The true power of baking

When thinking of baking, your mind usually travels to the creation of delicious treats and entrancing smells, but I have come to realize the most valuable thing it produces is the irreplaceable feeling of familial love.  

By Lily McDonald

For as long as I can remember, every meal my family had was made by my mom. She would spend hours in the kitchen preparing the perfect dinner, while also making time to bake a mouth-watering dessert. As a child I had no desire to help make the food, I just liked to consume it hungrily as she set it down on my plate. But as I got older and life got increasingly complicated, I found myself drawn to the kitchen to spend time with my mom.  

In my senior year of high school, I took a real interest in what I ate each night. I began searching online for innovative new recipes that my mom could try out for dinner and dessert. Between school and my job, I never had time to really help with the cooking process. But during the summer that changed. Searching for recipes turned into mother–daughter trips to the grocery store, where we would find all the ingredients for our weekly meals. Then I started to try my hand at assisting my mom in the kitchen and let me just say I loved it. 

The first recipe we baked together was a red velvet cookie pie. I believed that baking was just as simple as pouring ingredients into a bowl and whisking it all together. Little did I know, my mom had an entire process that must be followed exactly. She made certain I knew measurements must be leveled out precisely or our creation could be ruined. As I went slightly overboard with my mixing, she strictly informed me that the consistency could be thrown off if I continued to do so. Before we put the cookie pie in the oven, she looked me in the eyes to make sure I was paying attention and taught me that even if the bake time says thirty minutes, you must take it out earlier as it cooks in the pan after it is removed from the heat. I found myself laughing at the passion and concern to which my mom devoted to our dessert. But the best part of the experience was the time we spent just talking to each other. Whether the laughter that occurred after I made a mess trying to pour ingredients or the lighthearted discussions we had with just the two of us in the kitchen, I could not think of a more valuable way to spend my time. As the glorious smells of the red velvet cookie pie came wafting from the oven, I already could not wait to make our next dessert.  

After discovering my love for baking, I decided to try something a little more complex, making dinner. When I told my mom I would love to help in the kitchen, her face lit up and she eagerly began teaching me the basics. She showed me the different ways to cut up garlic, parsley, onions, mushrooms, and vegetables. There was an art to perfecting the cut and I had to pay attention to whether I was dicing, slicing, mincing, or cubing. Measurements were less exact than baking as my mom informed me there is more freedom in cooking dinner. Together we made a delectable homemade chicken and biscuits recipe that the entire family enjoyed. But I did not just learn how to properly hold a knife or how to sauté various ingredients, I also learned new things about my mom. Dinner was a time-consuming endeavor, so we had plenty of time to chat about anything we wanted. We exchanged stories, revealed things about ourselves, and even gossiped a little as the aromas of our dish filled the kitchen. Looking back, these are some of the best memories I have of the summer before college.

Asparagus Stuffed Chicken. Image by Lily McDonald.

As we continued to cook dinner each night – with some days involving both dinner and dessert – we decided to take things to the next level. Instead of focusing on beginners’ recipes, we rose to more challenging ventures. We strove to try more complex recipes such as stuffed chicken, unique casseroles, and meals with innovative toppings. We tried a strawberry avocado salsa that my mom admitted never would have crossed her mind before. For dessert, we evolved from uncomplicated cupcakes and pies to creative cakes and cheesecakes. Who knew when we first started, we would be making a blueberry crumble layer cake or mini cinnamon cheesecakes! With two people instead of one we were able to spend hours in the kitchen making sure we made each creation perfect. Of course, there were some mishaps and mistakes, not every dish looked like it was made by a professional chef, but the taste was always worth every minute. We pushed each other to become better cooks as we learned new tips and tricks of the trade. The kitchen was soon filled with new ingredients and spices as well as piping bags and tools for baking. My mom even brought out the ginormous stand mixer she had been gifted years ago but never used. Even when we were not in the kitchen we were talking about our next adventure, always excited about the new things we would get to try.  

One of my favorite memories was the night before my mom’s birthday, when I truly got to put my skills to the test. I had to work until eleven that night, so my ultimate surprise would have to be baked in the early hours of the morning. I was going to bake her a complex chocolate fudge cake that would take three hours in duration. My accomplice was my dad as he gathered the ingredients before I got home from work. As soon as my mom went to bed we got started. We had to be as quiet as possible to keep it a surprise. But the biggest hindrance turned out to be my partner in the process: my dad. I found myself turning into my mom, yelling about proper measurements and bake time. I had to take over every aspect of the process as my passion for cooking had grown immensely and I could not let anything go wrong. I took all the lessons my mom had taught me and applied them to this cake, aiming to bake the perfect creation. I wanted to make something she would genuinely appreciate from the bottom of my heart. The decoration was certainly not the prettiest but by three in the morning I think I had made something that displayed the love I have for my mom as well as a dessert she would find delicious. Both my dad and the kitchen were covered in flour and cocoa powder, but I was proud of what I had accomplished. The next day I made her cinnamon roll pancakes, excited to see the look on her face when she saw all that I had done for her to show her how special she was. She absolutely loved it, saying it was worth more than any gift she had received. Not only had our time together learning the ins and outs of preparing food brought us closer than ever before, but it also gave me the skills and opportunity to cook by myself

Cinnamon roll cheesecakes. Image by Lily McDonald.

When I first began helping my mom in the kitchen, I had no idea how valuable that time would truly be. At Syracuse, cooking is one of the things that I miss the most about home and I cannot wait to be able to create new dishes with my mom when I get back. Even five hours away I have been gathering recipes, eager to attempt them as soon as I visit my family. Cooking has the ultimate power to bring people together and help form stronger relationships. When I think of the kitchen, I am brought back to those feelings of familial love and warmth. Not only is cooking a useful skill to have, but it also gives you irreplaceable gifts through the close, unbreakable bonds you form.

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