Cooking Therapy

We all go through stuff. And I’ve learned that no matter what our background is, we go through very similar things.

I’ve had my share of breakups but this one was different.

It led me to be the foodie I am today. And was the first time I saw cooking as therapy.

Here’s how it happened…

I was sitting on my carpet looking into my dim, empty apartment with only candles burning. The TV I owned sat on the kitchen counter that opened up into my living room. I didn’t have a TV stand so the counter was the way.

It was my first candlelight carpet dinner – a term I made up that evening when I started to appreciate the little things, like candlelight dinners for one on the floor. This was the beginning of my love affair with food.

candlelightcarpetdinner

My candlelight carpet dinner.

The breakup was a difficult one. The kind you make the decision to do because you look at yourself in the mirror and no longer recognize you. That was me, the unfamiliar face in the mirror, so I packed up my minimal belongings while he was out at a party.

Superwoman I was, lifting boxes and TVs alone like I had grown new muscles just for the occasion. It took three long drives from suburb to suburb in a sleet storm. Not for a second did I think I wouldn’t be okay. I was, and I would be.

Weeks later, there I was looking at my silver TV that I thought was big before flat screen TVs became the thing, and sitting on the floor to a plate of pasta I had made.

I looked up and laughed with God. It must have been a joke He was playing on me. My friends hadn’t reached out to check on me as usual and at first I wondered why. My phone must be off. I checked. It was working just fine.

So I chuckled while looking up, and said, “I got it. I’m supposed to do this alone.” Without the distractions of other’s advice ringing in my ear was the only way I was going to find “me” again – the me I had lost from too many arguments, accepting being treated in ways one should never accept, and for loving someone else harder than I was loving me.

I was raised in a home that was always filled with good food so I’ve had a love for food all of my life but I never bothered to learn how to cook, I just ate.

My Dad, a country boy from Charleston, made the staple southern meals made with love, while my Mom, originally from Detroit, made exotic meals and stressed the rule, “you don’t have to like it but you must try it.”

But my journey through this breakup was when my affection turned into a full-blown love affair.

Cooking was my happy place. It was healing. Made me feel good. It helped me to calm my thoughts about where I was in life – alone, in an apartment, with only an air-mattress, clothes and dishes to my name.

I made the things I loved – homemade pasta sauces, seafood feasts, breakfast for dinner, desserts. It didn’t matter if I messed up, which I did many times in all kinds of amateur ways, because the only judge was me.

I fell in love again. With my charming neighborhood, my intimate, one-bedroom apartment, with my open kitchen that seemed to take me in when everyone else forgot to call.

It didn’t matter that my bed and couch were the same – a blow-up air mattress that made noises when I moved. It was a beautifully imperfect time in my life, and the beginning of a growing foodie.

Here are some tips on how to become the chef you wish to be, using cooking as therapy.

1 – We didn’t have Pinterest then but now it’s my go-to. Pin recipes of things you love to eat. Pinterest is full of regular folks like you and me so the dishes are more approachable than most by the celebrity chefs. Here are a few Pinners I follow that have shared some great recipes.

Jo Cooks  |  A Family Feast  |  Cooking Classy  |  Julia’s Album

2 – When you go shopping for the ingredients, make a list of all of the things you need. It is never fun to get home ready to cook and not have what you need.

3 – Don’t get stressed out about cooking. It’s just food. And if you mess up. It’s all good. Just order takeout and get on with your evening.

4 – Pour yourself a glass of wine and put on some tunes. Creating a relaxing environment helps. I’ve created a few stations on Pandora that are perfect for cooking.

5 – Follow recipes until you get comfortable. Once you’ve made a few great dishes, your confidence will boost, you’ll understand flavor combinations and then you can just wing it or use recipes as inspiration instead of following them word for word. Here is a great list of spices and when to use them.

6 – Taste as you go. You can always add salt and seasonings but if you over-season, you can’t take them out. Taste as you go and don’t overdo it.

7 – Plating is key. Eating with your eyes first is important. Have fun when you plate your dish and make it look beautiful. Your family will be impressed.

8 – Dishes that are easy for me to make that are also comforting to eat are: cookies, brownies, pasta, guacamole and shrimp n’ grits. There are so many variations of shrimp n’ grits but most are easy and take less than 30 minutes. I promise to post my personal shrimp n’ grits recipe soon. Breakfast dishes are also easy to get started with.

9 – Ditch the boxed and canned goods and go fresh. Homemade mashed potatoes and homemade pancakes are easy. Once you make them from scratch, you’ll ask yourself why you ever made them from a box.

10 – Make your stop to your local grocery store or farmer’s market a trip not a chore. Many stores have Starbucks or coffee shops inside. Grab a coffee then shop. Learn how to pick out produce, smell the herbs, when you can, go organic, stop and taste the samples, ask questions – people who work there know more than you expect.

11 – Last but not least, keep the staples in stock. Flour, oil, butter, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, white sugar, honey, sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, onions, potatoes, milk or cream, chicken stock (Better Than Bouillon is the best and last a lot longer than your liquid stock). If you have these base ingredients, you can whip up most anything.

Good luck. And happy cooking. Literally.

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