Why Am I the Bummed Out Baker?

My website name change was unceremonious, which I later realized was a mistake.  While the name makes me laugh and is meant to be a wink to fellow folks with mental illness, worried loved ones have contacted me to see if I’m okay, unsettled by casual references to delectable Greek food and crippling depression in the same sentence.

The Baker Part

I love to cook and bake and have a special interest in plant-based fare. It’s a ritual for me. Pulling a pile of colorful produce out of the refrigerator’s crisper, pouring rice milk into a measuring cup, leveling flour with the straight side of a butter knife – pure, meditative catharsis. In the kitchen, I am left alone with my thoughts and at the end  have something tasty to share and show for it.

The dark side to my new moniker is that I use cooking and baking to busy myself when I am otherwise immobilized by depression.

The Bummed Out Part

Let me back up. I have experienced panic attacks and severe anxiety since I was eight years old, beginning when I skipped second grade and landed in an unfamiliar classroom. I’m talking drenched-in-sweat, sick-to-my-stomach, certain-that-death-or-worse-vomit-is-imminent, cannot-reliably-enjoy-normal-kid-things-like-movie-theaters-and-sleepovers-level anxiety. When I went through puberty I was plagued by depression in addition to the anxiety, exhausting me and causing a contemplative introversion I didn’t have the language to describe, let alone a community to commiserate with. So, not only did the fluorescent lights and linoleum floors in my chem lab make my brain go batty and my stomach feel like I was gonna hurl, I’d then go home at the end of the day, flop onto my bed in my Converse, and stare up at my ceiling in silence, praying no one bothered me lest I had to feign normalcy. My limbs felt like lead, and it wasn’t due to the average athleticism I displayed on the volleyball court several hours a week . Something as simple as polite, topical conversation was enough to overwhelm and exhaust me, do me in and trigger a fit of tears later, in private. Except for music, there was no place I felt understood. It did not help that the latter is often written off as fleeting teenage angst, a stereotype that played down my pain and isolated me further. The 90s and early 2000s composed a precarious chapter for mental health at large – it was so shameful to be sad. I had no affirming mental health community that said “hey, me too”, and so, I suffered. Days turned into weeks turned into months turned into years.

I didn’t cook when I was a teenager, I collaged my ceiling and wrote all over my black walls. It was as if my brain threw up on the inside of the small box I occupied, a room of mirrors, my reflection made up of melodramatic words and dark images. My family members thought it was strange, even a bit funny, but closing myself in my room for hours on end, listening to The Smiths and cutting up my dad’s Communication Arts books was my 2002 version of the same meditative catharsis I seek in the kitchen today.

Seventeen

Me and my brother Duncan in my dark dungeon. High school graduation day, 2006

Okay, I get it. You had a sad-ass adolescence. Where is this going?

I am a writer, and because I no longer work a conventional job I have the distinct and rare luxury of championing the destigmatization of mental illness. I’d like to be a mental health renegade, speaking up for those quietly suffering in a sterilized 9-5 environment while they live with Bipolar Disorder, depression, anxiety, or, loneliest of all, an unidentified mental issue. The pain of moving through life afflicted by mental illness pretending everything is hunky dory is truly inexplicable. Unless you have experienced it, I think it’s nearly impossible to understand. I don’t say this to be exclusive, but folks who do not suffer from mental illness often equate someone else’s crippling mental affliction to the time they felt anxious about their Tinder date with Jeremy, or the appropriate period of time they were devastated about the death of a friend or family member. It’s not the same. One is a normal exorcism of emotion, the other is a chemical imbalance that indefinitely stagnates and traps the sufferer in a hellhole of literal nonsense.

“Have Mercy”  – Uncle Jesse

There is not only a lack of understanding about mental illness, but because it’s effects are often invisible I think there’s a level of disbelief due to lack of physical proof. If the severity is not visual, it can’t be all that bad. Or, it must be a phase. It is still not common knowledge that a person’s mental illness can be as debilitating as someone with a physical disability. It can be.

I’ve dealt with mental illness a long time, and have finally found the courage to speak plainly about my story and what I continue to go through. It was so freeing when I finally decided to tell the truth about my needs. For instance, I recharge best by being alone. It’s critical for my well-being, and it took nearly 30 years to unapologetically assert that simple need. I’ve been power-washing my shame away, satisfied by the revelation of my true self and proud to claim my mental makeup. Community and unguarded communication about what’s going on in our heads is so powerful, and I am here. for. it.

Twenty

Twenty year old baby vegan, the original Bummed Out Baker. Spring, 2009

What does this mean for the site?

Of course I want to talk about thoughtful consumption, community via cooking, sustainability, my love of black clothes, and golden retrievers (duh). But I also want to exploit the platform I have to talk about mental health, something so many suffer from and so few feel safe being open about. As I said before, I have the luxury of not working in a conventional professional setting, which means I can speak freely without as much potential consequence, and I feel a responsibility to do just that. My hope is that, one day, mental illness will be given the same respect and dignity as any other health issue.

So, the point of Bummed Out Baker is not only to normalize a common mental state, but to evangelize the destigmatization of mental illness for myself and everyone who’s still suffering behind an office door, inside a cubicle, the confines of an ignorant social circle, a classroom, or your home. While the name is meant to inform and cultivate empathy, it’s also meant to make someone experiencing depression smile. It took me several years to find humor and help in mental illness, and if I can speed up that process for even one suffering person with some funny truths and a banana bread recipe, my job here is done.

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Recipe: Banana Bread

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Do not disparage sad looking bananas! An overripe banana is sweeter and perfect for baking or freezing for smoothies.

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Ingredients

Wet Ingredients:
3 large overripe bananas
2 T ground flaxseed
1/3 c coconut milk
1/3 c coconut oil, melted
2 T maple syrup
2 t vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:
1/4 c plus 2 T cane sugar
1/2 c rolled oats
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t sea salt
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour

Optional Toppings:
Chopped pecans, sliced banana, chopped walnuts, chocolate chips

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  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Lightly spray 9 x 5″ loaf pan (or parchment paper-lined loaf pan) with oil and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl mash the banana until almost smooth.
  4. Stir in wet ingredients (flax, milk, oil, syrup, vanilla) into banana until combined.
  5. Stir dry ingredients into the wet mixture one by one, in the order listed (sugar, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt, flour) until just combined.
  6. Using a spatula, pour batter into the loaf pan and spread out evenly.
  7. Add toppings, if desired.
  8. Bake uncovered for 45 to 55 minutes until lightly golden and firm on top. Do a toothpick or butter knife test in the middle of the loaf to confirm it’s done. Mine took 52 minutes to bake.
  9. Place pan on a cooling rack for 30 minutes.
  10. If you did not use parchment paper, slide a knife around the loaf to loosen it and gently remove it from the pan. Place on a cutting board and slice.

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Good with breakfast, paired with coffee, as dessert, or as a host gift.

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Rick was eager to dig in and followed me around with a butter knife while I finished taking photos.

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Apollo Aldrich was there, too.

Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Adapted from Vegan Banana Bread.

Recipe: Moussaka

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Alright people, this is definitely one of those if-you’ve-got-the-wine-I’ve-got-the-time recipes. It takes a couple of hours but is nice to throw into the dinner mix for variety.

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Ingredients

1 eggplant, thinly sliced
3 T olive oil
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
2 potatoes, thinly sliced
1 onion (white or yellow), thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T white vinegar
1/2 28.5oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
1/2 c lentils
1 1/2 c water
1 t dried oregano
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 c feta cheese
1 1/2 T Earth Balance butter
2 T flour
1 1/4 c milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese

The thin slices can be done by hand but a food processor is immensely helpful.

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  1. Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt and set aside for thirty minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
  2. Combine lentils and water in small saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover for twenty minutes. Set aside.
  3. Heat 1 T oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle eggplant and zucchini with sea salt and cook in hot oil until lightly browned, about four minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel-lined plate, reserving as much oil as possible in the skillet.
  4. Add more oil to skillet as needed and let it get hot. Sprinkle potato slices with sea salt and cook until browned, 3-5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on a second paper towel-lined plate, again reserving as much oil as possible in the skillet.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. Sauté onion and garlic until lightly browned, about five minutes. Add vinegar, tomatoes, lentils, oregano, and parsley. Bring to boil then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer fifteen minutes.
  7. In a 13″ x 9″ baking dish layer 1/3 of the eggplant and zucchini mix, 1/2 of the potatoes, and 1/2 of the feta. Pour in tomato mixture then repeat layering, finishing with a layer of eggplant and zucchini.
  8. Cover and bake in oven for 25 minutes.
  9. About five minutes before the timer goes off, stir butter, flour, and milk together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly until thick and smooth. Stir in pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat, cool for five minutes, and stir in the beaten egg.
  10. Pour sauce over vegetables and top with the parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for another 25-30 minutes.

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This recipe serves 6-8 people and makes great leftovers for lunch.

Recipe adapted from Vegetarian Moussaka.

Recipe: Bean and Mushroom “Meatballs”

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While this recipe doesn’t exactly trick Rick the meat eater, he likes these “meatballs” so much he requests them.

Ingredients

3 T olive oil, divided
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped
1 1/2 t sea salt, divided
1 t oregano
1/2 t black pepper plus a pinch
1 t chili flakes, divided plus extra for serving
1 can of white beans, drained, rinsed
juice of 1 lemon
3 T fresh parsley, chopped and divided plus extra for serving
1 1/4 c bread crumbs, split into 1 cup and 1/4 cup
5 stalks kale, removed from ribs, chopped
1 25 oz jar of marinara sauce
sub rolls or buns

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  1. Preheat oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add 1 T olive oil and onion and cook for four minutes.
  3. Add 2/3 garlic and mushrooms, cook for another two minutes.
  4. Stir in oregano, pepper, 1/2 t chili flakes, and 1 t sea salt.
  5. Add white beans and lemon juice and stir. Let mixture cook for one more minute.
  6. Add the bean / mushroom mixture to a food processor, pulsing a few times until the mixture comes together.
  7. Pour in the 2 T parsley and 1 cup of bread crumbs and pulse a few more times until the mixture is well combined. Let the mixture sit for five minutes so the bread crumbs absorb some of the bean / mushroom mixture.
  8. Meanwhile, add 1/4 c bread crumbs, 1/2 t sea salt, 1/2 t chili flakes, 1 T parsley, and a pinch of pepper to a bowl.
  9. Scoop out “meatball” mixture with a melon baller and roll around in bread crumb mixture until coated. Place breaded “meatballs” on the prepared baking sheet, repeating until no mixture remains.
  10. Bake the “meatballs” for 50 minutes, flipping them over halfway through.
  11. While the “meatballs” are in the oven, prepare the kale.
  12. Heat remaining  2 T of olive oil over medium heat in the same skillet you cooked the “meatball” mixture. Add remaining garlic and salt and cook for one minute. Pour garlic oil over the chopped kale and stir until evenly coated. Set aside.
  13.  In the same skillet you cooked the garlic in , heat marinara sauce over low. When the “meatballs” are done, place them in the warm marinara sauce.
  14. Place kale in toasted buns and top with “meatballs”, fresh parsley, and chili flakes.

These “meatballs” make great leftovers and can also be served over pasta.

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Serves four.

Adapted from WHITE BEAN + MUSHROOM ‘MEATBALL’ SUBS (VEGAN).

Recipe: Scrambled Eggs With Parmesan and Arugula

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Gooood morning! This recipe is one I break out when I’m trying to lure my carnivorous SO from the greasy bodega breakfast sandwich down the street. It’s less taxing on the wallet and body.

Ingredients

1 T organic Earth Balance
1/4 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs, beaten
sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
2 T fresh parmesan, grated
1/4 avocado, cubed
large handful of arugula
optional: toast, small bowl of organic fruit

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  1. Melt Earth Balance in pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and stir occasionally with a spatula for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Turn heat down to medium-low. Stir in eggs, sea salt, and pepper.
  3. When the eggs are almost cooked, add in the parmesan, arugula, and avocado. Stir until eggs are cooked and arugula is just wilted.

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Serves one.

Recipe adapted from It’s All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook by Gwyneth Paltrow.