Healthy recreational cooking ideas...?
May 1, 2012 7:34 AM   Subscribe

My wife loves baking cakes, but I'd really like her to stop. What other things could she cook that meet her requirements and mine?

[ So, this is Anon because of the health stuff contained. I'll be showing my wife this thread once it's posted. ]

My wife has mental health issues and finds that baking is a fantastic way to distract herself and make herself feel constructive. It's a combination of the variety of things that can be made, the speed with which it can be put together, and the fact that even failures are rarely inedible. The fact that baking mainly uses a stockpile of standard ingredients also appeals, so it means she doesn't have to plan anything - she can just do.

She really loves baking, and in the last 4 days, she's made pistachio whoopie pies, espresso cupcakes and some kind of cherry loaf cake.

The problem is that I've just had a fasting glucose of 7.9 and a glucose tolerance of 9.2. Depending on which scales I look at, that's either glucose tolerant or diabetic (the doctor is vague on it, so I'm assuming it's borderline).

I also have absolutely zero self control when it comes to picking at food left in front of me.

So... can anyone suggest to us types of things my wife can cook that aren't cakes and sweets; that can be cooked from store cupboard ingredients; and which can be done on a whim at 10pm?

It's not an easy ask, I know...
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (76 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Bread, though if you're looking for a finished product at 10:00 PM you might need to stick to quick breads. If she just needs to perform some edible chemistry then she could just whip up a starter or slow-rise bread and leave it to rise for the next night when she bakes a loaf.

But honestly if baking a cake is a good therapy for her perhaps you could work on your self control long enough to take the cakes down to your local fire station, homeless shelter, or neighbor. Any of those folks would be more than happy to take a cake off your hands a couple times a week.
posted by bondcliff at 7:39 AM on May 1, 2012 [49 favorites]

I find making sourdough breads to be rewarding and challenging. They can be made with whole wheat flour, which would be easier on your blood sugars. She could also learn how to make noodles, which are incredibly easy and yet so much better than the stuff you can get at the store.
posted by pickypicky at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Give away the food product. No lie, I used to cook obsessively including baking some prettry extravagant items and multi-day hobbies (charcuterie and slow bbq). The only way my family could survive the onslaught was to give away the food. Point your wife to bake sales, stocking up food shelter kitchens. Really, just give it away.
posted by jadepearl at 7:42 AM on May 1, 2012 [34 favorites]

Biscuits spring to mind, although there you are simply trading sugar for shortening and fat.

Breads require resting and rising and planning in a way that probably won't satisfy her conditions of whipping something up on a whim.

Can she get into other forms of cooking -- like, can she make a pot of baked beans, or a meatloaf, or roast a bunch of veggies instead?

If not, I think you may have to confront this:

I also have absolutely zero self control when it comes to picking at food left in front of me.

Make it about your life. Make it so that you know that your life depends on your being able to ignore those delicious foods that your wife is making. Really, do whatever you need to do to help yourself avoid some of these things. Take a walk. Go to bed when she cooks. Have her put all of her sweets into a closed container and take them to work every day. Have her put the container in her car the night before so you don't even see them. You don't know they are there. Because your life depends on it.*

If she can't take them to work, maybe she can take them to a homeless shelter or a school or someplace that will accept them (which is, regrettably, more difficult than you would think these days unless you're cooking in a commercial kitchen.)

*Yes, maybe it doesn't depend on it yet, but it's okay for you to act like it does.
posted by gauche at 7:43 AM on May 1, 2012

Casseroles can do this. They also have the added benefit of being store-able for leftovers and fungible for neighbors, shelters, and local firefighters, EMS, guys fixing your local road, shelters, and the like.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Baking really is different from other types of cooking- I know lots of people who love baking but hate cooking, or vice versa.

It sounds like your wife is deriving enormous benefits from her hobby. Frankly, the problem isn't her baking, it's your lack of control. Perhaps she could hide the things she bakes before giving them away, if you truly can't control yourself around them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:46 AM on May 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

N'thing quick breads, also n'thing give the cakes away.

If it's just the sugary things that you can't have, savory muffins and scones. Crackers, maybe?

As someone who loves baking and is bored to tears by cooking, I'm not sure cooking will work for this purpose. But you never know...
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would making pasta work? I realize it's still almost straight up carbs, but she can freeze the noodles after she's done. Filling ravioli is super-processy and requires enough attention to distract.

Individual quiches are pretty processed oriented - chopping the vegetables, grating the cheese, mixing up the eggs/liquid
posted by punchtothehead at 7:49 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

But honestly if baking a cake is a good therapy for her perhaps you could work on your self control long enough to take the cakes down to your local fire station, homeless shelter, or neighbor.

QFT. Just because it's there, doesn't mean you have to eat it. Does your wife want to change her baking habits or do you want her to change so you don't have to confront your self control issues? If she's happy to make a change then that's great, although honestly, nothing springs to mind that really meets the criteria (or is as delicious and rewarding and baking cakes but I'm biased, I hate cooking but I love baking... and making chocolate and fudge and flapjack...)
posted by missmagenta at 7:49 AM on May 1, 2012 [23 favorites]

Yeah if your wife starts giving cakes away she will quickly make a lot of friends. Which might even help with the mental health issues.

She can bake bread, or bran muffins, but really, you should probably be cutting back on carbs in general if you're trying to stave off diabetes.
posted by BlueJae at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you have a group activity that you guys do together or with friends? Can you take the cake to poker night, or book club, or PTO meeting, or church group, etc? Is there an regular meeting that she can become the official refreshments-bringer for?
Giving away the final product would also help with self-control: "a slice of cake? no, we're taking that to the school tomorrow!"
posted by aimedwander at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2012

Soups have infinite variations and many can be made from pantry staples like beans and grains, and even more if you add frozen vegetables and some pantry items like potatoes and onions.

