Sunday, June 1, 2014


Batter for crunchy cinnamon bread.
I bake.  Not actual dinners, mind you, but desserts.  I used to do this all the time, particularly when I lived in the super-health-food Piepmeier household as a child and learned that I could eat all the cookie dough I wanted when I was making the cookies.  But I've started doing it again in the last four months.  Trey, Oh-vee-LAH and I started having Pie-days on...well, you can guess what day of the week, right?  They'd bring burgers, and I'd provide pies:  cherry pies, apple pies, pecan pies, key lime pies, lemon icebox pies.*  I occasionally made a cake.

I'm really good at making pies, in part because I make such a delicious crust.  But that's not all I can bake.  In recent days I've made two coffee cakes, a peanut butter chocolate cake, and a loaf of crunchy cinnamon bread, because I have buttermilk and need to find ways to use it. (The day after I drafted this post, I made a buttermilk pie.)

I'm finding that baking is oddly relaxing.  I like the end product, of course, but I also like making the food.  I like rolling out the pie crust.  I like blending things in the Kitchen Aid.

I've been trying to figure out this phenomenon:  why do I like baking so much?  Why am I doing so much of it?  Why does it give me a thrill and help me to focus in a non-stressful way?

I don't know the answer, but I feel like it's related somehow to single parenting.**

Here's an obvious point:  single parenting is hard.  Hard.  It's hard to be responsible for all the morning, after school, and bedtime rituals.  All the nights she can't fall asleep or wakes up repeatedly.  All the mornings that start at 5am.  All the weekend plans.  All the cleaning.  All the doctors' appointments, therapy appointments, after-school activities.  All the desperate scheduling if she gets sick and has to miss school, or if my job requires a late meeting.  (Thank god for great babysitters!)

Cherry pie.  Trey and Olivia's favorite.
It's especially hard to be a single parent who isn't able to drive.  My friends have been amazing--offering to drive us to school in the rain, to have Maybelle and I be part of their weekend plans, to take me to the grocery store.  Let me repeat:  they are amazing.

But it's still hard.  If I need to get groceries, I have to schedule that--to find someone who can do it when I can.  Having to take that extra step or set of steps is a small but tiring thing.  It would be much easier if, on Saturday afternoon, I saw that I was out of milk and just hopped in the car with Maybelle to run to the grocery store.  Or if, on Thursday after dance class, I needed to get some fig bars for her, she and I would make a quick trip to Trader Joe's.  Or if I was walking out the door and realized that it had just started raining, I could move us to the car and get to school that way.  Or if I had a doctor's appointment on the other side of town, I could bike home from school and then drive myself there.

You see what I mean?  I didn't drive much back in the day when I was driving, but the times that I drove, it was really helpful.  Getting the rides I need right now requires thinking ahead.  Planning.  It's not easy to do on the spur of the moment (like on rainy days).  It requires me to gear myself up to be social--the grocery store not as quick trip but as quick trip with a wonderful person, and catching up with that wonderful person.  But you know how sometimes you've had a long day and you just want to be silent?

Crunchy cinnamon bread.  I've already eaten two
pieces because it's delicious.
Baking is something I'm in charge of.  I can do it myself, quietly, breathing, in the kitchen.  Maybelle can help if she wants, but most of the time I do it completely alone.  I have a recipe that tells me what to do; I don't have to guess (which, oddly, provides me with room to do a little experimenting).  It makes the house smell delicious.  And then I have a delicious baked thing, and I can feed it to people I love.  I can take some over to the guys next door.  I'm not asking for favors; I'm offering them.  I'm competent.

Baking:  a way to compensate for the challenges of the single-parent-not-driving life.

*After I started on this trend, I watched the movie Waitress.  Some significant similarities.  And a good film.
**Please notice, college students, that it was the process of writing that helped me figure out what's going on.  Professors aren't lying when we tell you how important writing is.


  1. Oh, how I relate to this. Yes, I do. Let's see the recipe for the crunchy cinnamon bread.

    1. Here you go:

  2. I love it. I kind of feel the same way about making fiddly coffee. I look forward to the 7 step process of making coffee in my scientific beaker (Chemex).

    I already miss pie day. :(

  3. You also make excellent brownies. And we are happily eating them all.

  4. I want to be part of pie day :).

  5. way to level up! i've been without a car since 2008, and i know that most of the time the logistical difficulties work themselves out eventually, but... adding parenting would add so many little complications. i can imagine it being a lot harder to say "ramen noodles for multiple meals in a row may not be healthy but they beat going to get groceries in the rain" when it's not just your meal.

    also likewise - upon renting a car for a conference, the thing i came back rambling on about wasn't not having to walk -- it was the freedom to not plan the day meticulously, to add a superfluous book or change of clothes to the car without worrying that i'd made my bag too heavy.

    glad you've found something to help cut the stress!

  6. I realized in grad school that I bake bread when I'm stressed. Mostly simple focaccia but sometimes other more labor-intensive breads. The kneading is therapeutic somehow.

  7. AP, of course there's a reason it's called an "essay" a word rooted in the infinitive for "to try"! I used to love, love when my teachers reminded us of this beautiful, logical nugget!

    Can you write a piece about the similarities/differences between the process of writing and the process of baking? How your mind focuses, free associates, and comes up something new during both activities?

    My cooking outlet is soup-from-scratch. The kids love when I tell them we're out of food and have nothing. They know that's when Mama somehow manages to create the good stuff.

    What's a buttermilk pie like? That piques. Yum. I love buttermilk.

  8. alison, i am just reading this AFTER reading your driving post, so a heart congratulations on that news!

    i can relate to the baking piece so much. when i am having a stressful day i dream of baking a blueberry pie. or a three-layer cake. or six dozen cookies. i like to go big so that the process takes all night.