I came across a 2001 NYT article on cooking yesterday that managed to really put the finger on the pulse of why and how it is cooking can be such a life affirming, comforting hobby.
Some passages from the article below:
"Anyone who cooks even casually knows the feeling. Cooking is almost always a mood-altering experience, for good or for bad, and at its best it is do-it-yourself therapy: more calming than yoga, less risky than drugs.
The food is not really the thing. It's the making of it that gets you through a bad time.On Thursday, I was motivated to make stew, and not because I had any real craving for meat. I needed to go through the slow process of rendering salt pork, sautéing onions and shallots, browning the beef and simmering it for hours with Cognac and stock and two kinds of mustard. Nothing about the recipe, one I have made every winter since learning it in cooking school 18 years ago, could be rushed, which was exactly what I wanted. Sometimes cooking is its own reward.
And the reason you do it is very simple: cooking is the most sensual activity a human being can engage in, in polite company. My stew involved smell (onions softening, Cognac reducing), touch (the chopping, the stirring), sound (that sizzle of beef cubes hitting hot fat), sight (carrot orange against the gold-brown of mustard and beef stock) and especially taste. Making it was a way to feel alive and engaged.
Whoever said cooking should be entered into with abandon or not at all had it wrong. Going into it when you have no hope is sometimes just what you need to get to a better place."
I woke up today with the date of the article nagging at the edges of my consciousness. I looked it up again today - and of course, it was published less than 10 days after 911. For the writer, her kitchen held comfort and life in the midst of grief.
This article and Banana Yoshimoto's novella - Kitchen - are the only two pieces of writing I've ever read that managed to elucidate the idea of how cooking - and food - can be a return from death. Food - its preparation and consumption - are so intimately linked with life itself.
It is no secret that I learned to cook during one of the lowest and saddest seasons of my life. Cooking, constantly cooking, was one of the ways that I clung on to life; it was a reason to go on. Grasping a bag of mushrooms at the market was a way to grasp at life.
I am not sure that it is only the making of the food that is the thing. The food itself means something. I ate well during that time and understood for the first time that good food, healthy, well prepared food, is as revivifying as the process of making it. When eventually, I emerged from the season of sadness, it was as a healthier and more stable person - thanks in no small part to the great produce I had been consuming.
Looking back at that season of long sad days, I began to glimpse at why people fast during the season of Lent. Perhaps it is to to remind themselves that a season of drought and weary cold ends with Christ, who is living water and the bread of life.
Note: If you follow the link, it brings you to the NYT article which also includes a recipe for Maple Shortbread Bars and Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew.