by Chloé Rose Whitmore
Last week, I made a huge dish of lasagne. The recipe took four or five hours from start to finish, which meant my entire afternoon was spent chopping, seasoning, stirring, tasting. I blitzed celery and grated cheddar, fried leeks and salted beef. I added red wine where no red wine was required. I put too much white sauce in the blender and watched it spill over the sides. I did everything that settled my sad, sick brain, bruised from an intensive morning of cognitive behavioural therapy.
I did all of the things that teach me to fall in love with food again.
For me, learning to cook has been a sort of reeducation. It’s unlearning to see food as something that should be avoided, hidden in drawers and under napkins. With every transcribed recipe and food-splattered notebook page, I’m learning to see food as what it is: food. Nourishment. Essential. Forgiving. I’m learning to see dinner as a thing that rounds off the day, instead of an example of how I’ve failed to stay thin and broken.
More importantly, I’m learning what not to see food as: calories, failure, fear. I’m learning to see a banana as a banana, not 105 calories. Not fifteen star jumps or an excuse to skip breakfast.
So I cook.
I bake, broil, stew and marinate. I sauté, or microwave, or blend. I fill mason jars with soups like leek and potato or sweet red pepper. I make hummus and serve alongside chopped colourful vegetables. I throw buffets and dinner parties. I fold pastry round feta, stuff peppers with rice, slow-cook beef and flash-fry steak. I melt seven kinds of cheese into a pan of tagliatelle. I cook for friends, for dates, for family. I cook for myself, and for the healthy, happy, warm body that keeps me a person on the planet.
“I cook for friends, for dates, for family. I cook for myself, and for the healthy, happy, warm body that keeps me a person on the planet.”
There’s a quiet, sumptuous luxury in spending a whole day cooking. In having hours to fuss over a bubbling béchamel sauce and a slow-cooked ragu, sipping red wine from the bottle while your speakers blast out enthusiastic pop. Maybe you’re cooking for an event – a party, a wedding, a Tuesday. Maybe you’re just cooking for the hell of it, because you’re exhausted with being a person and you need to aggressively stir something. So you empty ingredients and heartache and love into a casserole dish the size of a coffee table, and you feel yourself getting that tiny bit lighter.
When the lasagne was in the oven, bubbling and browning and wafting rich tomato smells down the hall of our apartment, I started to clean the various pots and pans that had accumulated by the sink. But instead of cleaning the pan I’d used to make the white sauce – a thick, creamy, extravagant sauce, packed with sharp cheddar and buttered, blended leeks – I took the pan to the kitchen table. I got a wooden spoon and scooped spoonfuls of the cheesy, calorie-dense sauce out of the pan and piled them into my mouth. Soon, I swapped the spoon for my hands, running my fingers around the remaining splashes of sauce, my teeth stuck together with cheese, feeling sad and happy and alive and fed.
This isn’t the other side of recovery. I’m not sure that exists. But here, wrist-deep in béchamel, a lasagne browning in the oven – it’s enough. I’m enough.
Later, I served the lasagne alongside a peppery green salad and glasses of chilled white wine. My boyfriend and I braided together on the sofa, chewing hot pasta and pressing our cold toes together under our blanket. When we’d cleaned our plates, brushed our teeth and rubbed our eyes, we fell into bed, our full, rounded bellies pressed against each other. Slowly, the sadness and sickness that therapy unearths dissolved into the dark.
Chloé Rose Whitmore | @goforchloe | chloerosewhitmore.com
Chloé is a freelance journalist and copywriter, writing about everything from mental health and workplace sexism to the best way to bake a camembert. You can read more of her work over on Medium.