When I first started this blog in 2013 or 2014, I had just graduated college, and was in the midst of depression, entrenched in daily personal crisis – What I used to describe as me “floundering” about. I guess I was searching for purpose, a place to belong, and perhaps some life meaning after being released from the talons of higher education. I like to think I have transcended that particular journey. And since that time, there have been many tears, life lessons; so many relationships have changed. Back in those days, Nonna was still alive, living with my family and me, but it wasn’t until after she passed that I realized how much she gave me, just on a day-to-day basis: Stability, structure, and of course, unconditional love. I also refer to this part of my life as my “domestication” period, due to the fact that I was home all the time and started to get more involved with cooking and baking. I felt like I was helping, chipping in, doing my part, doing something. Besides caring for Nonna, there was also a time when my mom went back to school. My dad was working, my brother was still in school. The family was stretched a little thin at times, but we made it work. And I felt like I was contributing when I would cook or bake. It felt good to put on some music and make a meal and see enjoyment and contentment on the faces of my family during and after eating.
Baking in the afternoons when Nonna was home was always such a wonderful delight. Her eyes would light up at the smell of lemon or cinnamon; She’d call me her little “massara” – a Sicilian word that essentially means “Renaissance Woman”; Meaning, you do a little of everything, a Jill of All Trades, if you will. It’s a word a believe truly defines me. I loved sharing food with her.
Not long after she died, I remember attempting to bake something. It might’ve been a cake, but I don’t quite remember. But I ruined it, messed it up, measured incorrectly. Made some sort of mistake that required everything to be thrown out. I was saddened and absolutely devastated. And aside from having to scrap the recipe, I realized I wasn’t baking out of joy or desire or love. I was just kind of doing it – quickly, hastily, anxiously; without care. Since then (which may have been 2015 or 2016), I have not felt the impulse to cook or bake. Until today.
Of course right now during this pandemic, everyone is at home who can be at home (/should be at home), and it seems like everyone so far has spent at least some time baking, whether it’s bread or sweets. I happened to be off from work today and was casually talking to my mom at the breakfast table this morning. While we were talking, I got up to make a cup of coffee. After I put the grounds in my usual one-cupper cradle, I opened the cabinet to get a mug (which is where we also store our teas) and was wonderfully overwhelmed by the scent of blueberry (This was Harney & Sons’ Paris tea, which has a wonderful blueberry lemon flavor). That tea, combined with the aroma of the coffee suddenly had me thinking about lemon blueberry muffins. My mom’s been baking wonderful things since we’ve been home such as chocolate chip walnut banana bread (oh my word, it is so good), and so I mentioned to her that I wouldn’t be opposed if she decided to make blueberry muffins when she turned to me and said, “You know, you can make them too”. And it was almost like it had never occurred to me that I should do it. Of course I should and could – and I did!
Quickly searching a recipe, I took out my ingredients a little bit at a time so that I’d be ready to go once I finished my morning routine: Smart Balance and 2 eggs to get them room temperature so the SB was easier to melt and the eggs weren’t cold from being in the fridge. Then I took out blueberries, which we just bought at the supermarket yesterday. After measuring (just to be sure) I gave them a good rinse and dried each one (I’ve put wet blueberries into muffin batter and it is a mistake that will dilute your batter!) After getting in a little exercise and shower, I returned to the kitchen. “Amor Eterno” by Rocio Durcal has been stuck in my head for the past few days – one of Nonna’s favorite songs that we had put on her playlist. So I queued up the Spotify radio for that song and got to work soon thereafter.
There is something about baking that reminds me of yoga in that, anything could happen; You start with your mind in one place and it can end up in a totally different place when you finish, perhaps a little more calmer and Zen than you knew possible. There’s also the potential of screwing up / mistepping, and it’s all about how you handle it; Staying calm, breathing through it (which I clearly did not do, or was in the right headspace to do so 5 years ago). I get into a zone when I bake where it’s just me, the recipe, and the ingredients. It’s a time to be with your mind as is, see what comes up, and just focus on making, creating. And so I made these muffins and was pretty excited about it. I loved watching them bloom in the oven and taking them out to cool once they were done. My family really liked them, and that gave me pride and joy and a sense of contentment.
And so I keep reflecting on this personal fact that this is the first time I have baked something, and really wanted to bake something since Nonna passed away in August of 2015. Sometimes the grieving/healing process is long, but it is happening – I am healing. There are so many parts of me that are works in progress; I like to think a lot of us can admit that about ourselves. But sometimes it’s tough when you can’t see it or feel it happening, so it feels like it not. But it is. I think as long as we keep moving forward, and keep waking up in the morning our traumas will heal, our sadnesses will become mellowed, and our love will be come deeper. Nonna’s birthday was a week ago, yesterday (April 22). She would’ve been 92. Every day I miss her tremendously, but am glad she is in a better place now (and doesn’t have to worry about COVID-19, dear Lord!). I like to think she’s still guiding me and watching over me as I continue to “flounder” around some more, whether in the kitchen or elsewhere. It’s just another day in quarantine out here. Let’s all continue to persevere and make sure we express our love to our family and friends everyday, and always remember those who have gone before us whether through music, baking, or just sitting in reflective thought.