But it might work best if you didn't go fully either/or (new project type versus dessert projects) but tried to find a compromise point where you don't see it in front of you and she doesn't have to figure out 1000 ways to make lentil soup -- like if she freezes some items in portion size servings wrapped in foil, brings some to her workplace or wherever to give away, and hides some in opaque jars.

If she is doing a lot of this she might need more than one item, like 'soups' or 'grain salads' to keep her interested over time.

She could also make things for you both to eat at lunch or dinner all week -- get some little casserole dishes and make individual mac and cheeses -- that sort of thing. Kind of leverage the time.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:54 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chiming in with some Asian ideas:

Baozi, meat- or vegetable-filled steamed buns.

Jiaozi, boiled dumplings.

Both are challenging, delicious, labor-intensive, and freezer-friendly.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:55 AM on May 1, 2012

Nthing giving the cakes away. Maybe you can research bake sales in the community that she can get involved in. Is there a Farmer's Market near you? She can set up shop there to sell her cakes. Churches and schools have bake sale fundraisers all the time, can you check there? Alternately, maybe she can bake cakes for the local Firehouse? I'm sure they'd love some yummy home made treats, and you would be giving back to your community.
posted by katypickle at 7:58 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mini quiches, meat pies, vegetable turnovers, sausage rolls. All have elements of baking in that she can make pastry but the items are not so sweet and are all easily frozen for weeknight dinners. There is still the fat in the pastry but it doesn't make up such a large component of the food. Lots of recipe ideas online, all you'd have to do is keep a stockpile of basic meats and veg you'd probably have around in the freezer anyway.

If not I'd take any cakes she makes into work the next day. I can't think of a workplace that wouldn't appreciate home made cakes.
posted by wwax at 8:01 AM on May 1, 2012

I also have absolutely zero self control when it comes to picking at food left in front of me.

I just wanted to mention an additional thing about the hiding it from sight (per my comment above, I don't mean to suggest this is your issue to solve, but it helps) we've recently done this with beer. If there's a cold beer in the refrigerator at the end of the day, someone in our house will drink it, so we've moved all the beer to the basement and if you want a beer you have to haul it up and chill it to have it. That barrier to entry has been really helpful for us, so if you can incorporate some things like that.

Also, if there's stuff you don't like that is in the dessert category (items with fruit? custard? coconut?) maybe she could steer more towards things you personally do not find appealing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:01 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, I think your wife should start giving away all her treats to either the offices you work at or to people in the neighborhood.

Second, I think you may need to work on developing self control, because while I appreciate how hard it is to resist a sweet treat when it is so readily available, the byproducts of baking are symbols of how therapeutic the baking process is for your wife. If she really likes baking sweets the most (as I do), telling her to stop would be really hurtful. She needs this. You don't need the sweets. You're the one that needs to make the change here.

Third, ask her if she would start making freezable dinners and lunches for the two of you so you can have meals totally ready to go each day. That might be a good compromise. You can show your support for her baking hobby by getting cookbooks that the two of you can tackle together to create healthier dishes for you both.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:02 AM on May 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

If she wants to give them away, making cookies and following in this guy's footsteps is an option. He gives them away on street corners and has developed quite a following.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:02 AM on May 1, 2012

What about buying some books on low-blood-sugar baking? I know a lot of us think BLEACH! when we think alternative cooking, but it sounds like you need it, and if she's a great cook, she could probably even learn to make stuff you like and CAN eat (a good chef makes a world of difference in that sort of thing). So, not so much Thou Shalt Not Make Cakes, more just a re-directing of the energy & talent to include your needs.
posted by Ys at 8:04 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Neither quick breads nor breads are any easier on a diabetic/prediabetic than cake. It's about CARBS, people, not sugar. Bagels, for example, have waaaaay more carbs than your average donut. If you're trying to reduce your blood glucose with diet alone, you have to cut waaaaay back on pretty much all baked goods (as well as "healthy" things like rice, oatmeal, breakfast cereal, juice).

Thoughts, in addition to "have self-control" and "donate the stuff":
-- do aerobic exercise immediately after eating a small piece of what she bakes. E.g. A brisk 2 mile walk. Get a glucose monitor from the drugstore so that you can test 1 hour after eating the treat. You may find that the walk takes care of the spike.

-- investigate low carb recipes. They often use Splenda and almond meal.
posted by kestrel251 at 8:04 AM on May 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

Frankly, the problem isn't her baking, it's your lack of control.

No, the problem is the easy availability of food that is unhealthy to him. Her completely innocent (and for her, healthy) actions are having a negative effect on him. That's not good. Seriously, a home that smells of baked goods is often too tempting.

This is a team problem and it needs a team solution. Talk to your wife, see if there are some things she could look into baking that would be diabetic friendly. There's tons of diabetic baking books or blogs.

But also look into having healthy snacks on hand. Fruit and nuts work well for me, you have to figure out which works for you.

Learning some portion is easier if items are made or stored in on healthy portions.

So yes, getting her to stop what she loves or is good for her isn't the way to tackle this problem. Ya'll will have to work together so that you both benefit from the forthcoming changes.

Finally, giving the food away is an excellent idea.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:06 AM on May 1, 2012 [17 favorites]

The actual question you asked has some good answers here: even though they too have carbs, whole-grain breads might not be as tempting to you and are really satisfying to bake. (I enjoy bread baking more than sweets baking, myself, and it leads to much less difficulty with gobbling afterwards.) You could definitely go the soup route -- some come together quickly. Could also try low-fat or low-sugar versions of things she already likes to make; there are certainly cupcakes/cakes/sweets that are designed for diabetic people in the first place.

Is there a possibility she could do any of her baking somewhere else? I realize it sounds wacky, but if you live near friends or family, maybe she could bake in somebody else's kitchen and not even bring it into your house.

