In the pressure cooker Preparing your own food can be the best form of stress relief

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It’s the end of November; assignments are due, finals are imminent, I’m writing a graduate school admissions test in two weeks and the scones I have in the oven are almost ready to come out. The timer finishes and rings. I scramble to the kitchen, pull the tray out and leave it to cool. Back to studying.

I grew up cooking and baking with my mother. At first, I mostly just stirred in (and ate) chocolate chips. But as I got older, I got to take a more involved role in the process, and my appreciation for my mom’s cookies, stews and cakes grew. Practically everything she touched turned out deliciously, which was impressive in its own right. But so was her time management, especially around family dinners and holidays. She kept meticulous lists of what had been prepared and what was still left to do. The pre-Christmas baking was busy, sure, but my mom was never stressed.

When I started university, I aspired to that. I wanted to be able to fend for myself as a real adult. Residence, of course, is not a place to develop those skills, and throughout my first year I felt hamstrung; I had limited control over my lifestyle. Cooking facilities were limited at best, and there was nowhere to safely store any groceries other than a milk carton and a few apples. The same was true in second year. Though I shared a house with a group of people I loved and got along with, the kitchen barely had enough counter space for one person to be cooking, let alone six.

There’s a peace that comes with entering the kitchen with a new recipe in my hand because I know that for the next 20, 30, 60 minutes, I can work undisturbed.

In third year I finally started to feel some freedom in this regard. My new apartment had actual counter space. I could easily keep track of my spice cupboard and baking essentials and I actually had room to store them all. At last, I had found a home in which I could really explore cooking and baking on my own, and honestly, it’s been the only activity I find consistently relieves stress.

I know this isn’t necessarily the most agreed-upon way to relax, but hear me out. There is something incredibly soothing about rote tasks; chopping vegetables, hand-mixing batter or measuring flour that puts me at ease. I can take out my frustration with a particular problem by mincing shallots as small as I possibly can, or release tension after a deadline by shaping and cutting dough into scones.

Ultimately, it’s (usually) rewarding. I get to eat something that I made, which comes with a particular kind of pride. Often I’ll have to learn a new technique, experiment or improvise based on what I have in my kitchen. I also have to factor in that my appliances aren’t exactly state of the art. Learning new skills or adapting them based on the space and equipment at my disposal is a kind of skill I can’t pick up doing anything else, and even if my cookies don’t look as pretty as those photographed in my cookbook, they still taste pretty great.

Experimenting with cooking has also improved my relationship with food simply because I have so much control over what I eat. As someone who hasn’t always had the healthiest of perspective with what and how I eat, cooking and baking what I want, when I want has alleviated much of my anxiety about food.

Preparing a meal or dessert is one of the few activities where I take time for myself. I’m not checking my phone, replying to emails or planning how to divide the rest of my time for doing schoolwork. In that moment, I’m just focusing on adding the right amount of flour, making sure the eggshells don’t get in the batter or ensuring that my chicken is fully cooked. There’s a peace that comes with entering the kitchen with a new recipe in my hand because I know that for the next 20, 30, 60 minutes, I can work undisturbed.

As I careen further into Real Adulthood, baking in particular becomes something of a social activity. Even within our Silhouette Slack group, we have a channel for sharing recipes, and there have been multiple discussions of potlucks or family dinner style get-togethers.

Cooking allows me to use skills I don’t get to improve on in the classroom. Being able to shape your thoughts into an essay or understand a complicated concept is rewarding, but if I had to list my accomplishments this term, baking bread on my own, in my ancient oven, for the first time would be near the top of my list.

Making a nice dinner or a fancy dessert may not erase my deadlines or get my essays written faster, but it clears my head and calms me in a way nothing else does. The smell wafting from the kitchen when the timer goes off is just a bonus.

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