There was no prior warning, no prep time. Just an unexpected phone call from my brother one Friday night informing me that my Dad was in surgery. It’s not my Dad’s first medical emergency, or even his first heart attack, but no matter how many times you find yourself in this position, it still comes as a shock. As I write this, he’s recovering from a heart bypass and growing increasingly weary of being stuck in hospital. I can’t say I blame him. Thankfully, he’s recovering well. Hopefully, he’ll be discharged by the end of this week, but in the interim, I spend my time flitting between Liverpool and Manchester. The house I live in, the house I grew up in and the hospital adjacent to where both of my siblings were born.
It would be a lot to deal with even if it wasn’t all happening during January, that long dark Monday of the soul. So, I cope with it in my own way. I switch Twitter off. I read. I go on long bike rides around the wild, ragged coastline near my house. I watch an unhealthy amount of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ (while simultaneously praising and cursing Amazon Prime). And I cook.
I read this Bon Appetit piece yesterday about the joy that can be found in cooking for others. One paragraph in particular really leapt out at me. ‘Mincing onions, making stock, kneading dough, and setting a table with care shouldn’t, and can’t, replace volunteering, protesting, and other forms of activism. But building and caring for community is absolutely vital right now. My hope is that this kind of nourishment—real food, made with love, for myself and for my friends—will better equip me to engage in the long fight ahead.’
I tell myself that I am cooking for the people I love – lunch for my husband to take to work with him, dinner for my Mum so she has something warm and nutritious to eat when she comes home late from the hospital. But I am also cooking to heal myself. I cook because cooking is an all consuming process. You follow these steps and (usually) something delicious will result in the end. I cook because cookbook writing is an art, and because a good cookbook can be read in the bath like a novel and transports you to places you never even knew existed. I cook because butter always makes things better. And I cook because in the hardest of times, we need to look after ourselves and others. We need to nourish our bodies and minds for the struggles ahead, to provide ourselves with comfort and strength when the obstacles feel almost insurmountable.
It is easy to dismiss thinking and writing about food as being a frivolous act when huge events are taking place in the world. But I place just as much importance in ensuring the people around me are well fed as I do in other radical activities. We still need full bellies and comfort food in dark times, whether that be brownies warm from the oven, an enormous plateful of Shepherd’s Pie, or just a giant bag of Doritos and hummus to munch on while watching your favourite film. Today, I will be heading over to Manchester and making a pot of bolognese sauce for myself and my Mum – some for tonight, and some to freeze for later when the thought of cooking from scratch seems like an impossible task. Food is good. Food is important. Sometimes it’s OK to eat your feelings.
Some Comfort Food recipes I’ve been cooking recently:
- Bon Appetit’s Kimchi Noodles with Scallions
- Rachel Roddy’s Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage
- Diana Henry’s Chicken with Thyme and Lemon and Smashed Garlic Potatoes
- Nigel Slater’s Baked Aubergine Pasta