They say the first sign of insanity is talking to yourself, but for me it is a sign I’m cooking. I admit, there is a certain flair of insanity to my culinary methods. I defy measuring, exchange ingredients routinely, and follow recipes how I follow most advice – listening but rarely enacting. Cooking is a language for me. I’ve confessed and drank wine with Nigella, I’ve laughed and ranted with Ramsay, and I’ve questioned Oliver on many occasions. Cooking is a warm hello in the shape of tender meat and clouds of mash, it is an apology sweetened with strawberries, it is a declaration of love infused with chillies, and it is a get well soon in the shape of a bowl of garden vegetable soup.
It is true what they say – some meals do remind you of home. Meals are memories conversing with childhood. I can always taste my nan’s homemade macaroni and cheese and my mum’s lasagne. Consonants and vowels are substituted for vegetables and fruit, sentences punctuated by seasoning and spice, and rhyming couplets are exchanged for couplets of flavour whether it be lemon and salmon or paprika and chicken. Cooking is a universal tongue.
While being at home during lockdown, burdening my parents with the continued purchasing of plant-based milk and a new Wi-Fi router, I offered to cook them a meal as a token of appreciation. I wanted to break the influence of Aunt Bessie and pay my rent in a delicious gesture. While I may not always be good at it, there is something I love about cooking. I love the process, the time it takes, the dialogue it creates, and the gesture it represents.
Some of my favourite dishes involve fish and I was going to serve prawn tagliatelle in a white wine sauce. I opened the packets of prawns and the raw realisation looking at these pink fleshy coils made me wonder who first looked at a prawn and thought it looked appetising? Regardless of this meandering thought, I chopped the garlic, peppers, and a handful of spring onions, adding them to a pan with olive oil to soften.
I next poured cream into the pan and added the prawns to begin bathing. Most sea food recipes I knew relied upon the addition of white wine in some form (mum and dad have a stocked drinking cabinet since lockdown). I splashed a suggestive amount in the pan and assumed the scents of chardonnay would give my prawns a taste of class, thinking about how many prawns soaked in wine I would have to eat to have a tasty experience of tipsiness.
Onto the tagliatelle, little pasta balls of yarn, I threw them into the boiling water (after this experience I would place them in the hot water to avoid splashbacks). The pasta submits to the water easily, loosening its tangles and elongating its golden ribbons. You should start this process once your prawns are enjoying their wine and put the pasta on the highest temperature, speed is essential.
Next – lemons. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with this fruit. It is so easy to cross the boundary from sweet to sour, taste to tartness, too little to too much. I cut the lemon in half, squeezed it over the pan like a yellow stress ball, and stirred the added acidity amongst the bubbling creamy chardonnay.
After a certain amount of time stirring and tasting at inquisitive intervals, Mum fetched some chives from the garden, and I sprinkled them over the pan with the finesse of the French. All recipes seem to elevate as soon as you add a miscellaneous green herb. Adding a basil leaf is like adding blush to a face.
I served the dish, slopping it into bowls like a drunk dinner lady (don’t waste ingredients now), excusing presentation for extra flavour. There was the unsettling silence between the first mouthfuls, and then the procession of nodding and chewing. There was too much lemon.
I talk to myself when cooking and use cooking as conversation because I find dedicating time to a meal creates an environment where my thoughts can emerge. I’ve cried over boys while crying over onions, I’ve said sorry while stirring bolognaise, and I’ve given pep talks while burning pastry.
Cooking, whether the final product is delicious or merely edible, is for me a recipe for release.
– Emily Coleman
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