I Am A Baker
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
I am a baker. There -- I said it. I resisted at first due to a checkered history with self-identifying bakers, those reed-thin women who wave a tin of gooey brownies in front of an office staff made up of people who have lost the will to live much less get on a Stairmaster. "I baked brownies, you guys!" she -- because bakers tend to be a she -- coos before depositing the tin in the office kitchen where the smell acts like an olfactory siren song for the inert and the miserable. People who bake tend to revel in it. It's not just "I bake"; it's "I'm a baker".
But guess what: if you spend almost half your waking hours in the kitchen either cracking eggs into a bowl or washing batter off a pile of dishes, you qualify as a baker. And, ever since a certain novel coronavirus relegated us to stay in our homes if at all possible, this is how I have been spending my time.
It started off so innocently. A shred of curiosity led me to various gluten-free baking options. A challenge, perhaps, to get me to put my phone down as I frantically searched for more reasons to be convinced the world was going to hell. Maybe making gluten-free baked goods would separate me, like the white from the yolk, from the rest of the aforementioned bakers, all making the same two-tiered sugary concoctions, whose facade far outshines their tastiness. Then, miraculously, people liked what I made. No one was more surprised than I was. A quinoa birthday cake caused my neighbor to proclaim it was "quinoa and crack". Others marveled at the moistness which, even if I cringe and blush every time I say the very word, is the holy grail of cake baking. I was flattered but shocked. I am not a baker, I insisted to myself and others as they swooned over my creations, not giving a shit what I chose to call myself.
My kitchen, though tiny, became a sort of haven, a place to avoid both the world and writing. Being locked down can be at once a blessing and a curse for a writer. We no longer need excuses to avoid people but have none for avoiding our work. That work, at least for me, was looming every spare minute; and as a single person every minute happens to be a spare one. The kitchen provided an escape. I could create something with my hands and let my brain roam where it wanted while still keeping track of whether or not I mixed the sugar in with the rest of the ingredients.
Because I couldn't keep the cakes around or I would partake constantly and there are only a limited number of people I can pawn them off to -- yes, I have absolutely morphed into that annoying person, dropping a piece of cake in front of the door of my building manager so I can get my floors redone or being really demonic and bringing pieces to my diabetic friend -- because of this quandary, I decided to start a business. I would sell pieces of cake to people and hand-deliver them. They would be packed in a pretty box, perhaps with a poem or a pithy saying, and people would order them to brighten up their afternoons. A portion of the proceeds would go to a worthy cause, of which there are all too many.
But then I had an identity crisis. I am not a baker! I inwardly wailed. I am a writer and an actress! I tell stories! I am not a food person! Starting a business that involved selling baked goods of my own making seemed to require a giant leap into an unknown world of foodies and people who remember the dishes their grandmothers made. My grandmother lived in Germany and the other one died of liver cancer when I was three. I don't have those memories. I didn't grow up standing on a small footstool, ready to lick the batter off the bowl as my mother concocted a cake. I mean, I did, but those memories don't stand out as life-shaping ones. I am not a baker! I kept saying, but I started the damned business anyway because what the hell else was there to do? Watch more Netflix?
Then something happened. The more I got into baking, the more I connected to my grandmother and my German roots. A plum cake mixed with lemon (not completely gluten-free, just a quarter cup of flour and a cup of almond flour) reminded me of the Pflaumenkuchen I enjoyed on various trips to Germany. A marzipan cake (almond paste -- not to be confused with marzipan paste: I made that mistake and the result was, the cake refused to release itself from the pan it was so sticky, along with sugar and again a bit of regular flour mixed with almond flour) -- took me back to the figurines I used to eat in Germany in the shape of dogs and Christmas trees. My mother and I started speaking on the phone everyday, both of us sharing our baking successes and failures. In fact, my mother has shown more interest in my baking than she ever has in my acting and writing, perhaps because she herself does it, and in a way I am grateful for the means to connect with her, on whatever topic.
I am a baker. I have given into this. In this weirdly unsettling time, where so many actor friends are either freaking out about the lack of work or doubling down on their efforts, I cherish having something else to focus on, something that is both creative and that connects me to people. That's the other thing: people like it when you bring them cake in a pretty box. They are grateful for both the cake and the five minutes of human contact, six feet away and masks notwithstanding. This makes me happy as well. Also, who says you can't be several things at once? Does being a baker negate being a storyteller? Of course it doesn't.