How I Abandoned My Fear Of Cooking And Found Comfort In It, During This Lockdown
In this confusing and fearful time, cooking brings memories and good times alive
Although an avid baker, I’m terrified of working with dough. It’s sensitive and moody—a heavy hand or a timid knead can result in catastrophic failure. Having gained some courage while cooking regularly during this lockdown, I decided to abandon my fear and bake a quiche. Usually my mother would send over the short-crust pastry to fill and bake, but it was time to let go of her apron strings. When my spinach and mushroom quiche emerged, the pastry was knobbly, but its taste evoked decades-old memories of sneaking into the fridge to break off slabs of buttery crust, residual crumbs sprinkling on the floor and a frameless pie betraying my attempt to look innocent the next morning. It made me realize how the value of cooking resonates beyond mere sustenance during these troubled times.
Bringing us closer
Amid social distancing and self-isolation, cooking has connected us with the community at large with its spirited rally around food. This community comes to the rescue for many of us who are new to daily cooking as we burn or misshape things, make the billowy collapse or alarmingly inflate what should be straight. A message from a friend, with whom I shared a vegan banana ice cream recipe, induced much laughter: “How do I get the skin off these bananas? My hands are freezing and the skins are stuck!” I specified that they had to be skinned in advance, a lesson I learnt the hard way a week earlier. There is also a collective pride as we master recipes and cheer each other along the way.
Putting the finishing touches on lunch—palak rice and dahi bhindi—I realize it’s taken me almost three hours to prepare what a seasoned cook would have done in half the time. The effort, creativity and skill involved in preparing nourishing and flavourful routine meals is often taken for granted, reflected in our often-unappreciative attitude of homemakers and house help.
Cooking for pleasure is indulgent, but cook every day and you realize the organization, preparation and efficiency required. From laboriously cooking one item at a time, I have advanced with varying degrees of success to multitasking. I was delighted to stretch one ingredient in different dishes for variety—a bunch of fenugreek (methi) leaves that made its way into a dough, a vegetable dish with potatoes, an ambitious dhansak and the last few leaves peppering an omelette.
My sister-in-law recently wrote a post on going through the source of each of her lunch ingredients. They were from nine different countries and she expressed gratitude for this collective effort by so many people across the world to nourish her. While looking through my kitchen cupboards I discovered several supplies in excess, because I rarely check. A couple of weeks in and I find myself more in control, mindful and less wasteful.
Working with our hands
To create with our hands is deeply satisfying. It's simple to microwave or order in with a click of a button. But to buy your ingredients, store them, cut and chop, knead and stir—each part of the process is an exercise in patience, in intuition and creativity as a recipe can only guide you so far. It is a glorious moment when your curry takes on that perfect texture or your banana bread brims just right and golden in the loaf tin.
Nostalgia and comfort
There is a comfort and nostalgia in my choice of culinary experiments. A quiche or a simple khichri reminds me of family; a stuffed crepe or a hearty dhansak brings memories of a holiday or a meal with friends. In anxious and unstable times, cooking reminds us of when things weren't so uncertain.