I swear, every time I bake, another piece of me falls into place. Sometimes I forgot how rewarding of an experience baking is for me. Throughout my recovery journey I've struggled to explore my passion in the kitchen. Some days, the thought of being near a refrigerator or cupboard create an overwhelming feeling of anxiety as fear clouds any sense of joy. Yet other days, I can't be dragged out of the kitchen. I get lost in the thrill of concocting, experimenting, smelling and most importantly, tasting. Baking, for me, is a sensual experience. The physiological effects bring me back to life.
We all experience certain relationships with food and its correlations to certain memories. For me, the smell of challah baking in the oven reminds me of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah spent annually in our dining room with our closest family. I am instantly reminded of the laughter of cousins reunited after a long time apart, the crisp, fall weather and the opportunities we are given to let go of the past and start anew. Similarly, the taste of a chocolate chip instantly connects me with Thanksgiving. I have fond memories of sitting around my cousin's kitchen counter watching her explain the importance of adding chocolate to anything appropriate-- challah and pancakes included. "You can never have too much chocolate", she'd preach.
Certainly, the memories remain vivid, but the physiological sensations are what comfort me the most. Certain scents create butterflies in my stomach, and a calmness in my heart, which often leads to a smile or a tear. A tear, you may wonder? Yes. Sometimes the tear reflects the sadness deep within my soul for a loss of appreciation for enjoying certain foods that were once an everyday part of my dietary habits. Or, comparably, the tear sparks the memory of a lost loved one or reminds me of what I can not change-- it reminds me of the reality I currently face. Thus, to avoid the thoughts and feelings, I often avoid the kitchen all together.
As a psychology major (and living case study), I am constantly reminded that the only way to overcome a fear is to face it. The more we are exposed to it, the more comfortable we become. Rationally, it makes perfect sense to me. So, I am often challenged to face, rather than avoid, the fear, experience the pain and recognize the beauty that may result. When I find myself avoiding the kitchen, that is when I must expose myself to it the most.
Needless to say, I've been doing a lot of cooking and baking. And in case it hasn't already been obvious enough, cooking, to me, is greatly visual, textural and sensual.
I lust after the vibrancy of color on my plate,
I have a hunger for the crunchy and soft contours,
I crave exotic spices,
the sweet and salty differentiations on my tongue
and I sympathize with incalescence and frigidity, alike.
Such fancies have led to my desire to experiment. Though it often takes great initiative and effort to take that first step, once I am in the kitchen, I enter another world. As a vegetarian, I am often enthralled with a world of recipes unknown to the common man. You can never underestimate the beauty and versatility of vegetables and raw nutrients this Earth has provided for us, in plentiful amounts. Simply, the experiences of "from plant to plate" is powerful and expressive. It reminds me of my impact on the environment and spiritually connects me to God:
"God planted a garden east of Eden…. And out of the ground God made to grow every tree that is
pleasant to the eye, and good for the food; the tree of life was in the garden and the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil" --Bereshit (Genesis) 2:8-9
Thus, every time I am confronted with one of Earth's creations, I am immediately reminded and empowered.
From Corn, Bean and Squash Stew, to Pumpkin Soup and Black Bean Chili, I have been experimenting with all Autumnal flavors have to offer.
I don't consider myself a chef, in the least bit. To me, there is something more rewarding and beautiful about baking. As I mentioned earlier, with every creation that comes out of the oven, I feel another piece of me fall into place.
Perhaps it's the music I blast from my ipod, the ridiculous dance moves I 'whip out' as I belt into my wooden spoon, or the hours I am focusing on something other than the ups and downs of life. Whatever the factors, it is certain that I come alive. Overall, I am a meticulous, neat person. However, if you've never stuck your hands in a pile of floury dough, I suggest you do so. It's liberating.
Yes, I suppose the actual process of cooking and baking is most fascinating. Not only is it rejuvenating, but it's educational. The science behind the methodology of preparing dry vs. wet ingredients, and toasting spices ahead of time to accentuate the piquant aroma intrigues me-- I'm a nerd and I have no shame!
Then, there's the reward: a sense of mastery-- of accomplishment. I find that I enjoy food much more when I have put the labor into creating it. So, the past few weeks have been spent experimenting in the kitchen with both savory dishes, including those previously mentioned, and sweet, including:
chocolate éclairs (talk about a rewarding challenge)
Martha Stewart's pumpkin-chocolate-chip bars
Everyday we have the opportunity to engage in activities that help us feel a little more us. What are the pieces that help make you whole?