As we plunge into a second lockdown, this time in a dark and gloomy autumn, mental health is, rightly at the top of many of our agendas once more. It’s a serious topic and those who are really struggling should not hesitate to seek help. But it’s also a question of degree, and there are some healthy habits a lot of us could try to adopt to take better care of our mental health.
For me this has almost always meant some form of baking, or other kitchen-focussed activity. There are a lot of reasons for this - many of them tightly connected to summoning happy childhood memories assembling crumbles with my mum or decorating cupcakes with my sister, but there are other things that can definitely apply even to the most amateur baker, and could end up being a welcome coping mechanism during this gloomy period.
It’s absorbing. Our lives now are more screen-centric than ever, and it’s all too easy to flit between internet tabs throughout the working day, and into the evening as we slip between Netflix, social media and social Zoom calls. Baking, on the other hand, demands our attention for a sustained period of time, and in an age of endless bad news and fear mongering, that can only be a good thing.
It’s physical. Ok, it’s no London marathon, but on the days when you don’t feel like a post-work run in the pitch dark, let out the work-from-home frustration with an angry batch of kneading or whisking by hand - you can thank me later.
It gives perspective. Even for someone like me, whose life essentially revolves around sweet treats, can see that, at the end of the day, cake is only cake. If you mess up, nothing major is at stake, and this can be particularly freeing if you’re someone like me who has a tendency to put far too much pressure on themselves in other areas of life. Also, chances are, even if it’s a soggy/overcooked/ugly mess, it will still be fairly delicious (disclaimer: this doesn’t apply to those of you who accidentally add salt in the place of sugar. Maybe try getting into embroidery instead?)
It has an end point. There’s always a feeling of satisfaction in finishing a job, so if you find yourself wading through interminable to-do lists and unfinished jobs, a quick 60 minutes of baking can give you a feeling of completion that a lot of life’s trickier tasks don’t allow as frequently, and that’s great for our feelings of self-worth and accomplishment.
It’s sociable. There’s a reason our Instagrams and WhatsApp groups were filled with photos of banana bread, sourdough and brownies in March - even if we’re alone, sharing our successes is a great way to connect with friends and family further afield. Food is inherently social, and baking is a great way to exploit that - maybe try getting a group of friends together to try and bake the same recipe from your respective lockdown locations and compare the results over Zoom.
It results in cake. Maybe this should have been my first point, but I love a dramatic ending! The indisputable best thing about baking is that you get to eat what you made afterwards! Ignore what the latest #wellness or #fitspo influencers are saying: you don’t have to earn or justify any of the sweet treats you snaffle during this lockdown, or any other period, period. Our bodies work extremely hard keeping us alive 24/7, year after year, so let’s cut them some slack and give them some sweet carby deliciousness - they’ll thank you, I promise.
If you still need some convincing about the curative power of a baking session, or want to bask further in the joys it has brought to so many, here are a few of my favourite baking reads to tide you over:
A Half Baked Idea Olivia Potts - a memoir of how the food writer went from barrister to cordon bleu following the death of her mother, this beautifully written tear-jerker is a consistent reminder of the healing power of cake. (Maddie: I've also read this and it's FAB)
How to be a Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson - this, or anything else by the queen of our kitchens is a stunning reminder of the comforting glow food and its stories can bring us.
I Never Said I Loved You Rhik Sammader - though not strictly about baking, this moving memoir charts the way baking served as a balm during the writer’s various struggles with mental health.
Just Eat It Laura Thomas - the bible for anyone who’s still struggling with calorie-counting or giving themselves unconditional permission to eat: it lays bare the bullshit behind the diet industry and encourages a happier, less punishing relationship with food. Also, it’s pink and has a doughnut on the cover: what’s not to like?
If you enjoyed this post go follow the baking Queen Lizzie Freeman on Instagram @lizziebakedthis for more mouth-watering baking chat, photos and recipes.