I’m a person who, let’s say, has more rainy days than most people. I’ve managed my depression for decades with medication, but I still occasionally have moments when the clouds gather. Then, as with any other occasion really, I head to the kitchen. Because what I want is to feed myself.
I’m not talking about compulsivity or “eating your feelings.” I’m saying feel the feelings and eat anyway. But take the time to discover what really feeds you in those low moments. It took some years of trial and error before I really accepted that your typical “mood food” doesn’t help me: I don’t want chocolate, I don’t want lots of sugar or anything overly sweet, I don’t want junk food that forces my body to work extra hard to process.
I want things that are super soothing and easy to eat. Things that are easy to prepare and redolent of comfort, familiarity, and warmth. “Easy to prepare” is key, because I’ve learned that what makes the biggest difference in feeding – and lifting – my depression is the act of cooking. Because what I want most is, quite literally, to feed myself. If preparing food for others is an act of love, then preparing food for yourself is, in my opinion, the ultimate act of self love.
So when the storm clouds gathered recently, I headed to the kitchen to prepare a tried-and-true comfort food and to discover a new one. I offer you both. Because both made me feel better. As did my animals, my blankets, my art, and lots of British TV via acorn.tv.
Baked CustardAnother favorite from the gingham Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I’ve been making this since childhood. I’ve modified the recipe a bit to use roughly equal parts heavy cream and whole milk. Why? Because, for some reason, it results in a layered custard. The top is mousse-like while the bottom is the shiny, silky traditional custard. It’s just wonderful at room temperature or straight out of the fridge. It is a lot of dairy and eggs, so clearly not meant for every day.
Rainy Day Baked Custard
Adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook
1 c heavy cream
1c whole milk
½ c sugar
4 large eggs
1 Tbs vanilla
Ground nutmeg to taste
Set oven to 350 degrees. Set aside a 1.5 quart baking dish and a roasting pan large enough to hold the baking dish.
Pour cream and milk into a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Whisk in sugar, followed by the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg to taste – I like a generous coating.
Set the dish into the roasting pan and add hot water to come halfway up the side of the baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes. Custard should be set. If it’s still quite liquid, nudge the heat up to 375 for another 10-15 minutes. It should be set by then.
Remove from oven, and remove baking dish from water bath, and let cool on rack.
If you want to eat it warm, let it sit for about 15 minutes. Otherwise cool to room temperature and enjoy, or refrigerate and enjoy some more.
A few months ago I bought The Rustic Italian Bakery by Veronica Lavenia. When I was in Italy, I noticed the traditional sweets were not all that sweet. And that little slices of something were often served in the afternoon with coffee. I’ve got a favorite Italian cornmeal cake recipe and “rustic” is the perfect word for it. It’s homey, flavorful but not sweet, and utterly delicious. So naturally I wanted to possess an entire book of such recipes!
Levinia’s book is a lot more than that. She has a “real” food ethos so her recipes often call for alternative flours and grains, varied sweeteners, and organic ingredients. When I bought the book, I didn’t have a pantryful of alternative flours. Since I began baking from Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours, though, my stock has increased. And so, on a gloomy day, I leafed through Levinia’s book in search of something appealing I could make with ingredients on hand. Torta Paradiso was invented by a priest and made famous across Italy in 1878 by pastry chef Enrico Vigoni (says Lavenia). I had to modify the recipe slightly because I was out of brown sugar and lemons. The original recipe, on Alimentari, also calls for cornstarch which the recipe in the book does not.
Paradiso Cake – Gluten Free
Adapted from The Rustic Italian Bakery, note most ingredients measured by weight
3 fl oz mild extra-virgin olive oil
3.5 oz turbinado sugar
4 large eggs, separated
5 Tbs heavy cream
Scant 1/4 cup whole milk
9 oz rice flour
1/2 oz baking powder
Zest of 1 medium orange
Powdered sugar to taste
Set oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan (with 2 inch sides), lining the bottom with parchment. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine the rice flour, baking powder and orange zest. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the olive oil and sugar, mixing on medium until sugar dissolves slightly, about 3-5 minutes. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the cream, followed by the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly.
Note: At this point, my batter looked more like cookie dough. I couldn’t imagine folding beaten egg whites into it. So I added enough whole milk to make a smooth cake batter. If you find yourself in a similar situation, gradually add the milk, up to a 1/4 cup, until your batter looks right.
Pour the batter into a large mixing bowl. Clean your mixer bowl, attach the wire whip, and whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the cake batter using a large rubber spatula or balloon whisk, pulling the batter from the bottom up.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula.
Bake, in preheated oven, for 30 minutes. A tester should come out clean. My cake was done, but very pale in color.
Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Unmold and cool on rack completely. Dust with powdered sugar to taste.
This cake is not sweet and has a lovely soft but hearty texture. It’s even better the second day when all the powdered sugar has sunk in adding a touch more sweetness to the cake.
And if you find yourself struggling with difficult emotions, there are a number of ways to get help: Call the Employee Assistance Program offered by your employer to access short term counseling, look for a good therapist, join an online community like To Write Love on Her Arms – just do something. Depression is common and can be managed. Blessings!