My recipe for survival this year has been my kitchen. I struggle with the daily challenges that Bipolar Disorder has been kind enough to gift. Some days just getting out of pjs is a major accomplishment . The past two years have also been unusually tough. My mom passed away after a losing battle with cancer. My grandma passed five months after her. All of a sudden I found myself without two of the women that helped shape who I became. What could I do to cope and grieve?
My mom was a force in the kitchen. She baked elaborate cakes and treats throughout my childhood and adulthood. She made cake molds by hand, baked rum cakes by the hundreds during the holiday season, and filled many special meal requests for birthdays and family gatherings. My favorites always coming at family birthday gatherings. She would assemble hundreds of gnocchi from scratch, or ribs, or homemade soups. She always made my favorite cake for my birthday along with our family gnocchi. My grandma made being in the kitchen fun. She let us bake with her when we were little and taught us many of our family favorites. Grandmas kitchen always made me feel loved. Even if all she was doing was frying eggs for breakfast. Her kitchen always made me feel better. It was were she made my grandfathers lunch every single morning before he left for work and where he washed dishes with her side by side every night. I watched her have hot Tang tea parties with my sister and cousins. Her kitchen was a warm hug. I miss them both terribly. It makes me sad that they are not around now to see what I can accomplish in the kitchen.They would be so proud.
I never saw the need to pay attention to what they were doing and creating. Surely there was time to learn later. Right? I had school, or sports, or friends. Those things were more important. I should’ve paid more attention. While my mom was living with us during her chemotherapy she sat me down and taught me how to make her gnocchi, my favorite. She went through each step. She wrote down all of my favorite recipes, and talked about some tricks for each. My sister and brother were given recipes from her. Each of us inheriting something special from mom and her kitchen. Our family spaghetti sauce passed down from grandma to mom and now includes our own personal twists. When I smell onions and butter cooking I’m automatically transported to one of their kitchens. After the loss of both women I started to cling to whatever reminded me of them. The kitchen became the obvious place to start. I started to search for recipes and meals that they did. I began watching The Great British Bake Off obsessively ,(is there any other way), and bothered my siblings for their memories.Then searched for new things I know they would have liked.
I noticed that if I was cooking or baking my bipolar brain felt quiet, relaxed even. If I was in the middle of an irritable/aggitated spell I could knead dough and it would help even me back out. Nothing makes me happier then making bread. Kneading dough is hard work. If the bread works I feel such a sense of accomplishment . If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. The process is calming and satisfying no matter what. If I’m struggling with a down day..bread. If my thoughts are racing and need to slow down, or struggling concentrating…pastry or cakes and cookies. The kitchen has become an important coping tool. Not only for my grief, but for my bipolar symptoms too. If I haven’t baked during the week, or I haven’t cooked dinner all week, its a red flag. I need to check in with my counselor or make sure my meds have been taken. Am I sleeping ok? Do I need to go to talk therapy this week? Or was I just busy with other things this week? I’m not saying that being in the kitchen makes my bipolar go away, or my symptoms stop. It just helps them quiet down, so I can take a breath.
So here I am. Blogging. Maybe I can share some recipes, some insights, some failures. Perhaps this will bring someone else some relief . Even if it is just comic relief. Buckle up for some baking success, some bipolar madness and some hilarious failures. In the end I hope you will love your kitchen and yourself just a lit bit more. Let’s start!