When you’re in charge of your own nutrition and subsistence, there’s a lot that becomes second nature. Because we’re alive and we’re animals, we have to fuel ourselves with nutrients from outside our body. It’s boilerplate daily existence; eat, digest, excrete, repeat. It should be simple enough to learn what’s good for you, and to prepare it efficiently, and eat enough when you’re hungry so that you’re not hungry anymore.
However, this is troubled by the involvement of your brain (that tricksy bastard!) As we know, your brain and your guts are connected. Anything that fucks up the works upstairs is going to roll downhill.
When I was nineteen, I went through a period I’d consider one of my darkest. There were plenty of moments when I’d watch the incoming subway headlights and just consider stepping off the platform. I self-medicated with cheap rum, and i developed this nervous habit of rubbing my eyes to the point that the skin turned dry and taupe. It wasn’t idiopathic, in that it was specific events that inspired and sustained my depression, but the feelings were the feelings. And it was in this time that I discovered how intimately connected my emotions and my stomach were.
I crunched antacids like breath mints and I kept a junior-high-school-principal-size bottle of Pepto in my bathroom. And, paradoxically, I ate fast food constantly, which of course exacerbated the problem. I barely made it 24 hours after having my wisdom teeth out before I was chewing down a triple Baconator.
Dude Food Tip: This idea that fast food is BAD is counterintuitive. No food is purely BAD. The systems that create food are troubling (how agriculture-industrial complexes hurt the planet and their labor force, the politicization of farm subsidies that make Cheetos cost less than kale and that fuck corn into absolutely everything) and the consequential harmful/arbitary stigmas about certain foods and diets are shitty, but a Big Mac is not BAD. If you eat one, you are not BAD. If you require a belief something is PURE BAD to not eat it, power to you, but just remember that that’s suspicion, not fact.
When the system that regulates hunger and satisfaction is functioning in a depressive brain, food is not second nature, it’s a combination lock we pick in the dark. Some undereat, others overeat. Recently, I’ve taken to carboloading during dark periods, which is a problem because I also stress-bake. And I’m pretty decent at it; if I was a shitty baker, I’d probably be in better physical shape.
Because depression is experienced differently by everyone (versus, say, a knife in the leg), there is no simple food-based approach to self-care. You have to be aware of your own destructive tendencies, and approach them calmly, like you would a feral animal; sudden or drastic approaches rarely work out well. And you have to be prepared for piecemeal (pun intended) approaches; one square meal at a time, one mouthful at a time. And remember to keep it simple.
Comfort food should be simple. It should require little effort, it should be filling, and it should be healthy, because if it’s not you’ll hate yourself more. Health is so fucking complicated. If you have one or two recipes that you can bang out, then that’s a good foundation.
Dude Depression Food Recipe 1: KALE CHIPS
Simple, filling, delicious, and able to be stuffed into your face all at once to distract yourself from pain, but that won’t leave you with the misery-shits.
Ingredients: one head kale, olive oil (not the extra-virgin shit, that’ll smoke up too quickly; get the stuff labeled For Frying), and seasonings (all optional; salt, sriracha, pepper, cayenne, paprika, w/e.)
Preheat oven to 325.
Tear the kale off the tough central ribs, and tear it into however big pieces you want; that shit’ll cook down. Wash it. Or do this first. Or not, because really, when was the last time anyone in the first world died of kale pesticide poisoning.
Toss it with a few slugs of the olive oil; not too much, but I go with 2 glugs per large bowl of kale.
Spread in a single layer on baking sheets covered in either parchment paper or tinfoil, because it’ll save you from cleaning the baking sheets.
Drizzle on some seasonings.
Pop in the oven (on the top rack) for 17 or so minutes.
Take out, wait a few mins, and eat every single one, preferably while listening to this.
What about you guys? What do you eat when you’re depressed?
It’s basically winter now, so not only are you laying on the subcutaneous fat to get you through those long cold nights, you close your windows and turn your apartment into a little submarine of warmth. And what’s the best way to gild that cozy lily? Why, by filling your house with the delicious, drool-inducing smell of slow cooked food. It’s like a Glade plugin of meat and spices (or veggies and spices, whatever, who gives a shit.)
I’ve been blessed with not one but TWO slow cookers (shout out to my roomie!) and I can say, without a doubt, that these suckers are the deus ex machina for the lazy but still ambitious chef. Think of it like this: do you like to cook? Great. Do you hate prep work and standing over a stove and having to use multiple pieces of cookware? Of course you do, you’re busy living your life, writing the great American novel, finding the cheapest beer/shot combo, trying to mine meaning from your unsatisfying job, learning what HPV is. You’re a goddamn young American with not a single moment to waste!
The crockpot is where it’s fucking AT. Just toss a bunch of things in, turn a knob, and then just…leave. And after eight or so hours, which you’ve already occupied with sleep or work or exploratory surgery, you end up with a ceramic bucket of tender, hearty, delicious, and most importantly low-impact cooked food.
Dude Food Tip: This may seem obvious, but try your goddamndest to cook it on the Low setting (8 or 9 hrs for most recipes) vs. the High setting (3 or 4 hrs). It’ll mean a little more scheduling legwork, but it tastes better, and until there’s an affordable sous-vide machine at Williams-Sonoma, this is the closest we’ll get to perfection.
The issue that I have with my crockpot is always one of laziness, i.e. I decide it’ll be quicker and simpler just to cook the food now and Tupperware up the leftovers. WRONG. The crockpot is not just the access point to falling-off-the-bone meats and skull-poppingly-good stews, it is a barometer of your laziness, which in turn is an indicator of your destiny. That’s right. If you can’t be fucked to chop a bunch of shit up, throw it in a pot, and then live your life, you need to seriously look inward, because you are probably in a rut. It is literally that easy to use, and if you find yourself resisting it, that’s the canary in your depressive and lethargic coal mine. This tends to happen a lot this winter, so you should start using the crockpot AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE if you have one, and BUY ONE COME CHRISTMAS if not.
(2nd sentence is unrelated but also applicable here)
So here’s something to get you started.
SLOW COOKER CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA, EVERYBODY
1 15-oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. garam masala (note; if you don’t have this at your local grocery, just make a bunch of your own and keep it in an airtight container for when you inevitable make this dish again. See below)
2 Tbsp. coriander
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dry ginger
1/2 tsp. cardamom (expensive as fuck but worth buying. You can sprinkle some on your coffee grounds before brewing and it’ll kick ass.)
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Back to the recipe!
Salt and pepper
Four or five boneless/skinless chicken breastses
1/2 cup heavy cream
Cut the chicken into chunks the size of your thumb and set aside.
Mix the tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the pot.
Place the chicken on top of the tomato mixture in the Crock Pot, cover and simmer for seven to eight hours — because it’ll taste better — on low.
When time is up, 10 mins or so before serving, stir the heavy cream into the mixture. Dump on basmati rice and gorge, or make some naan. No, i won’t tell you how, there’s an entire rest of the internet for that.
And remember: it’s really unlikely that your slow cooker will catch fire and burn down your apartment while you’re out. If you’re worried, do it anyway. Cooking should be a little dangerous since that we don’t have to chase down and murder the food ourselves anymore.