Merry Christmas, and bake off.

I’ve been spending lots of time in dimly-lit rooms lately.

Some of it is by choice, but much of it is due to my eye condition and the bad flare-up I’ve been having. The weather has been a bit frightful, as it is apt to be in a Pennsylvania December, too. Going out to walk in it can be a challenge even under the most optimal health scenarios. Stark, white landscapes may be beautiful, but they cause glare, and glare is a four-letter word in and to my eyes (and yep, I can count). Wind is, also, and so I pick my battles carefully.

I knew that the holiday trip the husband and I made last week – our gift of a couple of nights away, culminating in a Ghost Ritual before heading back home – would mean days of recovery, but when Cardinal Copia and the Nameless Ghouls beckon, we assemble, together as one.

The frigid air outside, the incense pumped into the theater, and my careful-but-heavy application of eye makeup was sure to inflame my delicate eye tissue, and so rest before and after has been crucial. It sucks – what else can I say? But, as with any chronic illness or condition, you have to decide whether you or the disease wins. I am not a gambler, but I simply have to win this battle, because fuck getting old. Just fucking fuck it. I may have the trifecta of chronic ass aches in depression, arthritis, and these fucking eyes, as I am so fond of saying, but I choose when, how, and TO live.

So fuck you, trifecta.

Anyway, I have been watching tv at night, by the soft glow of the Christmas tree and some twinkle light-festooned archways. There aren’t any new episodes of the programs I watch, because television has come up with this whole “Winter finale” bullshit, no doubt to entice viewers into watching that last new episode that airs just before the deluge of holiday programming takes over. Thusly, we have to content ourselves with those “very special Christmas episodes” somewhere around Thanksgiving, which puts them somewhere behind the holiday game of retail and advertising (and some of my neighbors, who had their Christmas lights glowing right after Halloween).

I have purposely avoided the news, except for an occasional Anderson Cooper viewing, because he is handsome and still very polite even in his exasperated, “Trump Is A Moron” diatribe. I know, I should keep up with the freight trains that barrel through Washington DC every day, and I do skim the headlines, but I’m Trumped out, for lack of a better way to put it. I simply cannot stomach the daily deposits of feces that spew out of the wrong orifice on that man. I cannot watch the sadness going on at the border, or read about the anger and confusion going on in Europe and the UK. I know it exists; as an intelligent human being, I do stay informed. I just can’t seem to stomach the seepage into my daily life anymore, and especially at Christmas.

There are so many sad stories this time of year, and so many are geared toward pulling at our heartstrings. As an aside, why is that, exactly? Are poor kids, or sick kids, somehow legitimately less fortunate only at Christmas? Is it okay to ignore that they lack food, healthcare, warm clothes, or decent living conditions 364 days out of the year, but not okay that one day that an imaginary fat man in a red suit is supposed to deliver them a sackful of gifts? Because, you know, it’s all about those gifts. People would have you believe nothing else. And I know that I am guilty of perpetuating that belief, as I rush around before Christmas, trying to make wishes come true in the eyes of first, my kids, and now, my grandkids. I’ve tried to inject more love and more meaning, but in the end, my Christmas joy comes from a place of knowing that their eyes light up in delight because I got it right. Selfish? Maybe. But I own it.

So, I try to control the number of sad stories I actively engage in, even in this, the era of instant information inundating our senses. It’s not easy, unless I put the phone down, or leave it in another room. I don’t like to do that because I have family members in various stages of health issues and sometimes, they need me. Invariably, I miss a phone call or text when I do that, and so the phone stays nearby. And with that, the temptation. To combat it, I switch on the tv.

I watch cooking shows, or more accurately, baking shows. Not just any baking shows, either. I lose myself in hours of The Great British Baking Show, a series from the BBC. It’s viewable on PBS and also on Netflix, if you want to click on the highlighted link. I watch, then rewatch, my favorite bakes. I file away pointers and wonder at their confectionary and yeasty creations because it seems like the Brits just have got it going on. While I know bakers exist all over the world, and I know people who love to bake and who create beautiful delights, the Brits seem to take it to a totally different, elevated level.

It’s simply fascinating to watch them politely compete with each other over recipes of choux pastry, Genoese sponge, and sugar work. I admit, I had no idea that eclairs were made of choux pastry, and I would have called the cake in a decorated cake by the world cake because it is cake….not sponge. Sponge seems more appropriate, now that I know how important it is to get the right rise and the right formation of structure, the perfect golden color, and to time a chocolate sponge just right because the hue is deceptive. I never knew. I just never knew. I feel enlightened in the knowledge.

And then there are the hosts, Mary Berry, and Paul Hollywood: knowledgeable, charismatic legends in the UK, renowned for their baking, their books, and their tv appearances. In newer shows, Mary has been replaced by Pru Leith, who is also a well-known “celebrity baker” in the UK. They are supported by hosts, UK comedic personalities Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and later seasons, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

Did I forget to mention that, in addition, to being a “cracking baker” and the authority on baking bread, Paul Hollywood is, himself, a visionary, delightful piece of eye candy?

Bake me some bread, you silver foxy fucker.

Those steely, blue eyes that cut a contestant like lasers when they fuck up a bake, and turn into warm pools of tropical ocean when complimenting them on a particularly great flavor – oh yeah, I’ll take that over the news any day of the year, not just at the holidays.

I was recently gifted a Kitchenaid mixer by a very dear friend after wishing, fervently, that I had one. My love of baking has waned over the last few years not because I don’t want to, but because my arthritis prohibits it. A hand mixer can be okay, but the vibration causes uncomfortable pain for hours after, plus there are days when I lack sufficient grip. I had been looking for a used one at a lower price because as much as I coveted them, I could not bring myself to pay $200+ for one. She could, and did, causing me to burst into tears and to wonder at the fact that there are still some truly wonderful people left in this world, despite the news trying to convince us otherwise.

Now, I can bake to my heart’s content, and try all those recipes Paul and Mary demonstrate in their Masterclass shows. Baking is kind and filled with love. Baking is not racist, or spiteful, or inciteful. How can you even think of the cruel things happening around the globe when you’re working a dough to get the gluten going, or shaping a braided loaf, or cutting cookies into precise shapes, or whipping a meringue into perfect peaks? Baking is love, and love is contagious and enticing. The only time the news has any business interfering with a bake is just before you’re getting ready to work a bread dough. You can punch and knead and slam that dough down to your heart’s content, feeling all the anger and tense emotions releasing through your hands into the activation of the ingredients.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some anise Christmas cookies to whip up. I’ve got love to release.

One thought on “Merry Christmas, and bake off.

  1. I’m so glad your friend bought you that mixer. I’ve felt very guilty about selling my mother’s, but I knew I would not use it and had no place to store it. Maybe someday I’ll have time to bake properly and I’ll get myself another one.

    Liked by 1 person

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