On Love and the Art of Cooking

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers, condolences, encouragements and emails. It was really wonderful to come home after such a sad time to so many kind comments from this community of friends....sort of like a big, much-needed virtual hug. I truly, deeply appreciate you all.

I have been feeling somewhat listless and unmotivated since I returned home...avoiding the kitchen and really not doing much of anything at all except for lots of catching up on sleep. I'm not sure why I haven't felt like cooking this last week, given my love for anything to do with food, but perhaps it felt like too much work to go shopping, to get out all the necessary equipment and do the necessary prep work...or too much hassle even to decide what I wanted to make.

Perhaps in times of stress, your mind becomes so bogged down that it's easy to forget the reasons why you loved something in the first place: because it soothes your soul, it grounds you and brings you home, or it relaxes you (or energizes you) so completely that the rest of the world fades away... and then suddenly you realize that you have forgetten about what was stressful, and find yourself humming a tune as you roll out dough, chop vegetables or create your mis en place. It might be sort of like exercise - how I avoid it, make up excuses and exclaim exhaustion all so that I won't have to go, even while subconsciously I am very much aware that I feel so much better and have so much more energy when I do actually drag my @$$ to the gym.

But this weekend, the kitchen could be avoided no longer. I had promised to make my roommate a birthday dinner and cake on Sunday night, and I knew that I had Book Club on Monday evening. Our book this month? The Julie/Julia Project, whereby Julie Powell cooks her way through Julia Child's first volume in the Mastering the Art of French Cooking series and begins her own blog to chronicle her adventures and disasters. I loved the book - the relationship between Julie and her husband reminds me so much of LB and I that it's almost uncanny and she often had me in stitches with her comments about one thing or another. Since we had decided at our first meeting that we would be called the "Food 4 Thought Book Club," and this month reading a book about food, we - of course - had to have French food to go with it.

So, even dragging my feet and having done everything possible to avoid taking those first steps into the kitchen, I dutifully did it anyway. I figured that I'd probably feel better after I ate something tasty anyway, so I chose my recipes and trudged my way over to large expanse of counter that divides our kitchen. I pulled out the necessary ingredients, the measuring cups, knives and cutting board, and began slowly, one recipe at a time. I began with the simple French cookies I had selected for book club: Pistachio financiers...

...only to find that I instantly relaxed into the act itself. The knots in my shoulders began to ease as I chopped nuts and measured sugar. There was a certain satisfaction in spooning flour into a measuring cup and swiftly dragging the back of a butter knife across it, leveling the top. As I cracked eggs and whisked dough together, the whir of the Kitchenaid mixer took the sadness of the last two weeks slowly out of my muscles and the feeling of listlessness floated quietly away. When I finished with the financiers and began to make dinner, I found I was finally focused on the task at hand; my mind no longer wandering incessantly. And by the time the cake was iced, dinner was on the table, and we were sitting together and chatting about the day - I heard that first sound of 'mmm...,' and I was feeling more like myself than I had in a long time.

The hardest part of being home with my family was that I felt so incredibly helpless watching the people that I love most in my life wrought with grief. A job that has literally been at a standstill, as I wait for products I've ordered to come in, did nothing to assuage the ennui that developed once I had returned. But finding my way into the kitchen, although struggling with those first few steps, brought the realization to me that this is why I cook.

I cook because it's one way I can take care of the people I love. Through the carefully constructed sustenance that I offer them on a plate, I am not only feeding them, but also giving them a gift straight from my heart, filled with ingredients selected with their happiness in mind, and made with my own two hands... and sometimes with the ache in my feet and my back and the sweat of my brow (especially in the summer!). But the smiles, the widened eyes, and those delicious sounds of enjoyment I get in return after that first bite, is all I need to feel gratified...like I've made some difference to them, helped them in some way, comforted them even the tiniest bit.

Pistachio Financiers, from Food and Wine magazine
A recipe I picked up while I was looking for reading material for working out on the stairclimber this last week...

1 cup whole blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
5 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
25-30 shelled pistachios

Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter and flour 30 mini muffin pan cups. Grind the almonds in a food processor to a fine powder (or use 1 cup almond meal/flour). Whisk together the sugar and almond powder together in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs until incorporated, then the butter and followed by the flour. Spoon the batter into the mini muffin cups and decorate with pistachios. Bake until golden brown - about 16 minutes. Let cool slightly, then run a knife around the edges and remove from the pan onto a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

NOTE: The recipe said this made 30, but I used a tablespoon to fill the mini muffin cups and only got 16 - so, taper accordingly for your needs.

