Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Baking Cookies for Mental Health

I like baking cookies. Or at least I used to like baking cookies.

I whipped up my first batch of cookies on a Sunday afternoon when I was nine years old. The task took three times longer than was necessary, dirtied three times more gear than was needed, and required repeated bouts of assistance from my mom. I also may have overcooked the morsels a bit. But in the end I was proud of the plate of cookies that I had (sort of) made all by myself.

It's easier — and probably cheaper — to buy ready made cookie dough than to mix up your own. For that matter, it's even easier to buy ready made cookies. In many cases it's likely cheaper too, when you consider the value of your time and the cost of running the equipment. But your house never fills with the magnificent scent of freshly baked cookies when you buy them already baked.

I have always relished the process of making cookies from scratch. And although experts warn against the possibility of food poisoning from eating cookie dough suffused with raw eggs, I can't seem to help sampling some of the concoction before it reaches the oven. And no, I have never (yet) been poisoned via this indulgence. (Knock on wood.)

We have plenty of cookbooks full of cookie recipes at our house. Of course, nowadays you can find copious volumes of cookie recipes online. We have the general ingredients needed for most basic cookie types at the house. Fancier recipes might require a trip to the supermarket for additional supplies.

But I hardly ever bake cookies nowadays because, along with all truly tasty treats cookies are bad, Bad, BAD, BAD!!! for you — as we are constantly reminded by an annoying army of health and nutrition scolds that are absolutely certain they know what's best for us.

I have always loved wheat, rice, and other grains. Ditto when it comes to refined sugars. The combination of grains and refined sugars aspires to a culinary ecstasy for me that is achieved in no other way.

Of course, ice cream — a frozen combination of refined sugar and dairy products — excels any grain based confection in exquisiteness for me. The difference being that I never make ice cream at home because I can never get the results to approach the delectability of the commercially made stuff. Nor does ice cream making produce the delightful scents conveyed when treats are baked.

But eschewing bondage to my sweet tooth I have largely avoided grains and sugars for the past several years. Yes, I feel better when I do so; although, I do not claim that such abstinence would be the right approach for others.

My body is now so unused to grains and sugars that my occasional forays into their consumption tend to produce mild to moderate unpleasant consequences, not all of which are physical. The bony blue fingered nutrition nags have succeeded in making me feel guilty whenever I take a dietary diversion. I can't seem to bring myself to enjoy as I once did the art of making cookies. So I don't do it very often.

For some reason I am reminded of the scene in The Princess Bride where Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen (the bad guys) are discussing their plans to torture Westley (the hero) and murder Buttercup (the maiden in distress):
Count Rugen: Ah. Are you coming down into the pit? Wesley's got his strength back. I'm starting him on the machine tonight.
Prince Humperdinck: [sincerely] Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I'm swamped.
Count Rugen: Get some rest. If you haven't got your health, then you haven't got anything.
We are constantly regaled with similar assurances that we will be much happier if we do our best to maintain optimum physical health. For years I have seriously followed a strict health regimen involving exercise and diet. I am in pretty good shape for a formerly obese guy my age that has MS and hypothyroidism. I am grateful for the relative level of health I enjoy.

But if I am totally honest with myself, there is a certain grimness to my approach. What is the value of a longer and healthier existence in this nasty little world if such a life is bereft of simple pleasures such as baking and eating an occasional cookie without shame? Mental health is important too, you know.

I see a batch of cookies in the near future — for the sake of mental health, of course.

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