How McDonald’s Cheeseburgers Helped Me Fall Back in Love with Cooking

published Feb 26, 2021
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AB Chao surrounded by a delivery man, Mc Donald's burger and fries, person stirring a pot on stove and a bowl of pasta soup
Credit: From Left to Right: Shutterstock, AB Chao, Unsplash/Jason Briscoe, Luisa Weiss

So, you have to understand: When all this COVID stuff started last spring, I was launched cruelly from the cushy world of a television writers’ room, where your meals are not only paid for daily, but — and this is truly my favorite part of the whole shebang — each morning, menus are literally placed in front of you, you choose what you want, and you’re done. And THEN an assistant picks up that order and they BRING IT to you. It’s ridiculous. It’s weird. It’s awesome. 

When Los Angeles went into lockdown, all that stopped, but I thought I’d be OK. I don’t exactly prefer to cook — I leave that to the more enthusiastic among us — but I’m pretty good at it. No problem for a semi-professional: I made quick sandwiches and salads, developed a lightly concerning string cheese habit, decided to grow my own dill (I needed to embark on a pickle journey?). I was doing well! I could handle this! Months passed. I worked on Zoom. I wrote a couple things. I worked some more. And I became less and less interested in keeping up any semblance of food preparation, resorting to Cheez-Its more days than not. What to do? I needed a solution.

Then one night I ran across a tip from Chrissy Teigen about how you can reheat a McDonald’s cheeseburger for one minute in the microwave: Thirty seconds on each side, and it’s like brand new. Excuse me? Say no more, Chrissy. I can report to you that the fancy lady is correct: It’s like you just left the drive-thru. So, totally sensibly, once a week for the better part of a month, I’d place a Postmates order for six cheeseburgers, 20 nuggets, and three large fries, then reheat it for most of the week. It was around the 27th cheeseburger that I realized: Oh no, I’m depressed.

I made a doctor’s appointment — thanks, telehealth — and shortly thereafter, randomly doomscrolling, I ran across a forgotten recipe that I’d first seen on my friend Luisa’s blog in the year 2008. It’s Amy Scattergood’s bean and kale soup, which you eat with orecchiette pasta and a bunch of Italian cheese, topped off with a sort of sage-paprika-bean paste, a key element. This recipe makes a ton, it’s delicious, and it freezes beautifully. Why hadn’t I been making this instead? I got the big pot down. I started chopping. I was … happy? I wept into the onions: for myself, for our losses, for our collective grief. And when I was finished crying, I started cooking, and felt real joy for the first time in a long time.

Now, I’m not trying to tell you that this soup cured my pandemic depression or anything, but it was a tiny glimpse of a gateway back in. That stupid soup brought me delight every time I hauled the pot of leftovers from the fridge, and it embraced me like the many hugs I’d missed. I’m back home in New Orleans now, living with one of those enthusiastic cooks, and we still make that miraculous soup all the time. It’s good. 

But sometimes we order six cheeseburgers. It’s awesome.