You’re reading How I Cope, a series sharing self-care tips as we all adjust to the coronavirus pandemic.
As I looked through the glass oven door, I couldn’t help but wonder where I’d gone wrong. I’d followed the recipe closely and yet, all I could see was a lump of dough that’d barely risen and was as pasty as my sun-deprived legs.
When I pulled it out of the oven, I laughed so hard I cried. On social media I was told it looked more like a blobfish, a tomb or an alien pod. A friend likened it to a meringue. Anything but the trusty loaf I’d expected.
After a pretty fraught second week of lockdown (my third week of working from home), this hilarious outburst was a huge relief – and I realised I hadn’t thought about coronavirus once throughout the baking process.
You’ll be unsurprised to learn the ‘blobfish bread incident’ wasn’t the first time I’d failed at baking: there were the hot cross buns, filled with chopped apple because I was out of dried fruit, that looked more like misshapen scones because I’d forgotten to cross them; the oat and banana ‘cookies’ that came out of the oven looking like cat sick; and the banana bread that ended up as a flat, claggy mess (note to self: do not try to substitute butter for peanut butter again).
So why do I keep on baking when I’m so terrible at it? Well, my creations might not be instagrammable or, at times, even edible, but they’ve buoyed me when I felt I was drowning in it all.
As a journalist, I’m subsumed by the coronavirus story. I spend my days debunking health myths with expert-backed advice, writing about the mental health impact, and interviewing people about their personal stories – all with a hope of making things easier for our readers, but it takes a lot of energy out of me. Every day I spend a good hour in some form of weird stupor, sucked of motivation or happiness, when the death figures come out. Sometimes it lasts a lot longer.
I understand the situation is a lot worse, and a lot more distressing, for many people – the NHS staff on the front line, the teachers having to continue classes, the supermarket workers putting on a brave face to serve the (sometimes abusive) public, the people losing loves ones to this awful virus.
But sometimes I’ve found myself struggling to cope and when it happens, catastrophising becomes almost second nature – I see the death stats and my heart breaks knowing so many have lost loved ones. Then comes the secondary thought process: could someone I know be one of these stats? Then it culminates – I realise how much I miss my family, social interaction, hugs with my mum. Then come the tears.
Baking, while I’m not very good at it, takes my mind off all of this. When I’m measuring out ingredients or winging it and pouring them in freehand, I’m thinking about the task in hand. When I’m watching them in the oven, I’m thinking about how good they smell, or why they’re not rising, or what they’ll taste like. And once they’re out, I’m thinking about how long it’ll take to cool down so I can scoff them. Either that, or how awful they look – a skill in itself.
There’s also that sense of accomplishment, regardless of how terrible the end result is, and then there’s the sense of connection when I share my latest creation with others: whether my poor boyfriend who has to eat them (sorry Dan), or friends, colleagues and complete strangers on the internet who get to witness photos of the end result. It doesn’t matter whether they’re laughing at me, I’ll take what I can get.
So yes, I will be continuing my habit of ‘baking bad’ throughout the lockdown, because while my bread might not rise, my spirits certainly do.
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