When you’re a kid, you can become best friends with someone simply because you both hate school lunches or gym class. It’s not much more sophisticated when you’re an adult: Chances are, you’ll bond with someone at work when you discover you both loathe your boss, love French films, or nodded off in the same boring meeting. Or you’ll meet a mom in playgroup who shares your opinion that the neighbor’s “perfect” child is a spoiled brat.
I’ve found it gets a lot harder once those natural opportunities are behind you. It’s even tougher if you move to a new town, retire, work from home or become divorced, widowed or remarried.
For me, baking has become one way to connect and enrich budding friendships. This dates back to my childhood.
V lived a few streets away. I don’t remember what prompted it, but one afternoon when I was playing at her house – we must have been about 10 – we got the idea to bake something. I’m going to guess it was cookies, because what kid doesn’t like cookies? V, who was always more confident than I was, knew exactly how to start the oven. I quote: “You turn on the gas, wait awhile, and then light it.” Which is what we did.
BOOM! Both of us were knocked backwards, the smell of burnt hair everywhere. My bangs were reduced to an inch of frizz and I no longer had eyebrows. I think V was relatively unscathed except for a burned arm. Our mothers were seriously pissed off and our respective punishments forged a shared bond along with our battle scars.
Undeterred — and still liking cookies — I’ve continued to bake. And I’ve discovered that the alchemy of turning flour, sugar and butter into something delicious is not unlike turning ordinary experiences into the basis of a lasting friendship, don’t you agree?
This leads me to Baking Friend #2. T is a real baker, by which I mean that she knows enough not to improvise the way I do, has actually done it professionally, and posts very beautiful photos of all her discoveries on her wonderful blog, The Cook”s Tour. I, on the other hand, have more of a hit or miss success rate and can make the same recipe 20 times and get it wrong the 21st. Yes, it’s a gift.
From sharing recipes, T and I have branched out to sharing details of our lives, political observations and inspirations for future travel. After knowing her for only a couple of years I am delighted to consider her a friend, even though we communicate almost entirely by e-mail.
Most recently, my neighbor H and I embarked on a baking adventure at her house. She is a woman I admire greatly, but we are both a bit shy and take a long time getting to know people. Friendship #3 is like the long, slow proofing of bread that tastes its best because you take your time making it.
A couple of weeks ago we decided to bake bagels, using a recipe I love that is usually foolproof. This time, however, lacking the necessary food processor, we opted to wing it and use the stand mixer. Since the dough was too dry to come together, we added more water. And then a little more. And a little more. (See? Winging it.) By the time we made our bagels, they had ballooned to the size of small pillows and while they weren’t what I’d call horrible, they were definitely not New York bagels either.
Still, even a relatively unsuccessful result can lead to a lot of laughter and a stronger connection. Which is ultimately a more important measure of success.
Eventually, we all figure out who’s toxic and whom we want as our friends. We may have fewer but hopefully each will be special. If I can get through life burning more cookies than I burn bridges, I’ll be very happy!