What do you cook when you are scared?

“I reached for my old, worn recipe box and sifted through stained cards, looking for something to make that might spark joy in the kitchen again. The jam and jelly section.”  (Chris Hunt/Special)

A couple weeks ago, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote that his blood pressure has rocketed since last November.  I don’t need to monitor mine to know that the state of our nation and our world has me on edge.

How can I keep the jitters at bay?

Recently, I came across an article that mentioned a study published last year in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Cooking, according to researchers, is one of those creatives activities that makes us more relaxed and happy.

The kitchen. It’s always been my special place.

So I go to my retreat. I chop, bake, grill, saute. Sometimes, I hard-cook stuff, practically to a char, to feel better.

North Korea.

Stir, stir the pot. What else does this soup need?

Charlottesville.

Sizzle, sizzle. This stir fry is not right.

What does taking a knee during the national anthem mean? Voices drone on the radio. I hear reports, analysis, opinion. Am I willing to consider narratives I don’t like?

I comb though the spice rack, looking for something to give a stew some depth.

My hometown of St. Louis once again made headlines for racially-charged protests and violence.

Harvey. Irma. Maria.

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

I don’t know. What do you cook when you’re scared?

A recent meal was a mindless affair of leftover Mexican tortilla soup, a nondescript green salad and a bowl of cut up fruit.

Saturday’s gumbo was intended to be a big old pot of NOLA goodness, with enough seconds to give a few night’s off from weekday cooking. But we invited a couple of friends over. By the time they left, there was little to ladle into Tupperware containers. That, despite scorched rice.

Sunday breakfast was a quick eggs-in-muffin-tin dish, bagels and grapes for relatives passing through town. Something easy, so I could spend less time in the kitchen and more time visiting. I mentioned St. Louis events. They shook their heads no. Instead, we talked about the weather, kids and aging parents.

The afternoon came. I reached for my old, worn recipe box and sifted through stained cards, looking for something to make that might spark joy in the kitchen again.

The jam and jelly section.

Remember all the summers you used to forage for berries with the boys? Man, did we get dirty. And the kitchen got so hot when we cooked down those buckets of fruit into preserves. But putting up was so much fun. And oh my, the satisfaction of opening a jar of homemade goodness in the dead of winter!

Pop.

What a glorious sound.

The pop can’t happen without headspace, the air pocket between the top of the jar and the food or liquid in it. You can’t fill a jar all the way to the top. It needs breathing room.

Don’t we all.

Rarely does life give breathing room. Sometimes, brief moments have to suffice. Like when I found myself alone, slowly stirring roux for that gumbo with my favorite wooden spoon. Or when I grabbed scissors and dashed out to my sub-par garden packed with stubborn Georgia red clay to snip herbs for that salad.

“Mom, is dinner ready yet?”

Yes.

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