A cure for current events anxiety: Bake!

Feeling as if we’re drowning in a wave of depressing news from the U.S., for the past few months Stew and I have drastically trimmed our daily consumption of current events.

According to some reports, symptoms of current-events overload—insomnia, anger and anxiety, among others—are widespread and affecting partisans on both sides of the political crevasse that divides America. Political discourse has been replaced by snarking and growling at anyone who disagrees with you.

So Stew and I have winnowed down the amount of news and other disquieting inputs, primarily through television and online, that threatens our peace and quiet. We started by skipping TV news, particularly CNN, with its babbling, bobbing heads and endless chyrons blaring some “breaking news.” If a particularly obnoxious figure, say, Rudy Giuliani—the full-time pooper scooper of the Trump administration—accidentally pops up on our screen, one of us will reflexively lunge for the TV remote.

Perversely, I occasionally tune in to Fox News to see how their spinmeisters will twist, embroider and flip-flop news unfavorable to President Trump. It’s the journalistic equivalent of alchemy and it’s curious to watch, but for no more than five minutes.

Neither can I resist, curiosity temporarily trumping my mental health concerns, checking out some bizarre bit of news, such as the appearance of the QAnon conspiracy club at some recent Trump rallies. If you really believe Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring from a Washington, D.C. pizzeria and Barack Obama was born in Kenya, QAnon might be a good fit for you.

Our censoring campaign extends to talk shows, even those pretending to be comedy, most of which any more revolve around politics. No Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher or Sunday morning programs that dice, slice and mince every tidbit of news.

Dark, depressing TV dramas are out too, at least for me. We watched a few episodes of Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a scrawny, burned-out alcoholic defense lawyer. For Billy Bob, born with a face resembling the proverbial forty miles of bad road, the part is not much of a stretch. Yes, he heroically saves poor guys on the verge of getting mangled by the justice system, but to get to that redemptive climax you have to trod through so many unhappy people—all of them with cynical scowls tattooed on their faces—I don’t care to see it any more. Stew, though, a fan of crime novels, seems to enjoy the show.

From l. to r.: Comics Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and hosts
Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

And just as we were ready to give up on television, we discovered the Great British Baking Show on PBS, a cooking show so amiable, pleasant—and just plain nice—that it’s the sort of thing to watch a hour before you go to sleep while sipping a cup of chamomile tea.

Unlike some American cooking shows that thrive on cutthroat competition and sometimes tormenting or humiliating tearful contestants, everyone on the Baking Show is civil, even helpful to each other.

The premise is to have twelve amateur, but clearly experienced bakers, prepare three different confections, as requested by the two hosts, Mary Berry, 83, a quite famous cookbook and TV presenter in the U.K., and Paul Hollywood, 52, also a celebrity baker in Britain. Two women comics help keep the show from taking itself too seriously.

It takes place in a tent on the grounds of a Downton Abbey-style manor in England, its splendor highlighted by beautiful photography even if it seems to rain constantly.

The contestants are really an interestingly mix too, representing today’s Britain: A turbaned Sikh, a guy from Ghana, a South Asian woman, grandmothers and housewives, students and young people as young as seventeen years old, and a construction worker who turns out to be an amazingly good baker.

Baking challenges go all over the place, from fussy, light-as-air French pastries to heavier—much heavier—British creations such as Pork Pie with Chicken and Apricots. Oi. One show even included American-style doughnuts which were introduced in Britain during World War II, to satisfy American soldiers. The Technical Challenge is particularly onerous because contestants are given recipes with skimpy details and they have to fill in the blanks.

After the assignments are announced by the two women comics, they yell “BAKE!”,  and the contestants are given anywhere from two to five-and-a-half hours to come up with a pie, pudding or whatever.

Even seemingly simple bakes get incredibly complicated, sometimes not so successfully,  at the hands of anxious contestants trying to outdo their competitors. Berry and Hollywood sample each of the creations and offer their opinions which can be sharp but never mean. The baking challenges get more complex as the season goes on and the number of contestants is whittled down.

At the end of each show, they pick the Star Baker for the week but also send someone home. The show concludes with hugs all around, tearful for those disqualified and congratulatory for the survivors. The show maintains its convivial tone right through the final credits.

This is a perfect show—so civil and pleasant—for these troubled times that are anything but. Even if you try some of the recipes and gain a few pounds, you’ll sleep better.

[The Great British Baking Show airs on PBS, Amazon Prime and Netflix]

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