Cooking for Comfort

Whenever I find myself in trouble – emotionally speaking – I tend to do something that gives me a sense of control. When my heart breaks or my world falls apart, I cling to the simple tasks that I can master and see through. Whether it’s washing the dishes or cleaning the house or cooking a meal, it’s a questionable embracing of mundane tasks that I wholeheartedly perform in a sort of act of penance. It’s a way of beginning the healing process, and getting over things. It’s also a reminder that if it came down to it I could take care of myself, as I’ve done in the past.

In the frozen January of 1998, I found myself in such dire straits, nursing a wounded heart, and facing a terrifying loneliness.  Staying with the sister of a friend, in a strange city where trouble found me no matter how good I tried to be, I stood in the kitchen and watched as she prepared her family’s pepperoni sauce. On the verge of tears, I held onto the counter and willed the salty water away. Gina assembled the ingredients, dropping a bit of olive oil into a pan and chopping the pepperoni. I asked her to teach me. I wanted to be busy, to occupy my head with something – anything – else.

She added the pepperoni to the pan, along with some garlic. Soon it sizzled and spat and filled the kitchen with a delicious scent. We opened two large cans of crushed tomatoes, and a small can of tomato paste, stirring them into the pan. A mixture of Italian seasoning, some salt and pepper, a bit of sugar, and a cup of water completed the recipe. Then it was time to let it cook down, when the real magic happened, as the sauce thickened over a couple of hours. That was the big realization for me. It could not be rushed if it was going to be good.

As quickly as I wanted the pain to subside, as fast as I wanted the hurt to limp away, there was no way out but by going through. One couldn’t make it boil quicker or thicken instantly – these things took time, and they would not be hurried. The heart was the same way. To this day, I find comfort in the cooking of dishes like this – the ones that need hours of simmering – hours in which to contemplate, or to clear the mind.

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