Mindfulness and Christmas Baking

This year, as usual, Christmas crept up on me. I was lamenting the rush and bustle and as always wishing I had time to bake. I love to bake Christmas cookies, but since my neighbourhood cookie exchange ended years ago, its been hard to fit it in. Something about an obligation and a deadline that always works for me.

Yesterday, day before Christmas, I was lucky enough to have a whole day off work. I unplugged and decided to do some baking. But this year was very different – I practiced mindfulness while I baked. It changed the whole experience and instead of feeling rushed, pressured and a tad bitchy about it all, I felt myself living the experience. While baking, I occasionally stopped for an integral scan – checking in on my four Integral Theory Quadrants to see what was going on for me.

I started by choosing mindfully. Instead of pulling out the tried and true and baking the same old cookies, I thought about what I wanted to bake. I found that I actually wanted to try some new recipes. While baking is something to share, the idea of baking everyone else’s favourites was a part of the burden I was carrying. About a week before my day off, I spent a leisurely coffee time going over my magazines and deciding what caught my own fancy. Mmmh….instead of mild gingerbread (perfect for the last 10 years for houses and people who my kids would eat and decorate) I found a recipe for a Triple Gingerbread Cookie with lemon icing. Triple the ginger – from candied, to ground, to fresh minced. Yep!  Then I found a twist on my old-standbys – the snowballs – these were Hawaiian wedding cookies with lime, toasted coconut and macadamia nuts. Yum!  And finally, Black Forest Cookies with tart dried cherries (not bing) and lots of cocoa and chocolate chips. There – three brand new recipes that not only sounded tasty but looked lovely – something I just was realizing was important to me.

The baking itself was a trip. I stayed focussed and although I played Christmas music in the background (I love Christmas music) I made sure I picked up Annie Lennox’s new CD. Annie is one of my most loved vocalists and how exciting that she released a Christmas CD this year. So, with Annie’s high notes, I began. I really paid attention to the baking – pushing all thoughts of the wrapping, turkey and family gatherings coming up out of my head. I found that I was able to remember if I had put in 4 cups or 5 cups of flour. I did not mix up the baking soda and baking powder and I even remembered to remove the salt from the recipes since my butter was salted.

My integral scans proved very interesting:

UR – love the somatic nature of baking. Standing on both feet firmly planted – practicing yoga stretches as I move to the oven door; paying attention to the feel of the fresh dough as I roll balls for dipping in sugar. What a cornucopia (thanks Annie) of sensory input: I smell the cinnamon and especially the minced ginger; then see the difference between icing sugar consistency and regular sugar. Even the colours were interesting – how butter gets whiter as you cream it and how the lemon’s peel is very, very yellow and sort of oily – like the lime’s.

LR – I feel part of a very large system. The idea that baking, for me, was an interesting introduction to chemistry and still is quite scientific. How the temperature, the combinations and the mixing all result is whatever they are supposed to – how baking soda fizzes in water. I am using recipes from gourmet cooks – experts who have taken the time to record the secrets of the cookies and I feel grateful and connected to the lineage of these recipes. I know Black Forest cake comes from Germany. The wedding cookies are Hawaiian in nature. I have made chocolate Italian Kisses. The globe is in my little kitchen. It smells wonderful.

LL – As I am cooking I am getting excited about sharing this with my community. I know I will have plates of cookies to take to my Christmas visits. Then, suddenly, I remember that my neighbour (a great baker) had surgery and has her arm in a cast. She can’t bake!  I double the batch of Black Forest cookies and keep going. When the first 3 dozen are done I walk next door – in apron and with the cookies still warm – to offer them to her. I see she is grateful and I am blessed by her gratitude.  We live in a great neighbourhood and we’ve been here awhile. So have been our neighbours, for the most part. We don’t socialize much except in the summer when we are cutting lawns and in the winter when we are shovelling snow. We know and like each other and a few of our neighbours hold keys to our home for an emergency. This baking, not started with her in mind, but then shared as a the inspiration strikes, feels perfect and unlike the past few years of “I must bake, I must fit it in.”  So, the accomplishment muscle – very strong in my UR and often driven by my need to please others – seems like a new creature. The accomplishment is visible and in small batches (by cookie sheet and torn parchment) and so unattached am I to the outcome that  I realize as I walk down her sidewalk that I have not even taste-tested the cookies. I just know they are perfect and if not, oh well.

UR is the hardest quadrant for me to access. Years of orienting from LL and LR have made it awkward for me to put me into the picture. Staying mindful while I bake does feel like UR for me – it is a meditative practice. I am spending the day with me and I like myself in this space. I feel happy, content and excited by my experiment. I am a person who loves adventure AND has a need for security (I’m an Enneagram 7 with an 8 wing and self-pres) and so today has been a great balance for me. Safe in my warm kitchen and also trying new recipes. What meaning is there here for me? Christmas is a very special holiday for me, a Christian.  I am celebrating the birth of Christ and baking is very “birthday” like. My mother didn’t bake and my favourite Aunt did. My own birthday is in December and I love that. For years I undervalued my feminine, nurturing side for my agendic, corporate masculine success. This apron on me brings out my love for everything retro and ’50s/60s (yes, I like Mad Men) and even the mixer I am using I bought at a garage sale and it is very old…so old that one of the settings is to make mayonnaise.

I’m done. I have my hands in hot soapy water. I see plates of cookies ready for the holidays. I have heard all of Annie Lennox’s songs – and I have heard and sung one of my own.

“There’s no place like home for the holidays…and home is where the heart is.”

Peace to you and I hope you have a heartfelt 2011.

One thought on “Mindfulness and Christmas Baking

  1. Hi Jill. I just read this blog…and I have eaten many of the delicious cookies you wrote about. They were fabulous..so pretty and tasty…very Christmassy. So happy to read that you had such an enjoyable time making them and now have good memories of a fun Christmas baking day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…and the cookies. xo

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