To Cook is to Heal: Recovering in the Kitchen

I was pretty shaken up by a bad car accident about 3 weeks ago — and between bouts of feeling very blue and very happy to be alive and intact, I find myself at ease and at peace in only one place: the kitchen.

Has cooking helped you heal from a trauma, death, unexpected event? I invite you to share your story as I share mine.

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On a crisp, bright sunny Saturday morning, I was kibbitzing with my father as I drove a red minivan through the residential streets of Indianapolis. We were winding down a very successful work trip and had a few hours for sightseeing before we were to hop on separate planes to get home to our respective cities: Portland, Oregon and Santa Barbara, California.

In a split second, another car ran a red light into our intersection, colliding with the side of our minivan at 40 miles per hour. No time for braking on my part or for the other driver. We careened across the road and flipped several times before grinding to a halt on our side. For an eternity I watched my father turn upside down on a roller coaster ride neither of us bought tickets for. I watched my beloved dad crunch and collapse in my mind for those interminable seconds.

As the car settled, he calmly asked if I was OK. I was OK. He was OK. I'll never forget the relief and shock knowing that we were going to walk out of the van intact. A miracle.

Fast forward to now, weeks later — after sorting through paper work, phone calls, police reports and doctor visits, I'm exhausted and emotional. The list of faxes to be made, prescriptions to be filled and insurance hoops to jump through feels discombobulating, especially because of having to rehash events to multiple people, all trying to be of help in their own ways.

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Where do I find myself healing through this time? In my kitchen and in the garden. The direction and narrow focus of following a recipe is wonderful. There's a predictable beginning, middle and end. There's no cataclysmic event that's going to take place between me and my bowl of kale salad, freshly picked from our backyard bed.

My days revolve around paperwork, rest and one unreasonably ambitious cooking project. Soups, muffins, waffles, comfort foods of all sorts — I even tried my hand at making homemade yogurt-covered pretzels (it didn't really work out)!

The kitchen is the place I find comfort, resolve and courage to carry on. We take care of ourselves in our own special ways and never before have I been so grateful to be a curious cook. Despite having acute back and neck pain, I find joy in a perfectly ripe peach for pie and trust that making a pan of homemade oatmeal cookies is as crucial to my recovery plan as visits to the physical therapist.

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We are who we are due to circumstance, upbringing and uncovering our passion — my steady totem, as I stare into the sea of uncertainties is my place, nourishing myself and my family with good food. Although my appetite isn't quite back at full force, the sensuality, alchemy, pleasure and familiarity I find while busying an hour or two in the kitchen ground me in the moment. This fortunate reality that I am whole, my father is all right too and we will cook many more pumpkin pies together in this teeny kitchen of mine. We are lucky in ways I cannot describe, as alternate outcomes pass through my mind.

So I have the oven at full blast, a lasagna about to be pulled out to rest on the counter. A bowl full of salad from our garden awaits, slathered in tangy dill dressing I've made just moments ago. We will have brownies and a scoop of ice cream for dessert, fresh strawberries on top. Because, after all, there's nothing a plate full of honest food shared with great friends can't cure. And I intend to enjoy every bite and savor every laugh.

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Has cooking helped you heal from a trauma, death, unexpected event? How so?

Related: Ritual Meals: What Does Home Taste Like?

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)

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