Despite the chiding and fear of being blasphemous to Deity I do find a cathartic pleasure in baking; a low rumbling joy far above the typical Promethean-esque pride in kindling the ingredients of the Earth into an amalgam of taste elevated to a glow of spirituality. How profoundly ironic that despite the frequent protests of my own agnosticism, I have bended what was once merely a hobby sprung from a typical middle-class childhood into my own furtive Confession.
It hasn't always been that way. My first love of the sport was merely tactile in nature- the squish of overripe bananas between my grubby fingers on their way to tarnishing the silver gleam of the mixing bowl, the sensual feel of my tongue sliding against the cool silver of the bowl searching for the last bits of room-temperature sucrose and butter. Lemonade cold and sweet down my throat, sitting in a paisley cotton chair, eagerly awaiting the rapid change of chemistry to take place and the almost-scalding feel of cookies, meringues or my then-favorite, brownies sliding down my throat, moist rich and chewy. Back then Mother would shake her head at my newfound habit of watching Julia Child and Martha Stewart instead of cartoons come Saturday morning. I was offically hooked.
Things changed after the coming of autumn brought, instead of the kitchen, cold, uninviting desks compounded under inhuman fluorescence. Kindergarten had officially started. The aprons we donned there were for making grotesque confections of Play-doh only, a far cry from the delightful pleasure of manipulating marzipan or the yeasty dough of baguettes. New to me also were manufactured foods, Oreos and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups introduced to me from the plastic prison of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchboxes and grubby denim pockets. To me, Oreos looked like spinning discs one would find in an astronomy book, not a sweetmeat intended for digestion. It took only a few weeks (and a few Oreos) to erase these material discomforts, yet I still demanded baker's chocolate over the candy isle.
It was shortly after school and the muddled confusion of divorce that Mother and I discovered the Episcopal Church. Bread is now the one medium for my meditations in the kitchen and it undoubtedly started here in the imprints of my mind- fresh loaves from the Minister's wife broken and consumed with real wine (a fact that I would boast to my friends with Baptist parents). Coffee hour inevitably followed, where Stepford wives would frown at my predilection for sweet rolls while continuing their conversations about White Elephant Sales and Lisa's Confirmation. It was a miracle of nature and a testimony to my Father's adamancy for 15-mile bike rides with me that I did not gain even the slightest of adipose tissue on my flat brown tummy. One could easily count my ribs.
Seven years and a self-enforced excommunication later I have dutifully returned to the material origins of my own spirituality. Baking bread is inevitable to me after a petty lie, a hard day, or a particularly licentious romp with boyfriend. Despite my proclaimed love of The Slut Manifesto , Sex and the City , and feminism, I feel that something must be wrong with my non-ascetic existence. A studied, intellectual facade for my less-than-believing friends fuels the feelings of hypocrisy and my overbearing concern for privacy in the .
Whomever said that the flavor of cooking was enhanced by love should have also studied the seasonings of lust, greed, gluttony, pride, and hypocrisy on the quality of the finished product. I always chuckle softly when one describes my confections as being 'sinfully rich', much to my family's confusion.
I have always had a problem with staring into the face when confessing a secret and even now my prayers to Deity without form are done while kneading, stirring, mixing, pounding. It is akin to a long-lost secret told to a lover during a Sunday drive, away from the scrutiny of the confidante's iris and spoken as though the intent and power beyond the conversation is far less than what it really is.
Afterwards I break the bread, share water (a concept stolen from Robert A.Heinlein yet somehow still poetically beautiful) and dutifully scrub away the lies, furtive lusts and petty gossip away under hot water. A mop soon is retrieved, wiping away the crumbs and remains of a spilled conscience.
The answers to my prayers are always found in the richness of the bread.