bites of life

small bites

Cooking for One

I am sitting at my kitchen table today for the first time in a month. I just got home from a multi-legged trip across the continent, in which I hiked in the smoke-shrouded mountains of British Columbia, built a new tribe of creative allies in the Catskills, and gorged on California Mexican food. As I tuned in and out of the everyday, I heard snippets of news, saw headlines I could not avoid. I could not escape the threats of destruction, burning torches, and hate that plagues our world at this moment. In stressful times, despite my excitement for these adventures, I found myself getting homesick for those most basic comforts: my own bed, the smell of my apartment, my favorite coffee shop. More than anything, I craved my too-narrow, closed off galley kitchen with mismatched glassware and IKEA plates.

I found myself mid-meal at a new restaurant or at a gracious host’s family table yearning for the opportunity to unload a bag of grocery store treasures onto my ugly laminate counter top. In the midst of my michelada haze, I simply craved control over something. I wanted to peel, slice, and transform material into meal, to engage in the everyday alchemy of nourishing myself. I wanted to tune out, turn in, and bring something into the world without controversy or conversation, something made only with the intent to sustain and bring a little bit of pleasure.

There is an important meditation to making and eating dinner for one. It is so different than cooking to entertain others. Then, I am pouring myself into the food I am making, doling out small duties to early arrivals, and refilling empty glasses as warm chatter intersperses with the chunk-chunk of knife against cutting board. That is a time to escape into the solace of other's company. That is a joyful time. This, standing alone in the kitchen with a simple recipe in my head, is a time to wrestle with more complicated emotions. This is time to examine where my hunger lies, and how to feed it. It is an act of empowerment, a commendation of self. It is resistance against the chaos of the world. Cooking for myself means focusing only on my desires, listening only to the needs and wants of my body.

More importantly, cooking for myself requires focus on only that. A pie dough kneaded by an angry hand will be rough and chewy; flaky crust requires a tender touch. Caramelized onions necessitate patience to coax them into sweetness. Al dente pasta will become soft and gummy if allowed to over boil by a wandering mind. No matter if the world brings a drudge of hopeless news or an endless barrage of activity, an hour or so of chopping, stirring, measuring, and tasting in silence — except for maybe the rhythm of some music — never ceases to help reground and regain perspective. I always finish feeling clearer than before, fed body and soul, and ready to begin again.

Right now, the world feels difficult to understand, impossible to control, and overall a pretty big bummer. As I heat oil, boil water, and clean dishes, I satiate one hunger while galvanizing another. I start with myself, filling my body with all the comfort and nutrition that I can in order to fuel the fight against hate and oppression every day, and I invite you to do the same. This fight requires that we keep up our stamina, and stay hungry. Nourish yourself, however that may look, so that you can have the strength to nourish others. We could all use a little bit of extra love on our plate right now.

Ariel KnoebelComment