Do you ever find yourself attracted to simple hands-on chores in the middle of particularly busy times? Strangely, often when I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done is when I most often want to take time out to cook. By cook, I don't mean cook a meal - that's a job that just keeps coming around. I mean cook something extra - like a sweet treat.
I've been thinking about this recently as life in the West house has been pretty full and I've found myself thinking about taking time out to cook a treat. Years ago when there were more people in the house, including children and adolescents who could vacuum up snacks in no time, I did a lot more of that sort of cooking. Now it's an irregular thing, and I've discovered that I enjoy the making almost as much as I enjoy the results!
By the way, in the interests of honesty, I have to mention that this lovely mixed grain loaf was made by Mr West, not me. He's a whizz at nice bread!
I've come to the conclusion that baking can be therapeutic. There's something relaxing and reassuring about the down to earth, simple processes of measuring, mixing, kneading and baking. I'm sure the fact it involves using your hands is part of that, just like a little time gardening can be great for clearing the head and putting worries in perspective. Or painting, woodworking, sitting at a potter's wheel, sewing or, yes, maybe even tidying cupboards!
Sometimes I find myself wanting to cook comfort food I remember from years ago. Like this chocolate ring cake with coconut, which was a staple of my mother's when I was growing up, or the raspberry muffins - the first muffin recipe I ever made and still my favourite.
At other times it just seems the time of year to cook particular treats. Like German cinnamon stars for Christmas (and they always remind me of the German friend who gave me the recipe). Actually, quite often using favourite recipes, I think cooking is an act of love and connection, not just between you and the people you're cooking for, but you and the people from your past.
Christmas means Christmas cake, made to an old family recipe.
It also means the joy of cooking with the family. In our house the Christmas shortbread is as likely to be in the form of pigs or rabbits as stars or bells. My kids still like to help make the Christmas goodies.
Or maybe it's just an excuse to smile and celebrate that it's the weekend and life is good. What could be better than raspberry sponge cake with a glass of bubbly with someone special?
Or individual birthday cup cakes?
Often as not the urge to bake comes upon me when the weather turns cool. I love the sighs of appreciation when I take a cheese souffle out of the oven, and the feeling of achievement that yes, it DID rise! Always makes me feel competent.
Or maybe the cooking is for a visit by a special friend. Something light to have with a cuppa.
Contrary to what you might think, I don't bake very much these days. Too busy writing books and doing other things, but when I do it feels so good. Maybe because it means I'm getting together with some special friends or family, or just because the peaceful process of putting ingredients together is a satisfying way to spend a little down time. I feel pleased that I've accomplished something and more relaxed.
How about you? Are you a baker? Do you have any go-to activities to help you unwind?