Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: Why Baking Has Taken Over my Quarantined Life

Photo by Alicia Ekeler

Isn’t it odd that I actually feel guilty or wrong for enjoying something right now? I never fully subscribed to the notion that you should be productive right now, and I am fully behind the philosophy that all we should be expected to do is just . . . get through it. However, I do think it’s a little unfair that there seems to be a bit of bullying going on via memes and discourse against people who have poured their extra time or attention into productive tasks. I have seen friends of mine (who normally work obscene hours) start full-on vegetable gardens, chicken coops, home renovations and other pretty impressive projects and I am delighted to show them support and applaud their ability TO EVEN. If your quarantine joy comes from just zen-ing out on the couch all day, I support and salute you! And to the haters of my productivity I say: Lay off my flow, yo!

When people see me churning out homemade bread, flaky pastries, or handmade pasta, et cetera—what they don’t see is that I am totally stressed the f*ck out. This is not snow day baking where it’s cozy and fun and I can sit down and enjoy the fruits of my labor without a care in the world. Just because I’m doing something productive does not mean that I am enjoying quarantine, nor does it mean that I am ignoring what’s happening just 2 hours away in New York City. Here is the real reason I am baking:

It takes up MAD TIME! Most (good) bread recipes span 24 hours, sometimes more! Ever make puff pastry? If not, let me tell ya it’s a great way to fill an entire afternoon. Between measuring/weighing out all the ingredients, rising, proofing, and the final bake—an entire day has passed in a flash. All the while, your mind was taken over by this project and now you are responsible for this dough or batter or whatever you made—you start rooting for it. I find that my mind puts the non-stop news reel on pause, and replaces it with recipe excerpts, mental timers, and ideas for the next baking project. An entire day becomes more about worrying about a dough baby, and less about the OTHER doughy baby. (You know the one.)

A drawing of my grandmother (abuelita, actually) sits at my kitchen desk, always reminding me of how much joy cooking can bring to the both the chef and the people we feed.

The Smell! I’m gonna come out and say something that a few of my friends and acquaintances won’t like: I don’t think aromatherapy is legit—HOWEVER—it is proven that certain aromas stimulate parts of the brain connected to memories and for some people this can be a very powerful force. When I say I don’t think aromatherapy is “real” what I am saying is that I don’t think you can attach specific reactions to specific smells (for example, lavender is not calming to everyone—when I tried lavender aromatherapy linen spray it kept me up all night and I had to wash my sheets at 3am!) The aroma of baked goods is connected to two memories for me—culinary school and travel. The memory of walking into the bakeshop at 5 in the morning, the room warmed by the ovens going on full blast and the lingering smell of yeast, butter, and sugar—it’s like a drug to me, that smell! Not only does it excite me; it most likely subconsciously kicks me into work mode! The latter memory of travel is self-explanatory—walking into a good bakery, no matter where in the world it is, always conjures up joy like the bakery is giving me a warm, doughy hug. The more I can fill up my house with these smells, the better I feel almost in an instant. And no, a pastry-scented Yankee Candle is not an effective substitute. It may be an interesting experiment for you to try, by the way. What are your fondest memories? Were there specific foods present? Couldn’t hurt to try!

I get to eat pastries! I don’t have to explain this one much! My house currently has sourdough bread, Portuguese egg custard tarts, cookies, frozen doughs for an impulse midnight bake, stocks, and handmade pasta! (And I didn’t have to go to numerous stores to get ’em. Safety first!) The surplus items have been gifted to co-workers and friends, which has become an unintended positive side-effect. The joy of gifting something you made with your own two (gloved) hands just can’t be beat!

Ok, fine, a little attention! Yeah yeah yeah—I don’t HAVE TO ‘gram my baking projects. But you know what? I see four people total lately and I am used to seeing HUNDREDS in my hospitality job. I miss people. Even the grumpy people and the people who probably don’t miss me. I don’t want to talk about quarantine all the time, and exchanging memes all day is fun but it’s not a conversation. Because of my baking projects I am now constantly exchanging ideas, helping and advising friends who are new to cooking, and hearing from old friends who find my baking musings entertaining in some way. This level of interaction has been very important to me—it makes me feel a little helpful. I can’t serve guests, I can’t clear tables, I can’t make schedules or plan events or dick around with my staff so this is what I have replaced it with. On that note: If you have any baking or cooking questions, I am here to help! Email me or shoot me a DM on instagram @alicia_ekeler.