The Magical Healing Power of a Retro Dessert

Yes, dessert heals. In my case layers of meringue, ice cream and cake heals. Forget self-help books and wellness retreats. I’ll take British people baking on PBS to help me through the traumas of life, thank you very much. While I’m no stranger to comfort food—macaroni and cheese has softened many an emotional blow over the years—this was different. Here’s the story…

Without getting into the details of what happened, toward the end of 2018 there was a fairly traumatic event within my family. It was the kind of event that makes your life unrecognizable for a long while. For me, it was emotionally draining. It triggered anxiety and a low- grade depression that lasted months.

But, I had an epiphany back in January. The thing I realized was that I couldn’t take the stress and trauma away. This thing that happened, and the fallout from it, were not going to go away anytime soon. If ever. That wasn’t something I could control. But, what if feeling better wasn’t about this bad thing going away? What if feeling better was about adding good things into my day? Actively doing things that brought me joy? As many as I could think of?

So, I decided to try it. I decided to pay attention to anything that sounded even remotely appealing to me. It didn’t have to make sense. It didn’t have to be anything I’d done before. But it had to ignite some kind of spark or interest, even if it was just a tiny flicker. The first thing that fit the bill came to me courtesy of The Great British Baking Show. Specifically, the episode in which they made Baked Alaska.

Baked Alaska isn’t something I’d ever eaten before. Or seen before, for that matter. I don’t know why I wanted to make one. In case you don’t know what it is, it’s a layered dessert. Cake, ice cream, more cake, more ice cream. You layer it in a bowl and freeze it, so it has a dome shape. Then you cover it in Italian meringue, which is kind of like marshmallow fluff. You bake it in the oven for a few minutes on a high heat to brown the meringue. (The egg whites in the meringue are cooked before you bake it, by beating it with really hot sugar syrup.) The thick layer of meringue insulates the ice cream underneath. And then, ta-da! Baked Alaska.

It made no sense to make this dessert. It was the dead of winter. There was literally two-feet of snow outside my window. But it was like this sugary glimmer of light after many weeks devoid of anything approaching happiness.

So, I made it.

It was delicious.

But that wasn’t really the point.

It became the first step toward healing. It was a little paver on the road back to a life that felt manageable. That paver was followed by others. Coloring—I bought colored pencils and a coloring book. Baking macarons. Re-finishing two old pieces of furniture. Starting a bullet journal. Collaging. Anything that caused an, “ooh, that might be fun!” reaction in me, I pursued.

In addition to having some joy in my days, there was another benefit. There was something about investing in myself in these relatively small ways, that was psychologically powerful. It was sending a message to myself that I was valuable. I was worth time and energy and care. That whatever was going on in the outside world, I have to treat myself with love and kindness.

So, if you are in crisis. Or if you are just slogging through the stress that comes from being alive. Or if you feel like the joy, the spark, is missing from your days. Find it. Bake that dessert. Go on that walk. Take that class. Play that instrument. Dance in your living room. Paint that canvas. Do the thing that speaks to that unique little soul of yours. You deserve it. Do it even if it seems silly. Even if it won’t make you money, or impress anyone else. Even if you don’t document it for social media. Even if no one else “gets it.” Find your Baked Alaska. Get your hands into the meringue of your life…Okay, I think I need to stop now. But you get the drift.

Now, behold my joy…

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