Cooking Class and Reflections on Mental Health

I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class.  I have seen listings of interesting courses and passed the windows of Sur La Table, near the NYRR Run Center, where I witnessed packed classes in action, chopping away at parsley or kneading some dough.

My friend Keeley here in Calgary is a great cook. She enjoys preparing interesting dishes and hosting dinner parties.  She mentioned in passing taking a gnocchi making class at Cuisine et Chateau. I thought about it briefly, I love gnocchi, in fact I love anything dumplingy.  Later in the week, she revisited the idea and I decided to go, cooking class would be more interesting with a friend.

Reflections on Bourdain and Mental Health 

Irony or some weird fate would have it that I would have my first cooking class on the same day as Anthony Bourdain’s death.  Parts Unknown is one of my favorite food/travel shows.  It always inspired me to travel more and to seek locally-oriented restaurants and experiences when I get there. Although his race, gender and wealth rendered him privileged, he used his visibility to advocate for those who are often Othered, from Damon Young of  VSM,

He was a rich and powerful (and white) man who used the privilege that his riches, his power, his whiteness and his maleness provided to shed a spotlight on those without it. He was a tourist of the world who still treated people and cultures like people and cultures and not pamphlets.

He always showed deep respect and humility for the people, food and cultures he encountered and kept it real when describing the structures of oppression that contribute to the inequities he encountered.

In the wake of his passing, many friends have been posting articles about him and his life-long struggle with depression.  Many of these articles resonate with me as I too suffer from depression. Blogger Ashleigh O. describes her “imposter syndrome” even with her advocacy for mental health,

Truth is, I still struggle. Sometimes massively. I still struggle with depression, anxiety, and sometimes insecurities overtake my mind so much that I can’t stand to look at myself. I wonder why I’m here, if I’m truly helping others, am I being laughed at or mocked because of my truth? Depression and anxiety don’t have you thinking the most rational things.

Will Wheaton wrote (alliteration not intentional) about his irrational worries and “what-ifs,” something that I have also struggled with since I was an adolescent. “People who live with depression are wired differently. Our brains perceive life differently than those who do not have depression,” note Steve Safran on another blog.  It is a hard thing to publicly admit because of the [still] stigma around mental health along with notions that one can just “shake off” symptoms.  Those of us who have the illness know that this is not the case.  Also, those of us who suffer find identity in people like Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams–people who seem outwardly like they “have it all” and yet succumbed to the darkness of their illness.  It frightens me.  However, with the number of friends and colleagues who have been posting articles about common misconceptions about depression and other mental illnesses, it allows me to recognize that [sadly] I am not alone in my struggle.  But rather I am amongst a cadre of brilliant, successful and creative people who suffer the same.  It sounds weird, but I am in good company.  And in this company I hope that we can continue to support each other and help others to recognize the reality of our illness and how to be empathetic.

In the Fall, I participated in an artmaking/research workshop, Recognition… Validation… Reassurance… around creating a framework for mental wellness.  My colleague Dick Averns, asked us to address the prompt, How do you create a framework for mental wellness? in a collage. I created the following collage, I will leave it open for interpretation, but I am happy to know that it was one of the pieces chosen to be displayed on Calgary public transit sometime this year.

47 Zeine Bruja - small copy

I am on meds and go to therapy to help manage my depression.  I also run, dance and try to engage in new experiences to keep my mind active, hence the appeal of the cooking class.

Gnocchi-making

The first time I tasted gnocchi was on my first trip to Sydney, Australia.  I had a brief romance with an Italian-born guy and he invited me for dinner where his mother made fresh gnocchi.  I was in carbohydrate heaven, thus began my love affair with this food.  I tend to order it whenever I see it on the menu.  I tried once to make it but it ended up being a pot full of boiling water and potato mush.  Not edible.

During this class, we learned to make parmesan shortbread with dips (I really enjoyed the arugula, garlic and sour cream dip), artichoke, squash and sage gnocchi, and goat milk ricotta ravioli.  Although it was a 3 hour class, there was not enough time to make everything from scratch so some things were pre-made and demonstrated.  Like the gnocchi.  Apparently the trick to good gnocchi is drying the potatoes with course salt after boiling and  before putting it through a ricer and mixing with flour and potatoes.  Seems simple.

IMG_5630Gnocchi! 

We cooked and ate in succession, first the shortbread (pre-made dough with demo) and dips (we made the dips–the aforementioned along with black olive and sundried tomato dips), then the gnocchi (it had a very “cozy” taste, the squash and accompanying red wine made it feel like a late-autumn meal) followed by the desert.  Each was complemented with a glass of wine.

IMG_5636

Demonstrating the art of onion cutting.  As a former biology teacher red onions make me think of the plant cell osmosis lab. 

Squash, sage and onion mixture

IMG_5644Sweet ricotta ravioli for dessert

A part of my framework for mental wellness is to keep trying new things, keep running and find different ways to be creative!

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