The Secret Ingredient

February 13, 2020

"Happiness! That is the secret ingredient." Those are the words of Betty*, who has been baking homemade apple pies for over 60 years.

Baking is a newly revived passion for Betty and her caregiver Michelle. Being in the kitchen connects their mutual passions, creates a positive environment, and awakens the senses.

The smell of cinnamon, the taste of apples, the action of peeling them, and reading a family recipe while listening to Vivaldi is a great way to spend time indoors during the winter months. Baking and cooking not only stimulate our senses, which can pave the way to reminisce and shared storytelling; it is also an excellent way to spend time in good company. Experiences that happen in the kitchen can enhance positive emotions like joy, pride, and gratitude. Even if the cookies don't turn out the way you planned, it's about being present and doing something that makes you happy.

It's empowering to use your skills in an activity you enjoy, one that is challenging enough that fosters control and arousal, as opposed to apathy and anxiety. A present state of mind ultimately results in a state of "Flow," where you're mental state is engaged in a process that derives from enjoyment and immersion in the present activity. This theory of "Flow," credited by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1988), was used in conjunction with other theoretical frameworks in the field of positive psychology and human behavior. Mainly, we benefit the most when we create opportunities in our lives where we can experience "Flow" inspired by our intrinsically motivated leisure activities. Like a musician playing a song from memory, artists escaping into a world of color, and chefs transforming ingredients into exquisite dishes are only a few examples of opportunities where "Flow" can be inspired.

Betty and Michelle have baked about four apple pies this year. Usually, this will occur around the Jewish holidays. They will bring the pies to her daughter's house for dinner. She has never gone empty-handed before, why would she start now?

To begin with, the ladies prepared the environment with some motivational music. They laid out all the ingredients they would need along with a copy of the recipe sent from her daughter placed in a visible spot for reference. It was printed in large font and adapted with pictures and simple step instructions. It turns out, Betty doesn't need the recipe as often as she initially thought, she is reminded and stimulated by the scent in the room and the materials in front of her.

Making something is a great way to show the people you love that you appreciate them — what better way to do so than with a homemade pie. Betty was so proud to have completed her pie for her daughter that it overshadowed her original feelings of boredom, which can often encompass a vast majority of the day for people living with cognitive impairment. There were positive emotions of joy and gratitude between the two ladies. Having spent a cold afternoon together in a warm kitchen making memories.

What is the secret ingredient? If you ask Betty, the answer is, "I make it with LOVE."

Betty is happy to share her recipe for others to enjoy! 


Core, peel, and cut about 5-6 apples into 1/4" pieces (Using various types of apples is best)


1/2 cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp flour


Preheat oven at 425 degrees.

Mix the above ingredients well and let sit for 15 minutes.

Use a store-bought crust. Bake the bottom for about 5 minutes.

When done, take out and fill with the apple mixture.

2 Tbsps butter cut into small pieces spread out over the apple mixture.

Place second pie crust on top, wet with a little water and pinch the edges.

Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top of the pie before baking.

Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, lower temperature to 325 and continue baking for another 30 minutes.

Tips for adapting recipes:

Retype in large sans serif font

Add photos

Add checkmark boxes after each ingredient to keep track of steps you have already completed

Keep in mind; it's not about the finished product. Have a good time doing something you love.

Other ideas for culinary activities in the home for Valentine's Day:

Chocolate covered strawberries

Heart-shaped sugar cookies

Watermelon and raspberry skewers

Red fruit smoothies

Cranberry Muffins

*Some names have been changed to uphold confidentiality, maintain privacy, and HIPAA compliance.

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