Productive meltdowns and fighting fight or flight
Churning butter is the new baking bread
This week: Productive meltdowns, churning your own butter and how to fight your fight or flight response.
This newsletter is coming out late because last week I found out my contract with my current client won’t be extended past October and I’ve spent almost every moment since scrambling. (Don’t worry, I already have another freelance gig lined up.)
In my desperation to make a plan for sudden unemployment amid a pandemic and a roiling political crisis, I stumbled across this article about the “art of the pandemic meltdown” shared on WSJ’s Twitter account with encouraging copy about having a “productive meltdown.”
Tellingly, the introductory anecdote is about a retired male professor getting frustrated and crushing a box of tissues. When I think of a meltdown, this is not what I picture. I’d like to hear about meltdowns from a single mom working full time while homeschooling her kids, not a retired man who got mad at some tissues. But obviously the insinuation that our meltdowns should be productive is the real problem here.
The meltdown haver.
I clicked on the link in part because I was anticipating a meltdown that would hit me as soon as the paychecks stopped and I always like to have a plan in place, and partially because I love a hate-read. I’m not particularly interested in a “productive” meltdown because meltdowns are almost by definition uncontrollable. But I do, rightly or wrongly, think productivity can help stave off a meltdown.
As soon as I knew I would be out of work, and in spite of every mental health professionals advice not to expect much of ourselves during this wildly stressful time, I started making plans. I would finally draft the book proposal I’d been turning over in my mind since March. I would get in shape! I would finish the online classes I signed up for in April. I’d make it through my TBR pile!
I think the desire to stave off a breakdown is why we all spent our spring baking bread. That was a kind of productivity we could manage because it didn’t require the dedication, or the ability to look away from the news, that it takes to read a book or write an essay.
So after I sent my resume to every recruiter in NYC, I decided to bake some bread. But I’m not going to give you a bread recipe. You probably already have one of those. What I do think we should all learn now is how to churn our own butter.
Home-churned butter takes home-baked bread to the next level, plus it’s significantly easier and you can add flavors (i.e. compound butter)! This week I made salted chive butter, and I’m planning to make honey butter this weekend. Make butter churning your fall quarantine hobby and maybe, just maybe, we can fend off full-blown breakdowns until after the election.
Salted chive butter
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp chopped chives
1/2 - 1 tsp coarse or flaked sea salt
Pour the cream in a large bowl and whip with a hand mixer for about 15-20 minutes. Time will vary, but you’re basically making whipped cream and then over-whipping it until it starts to separate into solids and milk. Once the solids start to form larger lumps, you can pour the buttermilk out of the bowl as you go, because it starts to get messy. (Put it in a jar to use later!)
Once the solids start to come together in one large lump of butter, add salt and chives and mix, then remove from the bowl and place in a piece of cheesecloth. Squeeze out the remaining moisture over the mixing bowl, then transfer butter to a smaller bowl and put in the fridge to chill for about 15-30 mins. Once the butter is chilled and has begun to harden, dab away any additional moisture on the surface and roll into the shape of a round stick of butter. (You can use a butter mold here too if you want, but I don’t.)
Serve on a slice of warm, fresh-baked bread while crushing a box of tissues.
Fighting your fight or flight response
My therapist once told me that living in the city, your fight or flight response is triggered almost constantly. (Maybe that’s why New Yorkers and Los Angelenos were seeking therapy en masse long before it lost its stigma in other parts of the country?) Every taxi cab hurtling at you in the crosswalk, every subway door closing as you run through the station, every crazy person who tries to pick a fight with you in the street, triggers your fight or flight response, though they’re ordinary and unavoidable complications of city life.
Now I think we’re all experiencing the same stress no matter where we live. Every necessary trip to the grocery store is a potential infection event, and we’re constantly vigilant that no one stands too close to us, scanning the field for maskless anitvaxxers like prey animals searching for predators.
What I’m saying is I think we could all use the single most useful thing I’ve ever gotten from my therapist: a gif.
Breathing deeply is one of the quickest, easiest ways to get your body to turn off the fight or flight response when you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. You can save the image on your phone and use it anytime anxiety is getting the best of you. I used to use it on the crowded rush hour L train in summer, now I use it standing in line at the Fort Greene Farmers Market.
If you were disappointed but not surprised to see the white men of the BA test kitchen do nothing while their colleagues jeopardized their careers to stand up for an equal workplace: This wonderful, maddening profile of Sohla El-Waylly and her new solo career after Bon Appétit. (Her new show is delightful and you should watch it.)
If your landlord turned on the heat this week and now you’re sweating with all the windows open: this history of steam heat as a design response to the Spanish flu. (It’s supposed to be that hot because steam heat was designed to keep buildings warm while all the windows were open to fight flu transmission.) Also: how to control steam radiators.
Some unsettling news about crabs. (If we’re all potentially in the process of becoming crabs, is it immoral to eat crab? Food for thought.)
This noodle artist/dancer’s performances.
This New Yorker piece about my favorite podcast You’re Wrong About, and the most recent episode of said podcast, the third in their series on Princess Diana in which Diana pushes an old lady down the stairs and Prince Charles plans a fake arm stunt à la J. Walter Weatherman.
What are you cooking to calm yourself? (And is it working?) Email me.
Stir Crazy is a weekly newsletter about cooking, mental health and keeping calm during quarantine. Subscribe if you haven’t already, or share with someone who could use a delicious distraction right now.