Cooking as Stress Release

When I was in grad school, I used to bake bread during finals week. It was a way of handling my stress. These days when I’m stressed, I’ll find myself exploring cookbooks and Pinterest looking for new recipes to find and ways to let off steam culinarily. In all honesty, that is a large part of the origin of the Harry Potter birthday cakes and my current “Baking with the Saints” project.

I was thinking about this as I made Draco Malfoy’s birthday cake. Now, I’m not a big fan of Draco; he isn’t The Worst Person Ever, but he’s not exactly my kinda guy. Regardless, I make the man a birthday cake every year. Now, I’ll admit that part of it is because I like making “my father will be hearing about this” jokes. But that’s not all of it. I don’t just make this cake because I want to make jokes about Draco and Lucius.

Far more of it comes from the peace of mind that I draw from putting the cake together. For me, there’s something calming about mixing butter and eggs and sugar (and the other ingredients) in a bowl and watching it all come together. I love see the ingredients come together and change into something new. It’s almost magical.

At the end of the school year, there are countless little unpredictable factors in my day. But when I come home at the end of the day, I know that if I mix a cup of butter (or dairy-free butter) and a cup of sugar in my KitchenAid, it will cream. And then if I add more ingredients to that, it will form a stable cake batter. Because I’ve been baking for a while, I know that my oven and dairy-free butter mean that I’ll need to adjust baking times on certain recipes. Those are predictable things. I know what I’m going to get as an end result.

I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I know that I find that uncertainty is one of my biggest sources of stress. I don’t like when I don’t know what is coming next. I think that I’m pretty normal in that I like to know what’s coming next. I’m not a huge fan of surprises or uncertainty. I like predictability. I like knowing that if you firmly mix up two cups of butter they’ll soften and loosen into a crucial part of a beautiful brioche.

Baking also allows me to play and explore. Over the past two years, my Great British Bake-Off obsession has led me to try numerous new experiments in the kitchen. I never would have tried to make a brioche filled with mushrooms and spinach or one filled with basil if I hadn’t been inspired by GBBO. It’s safe exploration, but it’s exploration nonetheless. I rarely make anything that I’m not sure won’t work out at least reasonably well. (The batch of chili that I put a fruity beer into about five years ago is an outlier. That was awful.) But even when I’m not sure exactly how things will turn out, my previous experiences in the kitchen give me some assurance that things will work out for me.

There is a level of predictability in the kitchen that I don’t often find in stressful season of my life. For a long time, I didn’t know if or when my car would ever get fixed. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever get married. My job is great, but I’m tired and run-down at this point in the year. All of those areas contain a level of unpredictability. But I know that warm (but not HOT) water will activate yeast and butter can slacken and I can bake beautiful things. And some days…those are a few of the only truths that keep me from totally losing my mind.


A Lesson from Fasting

As I’ve discussed before, I “go vegan” during Lent and Advent. I eliminate all animal products from my diet. The biggest change is the absence of meat although for someone who loves to bake the eggs are noticeable too. Now, eliminating animal products is not intended as a penance but rather as a way of simplifying my life so that I can better focus on Christ.

Well, Lent has ended. It is the Paschal season. Meat is permitted again. And I’ll eat it if it’s an option. But I’m not as eager to dive back into eat it as one might have thought. Sure, it’s nice to know that I’m able to eat meat again, but it’s not always what I actually want. I’m starting to find that I like eating meatless meals. Yes, there are meals with meat that I like and that I want to prepare/eat. But with the passing of each meatless season, I find that I’m not as eager to dive back into eating meat as I was forty days earlier.

I’ve come to realize that simplifying my life does not have to be solely the provenance of fasting seasons. In general, my life ought to be lived in simplicity and with a focus on Christ. Now, you can eat meat and live simply. As a single woman who cooks only for myself, I tend to do “large batch cooks” and eat whatever I’ve prepared until I run out. I’m currently working through a Mediterranean chicken salad-lettuce, cucumber, tomato, chicken, avocado, olives, and dressing. It’s nothing fancy. But that’s kind of the point. Live simply. Yes, I’m eating chicken, but I’m doing in it in a simple fashion. The fanciest part of that salad is the olives. The idea is to think less about what I’m eating (while eating good and healthy food) and focus more on what life is really about.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy good food. I’ll be the first to tell you that I love sitting down with a well-cooked meal. I don’t object to eating good food or going out for dinner or drinks with friends. I enjoy going out to eat with friends to celebrate a special occasion or having a well-cooked meal with friends. But the most important part of those meals is not the quality of the food but the quality of the company. Case in point: Last summer, I went out for dinner with a few friends after seeing a play together. I can’t tell you exactly what I ate or drank (but I can guess based on the venue), but I can tell you about the experience of friendship. I may not remember exactly what I drank or ate when I grabbed cocktails with friends at one of my favorite bars, but I remember the experience.

