Cake helps Susan Zelouf feel connected …
We are robbed of the focus and concentration that once afforded us hours of reading. The culprits are both the escalating dire state of the world and the increasing efficiency of our devices to serve it up to us on a plate, 24/7, as if awareness of what’s happening might affect the outcome. That makes about as much sense as staring at inert dumbbells dumbly curled up on the bedroom floor, then cursing the flapping of bingo wings. We’re convinced we deserve sinewy upper arms, yet haven’t made the connection to the heavy lifting required.
In a New York Times interview with neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo about her new book Wired for Love, Hope Reese wonders how love changes your brain. Cacioppo cites social connection as being as crucial to our survival as hydration is to thirst: “Love is a biological necessity, just like water or exercise or food … Some of the same alarms activated when people are thirsty are activated when people feel socially disconnected from others.” She posits: “When you have a strong connection with someone, the mirror neuron system is boosted.” But, she reasons, a love connection doesn’t have to mean hookups and/or romantic entanglements. As a buffer against loneliness, Dr Cacioppo instances being “in love with life, with your passion, with your hobby.” By accessing positive memories, her research concludes that you can stay connected with others even if you are physically alone in a room.
Which leads us to cake. Some of us embrace cake, others fear being alone in a room with it. A delicious little book illustrated by Maira Kalman, generously sprinkled with Kalman’s sweet memories of how cake shaped her childhood, folded in with recipes by Barbara Scott-Goodman, Cake is an ode to the baking and partaking of cake. “The pavlova dazzled them all. The air was pale pink and all cares melted away.” Cake was and still is an excuse to enjoy the company of family, friends, neighbours and sometimes even strangers: “All over the world, all the time, people are eating cake … Together or alone, celebrating or sitting quietly and thinking, someone is savoring a moment of cake.” There are worse ways to connect with others than over a hunk of Honey Cake: “We gather. We plan. We get confused. We end with cake.”
Danish photographer Søren Solkær has documented the dramatic, painterly murmurations of hundreds of thousands of European starlings as they migrate across the continent in his book, Black Sun. While there is no definitive explanation as to why the flock masses, swoops, dives and changes direction together as one body, one mind, scientists theorise murmurations may confuse and thwart predators, reducing the risk to singular starlings. The how is even more perplexing. Solkær notes in a study of starling murmurations that “each starling responds to six or seven of its nearest neighbours.” This balance between an individual and the group means that “a change in the state of a single starling can affect – and be affected by – every other starling in the flock.” If we are all connected, then what you do matters. What you don’t do matters just as much. In the world according to Cake, “It is not a party without cake. Things are much nicer with cake. Bring on the cake. We really want to live.”
1. I’M FOLLOWING www.seasonofbaking.com for dessert recipes like Honey Cake infused with black tea.
2. & 3. I’M SUPPORTING humanitarian relief by buying art prints by National Geographic photographers like Brian Skerry and Justyna Mielnikiewicz (“Ukraine Runs Through It”), from www.vitalimpacts.org, a womenowned nonprofi t based in Montana.
4. I’M SHARING cake and making memories, inspired by Maira Kalman’s sweet book.
7. I’M MEDITATING on connection through art prints by www.jimmynelson.com.
8. I’M MEMORIALISING lives lost to Covid-19 through artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s In America: Remember, an installation of 700,000 white flags on DC’s National Mall.
9. I’M PLANNING a visit to UNESCO World Heritage site Skellig Michael: puffins and gannets and guillemots, oh my! www.skelligislands.com.
10. I’M ASKING the hive mind how to help Ireland’s bee population and sourcing local, raw honey to boot! www.hivemind.ie.
11. I’M CONNECTING the dots between thoughts and feelings through neuroscience. Borrow Wired for Love from your local library.