I've really missed baking. I used to define myself by three things: my children, my religion, and my cooking. I still have the kids. I ditched the religion. I still cook lots of vegetables, chicken, fish, and other healthy stuff, but that's not really the same thing as being able to bake a perfect chocolate cake or amazing homemade bread.
When I was a kid, my Mom rarely cooked. She just never learned how. When my Father met her, she was a skinny waif, surviving on tuna straight from the can. Over the course of their 20 years together (which ended when my father died), my Dad did most of the cooking. He was a great cook; he made wonderful tempura, pepper steak, and turkey soups from scratch. I've mentioned my Mom's culinary adventures before. But no one in my house really baked.
When I got married, I was 20 years old. I inherited several stepchildren, but I didn't know how to cook. We spent many a night gathered 'round the kitchen table with a huge steaming pot of Ramen in the center for dinner, but then my husband taught me to make chili. "Just fry some hamburger," he said, "and add a can of tomato sauce and a can of chili beans. Put in some chili powder, that's chili." We ate a lot of chili for that first year.
Later. I started experimenting with other foods. My farmer father-in-law had mentioned that he loved calves' brains, so I went out to the store, bought a brain for $2, and made "chicken nuggets" out of it for my husband and stepkids. "Hey, Mom, is this turkey?" they asked as they chowed down on the goods. "Is it chicken? What is it then?" I told them, and a lot of vomiting ensued. Then I tried making "Peanut Butter Soup," which I found in an old church cookbook: onions, chicken broth, and chunky peanut butter. Not a good plan... seriously.
Soon my husband realized he would be doing himself a huge favor if he bought me a decent cookbook. A treasured gift that Christmas was a thick cookbook called Cooking A to Z, which is where I learned how to bake cakes, cookies, and breads of all kinds. My husband and stepkids were ecstatic. I was finally making real food! And I learned to roast chicken, too.
I became a great cook and an excellent baker. Every week I would bake bread and usually a cake or cookies, too. Some weeks I baked 2 or 3 times a week. I really enjoyed trying new recipes, and I felt like a success because no matter who tried my baked goods, I got good reviews. And so began my intimate connection with baking.
Of course, all that baking was not without a lot of eating; I gained a lot of weight. As of last year when I began this journey at 278 pounds, I was still baking every week... especially on weekends. Cookies, muffins, quick breads, bread sticks, you name it. The kids enjoyed it and so did I. It was really hard for me to give that up. At first I tried adapting my recipes to be healthier; they were okay, but in a totally different way. I spent 18 years getting my recipes just so; taking out the butter and adding pureed prunes or substituting applesauce for oil and Egg Beaters for eggs doesn't always give great results. Sure, I have some recipes I have tweaked and use regularly, but for the most part, the baking has stopped. No more brownies, cookies, or fresh bread. I just can't do it. When I bake, I want to eat it. I DO eat it. So I just quit baking.
I still bake my kids their favorite cake on their birthday. I might make a special dessert for Thanksgiving or Easter. But for the most part, I just try not to think about the cookies anymore. I make a killer carrot cake, but I can't be that person anymore. I had to let it go.
It made me sad, for awhile. I felt a sense of loss over a part of myself that I enjoyed. But I got over it, because being able to walk and breathe and not be in the ER with heart palpitations is worth giving up the cookies.
However, this week I have been thinking about those cookies again. About all the things I used to make during Christmas. Every year for as far back as I have been a mother, I have baked loads of cookies, made tons of fudge and candies, and then taken plates of goodies to all our friends. Now THAT is something I am not willing to give up. So I've had cookies on the brain this week.
This Christmas is worse than before, as far as the obsession goes. I have gone all year ignoring my desire to bake. I would see a cookie recipe and think, "Wow, I wish I could make that." But then forget it. And now, all those cookies I wanted to make all year long are competing for space in my head! Should I make the traditionals we make every year: chocolate crinkles, molasses cookies, gingerbread men, frosted sugar cookie cutouts, peanut butter blossoms, chocolate fudge, peanut butter fudge, walnut fudge, peanut butter filled Ritz dipped in chocolate, and butter toffee? Should I just pic 2 or 3 things to make so I am not TOO tempted? Or should I make the stuff I have been dying to bake all year long? New recipes I have never tried? Or old recipes I miss? Or all of the above?
As my mind went into a frenzy with all the cookie choices, I realized that I am looking at the Christmas cookie baking as an EXCUSE to make way more junk than I need (to give away) and way more than even my KIDS would want. I am not the kind of person who can bake cookies and then not eat them, or have just one; I'm NOT. I recognise that. I will probably eat 4 or 5 out of every variety I make because I am a nutjob about fresh hot cookies. So the wise thing to to, then, would be to limit the varieties.
It's all about the kids, really. So I'll ask them what they want. They love to frost and decorate sugar cookies, and they did ask for M&M cookies this year. Everyone likes fudge, and that doesn't call to me like the cookies do. So I'm gonna scrap the whole "Make 500 Cookie Recipes in One Weekend" plan and just go with the basics.
Maybe someday I will get my brain around the idea of Lyn the Exerciser instead of Lyn the Food Nut; of Lyn the Strength Trainer instead of Lyn the Baker. Because Lyn is changing for the better.
Redefine your life, and live it well. Merry Christmas :)
Grins For Breakfast
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