Culinary Therapy

I might need help, or maybe just an extra egg. I cook under fire. When I need a break, a distraction or feel like a challenge I usually take to the kitchen.  And even when cooking options are limited, I am still cooking. In December both the microwave and toaster oven went out. Not a problem. I made toast old school style in a hot buttered skillet. Then when added when we were without a stove top for two weeks in January, I still continued cooking despite the complication (everything happens in threes). As frustrated as I was to have my cooking options limited, I enjoyed the test of my creativity and produced some satisfying meals.

At the same time this month I’ve been reading Annia Ciezaldo’s Day of Honey, a memoir of food and war in the Middle East. In the midst of the wars in Lebanon and Iraq during the last decade, Ciezaldo experienced beauty amidst turmoil and celebration in turbulence through connections maintained and forged around the table. In one particular scene, when tensions are at a boiling point, “during the Mahdi Army uprising, the first Marine assault on Fallujah, and the Abu-Ghraid court-martials,” she stops for dinner at a local hotel restaurant. And despite the terror outside, the chef chose that night “to make a chicken roulade stuffed with cream sauce.” Ciezaldo is struck by the beauty of the gesture, amid the failing generators and lack of air conditioning in the heat. When asked why, the chef replies, “It’s what I do.”

I was struck by the juxtaposition of consumable, fleeting beauty and the war outside the restaurant. Even under stress, and sometimes because of it, people experience the need to create something good, even if it cannot last.  I resonated and recalled some of President Uchtdorf’s words on the topic.

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

Even tonight when I have been busy and loaded with a heavy to-do list and a new house full of repair projects, I inexplicably made a carrot cake, studded with toasted sunflower seeds, and iced in orange mascarpone frosting. It was 30 minutes of peace and concentration in the kitchen. The smell of the sugared cinnamon crust caramelizing in the oven swirled through the house and I felt satisfaction. Nevermind I was headed back to my books and computer to get back to the work I had been neglecting.

My husband questions my sanity in these moments, wondering who on earth retreats to the kitchen to create more dishes to be washed when they are already feeling crunched. I guess I can’t help myself. More than most other things, cooking is my outlet, a deep source of satisfaction. comfort and contentment. I like knowing I can start with raw materials and make something good of them, even if they are made to be consumed; leaving little trace of my artistry behind. But from my place at the computer now, I can hear my husband clinking the knife against the plate, slicing himself a piece of my efforts, and I am not sorry for my brand of therapy, my need for edible creation. It’s just what I do.

How do you find release creatively?

About Sandra

(Blog Editor and Prose Board) recently moved back to California by way of north Texas, Baltimore and San Francisco. She loves sunlight, color, and intense dark chocolate. She devours cookbooks like novels and writes a bit at www.section89.com.

10 thoughts on “Culinary Therapy

  1. I am mercurial with my creative outlets, but I always return to sewing, in some form or other. When I was pregnant with my youngest, the desire to learn to quilt gripped me and I spent weeks surrounded by bits of fabric and scissors. It was an obsession and when I got too big and uncomfortable to sit for hours at my machine, I took to hand sewing a hexagon quilt.

    I, too, love the effort involved in creating something out of nothing. I also love the artistry and functionality of a quilt. Beautiful to look at, and always useful.

  2. We could be best friends. I love the explanation because this is my way to create, too. Thank you for putting it so perfectly.

  3. Yep, the kitchen is totally where I get creative and where I relieve stress. I don’t have great talents for other creative outlets like sewing or crafting, but I love cooking. Especially baking. I think I need to learn how to love exercise as a stress-reliever to counteract my kitchen creativity.

  4. Yes to this. I am very much this way with cooking too. I echo what Jessie said, I’m also not crafty or creative in many ways, but I love to cook. I love to feed my family delicious food that I created from raw ingredients. It is so satisfying to me.

  5. Wonderful post! Beautifully put. Cooking+food= ancient creative comfort. And gardening. That’s what does it for me. And writing. .. Looks like you do that too. Thanks for sharing.

    Now, please pass the cake.

  6. Oh how I WISH I loved to cook creatively, as many of you do. For me, it’s just a “have-to.” I like to create experiences — trips, parties, lunches with friends, planned periods of deep solitude, family outings. I love the planning, the anticipation, the actual event, the memories.

  7. Birds of a feather! I have made things like fig newtons from scratch during a move or a fancy cake in the midst of other chaos. But I switch my outlets which causes even more chaos throughout my house: sewing, paper crafting, oil or acrylic painting. At least I’m not as stressed as I would be with just a clean house and nothing to create!

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