When my father passed away I experienced an emotional breakdown of sorts. He was my last living parent, and the loss of him felled me like a tree. My grief, coupled with an ugly and demanding executorship, added to a highly stressful job proved to be more than I could handle. Defeated and exhausted, I realized I had to take a leave of absence from my job in an attempt to regain some mental, physical, spiritual, and psychological health.
I have worked full time, if not time and a half, since I was 18 years old. This was the first time in my adult life that I did not have anyone to report in to, anywhere to be, and anything pressing to do.
I shall never forget that first morning I had “off” – – I use this term loosely. My fiancé was at work and I had the house to myself. It was the first time I had experienced unscheduled alone time in years. There was no one I had to perform what I call “my trained seal impersonation” for. Intuiting that isolation might prove equally dangerous for me, I decided to turn on the television to create the illusion of company, albeit imaginary company. Even a brief sojourn through a handful of channels overwhelmed me, so I stopped at the Food Network and called it a day.
I shall cherish that moment for the entirety of my life. It was utterly magical. I instantaneously dropped down the rabbit hole of the Food Network and I was completely and utterly mesmerized. Not in that ridiculous, star struck OMG, I WANT TO BE THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR kind of way. Rather it offered me a safe, non-threatening environment in which to hide and heal myself. It was populated with seemingly friendly, highly animated folks who entertained me – – while exploring subject matter that had long since fascinated me.
In my first few weeks off the only thing that could successfully roust me out of bed in the morning was the looming promise that I would be allowed to spend the entire day in the company of the Food Network. They were my constant companion, and my all time favorite babysitter. It was the only mental tunnel I could traverse down that did not promise the threat of an oncoming train. Zombie-like I sat in front of the telly, transfixed for hours, days, and weeks without end. Any guilt I felt over consuming obscene amounts of television was quickly replaced by an intuitive understanding that this uncharacteristic behavior was somehow serving to save my life.
Over time small miracles began to occur. Curiosity began to stir within me again. What was this herb they spoke of name fenugreek, anyhow? Was there a chef in the entire world capable of taking down Bobby Flay? What made it impossible to create a perfect risotto in 20 minutes? Where might I find a star fruit or a daikon radish to try for myself? Classic gazpacho is really a bread soup? Who knew? I moved from sitting in front of the television all day to spending some time at the computer as well, in order to research subject matter that had grabbed my attention. My brain was experiencing electrical activity once again. I was emerging from my intellectual coma. I found myself able to make lists and take short trips to the grocery store in pursuit of the requisite ingredients to recreate a meal I had seen prepared by my beloved, imaginary Food Network friends.
Then my heart joined the party and ceased its spiritual flatlining. I found myself motivated to actually cook on occasion. My first attempt is indelibly etched in my sense memory forever. I attempted Crispy Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese by Chef Anne Burrell. Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/anne-burrell/crispy-chicken-breasts-stuffed-with-mushrooms-and-goat-cheese-recipe.html?oc=linkback It was glorious! For one whole, miraculous hour I felt slightly animated as we cooked, savored, discussed, and critiqued my creation. I felt as though it was the first time I had ever eaten in my life. In a sense it was. It was the first meal I had savored in my new life – – as an adult orphan.
During month two of my stay in the rabbit hole I became a Melissa D’Arabian zealot. To say this woman is a genius is the understatement of the century. She is as gifted, talented, and personable as she is beautiful. And that is saying something. She creates dinners for four people for $10 or less. I tried every recipe I could get my hands on and most of them taste like they came out of the kitchen of a five star restaurant. I marvel at the genius of her Mock Mascarpone: http://www.melissadarabian.net/recipes/mock-mascarpone/. Truth be told – – her Croque Madame is better than any I had whilst in France. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/melissa-darabian/quick-croque-madames-recipe.html .
And so it went. I watched, I researched, I shopped, I cooked, and I ate. I watched, I researched, I shopped, I cooked, and I ate. The culinary equivalent of the Zen teaching “Before Enlightenment chop wood and carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” My gastronomical exploits nourished my mind, my heart, and my soul – – as well as my physical being.
Slowly, over a prolonged period of time, I cooked my way back to mental health. In the process I discovered a passion for and obsession with bread making that completely changed the trajectory of my life. I left a job of 30 years and moved to new surroundings. I now work in a kitchen store. I create recipes and enter food competitions. I am proud and thrilled to say that last week I SOLD a loaf of my bread for the very first time. I am hoping that cooking, bread making, and food writing might serve to become as lucrative in a monetary sense as they have proven to be in a spiritual sense. Life is short. It is vital to be engaged in activities that feed our souls.
My journey back to healthily inhabiting the landscape of my own psychology has made me profoundly aware of the relationship between food and emotion. It is subject matter singing out its siren song – – calling to be revered and traversed. This blog is my attempt at celebrating and exploring this symbiotic union.
And Food Network – – Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This inaugural post is my love letter to you. There are no words that can do my feelings justice. Only loaves of bread. Many loaves of bread.