Cooking as Therapy

Two years ago this March, my beloved Grandfather passed away at the ripe old age of 93. (Being stubborn in my family actually tends to translate into living a long and proud life.)

I was — to be blunt — devastated, and all I wanted to do was gather my family around me and just, well, be together. So after the initial shock had passed, I washed my face at my husband’s suggestion. I cleaned the kitchen. I called my sister, I called my mother and luckily (for my sanity) they decided to come over.

“Can I bring anything?” My mom suggested customarily. At first I couldn’t think of anything that could possibly make the situation better, but a deep emptiness nagged at a familiar feeling inside of me.

Cooking is a great way to take your mind off things.

“Are you hungry?” I asked quickly. “I’ll make breakfast.” And while they were en route, in an involuntary flurry I preheated the oven, got out the eggs and dove head first into the most comforting recipe I had on hand, which was for some Breakfast casseroles.

At some consolation, I actually had all of the ingredients in the house already. Usually I make long lists of ingredients for recipes I never end up making (cost trumps enthusiasm). But something in the universe allowed this to come together for me — to keep me together, in a sense. It was easier to think about milk and cheese than anything else.

And I’ll never forget that brunch. The clink of the forks on my red Waechtersbach, the requests for coffee and tea refills, the quiet conversation that floated above the table like the steam rising from our food. I’m sure we all felt alone in our own way, but around that table, sharing that meal, for a few moments we were together in our sadness and in our mutual attempt to find joy in the memories we had. After all, shared memories and shared meals go hand in hand.

I still think about my Grandfather every day, and sometimes I wonder if he is my spirit guide. He was a smart, handy, no-nonsense kind of guy, and although they only knew each other for about five years he and my husband also got along famously. My eyes well up each time we visit him at the cemetery, but we always come away glad that we went and it forces us to remember more clearly his soft hands, the way his eyes smiled and the joy that constantly radiated from his humble heart. And although no meal will ever fully emulate being on the receiving end of that energy, looking back on the meal I shared with my family on that cool October day brings me peace. It was my saving grace, a temporary but vital exercise in therapy.

I know this is a heavier post than usual, but I wanted to demonstrate that it’s not always about getting in all your veggies or making sure that your portion size isn’t too big. Luckily this therapy session did not turn into an emotional eating stint for me, and by all means I do not recommend emotionally charged binges. But for me at that time, it was not so much about food as it was about distraction and consolation.

If you have the opportunity to cook for someone in a time of crisis — a neighbor, a teacher, a sick family member — even if food is the last thing on your mind and all you have are four or five ingredients, take the 15 or 20 minutes to whip up something simple and nourishing. Put your energy and love into it. Go ahead: Invest a bit of your self and feel what it means to be vulnerable. Your stomach, your soul — and whoever you feed — will surely thank you.

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