What Nadiya Bakes can teach us about art

It's all about pleasure, baby.

Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links.

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Last week I devoured all ten episodes of Nadiya Bakes, a new cooking show on Netflix. If you’re not familiar with Nadiya Hussain, she rose to fame in 2015, after winning The Great British Bake Off. While I’ve caught an episode of GBBO here and there, I’m not really a fan of reality TV or cooking shows in general. Nothing against them, they’re just not my cup of tea. Nadiya, however, is different. 

Filmed during COVID, Nadiya Bakes lacks the presence of family and friends. Instead, each episode features her alone in a colorful kitchen, baking up a storm. At the end, instead of an artfully staged celebration at which she shares her creations, the camera pulls back to reveal the crew, who happily sample her ornate puddings, layered brownies, chocolate dipped biscuits, and vegan banana cheesecake. Mostly, though, Nadiya digs into the finished bakes by herself, loading her plate with an admirable serving. As the camera zooms in she takes a huge bite, eyes closed in flagrant delight.

Now, I like to cook and I love to eat (snacking is basically my part-time job), but I rarely approach it with such a level of blatant pleasure. Eating, for me, can be a fraught affair, full of questions and debate. Is my coffee fair trade? Did this jar of peanut butter destroy the Global South? How does my cheese drawer contribute to climate change? Have I, a weight-lifting vegetarian, consumed at least 100 grams of protein today? I cook and eat and enjoy most of it, but my dishes tend to be more utilitarian. As a result, I rarely bake. 

According to Nadiya, I am absolutely missing out. 

Nadiya loves to bake, and that’s what makes her show such a wonderful experience. You watch her lovingly knead dough. (“See how it shines!”) You listen as she extols the virtues of tea and biscuits. (“One of life’s greatest pleasures!”) You admire her elation as she pulls a perfect bake from the oven. (“Lookatit! LOOKATIT!”) Every step of the process is meditative, joyful, fun. And yes, I realize this is television and nothing in real life is that perfect, but I don’t care. I want Nadiya to wrap me in a layer of warm, flaky dough, and cradle me in the corner of her perfectly pastel kitchen. I want to bake. 

“Okay,” you’re thinking. “Great. I’ll watch Nadiya Bakes. But what exactly does this have to do with art, with creativity, with writing?” A lot, actually! 

There is a trend, at least among writers, to complain about their art. How hard it is, how grueling, rife with rejection and prone to failure, frustrating and torturous. I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s natural to complain sometimes, to have good days and bad days, to be frustrated when your talent doesn’t match up to your vision. 

But life is short, and if you really find no pleasure in writing or singing or dancing or whatever you’ve been called to do, if you cannot, at least on occasion, gaze upon your creation and feel pleasure and delight, then please, for your own sake, do something else! Bake a cake. Go for a run. Read a book. Pet a dog. Life is already full of suffering. Don’t spend your precious free time adding to it because you feel like you should.

As we near the one year anniversary of pandemic life, it’s important to find joy where you can, to welcome pleasure when it appears. The last year has held many lessons, but the biggest one is simply that life is short, and nothing is guaranteed. So create art that brings you satisfaction. Move your body in celebration. Follow Nadiya’s lead and bake a decadent cake, serve yourself a huge slice, and go back for seconds. Remember: you deserve to feel good.

Snack of the Week

In case it wasn’t already obvious, I’m on a bit of a baking spree. These Salted Chocolate Tahini Cookies were at the top of my list, mostly because I already had all the ingredients and also because, as Nadiya would say, LOOK AT THEM. The dash of salt at the end was key and balanced out the sweetness perfectly. And yes, you have to chill the dough overnight, but honestly it was nice to have something delicious to look forward to. A very good snack!

Relatable Reads

  • What You Gain When You Give Things Up, The Atlantic. “Even if you don’t plan to log off Facebook forever, sacrificing something for a short period effectively resets your senses to give you more pleasure from smaller servings of the things you love.” This whole newsletter so far has been a celebration of pleasure, so of course I had to balance it out with an article about sacrifice. I’m really fun at parties. 🥂

  • Remember: What You Do Is Not Who You Are, New York Times. “It’s more important than ever not to tie your entire identity—and, in particular, your life satisfaction—to the thing you do for money.” Thanks to my company’s excellent culture and my ability to compartmentalize, I’m really good at work-life balance. This article explains why that separation is so important. 🏖

  • The Future of the Middle Class Depends on Student Loan Forgiveness, Vox. “Student loan cancellation offers an opportunity to not only acknowledge how the program has misled millions of Americans but to begin the long process of restoring access, solidity, and racial equity to the middle class.” This piece pushes past the personal stories and gets into the systemic problems of student loan debt. Even if I didn’t have six figures of my own, I would fervently support forgiveness. 🎓

  • One of my favorite newsletters is my Sweet Dumb Brain by Katie Hawkins-Gaar, and her most recent issue about “the anniversary effect” is, as usual, perfect. “Our brains and bodies store painful memories, which can be triggered by certain dates or seasons,” she writes, pointing out that March will mark a full year of pandemic life for most of us in the United States. Maybe that explains my wild mood swings these last few weeks. Happy anniversary to us, I guess! 📅

Tiny To-Do

I’ve been both dreading and looking forward to March for weeks, and I suspect it will be full of mixed emotions for many of us. This week, bake yourself something nice. Call it a pandemic pie, a lockdown loaf, a quarantine quiche, a COVID cake. Serve it as a post-vaccine treat, share it with neighbors or friends, or eat the whole thing by yourself—you know your calling best. In related news, I recently purchased a bundt pan, so if you have any good recipes please send them my way!

Coffee Club

Thank you to Stephanie T. and Andrea P. for the sweet donations last week! It was nice to have a little extra dough in my coffee fund.

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