But it's very difficult for me, as it has been for others, not to come back to your limiting principle that you cannot either demonstrate or develop the ability not to eat whatever is in front of you. My guess is that in order to control your own health, that's going to have to come one way or another. Limiting what's available to you is a tough long-term strategy to adopt. Putting stuff out of sight is a good idea -- so is giving stuff away. If you know that an intact cake is meant to be taken to the fire station, maybe you won't be tempted to touch it. Or take it to work. In my experience, many workplaces will devour almost as much delicious food as someone wants to bring in.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:08 AM on May 1, 2012

One of the challenges for finding something she'll like is that it doesn't matter when you bake; things can be ready right after dinner, or come out of the oven at 11pm and wait till tomorrow - basically because they're not important, they're extra. She's doing this for fun, so it needs to be non-deadline-driven.
One of the challenges for finding something you'll like is that you're already eating enough, and you shouldn't be eating anything "extra" so it has to substitute for something you already eat.
That's an overlap it's hard to get.

I like some of the ideas for making stuff that gets frozen and eaten for meals later: dumplings, ravioli, meatloaf cupcakes, soups, pasta sauces, etc.

Fussing with packing lunches for the next day has some possibilities; it's useful but not essential (not having a lunch is not the end of the universe), it can be as artistic and fussy as she wants it to be, it doesn't matter what time she finishes as the whole point is packing for later, and it's generally focused on pantry staples and leftovers. And there's a lot of cuteness and appeal, and lots - of - blogs - to - read.
posted by aimedwander at 8:10 AM on May 1, 2012

-- investigate low carb recipes. They often use Splenda and almond meal.

How about Paleo/Low Carb desserts like chocolate coconut oil bark with Stevia or chocolate almond butter cups?
posted by kathryn at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah I want to reiterate that advising a diabetic to eat breads and other carby goodies instead of sweets is not the best idea. They're probably better than sweets, but only marginally, and will raise your blood sugar just as much (just maybe not as fast).

I would advise you try to figure out what it is about baking that your wife enjoys and try to find other foods or other activities she could do that would replicate that. There are less carb intensive baked goods she could make instead -- how about crustless quiches, souffles or gratins? They have a similar sort of process -- mixing, measuring, pouring, baking -- but lead to very much less carby end-products. It's not easy to just not eat things if they're around. If you do want to try this method (of just not eating things) I'd advise you to go cold turkey -- it sounds counterintuitive, but the more stable blood sugar levels you'll have when you don't eat many carby things at all, will make it easier, not harder, to resist them when they're around. Good luck! You have my sympathies -- I was prediabetic at age 19 and completely changed my diet to reverse this -- and I have! So you can definitely do this!
posted by peacheater at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2012

First, I agree with everyone who says to keep the baking but give the stuff away.

You may have more of an idea than we do of directions she could branch out in. I have often used cooking, not baking, to deal with nerves and my go-tos are things like a simmered tomato sauce or a bunch of caramelized shallots, small onions or mirepoix. Freeze the results and you can quickly take anything you are cooking to the next level. It's a fun thing to do together, too. You can talk while you peel the vegetables.
posted by BibiRose at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2012

Samosas, maybe?
posted by lotusmish at 8:14 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition looking for entirely new areas for her to cook in, I would suggest looking for recipes you can both live with. You could go to a used bookstore and buy the 3 most appealing cookbooks and then go through them together finding things for her to make.

An alternative to giving stuff away is to make stuff that can be preserved; buying a big chest freezer can be relatively inexpensive if you have the space for it, and then you have massive amounts of space to store lasagne (some versions of which can be made entirely from pantry ingredients), burritos (same), or many soups and stews. And then you have ready meals for months for nights when random cooking is less appealing.
posted by contrarian at 8:15 AM on May 1, 2012

I am going to take an opposite tack here from many posters, that the OP is not the one at fault.

Overeating, especially of sugary carby foods, is not just a matter of willpower, but about addiction. It's not just that the food is in front of him, but the smell of baking is all around him...even if he goes to another room in the house, he will smell whatever she's baking.

If he were a recovering alcoholic, and she loved to homebrew beer, they would have a similar problem, and scolding him to "just ignore it" is really not fair. This is his home. He should be able to feel supported and encouraged there, not tortured. If my cooking were endangering my spouse's life, I would feel terrible about it.

OP and his wife need to talk; maybe with a counselor. He has food issues, she can only deal with her mental issues by making things that exacerbate his issues. This is a problem.

Surely there is something else she can do that would help. Or perhaps she should go work in a bakery and get to do what she loves all day, so she doesn't have to do it at home.
posted by emjaybee at 8:18 AM on May 1, 2012 [17 favorites]

I sympathize with you, OP. It seems like "learn to control your snacking habits" is the obvious answer, but that's easier said than done, and the very first piece of anti-snacking advice people give is often "don't keep junk food in the house."

Giving away the baked goods seems like a workable compromise. I'd add an extra step: request that your wife make recipes that freeze well, so she can put them in the freezer until they leave the house. Frozen sweets aren't all that appealing.

A completely different idea: maybe she can find a hobby or craft that satisfies her baking itch without edible results? The first thing that came to my mind was making miniature desserts from polymer clay. It might satisfy her desire to improvise from just a few ingredients - you don't need a whole ton of supplies to get started, just a few colors of clay - and physical baking is involved.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

OP, for what it's worth, I'm a Type II diabetic and was in a similar situation to you. The biggest problem was having the smell of delicious baked goods in the house when I came from work and hungry. Snacking on something before leaving the office, while the wife baked in the morning, so the smell was mostly gone by the evening helped.

Cooking mostly healthy stuff with the occasional decadent sweet also helped.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:29 AM on May 1, 2012

It soothes her, don't mess with it. I agree with the others- give it away. She needs you to be strong here. Sometimes a man just needs to be strong.

