sensing when it needed to be fed, and when it was ready for use in my breads, muffins, and cakes.
When I am baking, like writing, it gives me time to rest and forgot my to-do list and my anxiousness. We would always joke with my mom that we could tell when she was stressed because there would be so many baked goods at home. I often like to include the hashtag #StressBaking on my baking posts online for this reason.
When I am baking the whole apartment is quiet except for the sounds of the wooden spoon scraping the bowl, the flour falling out of the measuring cup, the knife hitting the cutting board, my hands mixing the dough. There is nothing I need to focus on except for how the dough feels so I can sense when I am done kneading.
This sensing may also be why I am horrible at providing recipes for people when they ask, which I used to get so upset at my mom or my grandma when they didn’t have an exact recipe. Or would tell me that the amount of flour changes depending on if it’s raining.
But baking also isn’t exact recipes, it is a feeling cultivated by repetition and care.
I feel happiest when I can share what I bake with people I love.
This used to terrify me, much like having someone read your writing for the first time.
But soon, I would bring it to potlucks and dinners and picnics with friends.
A way to show my love, and a way to enjoy time spent together.
And a way to feel appreciated by others, and accomplished when they enjoy it
Baking has also become a way for me to relearn and recreate my connection to food
Due to my eating disorder, food had become something not to enjoy but to control or avoid.
Food was a way for me to take back control over my body after so many people had taken my body from me.
Re-learning this connection to food through taking the time to care for my meal has been healing.
Food is no longer something dangerous and out of my control
It is something to work with, something to enjoy for myself and with others.
Learning to bake without set recipes is a way to connect with your food, to sense how it feels and when it is “right”
We need to learn this same kindness and reflectiveness with ourselves
To check in
To not expect the same “recipe” to work again and again and again
To make changes with the environments around us
And perhaps more care and attention is needed at certain times
And we can give this care to others as well
When we work on ourselves we help care for others
Perhaps that caring looks like spending time together, or listening, perhaps it looks like baking fresh bread.
Recipe for roasted tomato, garlic & rosemary bread.
To roast tomatoes and garlic
2-3 roma tomatoes
2 bulbs of garlic
Generous pinch of salt
Drizzle of olive oil
2 tbs active dry yeast
3 cups of warm water
2-3tbs dried rosemary
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs salt
5-6 cups of all purpose flour *plus flour for dusting your work surface.
Prep the tomatoes and garlic for roasting. Set oven to 375. Cut off the top of garlic bulb (about ¼ inch) and place cut side down on the baking sheet. Either half or quarter the roasted tomatoes and place on baking sheet. Generously sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes when they come out of the oven. Then dice finely and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of yeast to large bowl. Pour in 3 cups of warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes for the yeast to foam and activate.
Add in one cup of flour and stir, then add in the garlic, tomatoes and herb mix.
Add in another cup of flour, then add in 1 tbs of salt and 1 tbs of olive oil.
Continue adding your flour cup by cup, until your dough just comes together. This is a sticky dough so do not go over 6 cups of flour.
Turn dough out onto your work surface and knead until it is springy and slightly tacky.
Clean out your mixing bowl and grease with olive oil. Add the bread dough back to the oiled mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and let rise for 2 hours. This dough will expand a lot, so check at 1 hour and punch down.
While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Turn risen dough out onto your floured work surface, flatten the dough and cut into two sections. Turn the sections in on themselves, tuck to create a seam and place the dough seam side down into your bread pans.
Let the formed dough sit for 30 minutes. While the dough is sitting, place a baking pan with water on the bottom rack of the oven.
Once risen, bake the bread for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool for 15-30 minutes before slicing. Enjoy.