The first few weeks after we began our stay-at-home orders, I derived a lot of enjoyment from seeing my loved ones’ faces on FaceTime, Zoom, Houseparty, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, and Instagram Video, or from communing over a good movie with Netflix Party or playing Drawful on Jackbox Games. My phone burned hot with all the new apps it was expected to run. I was able to show my parents how to schedule video meetings, and they in turn showed their friends. It was gratifying to learn about all the novel ways of connecting when we couldn’t be together.
But now we’re at the point where the novelty has long since worn off, and while seeing a never-quite-crisp image of friends and family continues to be an amazing feat of technology, there’s no replacing the energy and momentum of an in-person conversation. We need crosstalk. We need endless interruption. That’s why my circle of friends has wholeheartedly embraced a small quarantine tradition: the Pastry Pass.
I first attempted to make the name “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans” take off, but I can’t in good conscience call it that here, because it turns out that’s already the name of a recipe blog elsewhere on the internet. My next thought was “Tray it Forward,” but that, too, appears to be taken (and for the superior cause of eliminating student lunch debt!). So, “Pastry Pass” it is. And that’s exactly what we do: One of us tests out some new recipe we’ve been meaning to try—something sweet like iced lemon bread, homemade Pop-Tarts, or double chocolate shortbread cookies—and if the batch turns out just right, it’s deemed Pastry Pass worthy. That’s when it goes into our red-lidded Ziploc plastic container and driven over to a friend’s front door. They receive the bounty, taste it, and share pictures of it with everyone else in the group. Now that they’ve got the Pastry Pass container, it’s up to them to bake something to fill it with and pass it along to the next friend.
The Pastry Pass has been a fantastic supplement to our weekly Zoom dates, for several reasons. Until we devised this system, I hadn’t felt motivated to bake, since 80% of the fun of any kitchen project is being able to serve it to someone else (20% is licking the bowl). Now, I feel motivated to try new recipes and get opinions from my taste-testers on how to perfect the next batch. The delivery itself is even better: the brief conversations my friends and I are able to share from either end of their buildings’ front walkways have been the highlight of my week, infused with all the pent-up energy of wanting so badly to be boisterous with them in a way that no digital platform can render properly. Even through a mask, it’s a delight to hear their voices free of static, to have conversations devoid of the long artificial did-you-say-something pauses that video chat necessitates. One other surprising benefit of the Pastry Pass is that, because my neighborhood has a great range of grocery options within walking distance, delivering sweets to friends is the only time I’ve gotten behind the wheel of a car, keeping my driving skills up to snuff. (Apologies to anyone behind me as I trundle around Chicago’s arterial roads at 15 miles per hour, remembering how to navigate left turns.)
If you’re finding it harder these days to maintain your video chat neutral face—almost smiling, always ready to laugh or nod vigorously to make up for the subtleties that Zoom can’t convey—head to the kitchen and bake something. Bake anything. Bake it beautiful. Then text your friends, hop in the car, and make their day. It might only be a five-minute meetup from across the lawn, but it’ll power you through another week with the sense memory of what we gain by being together.