It would help you both if she had other hobbies as well as the baking. I find crochet to be very soothing. Why don't you get her a gift card to a hobby store and see what happens?
posted by myselfasme at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2012

Give the food away and transition to crafting. I find painting random objects - wooden boxes, for instance - very soothing. And you can do a little or a lot at any given time.
posted by SMPA at 8:41 AM on May 1, 2012

I have a lot of simpathy for you- self-control around food is not really an ON/OFF switch for a lot of people. I wish I could recommend some better alternatives for your wife, but untill she discovers a similar love of basket weaving or someother thing, I can only talk to your struggle.

Would it help if she froze her goodies as soon as they cooled? I've found putting goodies in the freezer and out of sight makes them too much of a pain to grab at. Also immediatly plastic wrapping and lableing ("for the fire house", "may 26th bakesale") can also help as a just a mental block between you and the food

A much more pain in the ass approach- My little household has reciently had to cut off almost all goodies because of newly discovered food sensitivities. Following the no-sugar, no grains rule was difficult for about a week... but as soon as the week was over it actually became a lot easier. Once it's "no wheat, not ever" it's become a lot easier to ignore cookies at parties, and ignore gift chocolates that pile up when we see russian family members.

Good luck.
posted by Blisterlips at 8:45 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hear your question - I can't eat a lot of sweets anymore and I absolutely love to bake. I bake and give stuff away.

But would your wife enjoy making fancy sauces like those in the sauce thread? Some of the traditional ones, like the romesco sauce and the recaito, are pretty darn complicated and fiddly. (I think I'd enjoy making them as much as I enjoy baking) and you could eat them with vegetables or on nut crackers or something.

Also, I find that making things with phyllo dough is as fun as anything else - I make spanikopita and all kinds of layered main dishes. They are substantially vegetables and protein inside, and because they are a main dish that requires heating they are less irresistably snacky. In fact, baked layered things generally (I make a layered polenta dish, for example, and a sort of semi-enchilada-vegetable thing) are very satisfying to do.
posted by Frowner at 8:49 AM on May 1, 2012

Oh, and what about roasted flavored nuts? Or roasted chickpeas? Or vegetable chips? Those are things that tend to dazzle people when you serve them anyway and you can snack on them right away.
posted by Frowner at 8:53 AM on May 1, 2012

Agreed that this is a team problem that will require a team solution. Your wife needs the activity, she does not specifically need to produce the foods you should not be eating. There is a big boom right now in the area of paleo/primal/gluten-free recipes, and if she's got mad baking skillz she might even be interested in working with those recipes and blogging about it.

Also, there are some really labor-intensive things to do with meat, eggs, and fish. You should be eating more of those things. Surely she wants you to be healthy too, and can actually help you with her superpower, so that everyone wins.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

She could also focus on making single servings of extremely elaborate desserts. I'm thinking of that scene in Bridesmaids when Kristen Wiig's character makes that one ridiculous cupcake.
posted by acidic at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I make dog treats. I also bake therapeutically and dog treats are really really easy, involve some variety, and can solve my therapy needs by employing use absurdly small cookie cutters. Also dogs are really happy to get gifts of dog treats (as are dog owners).
posted by countrymod at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2012 [22 favorites]

I'm going to challenge the premise that the replacement for baked goods has to be cooked or even made in the kitchen.

Susan B Anderson designs tiny nursery things, stunning baby hats, and little toys. These would make great gifts for friends and family with babies on the way. Labor and Delivery units often appreciate donations of gifts of handmade items (check with your hospital though).

Simple scarves and sweaters are absolutely not appropriate for what she needs this to accomplish. But a frilly baby hat or baby booties can be turned out in an evening. Same with tiny toys known as amigurumi.

None of these projects takes a particularly large amount of yarn. Many of them can be knitted from stashed items that she can just mix and match - get a bit of dk weight yarn (a yarn shop would be happy to help) in various colors, and you're off to the races. This would help with the "having everything on hand" requirement. She can join ravelry and probably find a group of "process knitters" (people who enjoy the process of knitting more than having the finished item to keep. You'll find other definitions of it.)

Finally, while the overeating is definitely a problem, moving more has a very protective benefit.
posted by bilabial at 9:02 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

countrymod beat me to the dog treat suggestion! There are many dog treat cookbooks, and so cute cookie cutters to choose from. If you don't have dogs, or friends with dogs, a local shelter or rescue group would probably appreciate the donation.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Savory stuff: empanadas, samosas, meat pies, Brazilian cheese breads, potato bread filled with cheese
posted by Neekee at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2012

Are there any independent stores or businesses you frequent (I'm more worried about big chains having a "no outside food" rule)? Because speaking from my retail days, if we had a customer who regularly brought us cookies and cakes and treats, you'd get the red carpet treatment from everyone forever.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:26 AM on May 1, 2012

I like to bake and like your wife, I find it soothing. It's great - it's a food product, so it seems somehow less frivolous than some other hobby, but it's dessert, so no one is relying on her to provide it. And it's disposable - the products are not going to hang around, cluttering things up for a long time to come. It's really sort of perfect that way. No expectations from anyone, using one's hands, multi-part process, but done in a couple of hours or less, and universally loved results.

If your wife likes baking more of the elaborate sweets things, like cakes, baking straight-up whole wheat bread is not going to satisfy the same urge. Also, cooking dinner-type items would not satisfy the same urge.

So, yes, team effort - talk about this and find a workable solution for both of you. Maybe you can be the food delivery guy (not to your office! but to the fire station or wherever). Maybe she'd like to try a different hobby -- something crafty that can be finished in a couple of hours? and given away? I am thinking of something like needle-felted toys -- or maybe you can help her with low-carb, low-sugar options? I think you guys need the multi-pronged approach so that you both get what you need and want.

Also ... not an answer to the question you were asking ... I hope she is getting adequate support for her mental health issues. Hobbies are great, but they are usually not enough on a long-term basis.
posted by stowaway at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2012

Lots of good advice above. Does your wife like a baking challenge? She could work on making a small version and an almost full size version of every recipe. By this, I mean that, if she bakes a chocolate cake, she portions the recipe so that it goes in one small baking container and one more regularly-sized one. Then she can eat the small one (perhaps giving you a nibble) and give the fire station/shelter/etc the majority of the recipe. Perhaps she'd feel good about knowing that she's found a way to meet her needs, keep you healthy and help others.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:42 AM on May 1, 2012

She may be baking because it's not required. It's not expected, nothing happens if it gets screwed up, and there is no pressure as to the outcome.

