At The Establishment, a stunning personal essay by Tracy Wan on cooking and mental health. I particularly like the way she acknowledges how difficult it can be to cook and care for yourself when you are feeling depressed or depleted, but how satisfying it can be to feed yourself anyway:
There are inevitably days when I feel depleted of will, when I sink into the same fog that’s followed me around for most of this life. On those days I force myself to cook, to show myself that I still care to survive. It helps. . . . In that regard, cooking is just another manifestation of self-care: taking the time to listen to yourself and get acquainted with your own rhythms. When I prepare food, every action feels meditative; I’m hyper aware of the sounds and textures and smells around me, but not really aware of myself—as though everything else, the clang and clutter, has fallen through my mental sieve.
In the sara-cooks thread I briefly tended on my Tumblr and the CSA deliveries I dutifully recorded a few years ago, many of the posts follow a similar arc: I didn’t feel like cooking, but I cooked anyway, and then I felt better. Like Wan, I find that the rhythms and sensations of cooking tend to drown out whatever is eating me, and the accomplishment of a meal restores some of my wounded confidence. This is not a prescription or a chastisement; your mileage may vary. But when I read Wan’s lovely essay and reflected back on those reluctant meals of my own, I felt grateful that Past Me treated herself tenderly.
In February 1943, Marjorie Barber, who was known to everyone as Bar, carefully wrapped a lemon in a jeweler’s box and sent it to her friend, the detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers. The packaging was appropriate: a lemon was as precious as a jewel in the depths of World War II in England. This was a war that devastated the home front: nearly 70,000 British civilians died, and no one escaped the shortages, the long hours, or the near-constant menace of bombs.
It’s been awhile since I read any Woolf, but I adore this suggestion of establishing a Dallowday in London–not unlike the annual Bloomsday festivities that retrace the steps of James Joyce’s Ulysses, except instead following the paths taken by characters of Mrs. Dalloway as they prepare for an elaborate party on “a Wednesday in the middle of June.” Bloomsday activities often center around food and drink in honor of Leopold Bloom’s hearty appetites; why not, then, reenact Mrs. Dalloway with teas and formal dinners? Incidentally, the author of this Guardian article is literary scholar and one of my personal heroes Elaine Showalter, and she offers a concise and sharp analysis of what the two books have to offer.
I popped into PAFA last weekend and encountered an exhibit titled Carb Load by Jennifer Coates. I appreciated the artist’s reminder that even ordinary everyday eating is always an aesthetic act (an argument I’ve made in the past, too):
“When one prepares bread for eating, smearing goo on it with a knife, it does not just satisfy hunger,” Coates says. “The act is replete with aesthetic decisions: How much of the bread will show through? In what proportion will different spreads interact?”
NPR asks what even is the point of celery. I’ve often wondered, myself; I think there may be something to the theory that celery made an inexpensive filler for meaty stews.
Humans are so funny. Anytime we find a thousand-year-old bottle of wine in the sea or jar of honey in a tomb or lump of butter in a bog, we have to taste it.