dumpling.jpgRecently my friend Alice, who is a very fine cook, e-mailed me the following:

“I am considering vegetarian pot-stickers for dinner. I’ve perfected the making of them — I have the innards tasting just right (not even like “oh, this is vegetarian) and I no longer swear like a sailor while trying to manage the wonton wrappers and the little cinching device from Williams Sonoma. I’ve learned to bring the wrappers to room temperature and oil the cinching device (and clean it and re-oil it as I go). Why am I telling you this? Because food is good and such a respite, from city and stress-inducing relatives and work and organizing one’s tax returns–and I know you get that.”

Alice has a husband, a child, a job, a house, and an academic appointment that involves commuting to and from Chicago every week during this time of year. Additionally, she and I are neighbors engaged in pitched battle against the city we live in, which is proposing large-scale development almost literally in our backyards. Although her husband was baffled about why she would choose to cook something so complicated when she had a day off from everything, I understood perfectly. Alice’s choice of culinotherapy is one I often make, and I am seldom sorry.

There are times in the life of a cook when the mere idea of making dinner is appalling: stomach flu, complete exhaustion and periods of intense grief come to mind. Those are times when the best therapy is to have someone cook for you, or to “pick” at whatever is in the refrigerator that might taste good. At other times, though, the act of creating a meal is entirely restorative.

vegetables.jpgIf life is coming at you fast, and chaos is swirling like Pigpen’s dust cloud, the methodical reduction of a pile of meat and vegetables into tidy piles of julienne, strips, and fine dice can restore order in your overwhelmed mind and provide a sense of control. If you are feeling small and inadequate after learning that there will be no second interview or no second date, it is quite empowering to envision and create something magnificent like a paella or a three layer cake.

(There should be, at this point, words running across the bottom of your computer screen warning you that, if you choose culinotherapy you should not abandon prescription medication or therapy without consulting your physician, and that side effects may include weight gain and an urge to spend money on imported olive oil and Belgian chocolate).

If you are not very confident as a cooker, try starting small. If you have a day when the dryer breaks and the dog limps and the orthodontist says everything is urgent but nothing is covered by insurance, make Fettucine with Sausage, Sage and Crispy Garlic. Its fairly easy to make, very yummy, and pleasing to both children and humans. If you are more confident (or simply require more therapy) you might want to try something like these Stacked Chicken Enchiladas which involve a higher degree of difficulty but will leave you feeling quite accomplished and pleasantly relaxed after roasting, chopping, and shredding.


Ann Graham Nichols cooks and writes the Forest Street Kitchen blog in East Lansing, Michigan where she lives in a 1912 house with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals.