Exams. The very exhale of the word sends shivers down my spine. Unfortunately, dear readers, we are getting closer and closer to that hellish period. While some will find solace from the deep, dark nights of preparing for finals at cafÃ©s, the gym, or playing a game of Tetris in their living room &- I find comfort in the kitchen.
When I am stressed, I instinctively grab some butter, sugar, flour and eggs. With a bowl resting in one hand and a spatula in the other, I can whip away my problems and instantly return to the happy world (that now exclusively exists in my head) where deadlines and due dates don’t exist. I recall several nights last year where, when the legs of my desk were cracking under the weight of articles, textbooks, random notes and papers, and a dangerously loaded laptop &- peace was restored thanks to the smell of freshly baked cinnamon cookies at 3 a.m. I know that baking isn’t for everyone, and many won’t find it relaxing in the least bit, but it helped me get through exams last year and maybe, just maybe my story will inspire you to take even 15 minutes to make peanut-butter cookies this exam season.
On the rare free weekend right before exams (sort of like the calm before the storm), I went to a friend’s apartment and the two of us spent all of Saturday and Sunday baking and doing nothing else. With $60 worth of groceries, we made meringues, a strawberry-basil tart, two varieties of cupcakes, a chocolate valentino cake, ratatouille, crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, Milan cookies and vanilla ice cream.
To put all of this in perspective; over the course of this baking spree, we used two blocks (eight sticks) of butter, two cartons of eggs (24), almost an entire bag of flour, and enough sugar to send anyone into a diabetic coma. Much like an episode of Top Chef, we created a schedule of strictly allotted time-frames in which we had to to complete each item. More often than not, we were juggling two different things at once. For example, while a tart shell cooled, one of us would get started on the batter for the root beer cupcakes, return to fill the tart, pop it into the oven and start mixing the icing for the cupcakes.
Before long, the aromas began to layer on top of each other. One area of the kitchen would send you into a dizzying molten chocolate cake-induced ecstasy, but at the other end you would find yourself surrounded by tangy whiffs of fresh strawberries caramelizing on the stove. The sink turned into a bewildering mountain of dirty mixing bowls, whisks, wooden spoons and measuring cups.
Day two was a blur of whipped egg whites, misinformed timers and emotional breakdowns. I would change the temperature on the oven, unaware of some vanilla concoction that was already inside, open the oven when the temperature was at a desired degree, only to then get snapped at by my friend for my carelessness. I event spent half an hour cowering in a corner on the floor when things started really heating up in the kitchen.
However, for all the hell we went through, there was an odd sense of catharsis during the two-day process. De-stressing was the plan, and despite the walk through Hell’s Kitchen &- de-stress we did. Perhaps it was the moments of absurdity that snap through one’s mind when you think “maybe, just maybe, strawberries could be improved upon with a hint of basil,” and at the end, literally tasting success to make it all worthwhile. Or maybe it’s being so busy, that for two days, you manage to forget about schoolwork and grades. Whatever it was, who knew that scurrying around the kitchen near very hot stoves and ovens for hours on end was just what we needed after a stress-filled semester? Plus, we had enough cupcakes to give us a sugar boost anytime cupcake therapy would be needed over the course of the next two weeks (although knowing her roommates’ appetites, maybe not . . .)
At the end of each day, we would set the table, ask one of the boys to make a run for chicken and wine, set the iTunes dock to some Dizzy Gillespie, and sit down, family-style, to indulge in our creations. And, really, when it comes down to it &- food and friends are what you ever really need to get through these tough times. As the great Julia Child would say: bon appÃ©tit!