For many, the idea of coming home from a long day of work only to face the imminent question of “what’s for dinner?” seems like a nightmare. You’re frazzled and lethargic and in desperate need of a scotch-rocks, stat. The last thing that you think of as therapeutic is cooking. Okay, I get it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Cooking can actually be a remarkably zen-like experience. It doesn’t have to mean slaving over a stove or scrambling with blunt knives, possessed food processors, or overflowing saucepans.
Julia Child was known to affectionately massage butter into a whole chicken or to rhythmically knead and turn dough on a board for what seemed like an eternity. Why you ask? Because there’s something about working with food that can be calming. It’s tactile and immediate, and it doesn’t talk back. Who says you have to run around your kitchen, like you have Gordon Ramsay breathing down your neck? This isn’t kitchen stadium: take your time, pour a drink, and wear slippers.
In my own experience, I’ve found my most relaxing and inspiring moments to be in the kitchen. It’s not when I have a plan of making a specific dinner, but rather it’s when I start aimlessly flipping through an old cookbook.
For me, baking bread is something that can be very relaxing. Why? Because it isn’t a fast process—the opportunity for breaks is guaranteed. I mix a little yeast, a little water, then take a break and watch TV. I stroll back to the kitchen, stir some stuff together (take a sip of wine), then go check my email.
Then comes the kneading part. Yes, there’s some kneading involved, but this is a win-win. Seriously. It’s exercise! You use your arm muscles to knead the bread, so you’re getting a little strength training without the sweaty grunting strangers. Plus, you get to wear slippers and drink wine.
Kneading is where the repetition comes into play, being soothing and meditative. It takes very little skill, and once you get the rhythm down, it’s a cake walk. I think about all sorts of things or about nothing at all while kneading. Look out the window, and think about your weekend plans or about whatever you want. Plus, the really extraordinary thing to remember is that you’re creating something. You are magically making delicious, airy, crumbly bread from a few basic ingredients.
Making bread at 7 p.m. on a Thursday may not appeal to you, which I can totally understand. However, try it on the weekend. A Saturday afternoon is the perfect time to bake bread, or if you happen to have some time to yourself on Sunday, make a loaf of bread for supper. You’ll feel super accomplished (I still do every time I bake bread,) and hopefully, you’ll find the whole experience a little relaxing and less intimidating than you may think. Great recipes for every bread known to man are available online. Personally, I like epicurious.com. Another great source that I’ve baked from numerous times is Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.