Whenever there are scenes of cooking or eating in movies or books, there is usually a love story of some sort at the heart; whether the love between people, or the love someone has with cooking: there is no doubt that food is inextricably linked to love, or the lack of it. It does seem obvious, this potential to nourish, not just of the body but also of the soul. But it’s very easy to forget or neglect when the day-to-day routine gets harried, during a pandemic, no less, when meal planning is an uninspired chore and a poor kindergartener’s nerves get frayed like clockwork at the dinner hour. I learned how to cook when I was fifteen, tasked with cooking family dinner over the summer months, and since then what I have learned is that when I cook while I’m stressed or frustrated or harbouring deep resentments about any little thing, what I cook does not taste good and does nothing to satisfy—and that just adds to any simmering funk that I stepped to the stove with. But to cook a meal for one, or for many, to approach it with an open heart elevates everything that comes after: I learned that love is an alchemical agent in any recipe. Chef Sohla El-Waylly has written about rediscovering her love of cooking during the pandemic when she and her husband, a fellow chef, were forced to cook at home for themselves rather in restaurants: “While working in restaurants all those years, I forgot the reason why I got into all this in the first place—to cook something that’ll bring people together. I never would have thought that something as devastating as a global pandemic would help me rediscover my passion for playing in the kitchen and creating a meal for myself and my family, not just for work. With nothing but time, I’ve remembered what’s always been most important to me: sharing delicious meals with the people I care about”. When my son helps me cook we remember to laser beam rays of love into the mixing bowl or pots as the final ingredient and I swear it makes a difference to how good cookies or dinner tastes. Conviviality goes a long way to soothing those jangled nerves.
Mother and daughter duo Denise and Meadow Linn, co-authors of The Mystic Cookbook spoke in an interview that “the way we eat [is] a metaphor for how we live our lives.” For them, savouring the interconnected network of variables that contribute to the making of any meal, “the energy of the land and the energy of the people who grew and raised it, as well as those who transported it, stocked the grocery shelves, and cooked and prepared it,” is the difference in harnessing the real nutritive value of what we eat. Taking a holistic approach to the daily task of cooking and eating changes the way that your body metabolizes that meal, and also in how your whole day may then unfold. In their words: “Believe it or not, the way you approach food can have a dramatic impact on your life. While we often think of food as fuel, it sustains us on deeper inner and spiritual levels. By harnessing the secret alchemy of food, you can indeed bring increased joy, health, happiness, and balance into your life.”
I have also learned that cooking to honour loved ones really does keep you connected to ones who may not be around your table anymore. To cook a beloved’s long held recipe or favourite dish in their memory is to fortify the bonds of love between you—to recognize the lineage you are part of and that you continue. To act in service and out of love for someone’s memory is also to reinforce their presence in your life, in the present moment. Special occasions see me pulling out dishes I inherited from my grandmother, and while I don’t have room for a big, formal spread, her gold rimmed Royal Doulton’s turn the tables and allow me to metaphorically invite her into my home, to offer her a taste of my hand in the kitchen. Love is that alchemy that can fill those empty seats, if even just for a moment in your mind’s eye. My mother, founder of Kawartha Spice, says this about the inspiration behind her company: “I started making my own curry powder, using my mother’s recipe which we made back in Guyana. I look at this as a journey that started decades ago, and always brings back good memories of my mother and I working together as we washed the spices, drying them in the sun, manually grinding them to make what I now call the Guyanese Curry Powder.”
I feel grateful to have the resources to live in a part of the country and the city that is not a food desert—though prices are steadily on the rise, our family is able to manage, I have the time, the health, and the desire to cook every day, even if I have to actively shift my mindset out of one of obligation or chore before I start. I remind myself to laser beam love into the food I cook, though our kindergartener does not currently love any vegetable that isn’t broccoli or chocolate. Now I come full circle with the New Year’s resolution I made at the start of this year—it was to perfect my curry. The update a year later is that it has consistently gotten better, but there is still room for improvement. All in all, a place I generally love to find myself in life.
by Nadia Ragbar