The Therapy of Baking and Why It Can Be Helpful to Not Be a Minimalist


Sometimes bad things happen. Things that you think only happen to other people. When you hear the stories you gasp and say ‘how awful, how terrible for them’. And then you move on. Until one day it is you being told the terrible news that something bad has happened.

Your brain goes in to a dream like trance – I think the official term is shock. I remember when I got the call from my sister to say that my Mum may not survive and if I wanted to see her one last time I would need to come to the hospital immediately. In the time between leaving for the hospital and trying to contact my husband I took to sweeping the floor.

There is comfort to be found in the domestic, in the mundane, when big bad things happen that your brain can’t quite process.  Busying one’s hands while one’s mind tries to swim through the reality of shock is oddly soothing.

Today I made one of my favourite cakes – the Bill Granger vanilla buttermilk cake. I made it to take away for the weekend to share with our extended family. I mixed up the ingredients in my Mum’s metal mixing bowl – it would be called vintage now. I sifted the flour using my Gran’s sifter. I remember using it as a child at her place in the country. There was always a cake at Gran’s house.

As my mind was reeling over the bad news we received the night before, I found solace in holding the bowl that my Mum had held and mixed, just as I was. And holding the strong metal handle on the sifter I thought of my Gran, and I thought of all the bad news they would have heard over the years; the deaths, the sicknesses, the losses… the sorrow, the sadness.


And now it was me. Holding their things. Being propped up by both of them. The scrape of the sifting handle being turned to sprinkle flour into the creamed butter and sugar. The clink of of the wooden spoon on the metal bowl as I stirred the in eggs, and I thought about both of them and their strength of character and their will to keep going, their mettle. To keep going, to not drown in the shock of bad news or from the sorrow of loss, or the fear of what will come next.

Often I curse myself for holding on to things, to stuff; for being so sentimental. Cursing the clutter and often wishing I could be as clinical as Marie Kondo. If it doesn’t spark joy – it goes.

But today I was thinking ‘thank goodness for my sentimentality’. Whatever those mundane domestic objects were imbued with over the years served as a crutch for me today. Their stoic utilitarianism brought the strength of my Mum and my Gran to life. The act of beating, stirring, and mixing was a salve to my troubled thoughts. To the chaos of shock, to that feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

Who knew baking a cake could be so therapeutic?


  1. says

    Oh I think I need to make that cake. It’s funny, being book week, because my son’s two favourite books are Bill Granger cookbooks that he leafs through all of the time. Sometimes he lets me “read” them to him. I must look when he’s in bed and see if I have that recipe. I’m like you with sentimentality. I have things that belonged to my great great grandmother and various other people. There’s a green depression glass vase that was salvaged from the fire that my maternal grandmother died in years before I was born, and I find it amazing to have such a thing in my life. I have the lace pillow case that my grandmother kept from when my dad was a baby. They are so filled with stories. My grandfather is dying, in a horrible, lingering, wasting way right now, and I don’t really know what to say about that, except that, from his house, I have declared that I want the ceramic spoon plaque that hung on a hook above the stove with ‘A Kitchen prayer’ for all of those years that my grandmother and then my grandfather cooked, in that place that we all called home.
    Right, that was long and rambly. Now, back to cake…

    • collette says

      I think there is so much history in things, particularly every day things that are of little dollar value. The history that these items have become part of our history. I wonder if my kids will hold on to them after I’m gone. The vanilla buttermilk cake is in Bill’s first book “Bill’s Food”. Let me know if you want the recipe. It’s become a real favourite. It’s served with a raspberry syrup.

  2. says

    You subscribed absolutely to that theory – these things bring you joy so you kept them. TICK! Winning.

    As for bad news, I hope that you’re able to process it and that while you’re doing that, cakes are baked and floors are swept and hot cups of coffee are drunk…. finding joy in the ordinary things should never be underrated.

    • collette says

      Yes. I think your idea of ‘lesserism’ is a great one. I’m so glad I wasn’t blinded by the ‘minimalism’ trend. xx

    • collette says

      Thanks Meryl, still reeling a little from the news, but the baking definitely helped – at least with the initial shock. I do love the way the bowl and sifter look, and I’m glad I didn’t move them on too. We find comfort in the most surprising things. xx

  3. says

    Oh this was so beautiful Collette that I had a little weep. Such memories of beautiful women. There are some things you must keep along with the memories xxxxxxx

    • collette says

      Oh thank you lovely. It’s true, we are weighed down by lots of stuff but being considered about what we keep makes all the difference. xxx

  4. says

    Such a special bowl and a very special connection. And it sparks so much joy when you use it so it would never fall into the ‘get rid of’ category. I take great comfort in seeing and using some of the sentimental items passed down through my family, and these are precious things no-one could persuade me to get rid of. A lovely reminder of the important things in life…and you’ve made me want to bake! xx

    • collette says

      I find baking so calming, and even more so when using the things that belonged to women that I love. You’re right, it would never fall in to the ‘get rid of’ category. xx

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