Sunday Dinner

Sunday Dinner: Why we bake when the snow flies

March 1, 2014 

Occupy Letters

The weather has driven us all to do whatever is necessary to survive. And what’s been necessary? Baking.


This winter has been one long, gray series of unfortunate frozen events.

Friends in Chicago have told me to stop whining because they’ve been grateful for a high temperature of 3 degrees. I tell them that I am a Southerner who believes ice should be found only in my umbrella drink which, under normal winter circumstances, I could be sipping in a light sweater on my patio.

The weather has driven us all to do whatever is necessary to survive. And what was necessary in the latest snowstorm: baking.

Trapped in our homes, watching endless TV loops of roads strewn with cars like Legos in a white-tiled playroom, we started our ovens.

“I am about to start a cheesecake,” one friend wrote on Facebook that afternoon.

“Bread is rising,” wrote another.

Here’s what others were baking: chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies (two of those), banana bread, sweet potato muffins, apple pie, pumpkin bread, cinnamon bread and something called a berry buckle cake.

As I watched my patio vanish under the fluffy load, I told myself that I wasn’t living in a Minnesota pioneer cabin in the woods, having to contemplate shooting my own dinner. There was no need for the urge that stirred deep within me and manifested itself with a reach for flour and baking powder.

I baked orange-cranberry nut bread and cornbread.

The Hub and I finished it off before the roads thawed.

I began to wonder if there is a deep human need for baked things that cold weather ignites into a burning passion.

Shelly Wegman, a registered dietician at Rex Wellness Centers, began laughing when I asked about the winter-and-baked-goods connection.

“I’m originally from New Hampshire, and we used to call it ‘hibernation mode,’ ” she said. “There is science behind it, though.”

Carbohydrate intake boosts serotonin, which improves mood and sleep patterns, Wegman said. So baked goods make you feel good.

“When you’re in that ‘I’m cold, I’m cranky’ mood, what will pick you up and make you feel good and sleep well will be the carbohydrate foods,” she said.

People with seasonal affective disorder or mild depression might crave carbohydrates because of those effects on mood. Exercise boosts your mood too, but the best that many people could do in an snowstorm would be jogging around the living room.

Then there’s the emotional aspect – the nurturing nature of comfort food, or memories of treats on childhood snow days. The aroma of baking cookies perks up our senses in the bleak midwinter, too.

“The study of where food cravings come from is quite new, and whether they are oriented from a biological or emotional need, the cravings are real for that person,” said Kyle S. Burger, assistant professor in the department of nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

I wondered if even a professional baker could feel the oven’s pull on a snow day, and spoke with Phoebe Lawless of Durham’s Scratch Baking. She doesn’t do much baking at home because she’s spoiled by her commercial kitchen. “But I do much more involved cooking on snow days because I have time,” Lawless said. “I think it has to do with that people are forced to stop their usual daily habits. And, in terms of baking, it seems that it comes about because people have the time and they’re idle.

“You have time to focus on doing something, to get around to doing that recipe you’ve been wanting to do and have been putting off.”

As long as the power’s on, that is.

So it looks like there are lots of reasons that I slid those goodies in to bake.

Oh, there is one more.

The oven warms up the house enough to melt the ice in my umbrella drink.

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