When I'm Freaking Out, Cooking Calms Me Down

When I start to feel panicky, frying up an egg and throwing it on a bowl of gnocchi helps me through it.

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Feb 4 2019, 5:31pm

This Is Fine. is Broadly's weekly newsletter about the previously private and highly personal tactics people use to make the world less harrowing. In this week's newsletter, Marie Lodi wrote about how cooking orders her brain and makes her feel capable. Sign up here to receive a newsletter with a new dealing-with-life strategy each Sunday evening.

Julia Child once said, “The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who's close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.” And it’s true—food provides a sense of comfort and warmth. It’s a gesture of love, of utmost tenderness towards the hungry recipient, which is why cooking for my #1 boo, aka myself, has become something I try to do as much as I can.

I still remember the very first meal I made. When I was a kid, both of my parents worked a lot, so I was left to my own devices, including after-school snacks. I’d make a “pizza”: a flour tortilla, string cheese, and marinara sauce popped into the toaster oven until the cheese got all melty. It clearly wasn’t some kind of Michelin three-star meal, but I was proud to be able to take care of myself in that small way.

My dad is Italian and a chef, and my mom is Filipino and an excellent cook, so good food has always been a big deal in our house. Thanksgiving meals contain no less than 15 different side dishes, and, on some years, a turducken has even been known to make an appearance. Seeing my dad cook these feasts with such love and purpose has been ingrained in my mind since I was small.

Nothing is as comforting as my mom’s chicken adobo and rice, so I try to replicate that loving, home-cooked feeling myself as often as possible, especially when I’m stressed out. Some of my most cherished memories with loved ones have been centered around a meal made at home, whether it was the 3 AM grilled cheeses a friend always made after drunken nights out, the breakfast tacos I made for my husband when we first started dating, or the baked brie and baguette my long-distance pals and I nosh on whenever we reunite.

And while a delicious carb can feel like a warm hug, it’s not entirely due to the eating part of it—even when I’m making for my period foods–themed food blog, The Bloodfeast. The act of cooking requires my full attention, isolated from any distractions. That’s how it alleviates my anxiety. It takes me off my phone (unless I’m following a recipe online) and away from my inbox. I am forced to give it that time and kindness, otherwise it (and me) might get fucked up. “It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender,” she says to the pappardelle.

Cooking has rescued me time and time again. When I’m anxious about something and start to feel panicky, frying up an egg and throwing it on a bowl of gnocchi calms me down. And yes, there was that time I got so stoned out of my mind I thought I was gonna die, but I managed to save myself with some homemade nachos. However: When you are taking the time to prepare and cook something, you are infusing it with your mood and feelings. It’s almost like a type of spell. So even if cooking helps ground me, I try not to when I’m too angry. I don’t want to give myself the evil eye (or diarrhea). In those times, I’ll order in.

Now, I’m not perfect. I’ve been guilty of taking shortcuts, like Postmate-ing a meal when I’m depressed and distressed, still knowing that cooking would be a better option for me. I once ordered spaghetti and a glass of orange juice as an homage to Prince when he passed away, as it was reportedly one of his favorite meals (though it sounds like a Prince-like troll, if you ask me). And guess what: It tasted like shit. I should have made it myself.

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As good as the bolognese from Osteria La Buca is, it’s not as healing to my soul as when I make my own bowl of warm pasta. Plus, it’s cheaper. That’s the thing with cooking: It doesn’t require much money. A box of spaghetti costs a dollar. Another good thing is, if you can’t make something from scratch, you can still zhuzh it up. Get some of that Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning (bitch, have you had that on an avocado?), and garlic powder. Put that shit on anything and everything.

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