Whisk, stir, rotate. Measure, tap, whisk again. Pour, sprinkle, scrape. Whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk. My hands know the motions, how to hold and turn and spin the bowl. Even in the world of a new recipe, the instructions are just dance steps, a different way to weave in and out of familiar rhythms.
After a month of stay-at-home orders, suddenly everyone’s a baker. Even before quarantine, I baked at least once a week, and I baked sourdough bread at least once a year. But now I’m not alone. Scrolling through my feeds, I spot cookies, banana bread, sourdough starters, muffins, cakes, cupcakes, scones… and the empty flour shelves at Meijer suddenly make much more sense.
Grip, slide, scrape. Smooth, smooth, sprinkle. I slide the pan into the oven, humming and scrubbing dishes as the timer counts down. After the beep I find a chopstick in the drawer, reopen the oven door, and test. In goes the chopstick: dry. Out comes the chopstick: wet. Still batter, not a cake. Sigh.
My first year at Calvin, I didn’t bake for almost two months. I didn’t have flour or eggs or butter or a bowl in my dorm room. The dining hall provided all my meals, and something in me felt hollow. I daydreamed about pouring a teaspoon of vanilla, scooping a cup of sugar, dusting a layer of flour off my jeans. After so many hours working with my mind, I longed to work with my hands.
My parents brought me a plastic tub of ingredients—from Iowa—not long after I cried over FaceTime just thinking about how much I missed baking. When they left after spending the weekend in Michigan, I walked to my floor’s coffee kitchen. I pulled out my glass bowl and settled, little by little, into the old routines. The materials were different, but the rhythms were the same.
In goes the chopstick: dry. Out comes the chopstick: dry. Slide, set, step back. The kitchen is full of the aromas I released when I opened the oven door, but I can’t touch their source. Not yet.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve baked since social distancing began. Banana bread. Oatmeal-raisin cookies. Chocolate cake. Cherry-rosemary scones. Sourdough bread. Buttermilk biscuits. Peanut butter cookies. Carrot cake. The world feels so unfamiliar right now, but at least these habits, these rhythms, settle into their well-worn patterns.
Part of me feels a little resentful about baking’s newfound popularity: stop buying all my flour, people! But my annoyance can’t last long. For the first time, or the first time in a long time, other people are asking how to help yeast rise; other people are making loaf cakes; other people are trying homemade rather than store-bought for the first time. Other people are measuring teaspoons of vanilla, scooping cups of sugar, and dusting layers of flour off their jeans. Or, for that matter, their yoga pants.
For me, baking is a lifeline to normalcy, to the rhythms that have nourished and sustained me for years. But if you’re baking for the first time, or the first time in a long time, baking is a lifeline to goodness. To something real and whole and joyful, produced by your own hands and a little bit of effort. I can’t deny other people that flour-covered happiness. As Olivia wrote a few days ago, I hope this surge in baking isn’t temporary. I hope other people are, like me, settling into a steadying rhythm of whisk, stir, rotate.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.