I have been known to bake with a baby perched snugly on my back. In that span of time I now hazily refer to as “before E,” I baked quite a bit and was pretty good at it, based on the folks who readily “taste tested” cupcakes, breads, scones, and whatever else I attempted. What I loved about baking was the calm that accompanied measuring ingredients, buttering pans, blending butter and eggs. Baking in a quiet kitchen was my church.
Then, E came along and I lost my desire to bake, probably because on most days I’m trying to simply live our lives and enjoy most of it, or at minimum be awake for it. Baking seemed selfish, time-consuming, something I “used to do,” much like having cocktails after work with friends, reading trashy magazines for hours on end, or thinking only of my own needs. Also, it was virtually impossible to expect him to play for a moment by himself; while he is a champ at independent play, he has some sort of preternatural sense to ask to be picked up and then segue into inconsolable crying if I don’t, at the moment I turn on the oven to preheat.
No baking for me.
I have also worn my boy since he was born: ring sling, soft-structured carrier, a piece of fabric. The kid and I were attached (and still are, but not nearly as much; he still asks to go up and I put him on my back, then instantly miss that time when that was all I did. Sigh.). I’m sure it was the need to take something to school for day care appreciation breakfast that made me think about baking again. After telling E that I needed to make something, I asked him if he wanted to go up. He assented, and I boosted him up on my back, wrapping him in layers of soft orange ribbon until he was close enough to rest his cheek flush against my back, his hands able to grab my ears (but not close enough to knock off my glasses), and, for me, most importantly: far enough away and contained well enough that I could bake.
I don’t know if I believe in muscle memory when it comes to cooking; I think my grandmother had it for sure. I, though, prefer to pore over cookbooks, saving and clipping recipes that I tend to never make, but might some day. (Pinterest has served to only make that problem worse). I do have favorite, no-fail recipes, and while I cannot call up exactly what resulted from that weekend, I do know that baking with a baby on my back rekindled my love of being in the kitchen.
Thus began what I call #soulbakingsaturdays, where I select a recipe, put E on my back, pull down my pink Kitchenaid stand mixer from atop the fridge, and spend a few hours baking once or twice a month. He’s fallen asleep several times during those days, and having him dozing on my back adds another particular layer of calm, extending my own languor derived from working with my hands in ways that are familiar and beloved. My soundtrack usually pays homage to my college days: lots of Tracy Chapman, 10,000 Maniacs, Dixie Chicks, Hootie and the Blowfish.
I’m usually not a big fan of eating much of what I make. My pleasure comes from the act of baking and being able to surprise someone with something I whipped up over the weekend. Nourishment for my soul.