Preparing dinner at my house isn't always picture perfect. I'm usually running around managing a few different dishes at the same time while dealing with barking dogs (did you feed them yet?) meowing cats (I swore we already fed them) and hungry family members. It's not at all like the calmness you see surrounding the Pioneer Woman as she gracefully lifts her dish of green beans from the oven. Deep breath please.
The kitchen is a hectic place and one small slip-up (gosh darn it the timer never got set) can cause an entire domino effect throughout the meal. Whether you are a home cook or a professional chef, there's no way to escape the pressure of cooking the perfect meal.
The Recipe That Almost Broke Me
Last year I decided to audition for the hit television show, Master Chef. I sent in my application prior to the open-auditions and apparently the producers liked me and placed me in a special priority audition group to show off my dish in the first group that day. Stunned that the producers were interested, I knew I had to prepare a special dish to show off my talents. I decided on creating key lime pie macarons which would 1) be easy to transport, 2) would show a high level of skill, and 3) convey a fun side of my personality.
The day before the audition I started to prepare my macarons. If you've ever made macarons before you know how finicky they can be. Under whip the egg whites and the cookies will sploosh all over the pan. Over whip and they'll be dry and brittle. And don't get me started with the humidity. Macarons HATE humidity.
So on this day particularly the humidity level was through the roof. I started making a batch of the macarons early in the morning making sure that just in case anything happened, I would have the entire day to devote to this recipe. And I'm glad I did. While baking my first batch the timer got turned off and they all burnt. It's okay, I say to myself, heart rate and blood pressure rising and the muscle tension in my back getting tighter. My trained hands are already preparing another batch.
The second batch spread into each other, creating one large cookie. Hours of work down the drain. Tears start to flow freely and I sat on the ground in front of the oven staring at tray of misshapen cookies. I was defeated and there was no way I could show up to that audition tomorrow with these ugly macarons on a plate. Negative thoughts swirled through my head and I felt that tug of stress emit from my lower belly. There was nothing more for me to do.
Calm The Storm
As someone with a lot of anxiety, I've slowly learned throughout the years what to do when I start to feel a panic attack come on. Breathe. Alternate nostril breathing, as weird as it sounds, is my go-to whenever I am in a state of anxiety. Be it the doctor's office or freaking out because I totally messed up something up at work-this deceptively simple breathing technique has calmed me down numerous times.
Breathing exercises are no joke. As a simple relaxation technique, deep breathing is said to help lower blood pressure, lower stress and aid in stress management. There are entire exercise classes that focus on the importance of slow breaths and your body's relaxation response. And while it's always nice to go to a yoga or Tai Chi class, this breathing technique taught by Crystal Fenton, only takes about sixteen seconds to perform, making it easy to relax anywhere.
To begin, sit down and close your eyes. Take your right hand and using your middle and index finger, press your fingers against your left nostril as you inhale through your right nostril for about four seconds.
Close your right nostril with your thumb and release your two fingers from your left nostril and exhale through your left nostril for four seconds.
Inhale for four seconds through your left nostril then press your fingers against your left nostril and exhale through your right.
In the end, the final batch came out beautifully. The audition went swimmingly (and so did the various meetings and screen tests I did later in the month) and I ended up getting invited to Los Angeles to compete in the show. It was at that point I declined the offer due to the overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety the audition process had set on me. It took weeks for me to make a decision, but I realized that mental health always comes first; we just have to remember to breathe.
For all of you who want to make your own key lime pie macarons, get the recipe here.