STRESSED! I am so stressed out right now. I have so many things on my mind, and a lot of circumstances that can’t be changed for awhile.
I come home at night and have no patience to cook for myself. I am single and live alone. I have been ordering take-out and eating convenience foods, which is fine.
I need something to help me lower my stress. I also need meals all week. I’ve done make-ahead freezer meals and crockpot cooking, and I’m kind of over it.
Can I just take a pass and keep eating queso, chips, and microwaveable meals every night? How can I get excited to cook again?
STRESSED! I get that. I have been there—honestly, I’m there right now, at least a few days a week. We routinely eat dinner from a bag: a restaurant bag, a take-out bag, or in the case of this evening, a “steam your fish in this bag” bag from our local grocery store.
The truth: you can absolutely keep eating this way. You said you can’t change your circumstances right now, so you just need to keep your head above water and do the best you can.
Try to choose some nutrient-dense convenience foods, if you can, if for no other reason than they may help you to feel physically better. I think a trap we get ourselves into with comfort food is that we become over-sugared, over-caffeinated, over-salted, etc., feel compelled to eat more junk, and then slide down a nutritional deficit death spiral. Good food can make you feel good, and I can’t bemoan the fact that French fries and cheesecake are not the kinds of good food I’m talking about here enough.
I’m going to go radical with my suggestion, though, and not propose you spend your weekend time prepping meals for the week. If you’ve made freezer meals in the past, you know how to do that. You can always stock your freezer and fridge if and when you feel like it.
I’m going to suggest mastering a recipe—a technique, really—that can help you feel calm and in control in the very way that cleaning out a closet can also declutter the mind.
I recommend learning how to make laminated dough, like puff pastry.
Yeah, you heard me right. I’m suggesting the most finicky, labor-intensive dough possible, a dough so time-consuming that most people have abandoned making it at home in favor of take-home sheets from the freezer, or more commonly, already-baked goods made from the dough, itself. Most people don’t think, “I’m going to make croissants today, from scratch,” it’s true.
Hear me out, though.
Laminated dough takes pretty humble ingredients, and with simple steps—steps you must follow exactly, it is true, but simple, nonetheless—elevates them into the king of pastry.
The process of laminating dough takes time and patience; it requires methodically layering butter and dough, laminating it into thinner and thinner layers with precision; it insists you watch the clock precisely all while being flexible when you have to fine-tune for consistency adjustments.
You are stressed, and as a result, are running out of patience for the mundane requirements of your life. It makes perfect sense. Diving into a project totally for the interest of learning something new, getting your hands moving, and perfecting a new technique—especially one as prescriptive as laminated dough creation—could be enough to take your mind off what is bothering you, at least for an afternoon.
If you try making this dough this Saturday, and it is a total flop, who cares? You have lost almost nothing but some flour and butter.
If you try making this dough this Saturday, and it even half-works, you can have some lovely treats in your oven by supper, just by sprinkling some cheese or some cinnamon sugar on your results.
If you try making this dough this Saturday, and it completely works, you will feel like an absolute rock star. Fresh croissants on a Sunday morning are never a bad way to start a new week.
It is likely that learning how to make a laminated dough (like Martha’s croissant recipe, for example) will take practice, and if you are able to devote a few weekends a month to the process, you may find it to be consuming (in a good way.) Practice is a wonderful tool for self-preservation; it feels good to make progress, and it also feels good just to do something familiar that is completely within your control, even if it isn’t always a perfect success.
If you can’t go commune with nature, or have a retreat on a mountain top, you can always play some of your favorite music and let your troubles leave your mind as you roll out dough.
And hey, this might even make you excited to cook again, if for no other reason than making spaghetti and meatballs will seem so quick and easy after making croissants!
I wish you much peace and beautiful pastries, friend.