Friday, December 19, 2008

Cookies Don't Define Me

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 :)


Marshmallow said...

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.

I just wanted to chime in that there's nothing wrong with being Lyn the Exerciser AND the Food Nut, or Lyn the Strength Trainer AND the Baker. After all, isn't it about balance?

Hanlie said...

I'm with you! I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, since just about everybody with a weight loss blog is moaning about cookies and such.

Good luck with the identity change!

Twix said...

Well I have to fess up. As with everything in my life unexpected things happen all the time. So that surprise party I was planning this week got shoved aside because of one of those unexpected happenings. This morning is free and clear, the party will take place. And I am so looking forward to it and all it's baking and making. I guess I look at it this way they (the kids) are only kids once and then grown ups forever. I have asked myself what do I want them to remember. A good fun time with Mom or that Mom was scared of cookies so she didn't bake or eat any with me or whatever else I avoided doing with them because of whatever personal reason. It's hard being a parent but I think when I put things into priorty and perspective it makes my deciscions a bit easier. I know for me I want them to remember good times baking with Mom at Christmas, for me it's important for them to have those memories. And I do understand your struggle, it's not easy avoiding the bowl licking and scarfing a dozen freshly baked whatevers. I happen to agree with Marshmallow, we need to find balance. Such a struggle to do but definetly worth it in the long run! You know if you truly are unable to do the cookie and baking thing right now don't be hard on yourself. Just find something else fun that you can do together. I think that's what we grown children remember the most. The fun times we spent together as a family growing up. And it's not a bad idea either to start a new tradition that unique either. Such as a Christmas eve walk around town or a countdown to Christmas scavenger hunt. I'll be homest to I sort of envy just a smidge all my friends who don't have kids yet. Because once you have them you realize they come first. Oh and the calve brain nuggests made me chuckle! I guess you know what I'll be eating for lunch...yikes that outside walk sounds inviting right now even if it is icy out. Have a safe and happy togethery weekend!

Joy's Journey in Weightloss said...

I had the same yearning for baking this week. I was snowed in all week and had not one granule of sugar. I was going nuts! Finally, I made some chocolate chip cookie dough and it was incredible! I think that it is okay to bake at Christmas. So many other things are not in our lives that I think it is not going to kill us if we bake a cookie or two at Christmas. That might help us stay with our plan the rest of the year. Just a thought!

Karen said...

Wow I've been thinking about cookies all week too! I always bake & decorate sugar cookies (doing this as long as I can remember!) so I will definately be making those, and then I have 2 more recipes I want to make, but I don't know how realistic it is. I don't really *need* to make any more than one or two things, but for some reason I really want to make 3.

I am planning on doing my recipe grocery shopping this weekend, but not baking til Tuesday night/Weds AM, cause if I have them in the house all week, I will eat them! And I'm not a one cookie girl either!

Bunny Trails said...

I think I always think about cookies... and cupcakes... how sad! I envy your baking skills as I have very little.

How about Lyn the inspiring woman. Enuff said :)

Anonymous said...

hi there-- i enjoy your journal!
i too gave up baking on my journey. i used to be the gal who brought sweets to all of the parties, but now that's not as big of a part of my identity. i have lost 125 lbs so far, with another 25 to go, so it is worth giving up the baking. at a party, a friend commented that he loved those gooey butter cake bars i used to make, and i said, "yeah, i try to use my cooking powers for good instead of evil these days..." and he said "watch out-- she's gone over to the Light side!" heeheee.... i thought that was cute, and i remember that when i get the urge to bake and stuff my face.
keep up your good work, and best wishes for achieving a happy balance in doing fun things for your kids and doing what you need to do for yourself. take care!

Anonymous said...

I've never left a comment before, but I, too, love baked goods. This book has recipes for a small amount which is perfect, becasue if those baked goods are in the house, I WILL eat them. Plus I like not being chained to the oven all night baking pan after pan of cookies.

Anonymous said...

"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.">

I can so relate. I used to bake literally hundreds of dozens of Christmas cookies... also pies, specialty breads, and cakes.

When I was working as an engineer, I also did flea markets and antique shows on the weekends, and started baking a few things and selling them to the other dealers before set up. Eventually on Friday Nights around midnight the neighbors (who could smell my baking) would line up outside my door to get first dibs on baked goods before I left for the flea market, and at that point I'd mostly given up on selling the antiques (though I kept a small side table of the stuff) and mostly sold baked goods. I made more money on Saturdays between 2 am and noon selling baked goods than I did all week as an engineer.

EVERYONE associated me with baking... family, friends, and co-workers.

I left it behind when the lupus/ arthritis symptoms in my hands made it too difficult (just before I had to leave my engineering job as well) and now that I'm feeling better, I'm tempted a lot to go back to that. The only thing is, I just don't want all that temptation around me!

Anonymous said...

oh,and I've also ditched the religion, and my kids are almost grown.

time to redefine myself...

Anonymous said...

Would it change anything to revel in the baking, but with the intention of gifting lonely people who might find hope in the kindness and generosity of a plate of homemade cookies. There's something exhilerating about giving to people who are usually forgotten.

Juice said...

I think I saw a cookbook that had recipes for very very small batches. Perhaps that could be a way to get in some baking without setting yourself up for overeating? Given my recent escapades with cookie dough, I know that I'll need to halve (or quarter!) the recipe before I try it again.

Karyn said...

I think you are very wise, Lyn. You know your own limitations - work within those parameters.

Good luck in limiting your samples!

kilax said...

My mom, grandma and sister visited to make a ton of cookies and sweets in November.

It was too much. Too many recipes. Too many people in the kitchen.

I think it's nice that you let the children choose.