12 comments from you:

Michèle said...

Hi Michelle, glad to have you back. Im so sorry for your loss. Your post is truly eloquent and I am glad you were able to find some comfort in the kitchen--with pistachio financiers no less! All the best to you my friend.

ilva said...

Cooking is healing! I'm so happy you're back in the kitchen and these little gems are something I'll make for marco who looooves pistacchio! And such a nice reading too!

Melissa CookingDiva said...

Hola Michelle! I am glad you are back! Just give yourself time to adjust and emotionally assimilate the loss. You will see, one of these days you will wake up with all the energy and ready to cook up the world again. Many hugs,

vlb5757 said...

Michelle, food is so much more than energy for the body; it's food for the soul. You hit the nail right on the head. It makes others around you feel happiness but it gives you such a feeling of accomplishment that money or fame or any of those other trappings can't give you. I think food is the universal word for love and self esteem.

I am sorry that you had to see your family sad. Hopefully your sadness will continue to lift and you will feel more like yourself everyday. We all missed you and send you the most positive thoughts we can.

cookiecrumb said...

Hey, brave girl.

rob said...

So glad to see you back and cooking, Michelle. I hope you're doing well.

Out of curiosity, what makes a financier a financier?

MM said...

Michelle, glad to see you back and so sorry you have had to go through this. But yes, cooking (and dancing, to me anyway) makes the heart lighter and the soul richer.

A beautiful post that really touched me. As did your kind words at my site. Hopefully things will work out soon for both of us. Take care!

Kitchen Queen said...

Welcome back Michelle, to both cooking and blogging. Your wonderful post explained perfectly why I love cooking so much and why I call myself "queen of the kitchen." Like you I'm good at using my cooking to show people I care about them. Thank you!

Kevin A Ashton said...

Dear Michelle, Sorry for your lose but I just wanted to say how much I liked your food blog, it's one of the best I've seen. Your passion for food comes across in your writing and together with your photos gives the impression I am reading the food blog of a fellow professional.

I'm new to blogging but I'd like to add your blog to my blog list if that is alright?
Kevin Ashton (chef & food writer uk)

michelle said...

Hi Michele - Thank you for your kind words, my friend...and to be honest, the financiers were an inspiration from when you made yours a while ago - I had never even heard of them before that!

Hi Ilva - I agree, it truly can be healing. I hope they help Marco get a pistachio fix in!

Hi Melissa - Thank you for your support. It's good to be back, and I'll take your advice!

Hi Vickie - Well said - you're so right! And another word that I think is important to add to that definition is: connection. I'm so glad I've had everyone here to help me through this.

Hi Cookiecrumb - Right back atcha: xoxo. I've missed the laughs!

Hi Rob - It's good to be back. And honestly, I have no idea! These were little mini-muffin sized sponge-cake type little things. Best right out of the oven, but not too bad the second day either. The pistachios add a nice little crunch to the top too.

Hi MM - You hang in there too. Let's just keep cooking and dancing until we can cook and dance our way out of anything Life throws our way!

Hi Kitchenqueen - with all that knowledge you have stored up there for little cooking tidbits, you really ARE a "queen of the kitchen!" I'm glad you liked the post and maybe someday we'll be able to comfort eachother with food!

Hi Kevin - Thank you for visiting, and for your very nice comments *blush,* especially from a real food professional! Welcome, welcome, welcome to the wonderful world of blogging. Of course you may add me to your list. I can't wait to go check out your site!

kitchenmage said...

Hey, you're back! And cooking, which is even better. smiles

I found myself tonight at an impromptu dinner at friend's, I brought fresh homemade pasta, along with baguettes and cookies (both from the freezer), another person made fresh marinara, someone else did salad, three of us collaborated on chicken breasts, and the last of someoneElse played guitar while we cooked. I sat down and as we lifted our glasses in a toast that made us all laugh, I thought: this is why I cook. Almost cried from the sheer rightness of it.


michelle said...

Hi Kitchenmage - Perfect, just perfect. I can even picture it in my head, all that wonderful food, companionship and connection. I'd sure love to have someone play guitar while I cook too! It's good to be back, thank you. Hugs and smiles right back atcha - and maybe some extra hope for a bit of sunshine for us both!