How Cooking Casseroles Helps Me Conquer The Darkness

Ashley Holstrom
The Establishment
Published in
6 min readAug 24, 2016

By Ashley Holstrom

When I moved out of my parents’ house, my mom went through her kitchen cabinets and gave me all the duplicate spatulas and spoons and cups she’d forgotten were there. She dug out my great-grandmother’s casserole dishes, complete with little tomatoes and peppers and Italian phrases printed on the sides, and passed them on to me.

These pans have been the sole carriers of my depression casseroling.

Baking is too hard. So many things can go wrong. With casseroles, nothing can go wrong. Unless you burn it. Don’t do that.

Casseroles speak to my soul. They’re pretty damn easy. Sauté some stuff, throw whatever you want in a pan, sprinkle with an entire bag of shredded cheese (even if, and especially if, the recipe calls for only half of the bag), pop in the oven, and voila! You have supplied food for yourself for at least three days.

A part of me always considers that maybe buying all these ingredients and spending a morning preparing them isn’t worth it. Drive-thrus are cheaper and quicker! No preparing necessary. No enjoying necessary.

But that’s not the point.

The point is turning off the darkness in my head for an hour while I focus on not screwing up this one thing that is so simple, but also so complicated.

A few years ago, Jeanne Whalen wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the use of cooking as therapy for patients with depression and anxiety; they take cooking classes to soothe stress by focusing on following a recipe. This is brilliant. Cooking is a type of therapy called behavioral activation, Whalen says. “The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.”

The writer talks to bunches of people who have turned to the kitchen as a form of therapy, and they all love it. Talk therapy does wonders, of course, but adding behavioral therapy to the mix is the cherry on top. (Or the cheese on top, as it were.)

Meatball Sub Magic

Ashley Holstrom
The Establishment

Making books at Sourcebooks and writing about books at Book Riot.