In our own special ways, everyone of us seeks a space where we can release our emotions and calm our nerves.
Some of us go shopping, and find incredible solace in exchanging money for new handbags or the latest leather jacket. Others pay the psychologist a visit, and through hour-long sessions of talking through past events, find peace in the analysis of the way our lives has become. And there are those of us who exercise our stress away, and let the rush of endorphins released during exercise wash over us, like waves in the ocean.
For me, I subscribe to kitchen therapy.
When emotions are rough and pressure from work mounts, or when I’m feeling down or bored with life, I slow down, take a deep breath and head to the kitchen. In my two-square meter kitchen, I’ve found a nook that steadies me, and in this tiny space, I’ve learned patience and the ability to let go.
There are countless days where I arrive home, tired from the long work day, and physically exhausted. And while the thought of cooking dinner seems too big a feat, I’m often surprised that when I’m standing at my kitchen counter, chopping board laid out before me, there’s a quietly calming energy that fills me.
Unlike other activities during which you can be thinking of ten other things at the same time, cooking demands your full attention.
It’s hard not to pay attention when you’re cooking anyway. If you’re dicing onions, and let your thoughts wander somewhere else, a finger cut might just be on its way.
And so, in this one hour or so that I’m making dinner – whether it’s quick and simple omelet or a more delicate beef stew, I try to focus on the present.
In doing so, I realize that all other worries naturally slip away. My thoughts are concentrated on the dish I’m making, nothing more, nothing less.
While it seems illogical, the act of methodically chopping onions and garlic or dicing vegetables into small cubes brings on the natural rhythm, not unlike that a long-distance runner enters into after warming up for a mile.
Sometimes, when I’m overcome by the need to create, I make jam.
I cut fresh fruits into small pieces, let them soak in sugar for a while, and then cook them over low heat with lemon juice, until they simmer their way to become homemade jam. I’m always amazed by how simple ingredients can be combined and transformed into such beautiful, delicious foods.
On days that I’m feeling less adventurous and crave familiarity, I turn to stove-top cooking, because it’s easy to monitor and watch as the ingredients sizzle or simmer.
I fall back on well-loved staples such as my favorite chicken sausage fried rice, knowing that despite the uncertainties of life outside the kitchen, I have control over the dish I’m making. I know that if I saute chopped onions and garlic, and stir in cooked white rice, diced sausages and fried eggs, then drizzle over soy sauce and a sprinkle of salt, I will have a determined result that I already know will end up comforting me.
Other days, when I’m in a fancier mood, but still want a favorite dish to feel grounded in, I cook fish.
I buy fresh salmon fillets and grill them in a skillet until just cooked but still perfectly tender, when the meat is still glistening and juicy. I then chop leeks and saute them with onions until soft, stir in heavy cream and white wine, and then pour this cream leek sauce over the salmon, and there you have it, almost instant bliss.
But there are days I have to learn to relax and cede control, when I’m attempting a new recipe, especially one that involves baking.
I’ve come to realize that there’s only so much you can take charge of – you can prepare the ingredients, mix them together to get a batter, but once you’ve poured the batter into the loaf pan and push it into the pre-heated oven, you can only close the oven door and wait. I’ve almost always been anxious by nature, and sometimes, the 50 minutes required for the banana bread to bake in the oven often feels like an eternity.
When I first starting baking two years ago, I could often be seen twiddling my thumbs, peering into the dark oven door, hoping and hoping that the texture comes out right.
I used to be so anxious that I’d open the oven door too soon, and the cake or bread wouldn’t have had sufficient time to rise. But over time, I’ve realized that I should learn to trust, and “follow the recipe”, as the act is called. I suppose, there is a reason why it’s phrased “follow” the recipe, and this is something that has taught me patience, and to learn to cede control.
On one of those occasions, a chilly Saturday morning not too long ago, I found myself staring nervously at a recipe I’d found online and adapted slightly. I’d mixed the ingredients together and the batter was already in the baking pan. I sprinkled a touch of dried oregano over and put the pan into the already-warm oven.
I was more than a little nervous about this recipe.
I was nervous because it was a recipe for grain-free focaccia (which is basically a type of Italian flatbread). I didn’t know if it would taste good (did the recipe contain too many eggs and too much garlic?); or if the texture would be sufficiently close to use as bread to be eaten with the butternut squash soup I had simmering on the stove. I knew that grain-free bread never achieves the same texture as normal wheat bread because it does not have gluten, the ingredient in wheat that gives bread the texture that we know and are familiar with.
But as my past experience has taught me, I tried to relax and be patient. I twiddled my thumbs but refused to open the oven door before the time indicated by the recipe was up.
When I eventually pulled the focaccia out of the oven, I knew I had worried for nothing.
When cut into small pieces and then toasted for a few more minutes in the oven, this focaccia was a toasted bread that was fragrant with the tastes of oregano and fresh garlic. It was a delicious, very scrumptious side to the soup I’d made (more on that soup on another post!). And it was proof once again that the kitchen is a marvelous, miraculous place, and cooking an activity that’s good for my soul.
Julia Child, the legendary cook who brought French cooking into American households, puts it very precisely and wisely –
“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.”
Just like love, the more wholehearted attention you put into cooking, the more you get out of it.
That’s kitchen therapy for me.
How about you? Do you turn to the kitchen for therapy too?
GRAIN-FREE OREGANO GARLIC FOCACCIA
Barely adapted from: DJFoodie
1) 1 cup of flaxseed meal
2) 1 cup of almond meal
3) 1 1/2 tablespoons of baking powder
4) 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
5) 1 teaspoon of crushed red chili flakes
6) 1 teaspoon of salt, divided
7) 8 eggs, beaten
8) 1/4 cup of olive oil
9) 6 garlic cloves, minced (you can reduce this is you don’t want such a strong taste of garlic)
1) Pre-heat oven to 180 deg cel (350 deg Fahrenheit)
2) Combine flaxseed meal, almond meal, baking powder, oregano, chili flakes and half of the salt in a medium bowl. Mix well until combined
3) Add in the beaten eggs, olive oil and minced garlic to the dry ingredients and mix until combined
4) Grease a well-greased square baking pan, pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the batter until evenly distributed.
5) Sprinkle the remaining salt evenly over the batter
6) Bake for around 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly golden brown and nicely puffed.
7) Allow focaccia to cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
*Note: If not eating focaccia directly after baking, store in air-tight container in the fridge, then toast in the oven for a few minutes until crispy before serving.