Monday, October 7, 2013

Stress baking

Some people engage in retail therapy. I have never had enough spare money to do that, although I've skirted the edge a time or two for a meal out or a skein of yarn or a book. Some people go see a therapist, which might be the wisest thing, but by and large general "ugh, this is a really stressful time" is not really a sufficient condition, since it will resolve (unless you are thinking of self harm, which is an entirely different issue). Some people juggle geese, or so I'm told. When I am stressed, I will either travel (or plan travel, which is nearly as escapist), play video games (assuming time and availability), or stress bake.

Stress baking is, so I hear, a time-honored tradition. It was not so with my mother, or her mother before her, but it seems the sort of thing my dad's mother would have done. I never caught her doing it, but we didn't live close to them and I only saw her once a month or so -- which is pretty good for a two-hundred mile distance between. You want comfort, you want something with a payoff, you want something to do with your hands, and you want your kitchen to smell good. This semester my workload is pretty darn high and I can't easily recharge and we're really busy and I have extra projects and I think my head might explode soon. So two days ago we went to the West Side market and I bought some pie pumpkins, and we came home, and using a recipe a friend sent me, the stress-relieving Ginger Pumpkin Meringue Pie began.

See, one thing about stress baking is a refusal to take shortcuts. Now, there's stress baking which is really more like stress eating, wherein you just want the goddamned brownies and you want them NOW, and so the mix is fine. FINE. It really doesn't matter, as long as you have warm gooey brownies in your mouth in about half an hour. (I also call this "period baking.") It's soothing too, but in a different way. But when it's really about the process, the kata of baking knows no short cuts. Could I have gotten canned pumpkin? Sure. Would it have been fine? Yes. But my brain wouldn't cope with it, and so we cut up pumpkins and scoop out innards and roast them and pureed them -- and not just one for the pie, but a couple so that we have pumpkin to spare, because really, when am I doing that again this year?

Then there's a cookie crust, made with gingersnaps and graham crackers, because buying one is not sufficient -- oh no. And it gets food processed (I accepted that much of a shortcut) and put together and baked. And then we have the middle pumpkin part, which I whisked together and poured in and baked until done, and then the brown sugar meringue, which was amazing and came out perfectly, and then I put that on it and baked it longer, and then I put it in the fridge to cool for a few hours. I did use the mixer whisk attachment to beat the egg whites for the meringue. That much a glutton for punishment I am not.

And in the end we have a pie, and we had friends over so the pie was eaten, and people seemed much appreciative of said pie. And yes, friends, it was in fact tasty. But honestly, finishing the damn thing was so much more rewarding. It was a sort of long-workout afterglow worthy. I probably won't bake seriously again until the holidays (barring stress and time), and I try not to do it too often because lord knows, I don't need the calories. But in a weird Erma Bombeck sort of way, it helps, even if it leaves me with a trashed kitchen with me having flour in my hair and sitting exhaustedly on a stool, with everyone surrounding a glorious, slightly lopsided baked good. Emblematic of so much of the rest of my life too, really.

Oh, and please, take a slice of pie with you. No, REALLY. Please.