Google “cooking as therapy” and you will find 120 million results in half a second. Recently I’ve been reminded how important cooking has been for me over the years. How many of your best memories are related to food? I would imagine more than you realize when you think about it.
My father was in the hotel and restaurant business. I have ancient memories of him in and out of the kitchen, of the smell of soups and sauces, of fresh baked rolls with butter and honey. In the backyard of the country town where I grew up we made ice cream using an old-fashioned crank ice cream maker. My sixth grade teacher, Mr. McFarland, was an authority on Latin America. I still think of him telling us how Hispanics made their coffee thick and sweet every morning when I drink mine. One family tradition was traveling to Stinson Beach in the summer to dig for clams. We steamed them with butter and herbs and ate them on the spot. Yes, we were murderers. Surf fish, crab, salmon, duck, pheasant, deer—they were all on the menu when in season. Cooking and eating is about life and death. Making and consuming a meal pushes present day worries aside and provides unique perspectives on life.
There is a Zen to cooking, a unique form of mindlessness. But cooking is also an art that requires a unique form of attention—color, shape, mixing. One feels a sense of accomplishment. Cooking is a gift to the self and to others. We eat to live and live to eat. Diet is important for good health, for healing. You truly are what you eat and are changed by how you prepare it. Slow, fast, fresh, natural, experimental—with cooking one can experience what the physicist Richard Feynman calls “the pleasure of finding things out.”
I have friends who don’t like to cook. One of the characters in my novel Behind the Locked Door, Ofelia, expresses my thoughts on this:
“Art is the true language of the emotions. I cannot imagine how people indifferent to art spend their time. How they live is a mystery to me. An artist leaves part of herself everywhere she goes.”
Over the past month or so having an opportunity to cook for others, to explore new recipes and ingredients, to revel in all the ways cooking excites the five senses and the sixth sense, umami—in this way cooking has truly been my therapy and saved me from depression which hides in the dark corners of every life. Friends don’t let friends drive without recipes.