In the book, Stir, Jessica Fechtor writes:

“You can cook for one. A fried egg and toast, a potato with cottage cheese, a single artichoke, steamed. Baking, on the other hand? I don’t care how big your sweet tooth is, you can’t eat all those cookies alone. You bake to share.

Baking means you have more than enough: more flour, more butter, more eggs, to make more cake than you need just for just you. It means you have something to give away. Baking is an act of generosity, and thereby an act of freedom, since to be generous is to be free from the smallness of thinking only of yourself.”

I read this passage and became a total Bawl Baby. Ugly cry. Big fat tears. It’s just one of many gorgeous passages of food writing in this stirring memoir of loss and recovery. Jessica suffered a brain aneurysm at 28, resulting in loss of sight and for a time, a complete loss of smell. How did she recover? Buy the book right now and find out. I consider it my Best Food Writing of 2015.

Not only is the passage beautifully written, it hit me like a gunshot. I grew up with a mother who baked at the level of Martha Stewart. Plus, she was a Virgo so the perfection gene in her was strong. Blindingly so. As a result, I’ve approached any sort of baking with the same feelings I have when I go to the dentist. Fear, anxiety, angry temper tantrums because I’d rather be doing anything else, and pain. Lots and lots of emotional and physical pain.

But this passage made me see baking with new eyes and a new attitude. Who cares if your cake comes out lopsided? Who cares if your bread isn’t full of giant beautiful air holes like you see in a boulangerie? Who cares if your cookies spread so much on the baking sheet they threaten to set your oven on fire? Who cares if it’s not perfect? It’s full of sugar! And gluten! It’s probably delicious! When someone shoves an entire pie in your face and declares, “Here! I made this just for you!” I’m not too worried whether or not the crust is tough. Because pie. It’s a pie. For me. Let’s eat!

After reading Jessica’s gorgeous passage I felt all of the anxiety, the fear, the loathing, just lift away from my body. Sweep away like a summer’s breeze. I felt scrubbed clean like when you go to the spa. I felt renewed like I’d just been baptized. Baking isn’t about you or your abilities. It’s a mitzvah, an act of generosity for another human being. And such a simple one too. Anyone over the age of three can make chocolate chip cookies even if it just entails slicing them off the ready-made roll of dough from your grocer. Are you going to turn them down? Not bloody likely.

So when I learned last week my best friend of 30 years was diagnosed with cancer the first thing I did was call him. Ask him about his favorite dessert. When he said brownies, I pulled down my New York Times cookbook. Because Katharine Hepburn’s recipe (yes, THAT Katharine) is the best I’ve ever had. But no nuts please. That’s for Neanderthals. Are they perfect? Who cares. They’re going in the mail tomorrow. Thank you Jessica. For removing the blinders from my eyes and for saving me thousands of dollars in therapy. You got me baking again. Without fear or regret. Thank you.

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