This past week was especially trying… I worked long hours, even some 12-hour days without any breaks. I was working at the catering company with a small team to cater two big events, both of which had last-minute surprises (60 bonus people to cook for and a separate allergen-free menu with less than 24-hours notice). I was also working my regular job, cooking for the wonderful family I serve, but with bonus back-to-school schedule changes that didn’t work well with my catering duties.
That alone would have made the week a blur, leaving me dead-on-my-feet tired by the weekend. But in addition to work, I had a bunch of little shitty things happen- losing a cooking contract, the insoles of my shiny new vegan Doc’s coming out, cutting myself on three separate occasions, emergency work cancellations for the coming month.
All those little things are not devastating on their own, but they do add up, and when combined with immense physical stress from work it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But I am a strong, competent, capable woman and I can deal with a fair bit of stress quite well. It is useful when you work in a kitchen to thrive in a stressful environment. Kitchens are full of unexpected changes, danger, near-misses, and time-pressure. So towards the end of the week, I was in need of a little extra chocolate to keep me afloat and was very much so ready for Sunday-Funday. But alas, it was not to be. There was more.
The tipping point between coping and not-coping-at-all-actually was finding out about two close family members being really sick, one requiring a surgery, and the other requiring ongoing, difficult treatments for an indefinite period of time.
Suddenly I really wished that all I had to worry about was confined to the kitchen.
And that is how I found myself in a sunny, comfortable vegan cafe on Friday morning, staring into a bowl of hot chocolate, playing footsies under the table with my guy, and nibbling on a strange variety of delicious things. You can’t control the weather, but you can control what you have for breakfast.
For many people, food is a source of comfort when things are looking down. It’s familiar, associated with fond memories and happier times, and it’s immediately pleasurable. But as a cook, food is also my favorite distraction. It is what I use to procrastinate, what I do when I am fuming over a vexing conflict, how I express my love toward others. It makes me feel good about myself when I cook something well, and it is a source of intellectual curiosity when good food is prepared for me. Food is more than just comfort for me, it’s an intrinsic part of what makes my life meaningful and worthwhile.
Thus on Friday night, when I was barely able to walk home on my smarting feet and so emotionally exhausted I couldn’t spare a smile for the beggars on Laurier, I made a little detour into the market and bought ridiculously expensive mushrooms, leeks, arugula, fragrant olive fougasse still warm from the oven, a bar of good chocolate, a bottle of prosecco and a nice, buttery-round wine. Once home I opened the bottle of bubbles, changed into one of my guy’s shirts, snipped some thyme, marjoram and tarragon from the window box and set to work.
There are no pictures of my little creation, because I was cooking for no one but myself. It was therapeutic, more for the process than the product. Leeks and garlic were cooked down in earth balance with a bit of freshly grated nutmeg, then shiitake, oyster and crimini mushrooms were roasted til golden. Everything was tossed together with a sizzle of wine, the herbs, arugula, a good dollop of dijon and a bit of lemon. Angel hair pasta and crushed red chilis were folded in just before serving with the still-warm, aromatic fougasse and cool glasses of wine.
We ate well and left the kitchen cleaning for the next day. I was asleep within moments of turning on Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. My guy set my glasses aside and tucked me in. I slept like the dead.