If you make this about 'purpose' by changing the intent, you might take away the sense of freedom and her ability to engage with it as easily.

By making this about casseroles or healthy muffins or selling them, hell, even creating an expectation of x treats a week at the local community place, then you might tip the balance towards 'stressful.'

At some point I started sewing lots of baby stuff for friends. It was fun, relaxing and unexpected. Now everyone has put in subtle requests and over-the-top hints and it's become kind of stressful to have a running list of obligations.

I'm not saying there aren't solutions, but make sure you're fully aware of some of the emotions at play.

Can you make the distribution YOUR job? i.e. take to your office, take to the shelter on the way to work, walk down the street with your wife to give to a neighbor?
posted by barnone at 10:00 AM on May 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

I'm surprised at how many people are suggesting replacements for cake that aren't any better than cake and have tons of carbs. The problem with this has already been pointed out above, but I wanted to repeat to make sure you get the message. Yes, savory meals are better but things like samosas, empanadas, and meat pies all are high carb and not good for diabetics.

I also disagree with the idea that you should just 'be strong' or 'get over it'. There are so many other things she could cook, there is no reason to tell you to "just man up" about this.

My favorite low carb recipe site is called Your Lighter Side, (that's the link to her desserts page) but I know there are a bunch of them out there. I have made her version of crepes and a few of the other ones that use the bread substitutes called "Oopsies" - they're a bit tricky because you have to separate whites and yolks, then whip the whites into peaks, but it sounds like a challenge is just what your wife is looking for. And the results have been very tasty!!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:03 AM on May 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

What appeals to your wife about baking? Is it the precision required, the idea of a treat, the lack of pressure involved with making a main course (i.e., if you screw up a cake, you still have dinner on the table), the ability to lick the beaters, the cuteness factor, making something that you like and she enjoys pleasing you? How does baking specifically lessen the symptoms of her mental health issues?

I'm diabetic and I promise you that removing cake from your home is only part of the overall lesson of learning how to cope in a world that seems to demand a cupcake shop on every corner. However, if the two of you (and your wife's therapist, if she has one) can figure out what exactly the baking is doing for her, then you are that much closer to finding a substitute behavior.

Also, totally what barnone said just above. If this is a relaxation thing for her, saying "it's okay if you make this specific other kind of stuff, but not cakes" or "you could take cakes to other people every week!," making it into an expectation or a job defeats the point of finding something that works for both of you.
posted by catlet at 10:07 AM on May 1, 2012

I would get a small freezer and have her put her baked goods into that freezer as soon as they're cool. Then, when she has a batch of a few things frozen, take them to a homeless shelter.

She gets to keep her hobby, you can work on your food issues at your leisure, homeless people get delicious treats.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:08 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised at how many people are suggesting replacements for cake that aren't any better than cake and have tons of carbs.

As one of those people, I just want to say that even though carb-heavy non-sweet foods may be just as unhealthy, it's not entirely clear if those foods are as tempting to the OP as the sweet baked goods he/she specifically mentions. It could be that a soda bread or some kind of pastry-and-meat-thingy would be easier to resist than a plate of brownies sitting on the counter. If not, then yeah, this is a more difficult problem.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:18 AM on May 1, 2012

Not really my forte, but could she/you find some recipes that can be cooked on a barbecue? She gets to work with all of her familiar ingredients, but the yummy bakery smell drifts off on the wind to tempt your neighbors, without entering the house and tempting you. Bonus points for building neighborly relations by giving them the treats.

Alternatively, maybe buy her a convection oven or some such and put it in the garage, as a means to the same end. Although you might check first with regard to building code / safety for doing something like that.
posted by vignettist at 10:51 AM on May 1, 2012

If you give baked goods to a shelter, make sure they want them. The shelter I worked at for a couple years got usually had infinite donated baked goods from several bakeries in town. Our shelter also had a policy of accepting pre-cooked food that people would bring so they would feel useful and then turning around and throwing it in the trash due to food safety concerns. A lot of people at those shelters may be facing the same kinds of health problems you are.

On the other hand, the folks at my 100% volunteer-run bike collective love it when people ask to bring in treats. We have this one person who pays us in homemade tamales. So maybe pick your favorite volunteer-based organization instead, if you go that route.
posted by aniola at 10:57 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe there's a church or spot that hosts community meetings/AA/scouts/lions club/support groups/etc that would appreciate free awesome snacks? They'd likely have meetings nearly every night, so there's no fixed schedule to feel like pressure, and it would always be welcome. The big thank you smiles might be a nice feeling for her, too.
posted by BigJen at 11:11 AM on May 1, 2012

Yeah, I think a lot of the people at the beginning of the thread are wrong, wrong wrong. For many people it is possible to control cravings as long as you are not directly exposed to the temptation, but very difficult to do so if someone plops the stuff right in front of you. It's like someone who quit smoking and is okay but if someone else starts smoking right in front of them they have a very hard time not also smoking.
posted by Justinian at 11:14 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's hard without knowing what parts of baking appeal to your wife to know what else might work. Baking is very satisfying - mixing or kneeding dough, using the right proportions, the smell as things bake, knowing that something is baking in the oven, the general sense of with-it-ness that being a person who can whip up universally beloved foods can provide...

Anyway, some ideas.

