11:33 PM: I can’t breathe again. In the middle of my homework, cold fingers of anxiety start to grip my throat.
11:36 PM: I rush to the kitchen and the house is still as I begin to work. My dog pads silently after me and looks up expectantly. Inhale. Mind racing and hands shaking, I bend down to the cabinet and heave a large bag of flour onto the counter. Exhale.
This well-hidden turmoil first began to take over my life upon entering high school, when I started to struggle with my health. Suddenly I was consumed with visits to doctors- all with different names to call my problems, ranging from Tourette’s Syndrome to a herniated disc and sometimes beyond. With each diagnosis, the façade of normalcy became impossible to keep up. My grades plunged and I found myself unable to deal with everyday activities, overcome with anxiety and discomfort. But I finally found the peace I so desperately craved in the catharsis of baking.
11:41 PM: Inhale. My quivering hands cause sugar to tumble onto the counter so I hold my breath to steady them as I pour. I watch the numbers on the scale tick… 298g, 299g, 300g. Exhale. The wax paper peels easily off immaculate sticks of butter. They thud into the steel mixing bowl and I watch the mounds of snow form as I pour the sugar with regained precision.
After much trial and inedible error, I learned that creaming butter and sugar first is essential. Otherwise, unincorporated lumps of butter scattered throughout the batter produces a cake riddled with holes. I see myself in these principles. My butter is diligence because it is my foundation. I would collapse without the support the fat offers. But passion, like sugar, is the decadent ingredient that transforms sustenance into a treat. Without diligence, my goals lack the stability to be properly executed. Without passion, my work is rendered devoid of meaning.
11:53 PM: Discordant voices whisper in my ear. I crack three eggs into the bowl and spill vanilla in. Jarred, I wield my mixer like a weapon and increase the speed. Its deafening roar drowns the unwelcome thoughts and steadily hums in their place.
I always worry that the mixer’s noise will bother my mom. She was diagnosed with Lupus, an incurable autoimmune disease, shortly after I was born. It has made her extremely sensitive to pain and sensory overload. I remember her sometimes getting so sick that even sunlight would leave her crippled with a headache. Yet my ill mother who needed so much care, was always giving and never receiving. Our house was a hotel for the displaced and needy. Our food often filled the bellies of strangers. She taught me that regardless of my own pain, empathy and humility are the most important qualities to nurture. Empathy and humility are my eggs and vanilla. Empathy lightens and aerates my understanding of others by keeping me open-minded and compassionate. Through humility, I bring out the best flavors of each experience. By not thinking about myself, I can try my best to understand others.
12:17 AM: After incorporating my dry ingredients, I slide the pan on to the scorching racks of a 350-degree oven and set the timer. When I finally close the oven, I slide down and sit, grateful for the exhaustion. I no longer have to remember to breathe.
Baking always tires me out enough to drain me of my sometimes anxious energy and to bring me peace. I never eat my own baked goods past a taste test; I don’t feel the need. They bring my customers happiness and I have reaped my benefit from baking. Each step and ritualistic process brings me fulfillment in my love to serve other people. The hard work brings me genuine joy and passion fills my every movement.