Cooking and Baking for Relaxation

Shortly after discovering a pretty major food intolerance about 15 years ago, I quickly realized that I needed to brush up on my cooking and baking skills. A person can get bored pretty quickly on a rotation of just three “safe” dishes: shepherd’s pie, chili con carne and grilled chicken breast with a tossed salad.

I consider myself a pretty good short order cook with a natural curiosity for trying different food combinations. That being the case, removing wheat from my diet was not a catastrophe to me. In fact, I think it just spurred on my curiosity even more.

I just had to make time to practice more, to locate recipes that appealed to me and to test them until I got the desired results.

At first it was a bit stressful to explore a world without wheat and flour, especially when some of the resulting dishes didn’t look anything like the picture and tasted like cardboard. But eventually, some reliable go-to recipes emerged and things fell into place.

But along the way, I made another discovery. During that incubation period of trying new recipes, I found that cooking and baking can have a relaxing effect on me.

My theory is that under the right conditions, cooking and baking can have a grounding effect.

Maybe it is the simple act of being completely in the moment, closely following the preparation instructions of a new recipe, trying desperately to not forget a critical step or ingredient. Maybe that state of mindfulness has something to do with it.

Maybe it is the sight of fresh ingredients from the earth, the aromas of the spices, the sounds of simmering, the samples we taste along the way, or the act of mixing, blending and folding that gets our senses fully engaged.

Is there no better reward than when the whole house smells amazing from something created with our own hands?

When I make pecan squares, I believe that it’s the combination of cream and maple syrup baking in the oven that give off delicate sweet aromas that are positively angelic. It’s how I would imagine heaven would smell. How can anyone be stressed or in a bad mood when the whole house smells of this goodness?

At the end of a cooking or baking session, when the dishes are done, the kitchen is clean, the house is filled with wonderful aromas and the food is ready, I feel a sense of accomplishment, followed by a nicely relaxed state (…as well as a sense of relief when the recipe looks as pictured.)

With all of our senses focused on our culinary masterpieces, we can suspend our troubles for a while and feel centred again. In my quest to rebuild my recipe repertoire, it quickly became one of my happy places.

However, I’ll be the first to say that cooking and baking are not always sources of pure comfort and joy.

Life happens!

The potatoes boil over and make a mess of the stovetop.

The sensitive smoke detector starts beeping loudly for any number of random reasons.

I flip something in the skillet and it misses the skillet on its way down.

Agreed… those metaphoric pressure-cooker moments do not always contribute to an overall sense of well-being.

I also feel that cooking when tired or in a rush is not conducive to achieving relaxation nor optimal results. Been there done that! Starting out from a less than resilient state of mind can make cooking and baking even more of a challenge.

As well, when you have a curious extroverted cat (like I do), meowing as she checks in at five minute intervals asking what you are doing, that can definitely take you out of the zen bubble.

When that happens, I experience flashbacks to childhood, remembering my mother working in the kitchen and me blathering away about something or other, in true only child fashion. I recall my mother’s re-enactment of the Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs is being chased through a row of seated theatre guests and apologizing to them all with a rapid-fire series of “excuse me”, “pardon me”, “sorry, “pardon me”, etc.

Yes, I admit I got in the way and probably broke her concentration of a few occasions. How she successfully navigated around me without burning dinner is a source of great admiration, respect and gratitude.

I think it is safe to say that cooking and baking are parts of life in which we really do need to go with the flow. Distractions happen, and we just need to learn to work through them.

But when we are able to find the right conditions to enjoy our time working in the kitchen, the whole sensory experience can translate into moments of serenity, great satisfaction and sometimes, deep relaxation.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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