Monday, January 24, 2011

How do you cope with stress? (I cook)

A few weeks ago, I did a lot of cooking. Produce was on the verge of going bad, meat had been sitting in the deep freezer for far too long, empty lunchboxes that cried out for homemade goodies, a budget that cried out for those lunchboxes to be filled instead of eating out at the office. I'd update my status on Facebook feeling like I'd accomplished a ton:
Lylah Alphonse made 12 cups of apple sauce, a big apple crisp, and 3 cups of oven dried tomatoes (originally a grocery-bag-full of the last tomatoes from the garden. They really do cook down quite a bit). I would have made salsa verde but forgot to buy limes.
Lylah Alphonse made split-pea and ham soup, 16 cups of it, and has black beans cooking on the stove. This is what happens when the urge to clean out the freezer strikes at the same time as the cold weather. Also: Aside from the occasional stir, these things pretty much cook themselves. It's lazy perfectionist heaven.
There was more cooking -- 18 jars of salsa verde, 8 pints of green tomato pickles, 12 pints of green tomato chutney -- that I didn't post about because, all of a sudden, I went from feeling accomplished to feeling like it was all a bit excessive. I was stress cooking. And things were getting out of hand.

My freezer was full, I'd run out of canning jars, and the fridge was crammed. I had gone from making actual food to stash in the freezer (my favorite weapon against the witching hour) to making "things that you eat with other things" -- a.k.a. condiments -- like crazy.

When I'm stressed, I tend to cook but not eat. There's something soothing about the precision and repetition of dicing tomatoes, something satisfying about looking at rows of glass jars, full of pickles or jam or chutney and still hot from the water processor.

Four loaves of banana bread, two pork roasts, and 16 cups of vegetable stock later, I had to hang up the towel (or chuck it in the laundry. Whatever). I needed to go to sleep instead of standing for hours by the stove; I nearly fell asleep during a dentist appointment while they were cleaning my teeth because I was a.) lying down and b.) unable to multitask. And that's when I realized, I wasn't cooking to lower my stress levels. I was cooking because I could see the results -- it's empowering. I was cooking because my work and my life were full of huge, scary variables at the time and I needed to feel in control of something.

I caught myself stress cooking again yesterday, but managed to reign myself in before I had to use the back porch as an auxiliary freezer (it's totally feasible; the temperature is hovering around 0 degrees Fahrenheit right now). Those huge, scary variables from late last year have mostly evened out -- for now, at any rate -- and I felt good about using up some of the cache I had created during my last stress fest. And there was an added bonus: We'll save money this week because we have plenty of ready-to-grab-and-go options to pack in our lunchboxes.

What do you do when you feel stressed or out of control? Does out-of-control at work translate to crazy-stuff at home?

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