* make curry paste from scratch. You do need some fresh ingredients, but not many: I think it's mostly onions (shallots), garlic, ginger, lemongrass and coriander that you'd need fresh. Alliums can keep for quite a while, you can freeze ginger, in theory you could grow lemongrass yourself or just keep it in a jar of water for a good while, and coriander can be grown at home too. Maybe you could freeze those two as well. The nice thing about curry paste is that you can make it in parts - there are a lot of parts and you don't need to do them all at once. Working with spices is very satisfying and the smells are amazing. Also, to make the paste you have to use either a blender/food processor or a mortar and pestle. Supposedly the latter is very satisfying too, though I can't vouch for that. Once you've got a basic curry paste down there are a lot of ways to be creative with it.

* Custom spice blends like garam masala

* Custom coffee blends

* Rich or fancy food in general, so that it doesn't feel like part of the regular chore of cooking. Onion soup, soup broths from around the world, I don't really know.

* Sprouting (hardly any work, but it's a multi-day process. But they do give a strange sense of achievement)

* Kimchi, pickled vegetables (again you'd need some fresh vegetables, but it could be satisfying)

* Oil infusions (olive oil with spices, etc)

* homemade cheeses and yogurts (possibly also a chance to experiment with spices and flavorings)

* herb butters

* if you grow your own herbs, then there are a million kinds of pesto to make

* roasted/spiced nuts/chestnuts

* different kinds of popcorn (not sure about diabetes profile)

* spiced and roasted (?) chick peas/regular peas/soy beans

* chili pastes, pepper sauces, black bean sauce

* this thread has a bunch of suggestions that might work

* vanilla extract can made by putting some vanilla pods in vodka (and waiting a long time). There are probably other interesting extracts that can be made at home

* almond (or whatever) milks

* homemade soap (might be too time-intensive) or candles

* low-carb/paleo recipes for biscuits or snacks that avoid or minimize sweeteners and use nut flours, flax, or chia seeds as a base (there were two posts on low-carb snacks here recently with recipes)

* deviled eggs

* different kinds of hummus

If any sort of cooking that fits your requirements would do, then once you take into account canned tomatoes, canned beans, frozen vegetables, frozen meat, spices, coconut milk, and the fact that onions and garlic can keep for a long time, there are a million things you can cook without planning ahead and with the knowledge that they'll probably come out quite nice.
posted by egg drop at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and egg drop soup.
posted by egg drop at 12:08 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, this question's gotten in my head. Some more suggestions: homemade mustard, homemade mayonnaise, custom tea blends.
posted by egg drop at 12:27 PM on May 1, 2012

Oh man, I feel for you, anonymous! I both love baking AND do not eat processed carbs. My stand mixer makes sad eyes at me every morning as I glumly scramble eggs.

Have your wife make recipes from this low carb baking blog called Healthy Indulgences, where the woman creates apparently delicious cakes using Splenda, almond meal and often some really crazy substitutes, like black beans for chocolate. No joke, my friend in San Francisco made this black bean "chocolate" cake recently and raved about it.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:51 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Crepes? I love making Crepes and have done it for times when I am in transition or feeling a bit low. It's a sort of meditative process, and you can whip them up anytime. The nice thing is a) you can eat them with lots of things (eggs, fruit, pesto, meat, chocolate sauce) as a snack or just a full meal but they aren't overly sugary, and you can store them afterwards too to eat at a later time.

They don't have to be perfect either, I don't have a Crepe maker, I just use my caste iron and essentially make really really thin pancakes.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:52 PM on May 1, 2012

I like the idea of pickles (especially refrigerator pickles, which don't require the extra steps of sterilization. Takes a similar amount of time, isn't a multi-day processes, and can be done with a lot of different vegetables that might be in the fridge. It like this recipe, and you can use jars from sauces and such that you already have.

However, you should consider the possibility that part of why cooking is so therapeutic is that you eat and enjoy the treats she makes. It's not a logical thing, but she might feel like she is making you feel good when she sees you indulging yourself. Thus, switching to only types of cookies that you hate or something might not actually work for her. So finding healthier recipes might be a case of finding a technical solution to a social problem.
posted by fermezporte at 12:56 PM on May 1, 2012

If it's the aesthetic aspect that often comes with pastry, maybe creating low-carb bento boxes would be an idea?
posted by smirkette at 12:58 PM on May 1, 2012

How about jams or preserves?
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:01 PM on May 1, 2012

Better yet: have her donate her cakes to homeless shelters, large scale events, or hand out pieces to those living on the streets in your town. I'm sure many places would love a free, freshly baked cake.
posted by fuzzysoft at 2:17 PM on May 1, 2012

If it's a therapeutic hobby, then maybe she can use her therapist's help to isolate what's therapeutic about it and see how it can be applied to other arenas, like sewing or knitting or whittling or whatever. Sewing can be just as quick and rewarding as baking, once you collect all the stuff you might need to do it on a whim.

If she isn't willing to make a shift like that, I think she would be in the wrong. A health problem you're having should be treated like a team problem by your wife. When people are trying to diet, everyone says, "Just don't have it in the house," right? So creating tempting junk food in your house is pretty much sabotaging your attempts to eat right.

I'm surprised that so many people here see a spousal relationship so differently from the way I do. I just don't think it's okay to prefer even your own health over your spouse's, so that you do something that's good for you even though it's bad for your spouse. To my mind, you have to take care of yourself, but she has to not make that harder.
posted by palliser at 2:27 PM on May 1, 2012

Please note: health department, food service, city, school, and organization rules increasingly forbid the sale or public service of food not created in a licensed and inspected facility. Most homeless shelters cannot take your leftovers, most schools will not take it (because it has to be wrapped and labeled with an ingredient list and allergen warnings), and people are generally taught not to eat things given to them by strangers. Only under very specific circumstances are these viable options and are probably not a solution to the problem at hand.

Homeless shelters are not dumping grounds for half-eaten/unwanted food. Homeless people on the street might privately and individually appreciate it, but they may also suffer from the illnesses and nutritional deficiencies endemic to poverty, malnutrition, and lack of shelter; they don't need empty sugar calories any more than the OP does.

