There are few things more welcoming than sinking my floured hands into warm dough and working it over and around until it forms a ball that is ready to rise.
This afternoon mid-way through the seventh story book, just as Max was about to sail “in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are” my niece’s eyes dropped closed, her head hung down, and she slowly drifted over onto the pillow I managed to slip beneath her. I stood slowly, careful not to shift the loud leather of the couch, then kicked over a tin of toys with a metal crack. She lay unfazed. I could hear the steady sound of her breath and watched the slow rise and fall of her back before creeping around the corner into my kitchen.
Some of my favorite childhood memories take place in the kitchen of my parents’ home. I’d pull over the up-side-down blue potty that doubled as a step stool before I was old enough to stand taller than the yellow counter top and help my mother whenever she was baking. We used a set of white plastic bowls and a wooden spoon for everything. It was usually my job to do the mixing.
One might think that I’d grow tired of the continuous circling around the bowl, especially during the hours of baking that stretched across the week leading up to Christmas each year, but I’ve always had an affinity for watching the ingredients slowly break down and blend together forming something so much different, so much sweeter than the parts alone. The creamy mounds of butter and sugar mixed with eggs that we whipped separately in ceramic bowls combined with dusty white flour to form cookies, cakes, muffins, breads, and brownies. I’d scoop out the mixture into the baking pans, leaving extra around the edges. Then I’d carry the bowl into the corner to the sink, run my hands in and around, and lick the sticky batter from my fingers.
I have never owned an electric mixer and probably never will. The short brown spoon gifted to me from my mother’s old collection and set of clear plastic bowls I bought for my first home provide an intimacy that would be lost in motors and metal. Whenever a recipe specifies not to use a machine mixer, I set the spoon aside and plunge my bare hands into the batter, feeling the texture of the grainy sugar, the sticky butter, and the loose flour squeezing through my fingers.
There are few things more intimate, I believe, than making a meal to share with someone else. Beginning with ingredients and not a box, weaving together the supplies by hand, and setting the final product on a table to provide nourishment for another person can be an act that feeds so much more than just hunger.
So today while my niece curled into the corner piece of my sectional couch and slept through the late afternoon, I pulled together ingredients to form dough, rolled it firm through flour, let it rise until doubled in size, then spread it on a cookie sheet to bake in the oven. My hands moving through the mixture, the sound of rain tapping against the glass of the open window above my kitchen sink, my niece sleeping in the next room, the first slice of warm focaccia fresh from the oven: the beauty of simplicity, the sustenance of life.