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Cookbooks as Ritual

Thanks for getting us through it all, bread.

As more and more friends and family join the ranks of the fully-vaccinated, I’m filled with so much gratitude. And also . . . a little anxiety. I’m not quite sure how to return to normal, nor am I sure what normal is anymore. And, maybe, the normal of before isn’t what we should be rushing toward anyway. 

I recognize that my experience of the pandemic is one framed by immense privilege. I’ve been able to remain employed, housed, and healthy. I’ve had internet access, and the digital literacy necessary to obtain vaccine appointments for relatives and myself. I have not had to suddenly navigate virtual learning for school-aged children. 

Yet, I am still experiencing feelings of loss and uncertainty. I not entirely sure what month it is, let alone what day. I’ve forgotten some big things, berated myself for forgetting those things, and wondered if I was losing brain matter. I’ve deeply missed connecting with others over dinner, choral singing, and group exercise classes (seriously). 

A blog post by Diana Butler-Bass captured the essence of the pandemic-related stress I’ve been experiencing. She writes, “We’ve lost much this year, including the loss of ritual. . . Familiar, repeated acts that framed hours, days, weeks, and months – the habits that composed our lives – have vanished.” Family holiday gatherings, first days of school, liturgical seasons, birthday parties, weddings, and funerals have all been disrupted. 

Butler-Bass suggested the creation of new rituals to mark this time. I’ve created my own ritual of sorts that I’ve dubbed anxiety or avoidant baking. Unlike toilet paper hoarding or binge watching The Tiger King, bread baking was a pandemic trend that made sense to me. Baking in general has a ritualistic feel to it. The measuring, mixing, rising, baking, and cooling are procedural in a way that provides comfort to all of our senses. Equally ritualistic to me is reading cookbooks. I’ve read many more recipes than I’ve ever used, but there’s something about looking through a cookbook—admiring its layout, writing, and photography—that feels like such an indulgence!  

A few years ago I joined the Food 52 Baking Group on Facebook. This virtual cookbook club selects a different book each month and invites members to share their experiences with the recipes. I’ve discovered some of my very favorite cookbooks through this group and have enjoyed seeing others’ hits and misses. Everyone offers encouragement and ideas for better bakes, and the group is a bright spot in the dumpster fire of Facebook groups. 

I typically check-out the group’s monthly selection from the library, and if I absolutely cannot part with it, I’ll purchase it at a local bookstore or online at bookshop.org. Here is a list of some of my favorite books for baking. I’d invite you to request one of these and spend a morning flipping through their beautiful pages and creating a ritual that brings joy and (frequently) smells like cinnamon! 

When you read a book, you enter a different world. But the act of reading does more than broaden our world-view; it creates empathy, and nurtures civility.
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