Now, if your wife wants to volunteer in a catering kitchen or other food service facility for people who need help getting fed, that's something she could do. But I also cook to relieve anxiety, and having to go somewhere with strangers and deadlines and such would be the opposite of relieving anxiety for me.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:49 PM on May 1, 2012

You don't have to donate food to an organization to give it away. I do not have any difficulty giving the tomatoes I grow away. When I have too many tomatoes I send them in to my husband's office or I walk up and down my street knocking my doors and asking whether people want tomatoes. I have never had anyone slam the door in my face and say "Bah! Go away, free food bearer!" I have also generally not had difficulty disposing of extra loaves of banana bread or extra cookies in the same fashion.

Now, if you came to my house with a cake and I didn't know you and your kitchen well, I'd have to turn you down, because someone in my household has a food allergy. But it's not like I'd be mad that you tried to give me cake.

(Speaking of tomatoes, has your wife ever tried growing edible plants? That can also be a pleasant and time-consuming hobby, though it's a little more demanding and less certain than baking.)
posted by BlueJae at 4:07 PM on May 1, 2012

Can you ask her to experiment with cake and cookie recipes that can be frozen? Then get her to put them into the freezer immediately they are cool enough (except for the one or two servings she will eat right away herself). Partially frozen food is less accessible and less attractive than warm food on the counter top, and she can defrost individual portions when she wants some, or a whole cake if guests come over. Cupcakes (unfrosted), fruit loafs, muffins, all freeze well.
posted by lollusc at 4:39 PM on May 1, 2012

Can she have a baking buddy and bake at a friend's house instead, leaving it with them? Can she enroll in a once weekly baking class, cook at their premises and give it away so it never reaches the house? Can she volunteer to bake at a homeless shelter or intern at a patisserie on the weekend for fun? There's a multitude of ways where she can still bake, out of the house in a more structured way where she gets to enjoy her hobby without impacting your health. If she rents a commercial kitchen part time and sells what she produces, you could actually make money! (Not what you asked for, but if she makes that much food, selling it could be a positive side effect!)
posted by Jubey at 4:58 PM on May 1, 2012

I've been dithering over whether to post this and open myself to the accusations of selfishly poisoning my husband with icing sugar. I am anon's wife, and I've spent the last few hours trying to identify what it is that makes baking helpful.

* It involves following a written recipe. My memory and concentration are spotty, and being able to follow the instructions is the difference between something delicious and a burned inedible mess. I am no good at improvising. Short of setting the kitchen on fire, it's pretty much impossible to completely fail at baking something nice as long as I follow the instructions.

* It is something that can be done at any time, with no prior planning other than keeping in the cupboard a few packets of stuff (flour, sugar etc) that keep for basically forever. So its also no big deal if nothing happens in that department for days or even weeks on end because there are no expensive ingredients getting spoiled through disuse.

* It occupies my attention sufficiently without being overwhelming. Whilst I'm baking, I'm not obsessing about the other million things that I can't stop fretting about. But there's also no pressure involved, because nothing will go wrong if for some reason it doesn't happen. No-one is expecting anything from the process. No-one will go hungry, the world will not end and civilisation will not fall for lack of a batch of cupcakes.

*Its something that doesn't require any special conditions to meet, such as daylight or dry weather. The only precondition necessary is that no-one else is using the kitchen at the same time. In the past I've found benefit from drawing, but that's not so easy when its dark and I can't see colours properly in artificial light. Similarly, gardening can't happen when its raining.

*It was something that was specifically recommended to me by the occupational therapist in the hospital. I tend to fall into ruts easily, and if something helps once, then I'm likely to do it over and over.

*Its something my mother encouraged me and my sisters to do when I was a kid. She kept the basic ingredients in the pantry at all times and we were encouraged to make whatever we wanted whenever we wanted.

* The result makes me feel like I've accomplished something, and it makes people happy when they eat something nice.

* I can sew on a button and repair/patch a torn hem but those are the limits of my needle ability. I am dismal at creative sewing. I cannot knit at all.

* I have my own food issues, albeit much less serious than my husband's. I comfort-eat sweet things to distract myself from overwhelming depression and anxiety. Baking sweet things enables this less-than-healthy coping mechanism. It's something I've worked on with varying success in the past and intend to work on again in the future, but in the short term its a lot less self-destructive than most of the other things I'm struggling with and I can only fight so many battles at once.

* I used to volunteer at a homeless shelter where I helped in the kitchen. That was one of the first things I had to give up when I started becoming unwell again. Being forced into close proximity with thirty plus people for hours on end with awkward inane smalltalk, dirty jokes and getting leered at and propositioned was more than I could handle.

Cooking to meal deadlines is something that I enjoy when I'm up to it, but it feels like a very different type of operation. There is a fixed deadline for food needing to be ready for a certain time - which means having to do it whether I'm in the frame of mind where it's enjoyable diversion or whether its stressful drudgery. It needs a great deal of preplanning, because meat and vegetables and the like have to be planned and bought and prepared in advance - which rules out any unplanned kitchen activity late at night, for example. And if I start the planning process and then suddenly flake out halfway through, not only have I wasted money on food that'll go mouldy in the fridge waiting for me to get my act back together, but we'll also go hungry in the meantime.

There's been a burst of baking in the last week, but three in such quick succession is unusual for me. Before the whoopie pies last Thursday, I don't think it was ever more than once a fortnight, give or take. Which I know is still too often for a diabetic.

With all that said, there have been a lot of good suggestions made so far in the thread, and I intend to try out those that I can.
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:18 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can sew on a button and repair/patch a torn hem but those are the limits of my needle ability. I am dismal at creative sewing.

Do you mean you're dismal at coming up with your own sewing projects, or at following in someone else's creative footsteps? because there are some really simple sewing tutorials available online. I'd link to a couple but the ones I know about are for kids (simple dresses and skirts, hooded towels), and not everyone has a bunch of children available to shower hand-sewn stuff on.
posted by palliser at 7:11 PM on May 1, 2012

I mean exactly what I said. I am dismal at any kind of sewing that goes beyond basic repair of something that already exists. I am dismal at making anything. I cannot create anything.
posted by talitha_kumi at 12:48 AM on May 2, 2012

I know at least some cookie *dough* can also be frozen, so you can make up a batch of the dough, then freeze all of it but, say, two cookies' worth. The rest of the dough can then be used later or given away or whatever you want.

