What I Get Out Of Baking

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I’ve been looking back over my last few entries here and, frankly, it seems like I’ve been a bit down recently. Especially after that last one. One of my old poetry teachers, Peter Murphy, would often tell us that if what we were writing wasn’t surprising or scaring us about ourselves, we weren’t doing it right. If that’s the case, after this past week I suppose my Pulitzer is lost in the mail.

In general the past few weeks have been a bit of a bumpy road emotionally, and while I stand by everything I’ve written, it can’t rain all the time. Yes, I am WELL aware of the usual winter weather in Portland by now.

The Pacific Northwest notwithstanding, however, external weather and internal “weather” need not be the same. Sitting as I am in a warm coffee shop, sipping a tasty cappuccino and watching the sky fall outside, I think it’s about time I write about something positive.

For starters- I still totally rock a fedora and Eldredge tie knot.

The BHB at Case Study Coffee wearing a fedora

Waging a one-man war to reclaim the fedora from internet douchebags

In all seriousness though, after re-reading that last blog entry, I realized I’d been kinda dragging the baking field a bit. It’s definitely a hard life and not for a the faint-of-heart, but nothing is doom and gloom all the time. I left a ten-year career in medicine in the dust to sign on for early mornings, flour-lung, and the marathon version of weightlifting five days a week- there is a reason I haven’t left yet.
Here then is a list of things I have gotten out of baking. Not the WORK so much, as that I could get all that from just having kept baking as a hobby. These are all things I’ve gotten out of deciding that baking should be how I make something-like-a living.

1. Camaraderie

  The bakeshop and kitchen can be a pretty inhospitable place. Long hours spent in physical labor, surrounded by hot metal, sharp things, boiling liquids and fire- and the expectation of cranking out perfection on a daily basis from disparate materials and forces. When this is your life, the people you do it with become more than coworkers- they are family. You learn each others mannerisms and quirks, maneuvering around and through each other’s spaces. No one else in this life- not your parents, not your wife, not your siblings or children- will ever “get it” quite like these f***ing weirdos. They become friend, family, and tribe.
It’s a harshly-bought, slowly-earned feeling of belonging that is not easily replaced- you keep it moving, keep it clean, and carry hard, because you are one of them, and you carry that with you even when you leave.

2. The Culinary Community

 A few nights back, I finished up late at the cafe and slipped around the corner to the beer cart. My friends Brian (the owner) and Maxwell (a lawyer and beer nerd) were there, waiting anxiously Will to come by. Will was the chef of the restaurant next door who had recently left the kitchen to teach, and it was his 28th birthday. Arrayed on the bar was a veritable kickline of rare, strange, and high-test beers- and Brian wanted to open ALL of them.
Will finally showed up, bringing a few more- some of which no longer exist. After singing happy birthday and sampling my friend Ameen’s vegan (and ‘magical’) blondies, Brian and Will looked at me and said, “Dude, these beers gotta get drunk, have some!”
Cooks, servers, and people in the hospitality world are some of the weirdest and most wonderful people I’ve ever met. Between Will, the chef-turned-teacher, Brian the bartender and cicerone, Joey the chef that shoved my face in a crate of tomatoes because I wasn’t smelling them enough, and many more- by dint of punching the clock and making the kitchen my life, I’ve gotten to connect with a worldwide community of talented, insightful, influential, and insane men and women. We are from different places and different walks, but this is always “our thing-” and no matter where you go, everyone loves to talk to someone that can cook.

3. Dovetailing/Tangential Opportunity

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The people you have the most contact with absolutely affect your decision-making, value judgments, and general outlook on life.
If that’s the case, then my outlooks and interests are based upon:
1. Anime and classical music (my wife)
2. Tabletop gaming (Gwen)
3. Old world baking and a sardonic sense of humor (Roy)
4. Flower-Child hippyness and fiction writing (Victoria)
and 5. Fermentation is an artform (the guys at the beer cart)
While everyone in the community is about “our thing,” only the most obsessive, driven people are ONLY about that thing. We all have (or need to have) hobbies and interests outside the kitchen. Through my own hobbies and those of my coworkers, I have gotten exposure to new activities, concepts, and philosophies. More than just fun ways to kill time, the “power of weak ties” has opened doors for me to extend myself and career out.
Case in point, some years ago, a friend of mine in the medical field wanted to know what I thought about less people baking from scratch at home. Mid-rant, he said “You ought to write about all this.” What I wrote was later read by another friend of his, who asked my advice on how to bake at home more often.
Want evidence for the strength of weak ties? You’re reading it.
4. The Joy of Creation
Animated GIF from Fullmetal Alchemist

Baking is alchemy… but it’s not usually this flashy or dramatic.

 It’s no surprise that a lot of my hobbies involved making things. I love knitting, because it’s relaxing AND it makes blankets, hats, and other fuzzy things. Homebrewing is like mad science that makes booze. Writing… well, that’s kinda obvious for you all at this point.
Baking is, of course, another method of creation. I get a ridiculous amount of joy out of discovering and following processes, transmuting raw materials into something useful (or delicious.) It’s not always perfect of course- there’s a lot of hard work involved, and more than a little troubleshooting after the fact when things go sideways. Against all of it, though- I still get to make a living out of doing what I love.
What can be better than that?

5. The Joy of Service

This is.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”- Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali playwright and poet

As much as I love knitting, I love giving the hats and scarves I make away, or watching my wife wrap herself in the shawl I made her even more.
As much as I love homebrewing, I get a way bigger buzz out of popping open the bottles with my friends later on and watching them drink.
I REALLY love hearing from you all about what you think of the things I write and how the affect you, and when someone holds up one of the pastries I made and tells me they enjoyed it, the feeling is beyond compare.
I’m not a pure altruist to be sure- I get a lot out of serving and helping out others. A good reputation. A paycheck. A little bit of fame and notoriety maybe. All the same, the act and joy of creating is made complete when I watch someone else enjoy it. That’s when I know it was all worth something, and that my actions made someone’s life just that little bit better, even if just for the time it takes to eat a slice of pie.

These days, who can’t use more feelings like that? Who WOULDN’T want to be the one to provide them?

Stay Classy,

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