The holiday season is filled with so many delights for the senses!  Baking involves smell, taste, and touch and becomes a gateway to store powerful, positive memories. Guest blogger, Justina Wong, provides a personal insight on the power of baking. Please welcome her voice to our blog.


The one part of the holiday season I look forward to is baking. Do you like science and art with a splash of creativity? If yes, then baking is a hobby you should consider. The ingredients are bought, gathered, measured, and mixed to make delicious treats. Baking could be fun for any age level and skill level. For some, baking during the holidays is a family tradition passed down from generation to generation. For others, baking can alleviate stress during the holidays and act as a powerful self-care tool.

Baking can be therapeutic, although it is not a quick fix for severe mental health concerns. Baking can assist in relieving stress, anxiety, and depression during the holidays. It uses both sides of your brain and can distract you from whatever is causing you stress. There is something special about getting flour all over my shirt, getting my hands dirty by punching down freshly risen yeast dough, the smell of vanilla extract, and the sound of chocolate chips clanking in the bowl as it mixes. Baking involves my senses and has become a favorite holiday activity.

My great-grandmother has played a significant role in why dessert is my favorite part of any meal. When I was a child, my great-grandmother made sweet Chinese pastries to snack on after school. She frequently made sweet pastries for my birthday, Chinese New Year, or any time she thought I wanted to eat sweets. It has been over 18 years since she passed away, and I can still vividly picture her walking out of her tiny kitchen with a large tray of sweet pastries. Some pastries had red bean paste or stir-fried chopped peanuts mixed with sugar in the middle. I did not pay as much attention to the pastries as I did to the time she took to share them with me.

Sharing baked goods could be another form of self-care. Baking for others can be therapeutic. I have hosted a baking day after Thanksgiving for the last five years. I invite my sister and cousins to attend because it might be the only time I see everyone together all year. We usually bake about seven to eight different treats, from cinnamon rolls to key lime and pistachio biscotti with white chocolate ganache drizzle. After the baked goods cool, I package them and send them in care packages to combat veterans. In the past, I sent care packages within the U.S. and overseas to Africa, Afghanistan (before we pulled out), Iraq, Bahrain, and Japan.

Due to COVID-19, I did not send any boxes last year, and I received multiple messages in my Facebook messenger asking me when the baked goods were going to arrive. It was a challenging holiday season because I did not engage in my annual baking traditions. It broke my heart to know that my care package of baked goods was one of their favorite parts of the holiday season. As a replacement, I sent baked goods from vendors I have personally used, and they reported that the experience was not the same. My annual holiday tradition became an anticipated part of their annual holiday tradition.

That is the power of baking. Baking is more than stress relief and sending care packages to combat veterans for the holidays. Baking is a process about diving deep and opening your heart to others so you can share a part of your heart with them. Baking is a part of my cultural heritage, family tradition, and who I am as a human being and a counselor. When you think of baking this holiday season, ask yourself which part of your heart you want to share with others.

As my holiday gift to you, I want to share a recipe that I enjoy making the day after Thanksgiving. This one is a perennial favorite for active-duty service members! Happy baking!

Fireball Pecan Pie (makes 1 pie)

Ingredients:

Pie:

1 unbaked pie crust (make your own pie crust or use a frozen store bought one)

3/4 cup good quality semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli or Guittard)

1 ½ cups chopped pecans

Toothpick (optional)

Filling:

½ stick of melted butter (or 6 tbsp)

3 eggs

1 cup white sugar

1 tsp of vanilla extract (I use Madagascar Bourbon)

½ cup light corn syrup

2 tbsps Fireball whiskey (cinnamon flavored)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lay the pie crust into the pie pan and crimp/trim the sides.
  3. Pour chocolate chips into an even single layer in the pie crust.
  4. Pour chopped pecans into an even layer on top of the chocolate chips.
  5. In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter with sugar until thoroughly combined.
  6. Add vanilla extract and Fireball whiskey and mix again.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until everything comes together. You might have to use a strainer to ensure that the mixture is smooth and there are no egg whites not whisked with the yolk. If you don’t mix well and/or don’t strain the mixture you might get clumps of egg whites in your pie.
  8. Add in egg mixture and mix to combine.
  9. Add the light corn syrup last and mix to combine again.
  10. Pour the filling into the pie crust on top of chocolate chips and chopped pecans.
  11. Wait for the chopped pecans to float to the surface of filling mixture. Get rid of bubbles in the filling with a toothpick if needed. I usually get rid of the bubbles to ensure a pretty pie.
  12. Bake at 350 F degrees for 50-60 minutes. The filling should rise a bit (kind of like a cake) and is slightly jiggly but not too jiggly. It will deflate as it cools. The top should be a golden brown color.
  13. Let it cool for about 30 minutes before cutting and serving if you like a gooey pie filling and melted chocolate. If you like room-temperature pie, you can also cover the pie and leave it at room temperature for a day. I like my Fireball Pecan Pie to be cold, so I put it in the refrigerator overnight after it cools completely.

Justina Wong is an APCC and NCC earning hours towards licensure at a partial hospitalization program in California. She is a member of the Association for Creativity in Counseling and encourages clients to use creative expression such as baking, art therapy, cinemetherapy, and photography to manage life stressors. Justina has been an avid baker for the last 18 years.