Cooking Up Wellbeing to Combat Cranky May

May 19, 2016

Helen Hudson

Once upon a time, in the role of Guinevere, Vanessa Redgrave lolled around in a forest clearing clad in a gold gown, her red hair gleaming in the sun.  These were the earliest days of Camelot.  “It’s May, it’s May, the lusty month of May,” she sang.  And there it was—quintessential, foxy, cheerful, sunny May.   By definition this month is supposed to be blue-skied and blossoming.  It’s no time to be grumpy.  But look out the window—chilly, windy, wet, gray weather!  The cross country teams running this afternoon along the Crawfordsville High School track sport hoodies.  I even see a winter hat or two bobbing along up above those bare, pale legs which seem to churn in slo-mo.  Hypothermia may be setting in.

Barely into its brand new season, our Farmers’ Market has been kicked in the pocketbook by cold, pounding rain.  A few intrepid farmer souls set up tents; a few intrepid customers got some exquisite asparagus.  Mostly everyone stayed home and pouted about heaps of mulch moldering under tarps in the driveway and about newly set out pots, beds, and baskets of plants being whipped and pommeled into near oblivion.  The lusty month of May?  Rubbish.

While we wait scowling—Oscar the Grouch has no leg up on us—for a spate of real May days and fresh food from the Farmers’ Market, most of us can do with a little mental health therapy for our unexpected May blues.

Psychologist Linda Wasmer Andrews observes in Psychology Today:  “At the end of a long workday, one of my favorite ways to unwind is by slicing and dicing vegetables for dinner.  The steady chop, chop, chop of my knife against the cutting board quiets my mind and soothes my soul.  Cooking is meditation with the promise of a good meal afterward.”  This benefit of home cooking is too little recognized in this era of drive-thru dining and frozen entrees, neither of which provide the simple centering mindfulness of preparing fresh produce for cooking.

Recent research by the Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today and elsewhere reports that “culinary therapy is the treatment de jour at a growing number of mental health clinics and therapists’ offices.  It’s being used for a wide range of mental and behavioral health conditions including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction.”  The winner of the 2012 Great British Bake Off says baking became the successful way to treat his depression.

According to Wall Street Journal writer Jeanne Whalen, “Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation.  The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.”  Well, that fits--so let’s get moving.

First, grump your way into the kitchen, pick up a cutting board and a solid knife.  Do not threaten the cat nor other members of the family with it.  You’re going to have some culinary therapy.

We’re going to make Roasted Red Beets with Mustard Sauce and Italian Celery Egg and Tomato Soup.  I promise you’ll feel better and more hopeful soon…likely by dinner time.

Set your oven at 375 degrees, cut the tops of your beets (save those greens), wrap the bulbs (leaving their tails and an inch of stem intact) in aluminum foil.  Set them on a cookie sheet and bake them for about an hour.  We’ll get back to these later.

Now for the Italian soup which is simple and provides excellent chopping therapy.  You can find the full recipe at WBAA’s website.

In a saucepan, fry some onions and celery in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly softened.  Add vegetable stock, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add tomatoes and eggs and return to a boil for two minutes.

Ladle into soup bowls.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Now back to those beets.  When they’re done (a sharp knife can go right through them, foil and all), let them cool and make a mustard sauce for them.  Put three tablespoons of whole grain or Dijon mustard in a bowl and whisk in three tablespoons of red wine vinegar.  Then whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream until the sauce is smooth and creamy.  Add in a medium onion, chopped.  Salt to taste.  When the beets are still warm, cut them into chunks and let them marinate in the sauce for several hours.  Stir before serving.  Sit down to a warm, tasty dinner.

Feel better?  Good. Well, I suppose we’ll have to admit that this year’s redbuds have been spectacular.  They are part of Indiana’s deep magic.  Traveling west on Earth Day a couple of weeks ago, we saw them in their myriads, spraying out of foggy woods like purple rain, a fitting tribute to Prince who had died the day before.  Over across the Mississippi, though, the redbud trees become scarce and spindly and soon vanish.  Back home in Indiana, the redbuds’ fellow travelers, the dogwoods too have especially lush and creamy blossoms.  On a two-foot young tree in our yard, the velvety blossoms measure five inches across.  Hmmpf.  Guess our spring has been lusty.  See you at the Farmers’ Market.  Let’s hope we won’t need umbrellas.

Here we go:

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

1 head of celery, sliced (leaves and all)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 ½ cups vegetable stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 can diced tomatoes

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped in large chunks

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley