On baking as play

Suzanna reminds me to play, because I forget all the time. I might be short-tempered or vague when we’re talking or start to go weird in some other way, and Suzanna will ask if I’ve been outside lately. She’ll ask what I’m doing for fun and perhaps show some of the crafts, postcards, photography and doodles that she’s been working on. And for several years, she’s patiently encouraged me to start baking again.

When I was small, I loved to bake. The reasons all came back when I carefully leveled cups of soft flour and poured tiny scoops of fragrance. I don’t know why I resisted for so long, other than all the usual reasons why we resist what is good for us. It was fun, to look through recipes again and daydream flavor combinations for scones, quiche, cornbread. I cut cold butter into mountains of flour, and creamed it against bright sugar crystals. Everything is full-fat, sweet and crumbly. Over a few weeks, I got good at baking again, and had the joy of bringing my mother food she was actually excited about eating. It reminded me how cake is more powerful than we give it credit for.

If cake was the point though, we’d go out and buy one. Making something more difficult than it needs to be for the fun of it is a pretty decent definition of play. Baking develops skills of foresight and improvisation, and offers the drama of a sponge’s rise and fall. Like all play, baking allows people to experience large emotions in a small way – joy, disappointment, risk and triumph. And when I take a strawberry pound cake, sunken in the middle, over to a friend’s house I can watch her taste it and know it came out good.

I’ve been lucky to have Suzanna as one of the voices in my head, calm and compassionate. She reminds me to be gentle, and apply some of the warmth and non-judgment from playwork to my own self. I’m so grateful for that, and specifically for her nudges to play more. When it comes to baking, the risks are low, in time and effort and cost, but the rewards can be marvelous. In short, it’s a great choice for the chronically play deprived – such as myself, and maybe also you?

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