I have willpower problems, too, and I know if there were frozen cookies/muffins/cupcakes in the freezer I'd be unthawing them all the time. Frozen dough would not be quite as fraught.
posted by Arethusa at 3:47 AM on May 2, 2012

Just nthing a few of the suggestions upthread:

-if the smell is part of what's making it hard for you, consider if your wife would be up for trying to work some hours in a pro or other kitchen elsewhere, outside the home, or maybe at a likeminded friend's house (bonus there, all she'd have to do is not bring the results home and you're off the hook completely). feel her out for this before suggesting it, of course--you'd have the best idea of whether this would offend her or not.

-zoomorphic already linked to the low-carb baking blog i was thinking of, and as others have mentioned that's not the only that paleo and low carb are somewhat popular, there are a lot of baking blogs and books that swap out conventional ingredients for stuff like coconut milk, sweet potato, almond meal, stevia, black beans, xylitol, etc. a friend of mine who loves to bake has a husband with a super strong case of celiac and she had a rough time learning the subs and where/how to get them at first but after like a year she had it down and now she bakes bread, cookies, etc. without batting an eyelash. it might seem overwhelming at first but apparently it's really not once you restock your kitchen and know what's what equivalence-wise.

-agreed about how it's not as simple to donate food to places like shelters, schools, etc. as one might think due to regulations. so your best bet for giving away food would be someplace low-key and crunchy probably (that bike co-op thing is a spot on example) or other less public/standardized thing (like neighbors/extended family or a weekly gathering like a book club).

-also agreed that if you try to make the baking more utilitarian it might lose the whole purpose of being therapeutic. i love to cook and bake, but every time people have urged me to go more pro in some way--work a real kitchen, food blog, whatever--it has turned me off and made me not want to do it at all. the whole reason it's satisfying and a way to escape real life is that it's not practical or an obligation. i think that's a big part of baking in particular, because as mentioned above, no one NEEDS that pretty cake on the table by 5 o'clock else people will go hungry for dinner, or they won't be getting the right amount of protein or veggies, etc. cake is inherently frivolous while also being luxurious (all those goofy decorations! crazy flavors because hell, if someone doesn't want that, who cares! dinner's not ruined), which can be freeing.
posted by ifjuly at 5:14 AM on May 2, 2012

talitha_kumi - I am so with you on all those counts and I completely relate to baking scratching an itch that I cannot imagine anything else doing so well. I was reading this question thinking in alarm that I couldn't give up baking.

One of the things I don't like about craftsy alternatives is that I'm a bit of a minimalist, so making 'stuff' that I have no need for and I do not want to display seems pointless. One of the big things about baking for me is that it is not necessary (like cooking dinner) but it is also consumable.

Other things I have enjoyed include:
* Origami - usually quick, you can do it with junk mail if you have no other paper, you can learn new stuff from youtube and once you've finished it you can admire it for a day or two and then chuck it in the recycling. You can also buy fancy paper and make it into presents if you want to. It's completely absorbing, but doesn't require a lot of brain power. You can pick it up at midnight if you're having a bad night and can't sleep.
* Making photo collages of holidays we have been on
* Organising or cleaning projects like tidying out my wardrobe and defrosting the freezer. I used to save these for when I was having a completely sleepless night. It's amazing how much more welcoming your bed seems when you've got a spotless freezer. This may be my particular quirk though!

That is truly everything I know that fits that particular need. These days I would include yoga, but it's a very different activity to what you describe.

Good luck.
posted by kadia_a at 11:42 AM on May 2, 2012

I don't think this has much to do with her whoopie pies and your fasting glucose levels. Not in the way you would think.

* The result makes me feel like I've accomplished something, and it makes people happy when they eat something nice.

I like doing this too, but I can tell you that your husband will love you even more if you stop using food to show him how much you love and appreciate him. Conversely expecting his enjoyment of your cooking to be equated with his love of you isn't very healthy either. My partner did this to me, though he can't cook to save his life so for him "love" came in the form of a gold foil wrapped chocolate bar. One pound at a time. I hate him for what he did and how he tried to undermine my attempts to avoid becoming fatter and diabetic because he was worried if I became thin I wouldn't put up with his nonsense. [insert irony here] Getting my sugar levels under control and losing weight despite him has left me feeling resentful, bitter and incredibly sad that my friend wasn't there to support me when what I asked of him would have no impact on him.

I cannot create anything.

Yes you can ...

I can hear you all the way from here saying, "no I can't." and I still think its bullshit
posted by squeak at 6:48 PM on May 2, 2012

Put a small freezer in the garage. Everything OP's wife makes goes, wrapped, immediately into the freezer. OP does not talk about it or otherwise make OP aware of what's in the freezer. OP's wife then takes the stuff to work, gives it to neighbors, or throws it away, as soon as possible.

If OP still can't handle the smells etc., or finds himself thinking about what's in that freezer, then switch to low carb baking. If she can figure out a way to make stevia sweetened stuff taste good she'll have accomplished something MUCH more rewarding than a perfect pan of brownies.

OP's wife - I also come from a baked goods = love background. Baking is the best. Serving a yummy treat to a loved one and having them smile and say how good it is is also the best. Tasting your own creation and knowing that it's better than professionally made is the best. But you've got to rewire yourself when it comes to your home and your husband. At best, having a temptation in front of him that he's got to muster discipline to reject is very stressful. At worst, he succumbs to it, suffers the physical consequences (poisoning, for a diabetic) and hates you for it. You need to figure out a way to not make this therapy not his problem.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:40 PM on May 8, 2012

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