Stress-baking: How to Silver-Line a Cake Tin
When the great Corona Chronicles will be written stress-baking will surely feature as the coping mechanism of choice. Anna Roins on why she turns to her oven for quality mother-daughter moments and a sense of normalcy in the midst of the Corona chaos.
At the time of writing this, coronavirus-related illness had killed over a thousand people in New York state in just one day, and Boris Johnson was in intensive care. The song This Bitter Earth by Dina Washington/Max Richter comes to mind…This bitter earth. Well, what a fruit it bears.
We are all in a kind of slow-motion shellshock. The last few weeks of escalating madness feels like we’re living in a dystopian novel. The one small mercy is that our children are somewhat safe. My own beautiful daughter, ten, her smile a beacon of light and joy, has now been home for over a month, and everything is good and still and secure in her big brown eyes. However, reports are trickling in about children falling fatally ill, which doesn’t bear thinking about. Has the Covid-19 virus mutated, I worry?
Like most ex-pats who have created another life in Greece, I also worry about my immediate family in Australia. What if one of them falls seriously ill? With three out of four of them in the ‘vulnerable’ category, and the fourth recently recovering from the virus, the idea of not being able to find a way back to Sydney (touch wood) is unbearable.Each one of us has this fear, and in this fear, the global community is united at last. Life has changed, and we don’t know how long it will stay this way.
The house is more cluttered than usual. No one is going to visit. The essentials are out – antiseptic lotion, masks, Dettol spray, surgical gloves. They’re randomly placed on side tables, around the kitchen, in bathrooms and on windowsills. School workbooks are strewn over our dining room table for online classes and my husband’s work clothes are draped over our garden chairs outside. Picture a handsome version of Homer Simpson in Y-fronts walking absent-mindedly into the lounge room, before heading straight for a shower. I’m usually in comfy PJ bottoms swanning around like they’re leisure pants, betrayed by hair in max frizz state. Our only outside entertainment are group chats with friends held with more regularity and daily walks in the neighbourhood, which quite frankly, we’re sick of seeing.
In amongst all this, my kind and funny girl, with no other siblings or cousins with whom to play, (other than the barrage of animals roaming freely in our house-zoo), is quite alone. It’s just me and her. We draw while watching classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and French-braid our hair, (unsuccessfully) and read. We tried to create aromatherapy oils the other day in the middle of planting blue and white flowering plants in the garden.
In other words, doing ‘Niksen’ the Dutch lifestyle concept of doing nothing, has reached an all-time high in our household. I feel like I’m procrastinating with all this time on my hands, despite the fact I don’t stop all day. Working, home-schooling, tidying, playing, cooking, tending to pets.She’s the love of my life, my happiness swing and my sup of joy. Soon she will be a teenager. In fact, she’s turning 11 in a few weeks, and no doubt we’ll be having a lockdown ‘Houseparty’ party. I feel this time is precious and a blessing in disguise. My last chance to hold this little girl tight before she slips through my fingers into womanhood.
Which leads me to this: the one thing that provides us with more purpose and pleasure than anything else is baking…like we used to when she was little, and before her schoolwork and hobbies took up so much of her time.At least every second day, we are masters of creation, starring in our own Sugar Rush or Nailed It! (or in our case, Not-Nailed it!). This one special thing, that I never did with my own working mother, has helped keep constant the normalcy of our family life.
Cooking together helps us warp-speed into the present moment, without worrying about the future. An old-fashioned term for ‘mindfulness’, there’s a long-held belief that baking is the cure for stress or sadness – repeatedly backed by science. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, found that doing small, everyday things like baking made a person feel more enthusiastic about their life and pursuits the next day.We are all feeling out of control, perhaps more than at any other time in modern history, but when me and my girl are in the kitchen, transfixed into prepping for our next recipe, sifting a measure of flour or checking the warmth of butter, we welcome a sense of temporary control in these seemingly out-of-control times. My mood slides into neutral and silences my thoughts.
Folding dusty flour into a milky-egg mixture to make Buttermilk Banana Cake is meditative and quiet work. That is until she exclaims, ‘Oh wait! We’ve forgotten our secret ingredient,’ and heads for the spice rack in glee. Another time I watched her hypnotised by a shiny meringue concoction being whipped around and around in the Mixmaster forming delicate folds like tiny tutus. Later when the meringue sat flat and sticky out of the oven, she chirps, “Rather than call it Mini Pavlova with Pineapple Coulis, why not, ‘The Pavlova Dribble Smash?’” It’s fun to rename our fancy failures.Sitting down at the kitchen bench with large slices of Lemon Drizzle Cake stuffed into our smiling cheeks, we dramatically roll our eyes with pleasure as our backs slump against the chairs. We start to laugh and try not to choke. It’s fabulous on its own, but let’s not pretend – with Lurpak it’s sublime.
We’ve made Old Yeller Pancakes with Blueberries; Fruit’s-in-the- Fridge Muffins; Alien-Blue- Tongue Toffees, Strange Semolina Pudding, Anzac Tiles and Joyless Honey Joys. Our most whimsical (and successful) were our Rosewater Meringues with Seriously Sticky Raspberries that looked like little candy houses in fairy tales and wouldn’t come off our aprons for days. (See the recipe below)Despite the horrifying daily count of statistics, just like us, people are pulling together. Taking out the garbage in fancy dress for a laugh; neighbourhoods having social-distant dance-offs every week or singing and applauding from balconies.
Baking makes me and my darling feel in control; feel hopeful. It’s another silver lining of Covid-19 for me; like the marked fall in global nitrogen dioxide levels, the new and improved fresh lilac skies or towns overrun by mountain goats. I have extended my time with my daughter; time that I may not necessarily have had, baking for hours while talking and swapping our stories in mindful pursuit of a common goal. We are creating. We are sharing a laugh and quite a few hugs. I cherish every moment. Life takes my breath away.
As the song goes,
But while a voice within me cries
I am sure someone will answer my call
And this bitter earth
May not be oh so bitter after all.
Rosewater Meringues with Raspberries
- 3 egg whites
- 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons rosewater
- 1 punnet (about 300g) raspberries
- 200ml cream, whipped
- Icing sugar, to dust
- Preheat the oven to 100°C. Place paper muffin cases in 8 muffin pans and spray with cooking spray.
- Place egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whip until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1 cup sugar and mix until glossy. Add vinegar, vanilla and half the rosewater. Stir to combine. Pipe or spoon into muffin pans.
- Bake in oven for 2 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and leave the meringues inside for up to 4 hours to cool and crisp.
- Place remaining sugar in a pan with 1/4 cup water and bring to the boil, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add remaining rosewater and set aside to cool.
- Toss the raspberries in the sugar syrup.
- Use a serrated knife to cut off the top of each meringue and fill the bases with cream and raspberries. Replace tops and dust with icing sugar.