Tips from a terrible baker

WTF BERLIN! Jacinta Nandi wishes she was a good baker, the kind that would make weird vegan stuff. But the coronavirus has made her question everything.

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The coronavirus has given Jacinta Nandi plenty of time to bake – and think. (Photo by Flux FM.)

This is the kind of mother I would have liked to have been during the Halfhearted German Lockdown: calm, conscientious, relaxed, loving – and good at baking. Yes, good at baking, but not in a smug, smarmy sort of way. I wish I was good at baking in a sloppy, vegan, witchy, almost-but-not-quite lesbian kind of way. This is the kind of person, the kind of mother I would like to have been.

The kind of mums who are good at baking in a smug way are sensible, practical people – good at baking, good at home-schooling, too. They bake scones, muffins, brownies, things like that. The kind of witchy women I admire made weird, vegan stuff – Indian scones or zucchini muffins or gluten-free, 100% kakao brownies. I despise people who bake in a middle-class, show-offy kind of a way, and want to be like people who bake weird vegan stuff. Oh, and sourdough bread! I admire people who bake sourdough bread. I don’t know what it is, and can’t be bothered to google, but I think if I knew what it was, I would want to bake some. A lot.

I admire people who bake sourdough bread. I don’t know what it is, and can’t be bothered to google, but I think if I knew what it was, I would want to bake some.

But this is the kind of mother I am, and this is how I bake, during the Halfhearted German Lockdown: I scroll recipes on my phone for inspiration, recipes for scones, muffins and brownies. I look at the list of ingredients, and then halfheartedly scour my Corona-Hamster-Schrank for flour and baking powder. I don’t bother weighing anything, and decide to use Traubenzucker instead of Feinzucker, and tell myself that if the thing we’re baking comes out more like chocolate scones, we’ll call them chocolate scones – that’s a thing, right? – and if they come out more like muffins, we’ll call them muffins, and nobody will be any the wiser.

“Maybe,” I say to Baby Leo, my assistant baker, “we will have invented a new type of chocolate goodie, the scuffin.”

“Wow!” He says wisely, and then runs to the kitchen wall, and presses a chocolate hand against the whiteness, and makes a perfect handprint. My heart sinks when I see this, and I look at the goo we have created, and remember baking powder. 

“I forgot to put baking powder in!” I say to Baby Leo.

“Wow!” He says.

“No, it’s bad,” I say. “It’s bad Mummy forgot.”

“Oh no!” He whispers. “Oh dear!” I think he might be a TV presenter when he grows up, there’s this gorgeous simplicity to his emotions which reminds me, kind of, of Holly Willoughby or the lady who’s always on with Piers Morgan.

We put the chocolate blobs on a tin and push it in the oven.

“Wow!” Baby Leo says magnificently. I wash his hands and try to remove the choccie hand stain from the perfect white wall. I take him onto out balcony – I know it’s privileged as fuck to have a balcony – and I think about all the places that are opening up. Schools, gyms, shops, everything. All that’s left to open, in Berlin, is Berghain and the saunas. I hope this bet pays off. But the truth is, even if we get lucky, I will never think the risk was worth it.

I hope this bet pays off. But the truth is, even if we get lucky, I will never think the risk was worth it.

Sending kids off to take exams before mandatory mask wearing in public had been properly introduced? Are you mad? Sometimes I think I am having a nervous breakdown, and then the next minute I think I am the only normal person in this entire country. Baby Leo starts playing dinosaurs and I scroll Facebook. Some callous women I know from a Facebook Mamagruppe is writing about how depressed her child is due to the Spielplatzverbot. Maybe everyone else is right and I am wrong? How many dead in Germany now? Five thousand, six thousand? A German friend sent me loads of private messages, explaining that this number was LESS than the number of people who normally die, just living their lives. Like, normally, when there’s no lockdown, more people die in bike accidents or swallowing bottle tops than died during Germany’s Halfhearted German Lockdown. 

I dunno, man. If this is true, I am not sure how comforting a thought it must’ve been for those who did die. Did that mum in Erlangen, after her emergency C-section, as she lay there dying knowing she would never see her child grow up, think to herself: “My death doesn’t count as much as it should, because I could’ve just as easily died slipping over on a badly positioned fidget spinner or speeding along the Autobahn?” Her child will still grow up alone, and even if you are against the lockdown, there would’ve been, could’ve been so many other things we undertook to protect the citizens at risk. And I also don’t really get it, to be honest: if lockdown is so deadly it’s killing depressed toddlers and domestic violence victims MORE than corona, shouldn’t that, too, be visible in the death rate? 

The timer on my phone goes off.

“I think our muffins are ready,” I say to the baby. “Or scones. We’ll see what they most look like. Maybe scuffins. Maybe we’ll have invented a new type of food. Maybe I’ll get rich. And we can move to Potsdam!”

I pull the tray out of the oven and the scuffins I baked/invented are pretty much inedible. Maybe I should tell everyone they’re rock cakes? Chocolate rock cakes? No, even if chocolate rock cakes were a thing, these are fucking disgusting.

Baby Leo bites into one and announces, cheerfully: “AUWA!”

“They’re not very yummy, are they?” I say.

“Cookies. Is. Nicht. Yummy. Cookies. Is. Auwa. Meine. Mouth.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I say. I’ll wait for them to cool down and throw them on the compost heap. My problem is, I have spent my whole life trying to reach people with my writing. Sometimes I made them hate me, and sometimes I made them love me, and sometimes I made them angry and at least once or twice I made them cry.

But I always wanted to reach them, wanted to change them somehow. Maybe I didn’t exactly think I was a good enough writer that I could make racism or sexism end but I always felt like through telling my story I could show people where racism and sexism lived, like fat, ugly toads in a hole. And now? What kind of mother do I want to be, what kind of person? I always liked being a slummy mummy – come over for a sleepover and order pizza, drink wine. But I don’t know who I am anymore, or what’s worth doing and what isn’t. I used to be in a neighbourhood WhatsApp group. One of the dads once wrote that the felt that at the end of the night, we should line the Bobby Cars up in a row. “Am I being bourgeois?” He asked, am I being spießig. Now I keep my kid home, and everyone else sends them out to play. YOLO YOLO YOLO.

And I wonder if my life is as pointless as baking inedible muffins.