Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Made a Cake

I've never made a cake before. I'm not really much of a baker... I have made pizzas (from flour up) and brownies before, but usually I'm a stove top kind of chef.

I've been having a bad week this week--my depression and anxiety are up, and so that means I've been getting frustrated easily again. I really blew trying to make breakfast a couple of days ago, which sent me into a frustrated rage... It's times like these that I really have to remember that depression is an all-the-time-for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of thing and that some days will be easier than others. It's not going to just disappear or even be driven away never to return. It's about learning to manage it.

Becca didn't want me to give up on cooking because of one failure; she's known me long enough to know that there was a time when I would've just not cooked for a month after that. So I've been trying to cook every other day now instead of just once a week, getting more practiced and more confident. I think I cook okay (except my pancakes, which are glorious), but I'd like to cook well. My problem is that I let it get too nerve wracking. I don't know why I do that. Maybe it's just that I feel like with things the way they are financially, I can't waste any food by not cooking well. And I'm very hard on myself; I always think I should be able to do things better than I do, and if I don't, I'm unrelenting with myself. I don't know where I learned that, but it's how I've always been with myself: demanding the best and then reacting with self-loathing when I can't come near it, to finally giving up trying because it's easier than hating myself for failing.

Weird the things cooking can make you reflect on, isn't it?

Therapeutic cooking is a thing, isn't it?

Anyway, last night I felt terrible and Becca was driving out to the pharmacy and said that while she was gone I should fill the time with something besides being on the computer, because she knows that's where I sit and stew about how I feel shitty. She had bought a cake mix earlier, and told me I should try baking it.

I was intimidated by it, honestly. Like I said, I've never baked a cake before, and I had no confidence in being able to do it. It was a mix, so it's not like it was too complicated; just add water, oil and eggs. Our oven can be a little iffy (it usually ends up about a hundred degrees hotter than whatever you set it at), but she showed me how to compensate for it. And then she left me alone in the house with a task, a cake mix, and the oven running. She has more confidence in me than I think I warrant.

Preheating the oven was actually nice; it got down to about 6 degrees last night, so being in the kitchen with an oven getting up to 350 was perfectly pleasant. And I liked mixing the batter. I don't know what it is, but mixing is somehow my favorite part of cooking right now. It's weirdly relaxing. It's like meditating; the repetition of something is soothing and focuses you. Petting my rabbit is the same way.

I weirdly thought about how I'd never baked a cake before or even really thought about baking one. I wonder why. I'm 36 years old, why wouldn't it have occurred to me? I kept wondering if it was sexist to not think about ever baking a cake and just sort of assuming that someone would do it for me, but I honestly eat cake maybe once every other year, so it's not like I go around thinking "Woman, bake me a cake!" And it's not like I think it's unmanly somehow, but I'm a product of my time and upbringing. As a kid in the eighties, no one ever took me aside and said, you know, it's good to know how to cook and it's fun to do. If (and it's a big if) I ever have children, they are god damn learning to cook. No eating McDonald's and Pizza Hut for a decade and then finding out how fun cooking is in their mid-thirties like me.

I've said this before, but when I was a kid--especially in high school--there wasn't a lot of food in the house and regular meals weren't a thing, so I didn't learn good eating habits or how to take care of my food needs, and I think that contributed to not only my weight problems, but my... not laziness, but this feeling of helplessness I have sometimes, like I'm in some kind of hole and I don't know how to get out of it, but somehow there are obvious answers that I can't access. I'm sure that's part of the reason I can't try and bake a cake without getting jittery and nervous about it turning out edible.

I still feel like I'm putting myself back together, but I don't feel like I'm going backwards. Baking a cake successfully is a low stakes goal, but pulling it off is a tiny boost to my confidence. Not pulling it off can be disappointing, but I shouldn't let it be some sort of referendum on my worth as a person. That's the line I really have a problem seeing when I'm in the middle of it.

I suppose it says a lot about where my mind was that I can't even remember what brand of cake it was or the actual name of it. It was like a dreamsicle flavor... It's orange cream, like those popsicles. I didn't even know they made cake that flavor. The batter smelled wonderfully; it was just so... orangey.

So, after a suspenseful twenty minutes of baking (and some time cooling), it actually turned out really well.

My food photography leaves a lot to be desired. I just can't stress enough how very orange this cake is, even though the picture makes it look kind of beige. And it tastes wonderful; it was moist and flavorful. So, my first time baking a cake, and it was a success. And it was easy. Somehow, I thought there was a lot more that went into that... Then again, I was working from a mix, so my comment about the ease of the process isn't meant to be an insult to anyone who makes actual cakes from nothing. I see those cake shows. That's impressive.

I didn't have any frosting or anything, so we had it with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious, and I felt pretty decent about myself.

Cake accomplished. Self-esteem saved. Experience learned from.


Chris said...

"Actual cakes from nothing" are generally not any more difficult than mixes. Get a Betty Crocker cookbook - there are some great, really easy cake recipes in there.

Oblio said...

Nicely done! I suggest trying a Ghiardelli brownie mix next, also relatively easy but DAMN GOOD BROWNIES! I cook a lot and find it truly theraputic and enjoyable, especially if I have a kamikazi or a bong in arm's reach. Having cooked since I was a kid, my wife appreciates it immensely that I do most of the cooking at home. For a more complex challenge, try some choco chip cookies from scratch, a great recipie is on the choco chip package. Just follow the recipie and don't get flummoxed if the first ones don't come out great, they're just cookies!!!! You go, Green!

Roger Owen Green said...


Kelly Sedinger said...

Cakes do tend to look more complex than the basics really are, and once you master those, that's when the creativity will kick in!

And 'cooking therapy' is totally a thing. I think it's about doing something concrete, with definite steps, that leads to a very specific result. In this day and age, when the nature of our work so often is just ongoing forever and ever, I think it really IS therapeutic to be able to step back, look at a completed thing (like a cake), and say, "I made that." So you SHOULD feel good!