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Curve flattens as dough rises

Forget toilet paper, I can’t find any flour. Or baking soda. Eggs and butter have been in short supply, too. It seems COVID-19 has brought out the Betty Crocker in all Canadians.

All this staying home to flatten the curve has given rise to forgotten pleasures, like baking bread and rolling out pie dough. According to canadiangrocer.com, there was a 71 percent increase in conversation about “baked goods and desserts” on Twitter Canada during the latter half of last month. Google Trends reports an all-time high in people searching “bread.” A renewed enthusiasm for homemade goodies has bloggers bubbling like juicy fruit crumble fresh from the oven. Hits to baking websites are at an all-time high, the likes of which are only seen at Christmas — if ever. A sudden spike in demand for bread flour and yeast has led to empty shelves in stores, but there’s no need to panic. Experts say supply chains are adjusting to the shift in demand. If it’s not there today, try tomorrow.

Growing up, there was always fresh baking in our house. My mom waved a spatula like a wand. Cookies, squares, and cakes magically appeared when my brother and I came home from school. Now, we’re the bakers in our own families. Nothing says comfort like ooey-gooey goodies baked to a glorious golden hue, the mouth-watering smell of deliciousness wafting throughout my house. Even people who don’t normally bake are firing up their mixers during corona. One of my friends recently texted asking for my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. Then, she sent me a photo of a couple of cakes she’d baked. And iced. I asked if she was feeling okay. “I think I’m losing it,” she said.

According to Dr. Kathy Keating, a registered psychologist in Kelowna, my friend is taking positive steps in protecting her mental health. “When I help patients feeling down or depressed, or perhaps feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, we get back to basics with scheduling and initiating pleasure and mastery activities,” she said. “Pleasure activities are those, you guessed it, that give you pleasure. And mastery activities are those that give you a sense of accomplishment. Cooking and baking can give you both.”

There’s a lot of buzz about mindfulness these days. Baking, as it turns out, is perfect practice. “I’m always encouraging patients not to over-complicate mindfulness,” Keating says. “At its most basic, it refers to being and living in the moment, not ruminating over the past or worrying about the future.” Unlike cooking, which can produce spectacular results with a toss of this or a touch of that, baking requires more precision. Measuring matters, so by focusing on what you’re doing, carefully leveling flour into a cup, pouring exactly a teaspoon of vanilla, you are being mindful. Keating recommends engaging the senses, thinking about colour, the feel and smell of ingredients, the mouth-watering taste of your completed product. Don’t watch a show or attempt to multitask. Appreciate the process. Celebrate and please, share the cakes of your labour.

Keating says baking is particularly comforting for some individuals — like me —who associate it with positive memories growing up, joyful time with family and friends. “There can be a mirroring of those feel-good emotions,” she says. When the world is out of control, we yearn to— yep — control our world. “There are a lot of things in our world that have been taken away,” Keating says. While we know it’s necessary, it can be difficult to accept because we don’t have a say in any of what’s going on. Keating encourages her patients to evaluate what they can control in their lives right now, and for many of us, making food is one of those things. “Baking, cooking, making something —we have control over that. We can do that when and how we want to.” Baking can keep us moving when the world has come to a standstill. It provides structure to our day and gives us attainable goals for which to shoot. It provides sustenance, comfort, and caring to our loved ones.

Another friend’s husband recently inquired if they had any baking powder. “Why?” she asked. “I’m going to make biscuits,” said the man, who had never before sunk his knuckles into a mound of dough. “I warned him biscuits are trickier than their little, round simplistic shape might make you think,” my friend said, laughing. Undeterred, her husband said he was up to the challenge. And it might take him all day.