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Healing heartbreak in the kitchen

The authors of "Heartbreak Recovery Kitchen" show you how to cook your way out of a funk

Jen Weigel

March 20, 2012

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Can cooking really help you get over a heartbreak? According to writer and cookbook author Jeanne Ambrose, a great dish not only helps you move on, but it can also make you feel better about those bumps in the road.

"It seems like a cliche that food makes everything better but it does," said Ambrose, who co-wrote her book "Heartbreak Recovery Kitchen" with her daughter, Lindsey Ambrose, after they'd both gone through some challenging circumstances.

"I got laid off after 14 years of working in journalism. Lindsey was in college at the time and she'd flunked a couple of classes," Ambrose said. "She'd also broken up with a boyfriend, lost her cell phone, her cat ran away—I mean everything that could've gone wrong did."

Both mother and daughter spent time as food writers and had visions of writing a cookbook.

"We thought, 'Well, why not now? Why not tie in food with coping during tough times and heal as we go?'" Ambrose said. "I've always loved cooking and my daughter too. She's been a foodie since she could hold a spoon ... Cooking together took our mind off what was wrong, and then eating what we'd come up with was so gratifying."

Ambrose also compiled essays for her book from writers who shared cooking memories in relation to heartbreak, bringing new meaning to the term "comfort food."

"Food produces comfort and a lot of that stems from your memories," Ambrose said. "If you're in your mother's kitchen — or even your daughter's kitchen — research shows that a smell can put you immediately in that [comfort] zone.

"Everybody goes through a heartbreak of one form or another and we all bounce back. But we all do it differently. Yet somehow food always ties into the picture."

Here are some of Ambrose's tips for healing heartbreak in the kitchen:

Find a cooking buddy. "It's OK to wallow in misery by yourself for a little while but it's better to wallow with friends," she said. "It was really helpful for my daughter and me to put this together. We would come together on weekends and cook and we realized how much fun it is to be in the kitchen together."

Cook with chocolate. "Chocolate does amazing things," Ambrose said. "Not only does it make you feel sexy, but it [also] has antioxidants and serotonin that makes you feel better. It benefits your mood."

Embrace the aromas. "There was research done that certain fragrances are soothing and will relieve stress," Ambrose said. "Lemon, mango, and lavender are a few. Just cut open a lemon and take a big whiff while you are cooking. And peppermint also perks you up. There's something in it that gives you energy."

Cook for your friends—and make it a habit. "Being around friends who love food and people who support you makes the tough times so much better," she said. "You have something to look forward to and you can share ideas and recipes."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel