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Nigella Lawson Helped Me Cure My Heartbreak

When my first love broke my heart, I found joy in cooking—and an encouraging DM from Nigella Lawson.

by Bianca Betancourt
Jan 31 2019, 9:10pm

Photo by Francesca Yorke/Getty Images

As we brace for 2019 and stack up our resolutions, Broadly is focusing on finding motivation for the hard tasks that await us—like getting out of bed. So, throughout January, we're rolling out Getting Out of Bed, a series of stories about all things related to rest and resilience. Read more here.

We met in our first-hour math class my junior year of high school. He stood out from the rest of boys in class—often wearing wrinkled button-down shirts with distressed jeans and leather loafers. It was his signature look. He was taller than me too, something that felt like a rarity with most of my past crushes. I ended up forcing my girlfriends to teach me how to make a Facebook page so I could find a way to talk to him outside of class. My plan worked.

Within almost three years of us dating, we went from high school to college, where careless days turned into constant fights. During the course of our relationship, he would often belittle my writing, make off-color comments on my racial identity, and was never afraid to raise his voice at me. These were actions and instances that everyone around me noticed before I did but I was blinded by the fact that I someone that called me beautiful, wanted to spend time with me, and made me feel like I was finally becoming a woman.

I was so afraid of letting go of the first love I never thought I would have, that I made too many excuses for his increasingly concerning behavior—until finally, we ended up screaming at each other in the middle of a dorm building hallway—I don’t even remember for what—but I’ll always remember him shouting, “I don’t love you anymore,” before slamming the door in my face.

While he moved on almost effortlessly, my life came to a halt.

I had little desire to get up and my appetite was nowhere to be found. And yet, cooking, and more specifically baking, became my best friend—even if I didn’t eat a single crumb. My guardian angel of some sorts, who guided me through the process of gaining the energy to get out of bed and do something, anything, for the day, was British cooking sensation Nigella Lawson.

I was first introduced to Nigella while watching the Food Network one early weekend morning with my dad, while still in high school. We never talked much, the two of us, but we always bonded over our big appetites and love of food. I was often the first one up in the mornings and if he had the day off he would join me on the couch to watch cooking show reruns. They had recently just started showing Nigella on the channel, and we were both intrigued. I particularly enjoyed her flattering British accent and coy approach to cooking.

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Photo by Francesca Yorke/Getty Images

Lawson was the anti-Martha Stewart when it came to food and at home cooking: She encouraged mess, mistakes, and stress-free experiences. She started off as a freelance journalist, writing for the likes of The Spectator, The New York Times, and Vogue, as a book reviewer and then transitioning into becoming a restaurant critic. In 1998, Lawson published her first cookbook called How To Eat that went on to become an instant hit, selling 300,000 copies in Britain alone. Rather than writing a cookbook that followed former food preparation formulas—that were often rigid, strict and at times boring and hard to understand—Lawson’s book mixed with her passion for food made How to Eat a must-read for the cooking-obsessed as much as the culinary-inept. A deal for a cooking show soon followed, a new season premiering with every new book that Lawson eventually released.

Her shows, no matter the season and no matter the year, always had a similar format. A metropolitan London backdrop, Nigella herself fashionably grabbing her groceries and coming home to a slightly cluttered but still presentable home to show you how you too can effortlessly prepare a quick and delicious meal. While British cuisine has a rep for being on the less than desirable side, Nigella always respectfully experimented with Italian, French, Spanish, and multiple other cuisines. I love to watch the episodes however where she prepares anything regarding pasta, where she almost always playfully slurps spaghetti in her robe for a midnight snack come the episode’s close.

Almost every week, I would challenge myself to bake a new Nigella recipe. Her recipes never called for an exorbitant amount of ingredients, which complimented my minuscule college student wallet. Flour, butter, sugar, and milk were always stocked in my kitchen for if I felt the urge to make an impromptu batch of scones, brownies, or flourless chocolate cake—if I was feeling particularly bougie.

Completing a new recipe was proof to myself that I could partake and create something with a successful outcome, during a time when I constantly blamed myself for not being able to do the same for my love life.

I slowly but surely earned my appetite back, not being able to resist the soft crumb of a cake or licking the whisk after whipping together a royal icing.

Instead of whining about my ex, my conversations with my friends and loved ones shifted to the constant stream of food I found myself making. I would bring a Tupperware full of leftovers to my friends and coworkers, feeling a slight sense of warmth seeing people light up when they took a bite. Nigella guided me through making late-night baked goods to impressive dinners for the pleasure of my own company. Italian roast chicken, potatoes with Spanish chorizo, and pasta puttanesca (or as Lawson cheekily nicknamed, “slut’s spaghetti”) all became regular weeknight dinners I’ve kept close and continued to prepare as I finished college and started to conquer adulthood.

Every bit of the process—skimming pages of a cookbook, picking a recipe, tracing my finger over the instructions as I spilled flour all over my counter, kneading the dough, whisking eggs—I was enraptured by. This was especially the case after a full lineup of classes, a few hours at my internship, and my part-time restaurant gig, or most of the time, all three packed into one.

During that healing period for me, however, the cooking and baking weren’t so much about feeding my hunger as it was consciously being a part of the experience of creating something for me and for others. From start to finish, cooking alongside Nigella’s recipes simply made me feel alive again.

Years later, I still cook and bake when I need an hour or two to decompress and be brought back to life after a stressful day. If I’m too lazy to cook, but still need to wind down, sometimes I order from my favorite Chinese food and slurp chicken lo mein in my bed while I watch reruns of Nigella Bites, Nigella Express, and Simply Nigella on Youtube.

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Looking back at that time of my life, and especially when revisiting my teenage love, I remembered making one of her recipes—a simple quick fix recipe for her instant chocolate mousse. I’ve always had a bad habit of not pre-reading recipes before I start, and often messing up because of that. My hunger and impatience resulted in me folding melted chocolate into whipped cream rather than folding the whipped cream into the warm chocolate—so naturally, I tweeted about my frustration and hope that I didn’t mess up the entire dish.

An hour later, my phone lit up with a Twitter notification. It was a DM from the domestic goddess herself. She wrote, “Don't feel like that!! Be kinder to yourself x.”

I screamed. Then I almost cried.

But more importantly, it was the tiniest push of motivation that I tried to always remember from that moment, years later up until now: No matter if I forgot to salt the quiche, had career frustrations, or thought that I dropped the ball romantically—I had to remember to be kinder to myself. If the end result wasn’t what I expected, or even wanted, the process itself got me to where I needed to be.