April 30, 2020
Mind, body, and belly
There's no better time to mind your body and well-being than now.
Three artists share their experiences with comfort baking under quarantine.
There’s truly something about turning to cooking or baking in times of great stress. Whether you’re a first-timer, an amateur, a hobbyist, or a professional, we can all agree that putting the focus on setting out ingredients and following a set of instructions — with a concrete idea of what to expect at the end — has a calming effect that, at the very least, puts all worries in the back burner and results in something (usually) edible, to boot.
Now that we’re spending all our time indoors, baking as a coping method is pretty much more popular than ever — and for people in creative fields, it’s become another chance to do something with their hands that’s productive and healthy with much less pressure.
Artist and writer Carina Santos had been thinking of trying to bake since she moved to London for her post-graduate studies, but she was never quite successful at growing a starter. “Right before lockdown, a friend of mine shared some of his, and I’ve managed to keep it alive so far!” she says of her decision to finally give baking a chance. With her experience limited to cookies from a Mrs. Fields cookbook, the task, she says, is “super intimidating to me, as it requires a lot of precision and I always feel like I’d mess it up.”
Carina decided to make sourdough loaves, using Jon Favreau’s ratio from The Chef Show and a method by Ponytail Journal. “Bread is just a practical food that only needs a few ingredients,” she says. “It seems like an involved process, but going through it a couple of times has made me realise that it’s a bit of a no-brainer. If something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. What I make may not turn out as magical as I think, but it’s still edible. It’s still going to be some form of bread.” But her loaves, to her surprise, turned out well: “Can’t quite believe it!”
Baking has helped add structure to Carina’s days in quarantine. “I have generalized anxiety disorder and depression, so it’s a bit easy to fall into weird catatonic moods, especially when I technically have nothing to do and nowhere to be,” she explains. “I know it’s such a small thing, but it’s something to do. And at the end of it, I’d have fed myself and my flatmate.”
Between her work and this newfound hobby, she shares that she has the same approach, “which is to just make things. In my practice, I find that it is to my detriment when I overplan, and it’s the same in this case. I observe the starter and the dough, and add water or flour according to how the dough feels.”
Given the chance and the right ingredients, she’s intent on keeping up the baking. “Next on my list is pan de sal!”
Last year, photographer Nikki Bonuel challenged herself to make 12 dishes she hadn’t tried before. “Shifting to working from home and being indoors just gave me more time to explore baking, which admittedly is something that’s intimidated me for so long.”
She adds, “I’ve always liked watching baking videos and learning about the process, but I only recently had the means to try it out on my own.” When she loosened up, she recalls, it started to become fun. “Being able to succeed in baking something on my first try was very rewarding, encouraging, and comforting: O, kaya ko naman pala. It made me want to keep on baking, just to see what else I can make. It’s also rewarding to be able to feed others and have them like and enjoy what you’ve made for them.”
Nikki chose to make focaccia bread, “specifically because it’s a kind of bread that’s a little easier to make, compared to sourdough or French bread.” She used recipes from Bon Appetit, Brad Leone’s It’s Alive, and Alexandra’s Kitchen. “I wanted something that wasn’t so complicated, since I’ve never made bread before.”
For someone who’s always found comfort in food and cooking, Nikki found that the activity kept her creative and kept her sane, and she’s learned a lot. “Baking takes up a good amount of time, it directs my focus to whatever dish I’m trying to make/prepare, and it keeps me off social media for hours, which has helped me a lot mentally.” She adds: “It helps keep my sadness and worries at bay while being entertained in the process.”
She has noticed that compared to photography, she’s more relaxed when baking. “I feel more free (and less guilty) to experiment, make mistakes, and just enjoy what I’m doing, and it feels like a true hobby, which is something I don’t always get to feel as a photographer, as it’s also my job and career and there are many things on the line in that aspect of my life. I’ve also noticed that I present and take photos of my food in a different way than I normally would as a photographer.” The difference being, she says, that she’s less particular.
“Learning how to bake, having all these resources online to further that learning, and being part of a community that appreciates baking has been amazing,” she concludes, “and it’s something I want to continue to have in the uncertain future.”
Graphic designer and illustrator Raxenne Maniquiz has tried her best to bake when she has the time, but it hasn’t been easy when her condo doesn’t even have an oven. Now that she’s home in Bulacan, it didn’t take her long to get back into the habit. “I followed @basically on Instagram recently and I saw that they did this Basically Guide to Better Baking,” she says. “They made it seem so easy (and it was!) so I tried their recipes. My tita who lives [at home] bakes too so we have ingredients and the equipment to make it easy for me to start baking.”
She began by following Basically’s Level 1 recipes, such as biscuits and the no-knead focaccia Nikki also followed. “We have the ingredients here and the recipes are pretty easy to follow. I also don’t want to waste ingredients so I wanted to start somewhere I feel like I have a high success rate.” She has since branched out into modified treats like an orange and tea cake adapted from two recipes.
Baking has helped Raxenne a lot in quarantine. “I think with baking, I have to be focused so that I don’t [screw] up the end product. And that focus helped as a distraction, or as an anchor maybe? There’s just a lot of things going on, things beyond my control, and I feel like baking has given me some sense of control, even just a little. It also makes me happy when what I bake turns out a success. My grandparents are here too so I’m happy when they like what I bake for them.”
She takes the same approach to the process as she does with her craft. “As with design and illustration, I research a lot. I look up different recipes of the same product, what does this ingredient do, what substitutes I can use, etc.” With a laugh, she adds, “I guess the difference now is I’m happier baking than illustrating. I love the distraction.”
“Baking has given me joy,” she says when asked if she would keep it up. “I still want that after this is all over.”