Have you got a case of the Blues? We have all heard of emotion-based eating. If we are honest with ourselves, we will confess to indulging in it from time to time. When our hearts are broken, we head to the freezer and a gallon of triple chocolate mint ice cream. Being at our wits end drives us to sneaking an extra cookie…or five. Overwhelming sadness finds us blatantly defying the sneakiness and eating the whole batch.
This type of eating wreaks havoc on our waistline. A rare day won’t hurt much, but weeks on end not only adds the weight, but the added weight makes us more miserable.
Instead of eating our way out of our miseries, I suggest a different approach. Rather than indulging in eating to ease the feelings of the moment, I propose we take our frustrations to the kitchen. But in a different way. I call it ‘emotion-based baking’.
(Before you read further: Please keep in mind, I am not, nor do I have any desire to be, a psychological professional. The emotions I am referring to in this post are symptomatic, not diagnostic. The suggestions are simply ways I find work for me in dealing with negative emotions. If you have severe symptoms, I do encourage you to seek professional assistance. )
Negative emotions such as depression, anger and sadness are direct results of what is going on around us. They are temporary, but nonetheless difficult to handle in the moment. Studies have suggested that getting creative can redirect our minds away from negative thoughts by focusing on the details of creation; and at the very heart of baking is creating. Most recipes require detailed measurements and step-by-step instructions. We need to focus on the order of preparation for the final dish to come out correctly.
I spent many a day in the kitchen trying to overcome feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness and depression. From the physical effort of kneading bread to the walk to a shut-in neighbor’s with a plate of cookies, I managed to get past the blues and am able to think about the issues more clearly. And on occasion, I spend more of that energy cleaning flour off the ceiling and floor when I bake bread….(sigh…)
Here are some of the ways I reduce my negative emotion level:
There is nothing better at relieving anger than taking it out on bread dough. First, you start redirecting your thoughts from whatever made you angry to the focus of measuring the yeast, getting the water temperature just right (between 110-115 degrees), and measuring or weighing the remaining ingredients.
Then comes the kneading process. It takes upper body strength to push, fold, turn, repeat, repeat, repeat, for no less than eight minutes, and sometimes more. Periodically, it is suggested that you take the whole lump of dough in your hands, raise it up to your head, and then slam it down on the work board. This helps to break up the gluten so the bread will rise. I don’t know if that really works, but I do know I feel better when I get to that step.
By the time the dough is covered for its first rising, I can feel some of the negativity easing. While the dough is rising, I keep moving by handwashing the utensils and cleaning up my workspace for the next round of kneading, rising and finally baking.
And then comes the aromatherapy. Once the bread begins baking in the oven, it releases a smell like no other. You can sigh with pleasure and allow a smile to cross your face, in anticipation of that first slice, slathered with butter, and maybe some homemade jam. Need an anger buster? Try making Country White Bread!
My farm is my job. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay all the bills, so the Country Boy works off-farm to provide us with an income. My children have long since flown the nest and live in a different state. My friends here have farms or jobs, so I am primarily alone. Although in general I like that aspect of farming. I have plenty to keep me busy.
But from time to time I crave the interaction with others. When it gets too bad, I often head to the kitchen and whip up a batch of cookies. I choose the recipe according to where I am going to visit. Lemon, tea cakes, spiced oatmeal, chocolate crinkles – there is a different recipe for every neighbor.
Cookies can’t take the beating that bread can, but they usually have more ingredients and different steps. Tea cakes take a gentle hand, and cannot be overmixed. Lemon cookies really need fresh lemon juice, and not the type that comes from a bottle.
In my mind, the smell of cookies baking in the oven come in only second to music in soothing the savage beast. There is just something innately comforting in that aroma. It gets even better when you put them on a plate and head over to a neighbor’s for a good visit. With cookies and a visit around, loneliness just seems to drift away!
Are you a little reluctant taking cookies to a neighbor, because you aren’t sure what to talk about? Amy’s Cookies are a great conversation starter. Offer them a cookie, and see if they can guess the secret ingredient. Then ask them about their own recipes and the most unusual ingredient. Instant conversation!
This emotion just begs for good old-fashioned comfort food. Head to the kitchen and grab Grandma’s cookbook or recipe box. Find one that speaks to you in the moment. Is it her Chicken and Dumplings? What about her Pot Roast?
For me, it is a pot of Gumbo or Vegetable Beef Soup. I first have to focus on what I have on hand, then begin chopping up the vegetables. While the soup is simmering, I start a loaf of bread or some of Aunt Dot’s Hot Rolls. I use my phone-a-friend lifeline, and invite them to dinner.
By the time dinner is served, I know my sadness has begun to ease. If necessary, I share the issues with my friend, and feel the last of the negative emotions evaporate . By the time the kitchen is cleaned, I find myself humming, and my outlook on life much lighter.
Folks, I have to confess. Depression for me is time for a good old-fashioned Pity Party. And parties just aren’t any fun without cake. When I feel depression beginning to knock, I head straight to the kitchen, grab my tools and bake cupcakes for the party. When they are frosted, I grab a couple and head to the pond for an impromptu celebration.
I know this sounds a bit crazy, but the act of turning something into a party helps to ease the blues. How can you not smile at a party? A celebration is the exact opposite of a dirge, which is where depression can lead if you are not careful.
Are you so depressed you end up making a triple batch? Believe me, I have had those days. But don’t allow too many cupcakes be a problem. Load them up and take them to a local homeless shelter. Even better, stick around and volunteer to help serve dinner.
This takes the inner focus outward and onto the happiness of others. Before you realize it, your depression begins to evolve into a quiet contentment, knowing you have helped someone else through a tough time. In some cases, it also brings you a new perspective.
And after all, that is what you set out to do. All you need is a new perspective on the issues that sent you to the kitchen. It doesn’t take long to see that you are the one who truly benefitted. You released negative energy, had a good dose of aromatherapy, two forms of socialization, and topped it off with a party. Sounds like it was a good day after all.
Want to know more about Gumbo? Well…
Having a Full Blown Pity Party? The best cupcakes use: