Cooking as Therapy
I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was a teenager, my Father made the evening meal every night and I would assist in the kitchen by chopping and peeling the garlic and onions and some of the more menial tasks. My Mother spent every Sunday in the kitchen making a roast lunch and baking a huge amount of cakes, jams, cookies and pies, she’d be covered in flour, her glasses smudged with icing sugar and chocolate while I pestered her for a taste of the madeira cake.
My wife Lorraine is a very good cook and over the last three decades we’ve enjoyed cooking, and eating, many meals, with friends, family or just the two of us. I’ve always found it very therapeutic and love putting together meals for other people, watching them enjoy the food I just prepared gives me great pleasure, but I also cook just for myself. I know a lot of people just can’t be bothered to make a good meal if it’s just for themselves, they’ll have a sandwich or get a delivery, which is fair enough and perfectly understandable, but for me personally it’s how I get to experiment with different ideas that may or may not be good, better to try out a new dish on yours truly first, just in case.
Just over a year ago my wife Lorraine was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. As you can imagine this came as quite a shock to all of us. A week after diagnosis she had major surgery and after just a few days in hospital she came home. She was very weak and in considerable pain, and there was nothing I could do about it. Being incapable of any real help to anyone is not a good place to be, being powerless to help a loved one is truly horrendous, I have never felt so hopeless and ineffectual, I didn’t know what to do. She was getting the very best of care from the doctors and nurses but that didn’t stop me from wanting to do something more. I had stopped working so I could be with her all the time and after a few days her Mother and Sister came to stay which lifted her spirits immensely, and mine as well to be honest. It was then that the real therapy began. We needed to eat so I spent even more time in the kitchen than normal.
Chemotherapy had started to change Lorraine’s taste, in thirty years I’d never seen her eat a fried egg, suddenly she wanted one on toast every morning. She has never had a sweet tooth, we would both prefer a cheese board to a dessert, but now she wanted cake, with cream, and custard.
I had never baked a cake in my life but we had been watching the ‘Great British Bake-off’ on BBC TV, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed watching the amateur bakers and their creations battling for pole position, which helped inspire me to try my hand at it. I found a recipe from Nigel Slater for a lemon & thyme cake that was so easy to make I couldn’t believe it, and it’s absolutely delicious. We’d all sit around having slices of cake and cups of tea and you could feel it doing us all good. Lorraine had a piece of cake every day along with her favorite herbal tea and it definitely helped her progress, even if it was just in a comforting, snuggly-on-the-sofa kind of way, it all helps.
Every evening I would make some form of comfort food, always making sure there’d be enough left over to have for lunch the following day. Chicken pies, soups and stews, freshly baked bread, roast chicken with lots of vegetables, fish pie, yoghurt cake with tahini, all kinds of good tasty reasonably healthy food. I try not to use any processed foods, bacon is probably the most common offender for me, but wherever possible always use fresh organic fruit and vegetables, preferably out of your own garden, it’s surprisingly simple to grow your own veg, you don’t need much space as large flower pots will usually work perfectly well.
When Lorraine began the chemotherapy treatment her Oncologist mentioned that one of the many side-effects is possible loss of appetite or increased appetite. Luckily it turned out to be the latter and I began cooking in earnest, filling the freezer with all manner of stocks and stews, curries and flaky pastry, perfect for pies and sausage rolls. She had lost a lot of weight since the surgery and was looking a bit emaciated, so I made it my mission to get her back to ‘fighting weight’.
I would lay in bed at night and rather than making myself sick with worry about Lorraine’s recovery and our finances, or lack of them, I would instead try and plan the menu for the next day, what to get from the store, what do we have in the freezer? How can I use up those left-over roasted veg?
I know for certain that Lorraine’s diet has helped in her recovery, one way or another, but I also know that for me personally it has helped my recovery too, I really don’t know what I would have done without it. Not only did cooking help us get through a very difficult time, it has also motivated me into setting up my own website with recipes, hotel and restaurant reviews and travel blog which has been a lot of fun and an enormous learning curve, I knew nothing whatsoever about web design a few weeks ago, and now I know just enough to get myself into a technical predicament.
A year has passed and the patient is no longer a patient, all signs of cancer have gone, hair grown back with a vengeance, fighting spirit strong as ever and positive energy in abundance. 2017 was quite a year one way and another and I can’t deny I’m glad to see the back of it, but it wasn’t all bad by any means and I look forward to whatever changes and challenges are in store for us in 2018. I’m sure there’ll be plenty, but whatever happens next the cooking will continue. We’re planning a tour around Europe this year, Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, Spain and Portugal, travelling by train and eating our way around the Mediterranean, picking up new recipes along the way, I can hardly wait. If that’s not therapy then I don’t know what is.