by Kathleen Maher
When I was in high school I was a great baker. I baked whenever my parents were home. Usually, if they were home, they occupied the kitchen. And although I mostly hid in my first-floor back bed room, which I’d painted a streaky red, unaware of how the thin, already close walls would move in, I needed to emerge practically every day. Unless I climbed out a window, I needed to pass through the kitchen. My mother and father, sitting across from each other at the table, always wanted me to sit down and talk.
A terrible motor-mouth most of my life, from age thirteen to seventeen, I had nothing to say to my parents. Nothing. In fact, being in the same room with either of them required a good deal of self-control. The secrets among us made me jittery. The Joy of Cooking saved me.
Because, obviously, if I was busy baking, I couldn’t sit down with them. Baking required me to stand at the counter, my back turned. They could see I was laying out the ingredients for bread or cake or puff pastry. The physical activity brought me further relief, really to the point of pleasure. Bread especially: Kneading, pushing, slapping it—and oh, punching it down—felt wonderfully satisfying.
One December I discovered my grandmother’s recipe for sugar cookies. These called for creaming pounds of butter with pounds of sugar; if done without a mixer, which I announced was how these cookies originated and we very much wanted originality, this first step could last a good, strenuous hour. Measuring the flour and baking powder, salt and soda demanded precision and concentration or else all the expensive staples would be wasted.
I folded the dry ingredients into the whipped butter and sugar very slowly, dredging what lay at the bottom of the bowl and tossing it carefully up with a spatula. Altogether the preparation could fill an evening. I scrupulously refrigerated the dough overnight, planning to wile away the weekend rolling it flat, cutting it into the shape of snowmen, bells, trees, wreaths, et cetera. Half a dozen cookies baked in the oven for ten minutes and it was time to set each one to cool before filling the trays again.
What a good girl I was, always making cookies. If my mother or father asked me a question, any question, “Just a minute,” worked as an agreeable answer. If they wanted me to wash the floor or vacuum or do the laundry, I said, “Just a minute,” and they realized they might better ask one of my sisters. Because what I was doing was sweet. Nothing was wrong with me.
What I saw or my friend saw was a sliver of daylight in the bedroom.
They would never think that, though, not in those words. At worst, as they made small talk at the kitchen, a shared pause might arise. But all the sugar and cheerful busyness erased any worries.
After I’d used the dough to make seven dozen—we’d give tins of them to the neighbors—each little reindeer deer and rocking horse would be elaborately decorated with butter cream frosting heavily spiked with food coloring.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Posted by Kathleen Maher
Blue Ribbon Blogger Tags Kathleen