Life, Made from Scratch
By Felicia C. Sullivan
In the simple act of baking, one woman found herself again.
I stood in the baking aisle of my grocery store covered in flour, sobbing. I
had spent the entire day trying to bake the perfect chocolate cake, and it was
a dismal failure.
I'd stocked up on cake pans and parchment paper and studied the recipe. As I
sifted flour, I kept telling myself that if I just followed the directions,
everything would be okay. Having recently started my recovery from a two-year
cocaine addiction, I needed to believe that I could create something instead of
destroying everything. But I had forgotten to buy the sour cream, mistook
baking powder for soda, and nearly hurled a tub of cocoa powder out the window.
When my mixer broke and a hurricane of flour and butter ensued, I collapsed to
my kitchen floor. But I dragged myself back to the grocery store; I had to try
My first attempt at baking, at age 13, had failed too. Desperate for
affection from my mother — a cocaine addict before me — I surprised her with
brownies. My efforts were disastrous, and my mother's snub broke my heart.
For years afterward, I avoided the kitchen. My life became more and more
like my mother's — rage-filled and self-destructive. One night, curled in a
tight little ball, I woke up to the fact that although I am my mother's
daughter, I didn't have to continue her legacy. My addiction had to end and my
life needed to begin. Instead of joining a program, I spent hours in front of
the television, comforted by Food Network chefs and their methodical measuring
of ingredients, how they always made complicated recipes look so simple. I
purchased measuring cups, bowls, and a food processor and started trying to
make myself a new life — a sober one — from scratch.
Now, standing in the grocery store, I stared at the rows of sugar, cinnamon
sticks, and flour, and I remembered why I set out to bake in the first place:
to make mistakes and learn from them, to realize that even with the best
ingredients and precise measurements, the perfect cake might fail to
materialize. I couldn't control how the flour was milled, but I could revel in
the process of making something from nothing. It's the journey that's
miraculous, not the results.
I stocked my basket and raced home.
I'd like to claim that my sophomore effort was a triumph, but it wasn't.
Mine was a woeful, lopsided cake, but it was delicious, and, most important, it
was baked by me.
Five years later, my kitchen, once a place associated with my mother's
rejection and my own shame, has become the place where my recovery is built,
day by day. I am continually reminded that living the best life takes work;
it's a matter of rolling up my sleeves and diving in. And when I can barely
make it through the day without screaming, it's in my kitchen, kneading bread
or assembling a tower of sponge cakes slathered in raspberry crème — it's there
that I feel at peace.
Felicia C. Sullivan is the author of the memoir The Sky Isn't Visible
Originally published on January 16, 2008
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