Clenching my teeth, cooking to live, and buttermilk biscuits—made cute!
"Have you been feeling stressed lately?"
Duh, Madame Dentist. Who hasn't?? We're still in a pandemic, I'm cold 24/7 because I'm a weak Californian living in London, we're planning a wedding happening over 5,000 miles away, and I have at least one mini anxiety attack a day over how to possibly have kids and also do everything else I want in life without feeling like a complete failure.
So yes, I'm stressed.
In fact, I'm so stressed that my molars are starting to wear down and I literally did not notice because clenching my jaw has become a normal state of being. And now I can't stop wondering about all the other ways stress has seeped into our lives and physiologically changed us, and how we probably don't even know. We aren't taught how to look for it, or how to prevent it. Rather, we're told to massage our jaws, go for a walk, and somehow direct it away as if we have that much willpower over our mental states...or over our physical ones.
These are band-aid solutions meant to "keep stress in check" but never to eliminate it because that's impossible. Really eliminating stress would mean changing everything we know about work, society, and capitalism. Even in a global pandemic, many of us worked harder than before—at our jobs, to teach our kids, to simply stay alive. There was no rest, and there will be no rest.
I feel strangely vulnerable when the dentist calls me out on my molars, like she's discovered something I'd tried to keep hidden, even from my own self. As someone with diagnosed anxiety AND a blood disorder, one of my more impressive talents has been to live as functionally as possible. I worked in fine dining full time while in college, studying FIFO by day and serving some pretty fucking good desserts by night. My dating life was chaotic, but no more than anyone else in their twenties, and I still found time to travel, attend pastry school, and run two marathons. I've gotten quite good at pretending I'm not stressed, because otherwise I would completely spiral (and I have, several times, but only to a select few confidantes who would never snitch).
So when she's reviewing my dental x-rays with me, it's more than just my molars that need care. It's my whole damn brain.
Many people bake to de-stress. I love that for them, I really do, but it's not what I do. I don't make pastries to de-stress. Pastry making is actually quite stressful! I definitely clench my teeth when I'm cooking. I clench when I'm measuring ingredients, and I clench when it's in the oven. I clench when it's done and when it doesn't taste exactly like I'd imagined it would in my head. I don't ever remember cooking not being stressful. But then again, I never wanted it to be that way. Cooking wasn't to de-stress—it was to come alive.
When I'm cooking, I'm making something with my hands and even better—I'm making it edible! I'm using ingredients that have existed long before me, and will exist long after I go. I'm feeling things—a backdraft of hot wind from opening the oven, a cold but firm grip on my Shun knife, the slip of an egg yolk trying to avoid my fingers. I'm transported to a different country, or my mom's house, or a childhood memory. Not all these thoughts are good, or even wanted, but they are real. Cooking is full of stress, but it's also full of life—my life.
All this to say, I guess I have no idea how to get rid of this stress, but I do know how to make some delicious pastries, and maybe the latter will one day mitigate the former, but probably not. So I'll just get a mouth guard.
Classic Buttermilk Biscuits - Made Cute!
I make biscuits every week not to de-stress, but to relish in the miracle that flour and butter can morph into such tender, flaky joy. If you're new to biscuits, making them in muffin tins ensures they won't topple over while baking, and you get these ADORABLE bb biscuits as a result. Orlando looked at these and said, "Why though?" but the real question is WHY NOT?!
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