Day 6

A telltale tightness in my chest reappeared again this morning. Fear bubbled up and lodged in my throat until the pressure inside me had nowhere to go and demanded I lay flat to meet it. I knew I desperately needed to break the spiraling trend of restlessness, worry, overconsumption of discouraging news, and endless snacking.

No wonder I found myself in my kitchen right before midnight gingerly extracting a brown butter carrot cake out of the oven. In the age of microwaveable cookies, it may seem annoyingly tedious to prepare all the elements of a cake that calls for “poaching carrot strips in simple syrup to create abstract roses for decoration.”

And yet, I found peace in completely immersing myself in browning butter, shredding carrots, and toasting pecans. In the absence of a kitchen stand mixer, I beat the eggs and sugar by hand for thirty minutes until the batter was as thick and smooth as drowsy caramel. I danced around my temperature indicator-less oven, thermometer and timer in hand, coaxing it to cooperate. I learned how to create a custard for homemade cream cheese buttercream and improvised my only cake pan into a turntable for icing. Yes, my snail’s pace meant it took more than five hours before I could enjoy a bite. But today was the first time all week that I didn’t grab my phone every hour to mindlessly refresh news pages. So, maybe I can set new normals. Maybe I can be both still and fed.

Day 28

Today, I cooked to affirm my belonging. Jollof rice holds an outsized role in my cultural imagination because I’ve never successfully replicated it despite growing up eating it almost every week. I know food is not some unshakeable mark of identity, but this consistent failure fed into my insecurities that I wasn’t Ghanaian enough, that I hadn’t internalized enough cultural knowledge to pass down to loved ones.

So this time, I compiled notes from several different conversations with my mother (a card-carrying member of the “no recipe” club), and pieced together a twenty-step guide. As I began frying chopped onions with tomatoes and spices, I was surprised by how much I did instinctively knowhow the tomato stew should resemble a saffron red as opposed to turmeric, how to select the best knobs of pungent ginger. I resisted the urge to preemptively open the steaming pot of rice, and my trust was rewarded by a pot of jeweled grains. I want to learn to be more patient with my feelings of belonging, to realize that in the absence of perfection, I can still move toward authenticity.

Day 50

When I entered the kitchen today, a wave of forgotten memories flooded me at the same time as the scent of frying plantain. All of a sudden, I recalled a preteen me contentedly hauling cookbooks home from the library. I remembered tagging pages and logging my favorites into a special notebook organized by season, before annotating each entry with the page numbers of complementary side dishes. I saw my mother’s bemused smile as I swept through the kitchen, convinced I needed to create my own signature cookie recipe. It dawned on me: I’ve always been this way! Staying at home has simply helped me rediscover a long untended part of me; a part of me that is satisfied in what my friend Kate calls “doing one thing, and doing it well.” As I chop, stir, and season, those memories hold on to me stronger than anxiety.

In a time when we are learning to find meaning beyond efficiency, I take solace in slowly unearthing a part of me that has survived past challenges to manifest itself now. And I wonder what other parts of me (and of us) are surprisingly alive, despite everything. For today, I place a marinade in the fridge, ready to nourish my small hope for tomorrow.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Comfort, I always love your choice in topics and how you meld your current moment and memories. I too have been thankful for slowing down and taking my time in the kitchen; however I definitely haven’t made anything as fancy as you!

    Reply
  2. Kyric Koning

    Always love hearing about little self revelations. Who we were long ago (perhaps surprisingly) has a lot to do with who we are now. Glad that you could find a good piece, and write another one too.

    Reply

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