Sharing a meal or baked good with anyone is a deeply personal experience; it’s a form of expression. It’s a skill, and often it forms a connection. For as long as I can remember, that’s exactly the role it played in my life, but its place in my life has evolved as I’ve become older — and now I’m searching for the reasons why.
Some of my earliest memories revolve around my family’s dinner table. I remember the night I learned to twirl spaghetti on a fork, and I can still recall how my hands grew sore in elementary school after piping frosting onto a Christmas tree cake for a competition.
My mom ran a custom cake business out of our kitchen for most of my conscious childhood, creating three-dimensional and completely edible creations for every occasion. My dad was the king of Sunday dinner and cooking without a recipe. With a few culinarily inclined grandparents also in the mix, I should have been cooking and baking since I learned to walk.
Although it didn’t happen immediately, I have come to love the kitchen, but it ironically came at a time when I was living in the dorms at Ohio State with little to no kitchen access. It only grew more intense as I moved into an apartment with about 3 square feet of counter space and one drawer.
Now, when I’m sad or stressed, I bake. When my friends are having a hard time, my first reaction is to make something for them. I look forward to meal preparation, and I volunteer to make birthday cakes for others. My relationship with food has become a reflex no matter the situation, but an almost unexplainable one — aside from my genetic predisposition.
As a college student with a love of cooking and baking, I set out to discover why I love it so much in the name of science. My search led me to Kate Shumaker, a family and consumer sciences educator at Ohio State who serves Holmes County Ohio by teaching cooking classes.
Shumaker said in terms of stress management, cooking and baking can either be an outlet or source of stress. Preparing food can get someone in the “zone,” where they forget about the rest of the world, but it can also create stress, especially for people who feel they have no kitchen skills, Shumaker said.
Shumaker said the kitchen does not have to be a source of anxiety, though.
“Truthfully, if you can follow directions, you can cook,” Shumaker said.
In terms of getting enjoyment from cooking for others, Shumaker said preparing food for people not only produces a good feeling, but serves as its own language. She said food conveys love and tradition, and people celebrate every occasion with food.
“If we have anything happy or sad happening in our life, there’s food. Oftentimes, if there’s not words, there’s food,” Shumaker said.
Despite majoring in journalism, I, too, sometimes find that words aren’t enough, leading me to the kitchen. It can be an act of kindness and love, and we’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words.
Cooking is a skill to build on, and mastery doesn’t happen overnight. Shumaker said once someone feels the gratification of completing a quick and easy recipe, they gradually become more confident in experimenting with flavors and changing recipes.
In my case, this is especially true. At some point, I went from barely being able to produce a hard-boiled egg to trying to master layer cakes. I enjoyed the challenge, and I still do.
I recognize that my kitchen hobby isn’t a reality for most college students — others often say they don’t have the time or skills. Shumaker said her advice for anyone looking to develop their kitchen skills is to start with the basics and go from there.
In the end, Shumaker and I both agreed that even the simplest of recipes can create a rewarding feeling.
“There’s also something altruistic about preparing food for others and getting a little bit into that selflessness,” Shumaker said.
Grandma’s orange drop cookies
I remember standing in my grandmother’s kitchen in Wooster, Ohio, making orange drop cookies. She was the queen of home cooking, with a specialization in comfort food and breads. This is a childhood favorite that is also a major crowd-pleaser among my friends, with a super fluffy consistency and just enough orange flavor to leave you wanting more.
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 orange, juice and zest
- 1 cup milk
- 4 1/2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons salted butter, softened
- Juice, pulp and zest of one orange
- Powdered sugar, add to spreading consistency
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, juice, pulp and zest.
- Sift together dry ingredients, and mix with the wet ingredients. Add milk.
- Drop by teaspoon on cookie sheet; they spread out quite a bit.
- Bake until lightly brown around the edges, about 10-12 minutes.
- While the cookies bake, combine icing ingredients. Add powdered sugar to spreading consistency. Ice when cool.