If life is a gift basket of delicious muffins, 2020 tastes like an emotional wheat bran. Instead of feeling joy and decadence biting into a chocolate filled centre, you feel confused, scared and hungry thanks to what tastes like sawdust disguised as a sweet treat.
With end-of-lockdown goalposts constantly shifting, it feels like there is little left in anyone’s control. For those of us who love planning out every detail of our lives in advance, this kind of uncertainty is exasperating. But there is one thing you’re still the boss of: the food that you make, and that is the secret ingredient to staying sane in this pandemic.
It doesn’t matter if for you cooking feels like comfortable pyjamas or agonising shoes worn once a Christmas party; it’s one of the most primal forms of self-care. Listening to your body and feeding it what it needs is the tastiest slice of the self-care pie.
While I’ve been stuck indoors, cooking has become a much-required outlet to channel my fears and anxieties. I stress about life getting back to normal as I wash, peel and prep veggies. I worry about paying bills while frying spices in butter, so much butter. I think of my rounding waistline as I reach the bottom of my fridge for a bottle of wine. There, I did my squats (note: reward self with a glass).
What I found through my experience of quarantine cooking, is that the seemingly mundane act of creating a meal is a fantastic check for a distracted mind—waver too much and you’ll ruin the food. Cooking forces you to focus on the task at hand instead of scrolling through the infinite loop of bad news plaguing your social media feeds. In the end, you’ve made so much more than a meal—you’ve whipped up a full-course of mindfulness.
Further away from my tiny (but mighty) kitchen, the internet has been serving the world with a veritable buffet of culinary based therapy. Infact, much before virtua parties and socially distanced dates were the norm, feeds across the globe were filing up with live cook-alongs, home cooks showing off their solitary culinary achievements, and eloquent prose about a certain whipped coffee.
Food writers and chefs rose to the occasion, dishing out advice to first-timers. Today, celebrities are cooking together (Oprah and Jamie Oliver making fried rice together is the stuff of legends) and food bloggers are sharing Google documents to crowdsource recipes to create virtual cookbooks. Recently, a friend who used her oven to store shoes couldn’t stop talking about potential names for her new sourdough starter.
Talking about cooking has become the new support group—we can’t leave our homes to break bread with our loved ones but we can gather together on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to discuss what we’re eating and how we’re making it. What used to be a solo activity in one’s kitchen, in a period of social distancing is bringing communities together in new ways. Pictures from around the world of neighbours getting together for balcony BBQs, socially distanced block parties and virtual risotto cook-alongs are bringing people together like never before. Food is the one reminder that we are united, even though we stand divided.
Back in my kitchen, I realise after stirring the soup for the sixth time, that I can no longer hear the low drum of anxiety in my body, no voice in my head analysing the health of my family—just the sound of stock bubbling and the comfortable beat of my own heart.