Chocolate has some pretty amazing qualities. It is rich and satisfying, while containing anti-oxidants and flavonoids, and is said to even help reduce stress. As we pass the bakery, the whiff of baked chocolate tickles our noses and sends us to a happy place where we imagine ourselves sitting in a quiet place indulging in our heavenly bites. Suddenly everything in our dreamland is perfect and everyone is behaved. Then the voice of numerical value wakes us up as we recall the high calorie cost of even sniffing. Quickly we bat away the image and like a dream it came and went, like so many other good thoughts.
The healthful benefits have been well touted over the past several years. Though we know the healthful benefits, we tend to associate chocolate with high calories. Most calorie-counters avoid the temptation of taste indulgence. Understanding most chocolate desserts have lots of butter and sugar, we know that if it has “Double Chocolate” in the title we must run the other way. Before you throw those running shoes on and dash away, maybe there is something we can do about this…
It has been a long day and you are running around the grocery store feeling rushed and maybe overwhelmed as you consider the day and recalling everything you needed. Then you approach the store’s Bakery. Deep down you know that your grandmother’s recipe is much better than the store’s, but the store has it all ready for you to take home now. Whispering inside of you is a small voice giving a list of reasons why you NEED or DESERVE this treat. The attractive decorations and trays seem almost irresistible. One of two things tend to happen. One you choose to heed the confectionery calling. Two you run away, pretending to not have even noticed its existence. After all, the numbers just don’t add up for you. The results tend to be a feeling of guilt or deprivation. Neither leaves you with a positive relationship with food or self image. Sure you can feel good about resisting temptation, but it lasts for a moment and becomes a negative reinforcement with the goods of culinary life.
Food should not be the emotional crutch we rely on to get us through life. However, to deny its ability to influence our mood, success, or relationships is a mistake. Our relationship with food can be powerful. It can be a means to cope reliably, it can be our mortal enemy (for various reasons), it can be a means to communicate love, or even a venue to enjoy a bit of good in this world. Healthy relationships with food come from moderation and balance. This relationship can be key to overall wellness. I am sure you know, especially in the tone written, which are healthy ways to relate to food and which are not. You even know from personal experience. Guilt can lower your worth and feeling deprived can make you distant. Finding balance can be difficult, but I have a few ways to help you find that balance for yourself.
Ten years ago I was the worst baker ever….EVER! Nothing that was supposed to rise rose. Everything that was supposed to be crisp was fluffy. My pie crust was dry and hard. It was a nightmare. I began to accept that I may be a cook, but definitely not a baker. It upset me because Grandma was known as the best pie maker around. I lived in her kitchen and found that place to be one of my favorites. Here I am messing up everything I tried. She passed away a few years after I got married. Sad and missing her, I asked for her zucchini bread recipe, hoping to have the kitchen smell familiar. My mother gave me the recipe. Nervously I tended to each step. Because of my metabolic condition, I had to substitute a few ingredients and that made me even more nervous. If I could not bake from a book, what business do I have substituting?! In the oven it went and as it baked, the smells of Grandma’s kitchen found me. After the 45 minutes were up, and much to my surprise, the loaf was beautiful. I cut a slice out quickly and tasted it…Mmmmm! Grandma would have been so proud.
The point of that side story is to illustrate that it takes time, but you could learn to bake. It could be your relaxing time. Baking takes planning (though can be done spontaneously), consciousness, and time. Similarly to exercise, at least for me, baking becomes a time-out from the chaos from day-to-day living. The family perks up, because they know Mommy has made something special for them. When you bake you can control the ingredients to make them healthy or one-up the local bakery. Some tips for substituting: Reducing sugar? Use 1/2 sugar and 1/2 Splenda. Need more fiber or want to avoid the “sugar crash?” Use 1/2 Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and 1/2 White Flour. Some recipes can use all whole wheat and some only can handle a smaller fraction. You can play with it. These are just a few ideas.
If you really do not like to bake or honestly are at a stage of life that seems overwhelming for your schedule, do not fret. I have other tips to share. One tip would be to keep seasonal fruit around. Sometimes simply melting some dark chocolate and dipping strawberries into them can be very satisfying. You could also toss some vanilla bean frozen yogurt and peaches together and top with sweetened and roasted nuts. You can also look for reduced-sugar sweets in your frozen sweets isle. Frozen organic fruit can make for a fantastic creamy smoothie on a hot summer day. There have been times where I have used chocolate rice cakes as base for an ice cream sandwich alternative in a pinch. These may seem limited, but that is why I firmly believe in taking the leap to baking at home.
If you want more variety and success, you have to be willing to take the time and risk. I know, I know. Time is valuable and in short supply. Maybe your self esteem is limited as well. Understand you don’t have to be the next Ina. This is your kitchen, where you work alone. No one has to know if you try something and screw it up. You can get better with practice. Next thing you know, you may even invent your own creation. It is worth the time, because quite frankly this is living. The small challenges you accept everyday to work at becoming healthier so you can give to those you love. That is the measure of success; efforts made toward health one decision at a time.