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Culinotherapy

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Recently 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. If 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.

By the way, Alice seems to have been restored by her adventures in the kitchen, and maybe when she comes back from Chicago, I can get her recipe for the vegetarian potstickers to add to our culinotherapy pharmacy. I’ll let you know.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

13 responses »

  1. a nice big batch of bread = anger management classses

    Reply
  2. I definitely resonate w/your post. There is something about cooking, all of the processes that you described so well, that soothes the soul and brings a home-iness to the scene, that nothing really matches.

    Today, I particularly relate to “If you are feeling small and inadequate after learning that there will be no second interview…”. I’m in the process of trying to secure a postdoc position and am feeling particularly out-of-faith today and filled up w/what if’s, etc. So thanks for the reminder that there is something concrete I can do to soothe my spirit. Great post! junemoon.

    Reply
  3. Alice here! Thanks for this, Ann. As I’ve told you before, we really are soul sisters. 🙂

    A recipe….hmm…. This would imply more organization than I exhibit.

    From memory, which is faulty:

    I fry up in my favorite pan (a deep Le Creuset deep saute pan), in this order, in canola oil, a medium-sized onion (chopped), a lot of bok choy or napa cabbage (2 cups? mostly the green parts), 2 finely diced carrots, 1 finely diced yellow bell pepper, 4 minced garlic cloves. While it’s cooking, I splash in some soy sauce now and then; it probably comes to 2-3 tablespoons in the end. Towards the end I add in a block of firm tofu and mash it to bits. Then I turn it off and grate in a healthy serving of ginger, maybe 2 tablespoons. (I like ginger.) Then I add about 2 teaspoons more of canola oil, to give it a little more heft in terms of fat.

    Then I use this mix to fill those little wonton wrappers. As mentioned, I bring the wrappers to room temperature and oil (canola again) the cinching device. I spoon in the stuff, run a wet (watered) finger over the edges of the wanton, and cinch it shut. I clean and re-oil the cinching device as it gets wet or gunked up.

    I fry these up in a pan of hot canola oil (about 1/4 inch of oil in a large pan) and cook them about 3 minutes on each side, until brown and crispy.

    For dipping sauce, I mix up about 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, the greens and some whites of 3 scallions (finely sliced), low-sodium soy sauce (3/4 cup?), red wine vinegar (1/2 cup?), mirin (2 tablespoons?), and canola oil (1 tablespoon?).

    I serve it with steamed jasmine rice and steamed green beans. Mmmm….. And hot sauce!

    Reply
  4. jaydee, you are SO right. I think many people have been spared my wicked tongue and my pathetic right hook due to the kneading process.

    junemoon, I absolutely understand where you are right now (or I couldn’t have written what I wrote) but I have tremendous faith in you, and hope you will be able to maintain faith in yourself. You’ve worked awfully hard to get where you are. Make yourself something good, push your limits in the kitchen a bit, and know that someone is rooting for you fervently in the frozen Midwest.

    Alice, thank you!!!!! Once I have actually tried these, I’ll use the recipe for a proper post, if that’s okay. I will just have to hide the inclusion of tofu from my nuclear family…..

    Reply
  5. Use anything you like! And believe me, if you fry these nicely, no one notices the tofu. (I’m not a big fan of tofu myself.) And if it turns out you hate these with tofu, substitute ground turkey. Delish that way, too.

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  6. I hope to get to the point with my cooking, that is it is therapeutic and not another stressor.

    When I was 11 my dad went through a Chinese cooking phase and we all learned to fold up wonton wrappers into little things that looked a little like sailor hats. I don’t know if that’s what potstickers are or not. The recipe sounds delicious, though. I would love to give it a try.

    Reply
  7. Hi there my name is Jeena and I have started a food recipe forum that I thought you would like to join here Click here for food recipe forum

    I would love to see you on there to chat about food and cooking you can talk about anything you like and start your very own topics. 🙂
    or see my main food recipe website Jeenas food recipe site

    Hope to see you soon

    Thanks

    Jeena x

    Reply
  8. ok, i’m officially worried. is everything ok? i miss you!

    Reply
  9. Hi Annie ~ I’m not one to squawk too much when a favorita blogger hasn’t posted for a while, given my absence of late from my own little blog… But I sort of echo jayedee’s missing of your entries.

    I hope you are well and that life is just very busy and full, with good things and happenings. You are missed though!! junemoon

    Reply
  10. junemoon,
    I have been on vacation in Florida for a week, in a beautiful, remote place where there is no internet. I am on my way home, in a Hampton in in Someplace, Alabama, with a peeling nose and a restored heart. I should soon be back in Forest Street Kitchen, writing about what I ate on the trip. Its nice to know that people notice when I disappear…perhaps next time I’ll be a little more considerate and let you all know.

    Reply
  11. A big Yay that you were off on a sunny vacer! Can’t wait to read of your adventures. junemoon

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  12. A big Yay that you were off on a sunny vacer! Can’t wait to read of your adventures. junemoon

    Reply
  13. I’ll second junemoon’s relief–so glad you had a good holiday, are well, and are on the way back!

    Reply

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