Therapy Kitchen

'Bake With' NOT 'Bake Off'

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WHEN I RULE THE WORLD, the first thing I will do is exchange ‘Bake Off’ for a programme called ‘Baking With’. Yes, like so many of us, I have a Walter Mitty fantasy life, in which one day I’m on Desert Island Discs, the next I’m in the stocks, too ashamed to even show my face. In the real world, it is cooking that contains my neurotic imagination - where I can heal and satisfy my hunger (which is huge) at the levels of mind, body and spirit.

I have discovered through my research and work combining cookery teaching and therapy, that our kitchens are the perfect place to connect us with a mindful experience of the here and now. How and why we use the ingredients and recipes we choose, how we relate to the process and creativity of cooking; but most importantly, how we can share the activity and our produce with others.

Because by sharing what I cook, whether that’s in the preparation (I love a bit of help), in the audience (I love applause) or simply connecting with the dish (I always fall a little in love), I am brought into the world of belonging. I feel part of my world when I take its resources and prepare a meal that I give to the table. Neurotic fantasies peeled away as compost fodder.

That’s why I’d get rid of the competitive, ‘who’s the best?’, Bake Off, and replace it with a gentler, more sustainably satisfying programme about Baking With one another. Food is about relationship, connection, about tender-loving-care. I know that competition is attention grabbing, but as we obsess over the perfection of the dish cooked - which goes as quickly as it comes (especially if it’s cake on my plate), we’re left empty, wanting more and worst of all, anxious. Our target driven world focuses on what we do - the end product - and forgets, or ignores, the magnificent process of careful endeavour behind the dish - the effort, the intention, the recipe’s history, the memories, the human connectedness through food, that stretch across the time and space of our lives. If we can remember, take the time, to notice, and absorb the moment.

I learned to cook and bake with my grandmother. A key moment that has seeded my career, was the taste of her tomato soup - made with the first home grown tomatoes of the season. An incredible, exquisite delight. The taste of gratitude spilled into my heart. That ‘tomato soup moment’ continues to feed my world today. The memory stirs my cookery, sometimes my therapy sessions, reminding me that nourishment is as much about nurture as it is about nutrition.

What are your stories around food as you grew up? How can you draw on or possibly heal, these today in your kitchen?

This summer, I have been lucky enough to lead family cooking workshops -sharing and exchanging skills, stories and resources. My 20-year old daughter took time to join in. I was proud of her. Everyone liked my recipes (phew), enjoyed the food they made and, more importantly, the process of cooking together. I felt good. We all did. As they realised how good their food tasted, the smiles, the surprised looks on everyone’s faces, were utterly priceless. Whilst we all felt pleased with our produce, we were also alongside each other - in it together, each finding our place around the table.

These sessions continue to inspire my work today and I am busy dreaming up new recipes for the autumn term. When we bake with, everyone wins. More than that, the feeling we get from those moments lasts, long after the meal has gone, sustaining our creative, community, connected spirit. Competitive moments of winners and losers offer only short term satisfaction. When their time is gone (Off!), we, cooks of the world, (and that can be all of us, should we so choose) will change the channel and ‘Bake With‘…One another.