Every Saturday when I was four years old, I crept to the back of my grandma’s house in Medellín, Colombia, where she ran her bakery, Refinas. I’d hide under a table and wait until no one was around to steal batter and cookies, hoping my grandma wouldn’t catch me.
I was completely fascinated by the bakery. The oven looked like a beast I had to conquer. When bakers rolled out dough, I was amazed by the colorful and sweet masterpieces they created.
While making a core memory, I developed an affinity for baking because of its importance to my family and the comfort it provides. Ten years later, baking would become a key aspect of who I am: both my love language and a coping mechanism for my anxiety.
I remember watching my grandma personally hand excited customers their orders, like butter cookies and wedding cakes, with a smile and a hug. Everyone knew my grandma because of her famous cookies, but they loved her because she is caring. She’d never make an appearance without a sweet treat and always baked for neighbors when they were sick.
When we had family lunches, my relatives fought for her cookies, and my father would beg my grandma to bake him his favorite dessert: chocolate cake.
On our drives back from her house, my dad always reminded me to learn my grandma’s chocolate cake recipe so we could have an endless supply at home.
“I’ve told you this a hundred times, but I’ll keep telling you until you do learn,” he’d say.
I’d smile because I wanted to learn how to bake more than anything else in the world so I could bring others the same joy my grandma did, but she said I was too young.
After years of incessant begging, when I was six years old, my grandma finally decided my cousins and I were old enough to learn how to bake. I couldn’t have been more excited.
However, the day we walked in for our first lesson, I was terrified. I thought I wouldn’t be able to bake like my experienced grandma because I was young and a little clumsy.
On my first attempts, I couldn’t roll out dough without it sticking to the table and I accidentally burnt butter. I threw flour around and punched the table with my little fist, but my grandma disciplined me and assured me I’d eventually learn.
My cousins had similar problems, but with my grandmother’s guidance, we overcame our setbacks and successfully baked alfajores, popular Latin American cookies made of butter, flour and sugar. She patiently showed us how to roll the dough, and when it was time to cut the cookies, she gently guided our hands.
I enjoyed mixing the ingredients, cutting the batter and tasting the delicious results. The whole process allowed me to focus my mind solely on the task at hand, distracting me from any worries in my life, like my grandpa’s illness.
Most importantly, I loved learning from my grandma; she would share little tips and never got mad when I made a mistake. She was always sweet and warm, allowing me to feel safe and relaxed.
After that first lesson, my cousins lost interest, but my grandma and I continued baking together twice a month until I was 10. She enjoyed that we shared an interest and had a reason to spend hours together. Baking with her always improved my mood, grounding me when I felt overwhelmed.
As I got older, I started to bake more on my own. It allowed me to clear my mind, which became more important as I began struggling with anxiety at 13 years old. I could refocus my energy on following the recipes, mixing the ingredients and following my grandma’s techniques, which was an efficient method to handle my anxiety.
My grandma continued encouraging me. She’d gift me cookbooks and new utensils and reassured me when I called her to double-check that I was using the right techniques or preheating the oven at the correct temperature. Her support made baking even more therapeutic because I knew I had someone I could rely on when my anxiety was getting out of hand.
Once I reached high school, I naturally followed in my grandma’s footsteps and started showing my appreciation for my loved ones through baking. My grandma makes everyone’s favorite dessert for their birthdays. It’s an old tradition of hers, and now it’s one I’ve brought to my loved ones.
I love learning what desserts each person enjoys, and there is nothing more rewarding for me than surprising someone with a treat I know they’ll appreciate.
Everyone quickly realized baking was my coping mechanism for anxiety because every time I felt overwhelmed, they’d end up being gifted a delicious dessert. During finals season, my friends in high school knew they could expect brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Even my teachers would wait for a sweet treat because I was known as the girl who bakes when stressed.
Baking is my perfect hobby because it helps me to feel better when I struggle with anxiety and conveniently allows me to show others how much they matter to me.
Learning love and kindness from my grandma has shaped me into the baker and woman I am. Without realizing it, she taught me a great coping mechanism and a delicious way to express love.