For me, experiences and relationships are more important than food. Now, I’m Italian-American. I love to cook, and I love good food. But life isn’t just about the food. Life is about the people with whom we spend time and the relationships we build. Fasting has shown me that my meals don’t need to be extravagant to be good. Simple food can be good food. I don’t need to eat meat every day. Some of life’s best moments are found in simplicity.

Dairy-Free “Cream”

How do I replace cream in recipes that require it? I have a few different methods, but I want to share one of my personal favorites with you.


All that is in that food processor is 1 cup of tofu “cream cheese” and 1/4 cup of soy milk. That replaces the 1 cup of cream that was called for in the recipe that I was using. I throw the two in the food processor and give them a whirl. I occasionally throw in a splash more soy milk if I think that is necessary. And I think it turns out pretty darn well.

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And the people who eat these scones seem to agree with me about that. I’ve even gotten people who swear that they’ll never try tofu to treat these scones…and enjoy them.

Drunken Chicken Stew

This is a meal that I recently created for myself. I’m typing up the recipe for anyone else who might be interested and also so that I have it again when I need/want it.



  • 1/2 lb. bacon
  • 2lbs. chicken
  • 1/2 bottle of wine
  • 5 cups of chicken broth
  • Two whole sweet potatoes
  • 10-12 white mushrooms
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. rosemary
  • 1-2 tsp. parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 2 bay leaves


  1. Cook the bacon in a saucepan.
  2. When the bacon is almost fully cooked, add the sliced onion to the saucepan and cook it with the bacon.
  3. Meanwhile, slice the mushrooms and the chicken. Put them in a large bowl with the wine. Set aside to soak for at least ten minutes.
  4. Put broth into a large stew pot and begin to cook on medium heat.
  5. Slice the sweet potatoes into chunks. Put in the large stew pot with the broth.
  6. Add the herbs to the pot.
  7. When the onions and bacon fully cooked, add them to the stew pot.
  8. When the chicken and mushrooms have soaked for at least 10 minutes, turn up the heat and add the chicken, mushrooms, and wine to the pot.
  9. Bring the pot to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  10. Serve with bread.

I May Never Get Married

I may never get married. That might seem like an odd thing to say, but it’s more than possible that I’ll never get married. I’m something of an odd duck. Dudes aren’t lining up to date me. And while I believe that I’m called to marriage, that call isn’t a guarantee that I’ll ever get married. That idea doesn’t make me jump up and down with happiness, but it is something that I’m trying to accept in my life. And I’m trying to live my life in my current circumstances and to make the most of my life as it is. I want my life to be valuable and useful. I don’t want to sit around waiting for a husband to come to me, but instead I want to grow and become someone interesting and worth knowing.

With that in mind, I decided to write “The Idiot’s Guide to Surviving Singledom.” I have devised five fairly simple steps for this.

Step One: Buy and read really good books. Don’t waste your time with bad books or mediocre books. Read the really good ones. Read the books that make you think and help you to become a better person. For example, I have become a devotee of my beloved Evelyn Waugh because he both entertains and inspires me.

Step Two: Get a Netflix account. Watch movies/TV shows you like. Watch ones that challenge you or intrigue you. I’ve seen so many movies that I never would have seen if I didn’t have a Netflix account, and I think I’m better off for it. (Remind me to write a post about my ten favorite things I’ve only found because of Netflix.)

Step Three: Find some uber-awesome girlfriends and read books/watch movies/drink fancy and delicious beverages with them while discussing these books and movies. Have a single ladies’ book club. I’m not saying that you should exclude your married friends, but make sure that you’re supporting and encouraging your fellow single ladies. Talk about your hopes and dreams. Talk about work.

Talk about what you’re reading. (I have a good friend who asks me what I’m reading every time we hang out one-on-one. Someone remind me to recommend Evelyn Waugh to her.)

Talk about the movies that you’ve seen. I recently watched this great movie about this writer (who was played by the girl who played Amy on Doctor Who) who can only write when she’s unhappy so her publisher (who is French and a pretty hairy dude and kind of looks like Henry Cavill and he’s handsome and he’s really hairy) tries to make her unhappy so she can write more. And I loved it. So I’m telling everyone I can about it. Here’s the IMDB page for it. And it’s on Netflix. You’re welcome.

Talk about your fears. My greatest fear in life is that I’m going to be alone in a nursing home someday with no one to take care of me. And there is NOTHING I can do about this. But I’m afraid of it. I’ve talked to people about it. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it, but at least I’m acknowledging my fears.

Just talk. Laugh. Cry. Share recipes. Scream. Build friendships. Build relationships. You’ll need your girl friends if you get married. You’ll need them if you don’t. Build and maintain relationships.

Step Four: Listen to GOOD music. Don’t waste your time listening to crappy music. Listen to music that inspires you and helps you to become more you. I don’t know what that means for you, but I know what it means for me. And sometimes, I think my music taste is developing more in this single season of my life than it would if I were in a relationship. I define good music as music that inspires you, motivates you, supports you, and speaks to you.

Step Five: Learn to cook really well. This isn’t to make you a better wife. This is just because it’s a useful skill. You’ve got to eat right? Life is too short to waste on bad food. Experiment. Try new foods and new recipes. In the past year or so, I’ve learned that I love making (and eating) lentil soup. I have so much fun playing with quinoa and split peas. Orecchiette tastes better when you cook it in chicken broth than when you cook it in water. I think that a little garlic and some olive oil make everything better. Eat adventurously.
Above all, just live your life. Don’t sit around and wait for life to come to you. Pursue and engage life. Find what matters to you. Do things that scare you. Take adventures. Become someone interesting.

Balsamic Vinegar and Pizza?

Yesterday morning, I was sitting at work when an idea popped into my head. I was struck by the sudden urge to marinate tomatoes in balsamic vinegar. And then, I thought that I should also do this with peaches while I was at it. It sounded fun, delicious, and summery.

But I didn’t want to just marinate the fruits and eat them. I wanted to make a meal with them, and I also wanted to use the loaf of Italian bread in my pantry that desperately needed to be used. So I decided to make a pizza (well, really two pizzas) out of them.

I scribbled notes and pondered things while at work. And when I got home, I made these two glorious things. (I know the pictures aren’t great.) IMG_0172

Balsamic Tomato-Goat Cheese Pizza

(makes two pizzas)


  • One loaf Italian bread, sliced in half
  • Two large tomatoes
  • 8 ounces goat cheese
  • 1.5 cups of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons basil
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • Garlic to taste

Slice the tomato into bite-sized chunks. Marinate in balsamic vinegar for 30-40 minutes. You can add basil here if you like; I think it adds to the taste.

Pour the olive oil over the bread. Then add the basil, oregano, and garlic. Allow this to marinate as well for 30-40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the tomatoes over the bread. Break the goat cheese into small chunks and sprinkle over the bread.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Allow to cool before eating.



Balsamic Peach-Goat Cheese Pizza

(makes two pizzas)


  • One loaf Italian bread, sliced in half
  • Two large peaches
  • 8 ounces goat cheese
  • 1.5 cups of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Garlic to taste

Slice the peach into bite-sized chunks. Marinate in balsamic vinegar for 30-40 minutes.

Pour the olive oil over the bread. Then add the garlic. Allow this to marinate as well for 30-40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the peaches over the bread. Break the goat cheese into small chunks and sprinkle over the bread.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Allow to cool before eating.


Feta-Veggie Pizza

When I went to Rome almost four years ago, everyone said that I had to try the pizza. And I said, “Well, I want to, but I’m lactose intolerant so…”

And then my dear hosts informed me that in Rome, it is extremely easy to find dairy-free pizza. And then, I had potato and mushroom pizza. It was delicious. I told Momsy about it, and ever since then, she and I have been working to create more and more pizza options for ourselves.

So, tonight, I’m going to share one with you. I concocted this little gem to help use some of the tomatoes and basil from our porch garden. And may I take this quick moment to say that fresh basil and tomatoes are two of my favorite things about summer?



Pizza dough (you can use either frozen or homemade)

One whole tomato diced

6-10 fresh basil leaves minced

1 green onion minced

1 tsp rosemary

1tbsp olive oil

8-10 sliced mushrooms

1 tsp garlic powder

Fresh feta


Preheat oven according to pizza dough directions.

Grease pizza pan. Spread pizza dough.

Lightly coat pizza dough with olive oil.

Sprinkle rosemary, basil, onion and garlic powder over pizza.

Spread tomatoes and mushrooms over pizza.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove pizza from the oven and turn off the oven.

Sprinkle feta over pizza.

Put pizza back in the (turned off) oven for another five minutes.

Let pizza cool for five minutes.