Can cooking serve as a balm for depression? For one British author, it saved her life.


Ella Risbridge's new cookbook opens predictably enough: "There are lots of ways to start a story, but this one begins with a chicken." Here is the universal emblem of home cooking in the west – the poultry for every pot.

The second sentence is a little more ambiguous. "It was the first story I ever wrote about food, and it begins with a chicken in a cloth bag hanging on the back of a kitchen chair."

And then the third. In the doorway, and wondering if I was ever going to get up. "

Spoiler alert: As the British writer promises, "this is a hopeful story … a story about wanting to be alive." But before that, they did not. What she thought about, in the hospital, going to the front of a London bus, making baking pie. "I remember the pie, and I remember," I could not help thinking of the crunch and softening of the ingredient in Irish butter until translucent and rubbing the butter into the flour and bind with milk, "she writes. It's one of the things she remembers about that hospital. And it was all she could think about until she went home and, with some assistance, made that pie. It was a little triumph that helped them to survived, that they would stop crying all the time and, perhaps, "carry on cooking." She did.

Ella Risbridger, author of "Midnight Chicken," right. (Gavin Day and Bloomsbury Publishing)

"Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For) "is the record of Risbridger's learning to cope:" A child of a guidebook for falling in love with the world, a how-to of weathering a storm, and finding a living and a living . "

By Nora Ephron, Madhur Jaffrey, Nigel Slater and Ruth Reichl, to name a few. But Risbridger has instead given us a cookbook she hopes we get full of crumbs and sticky with sauce and syrup.

She did not intend to write a cookbook at age 21 when she set out on what would be a five-year project. But cooking saved her life, and she hoped to take that along in an actionable way. "I wanted the book to be useful. Actually, I think that's probably why it's a cookbook, not a memoir, "she said in an interview. "There are things in there that are helpful."

Because of this, "Midnight Chicken" turns out to be a double departure; Risbridger dares to share her experience with depression while also offering recipes as prescriptions for happiness. In addition to roasting chicken, preparing Uplifting Chilli & Lemon Spaghetti, Stucco In A Bookshop Salmon & Sticky Rice, Or Life Affirming Mussels can be a better state of mind.

It is cooking as self-help and, as the book's introduction presents it, "a child of framework of joy on which you could hang your day." for everybody, "and this is especially because, for her, it is" . "

Ruby Tandoh, author of "Eat Up!" (Leah Pritchard and Serpent's Tail)

The first is. The first is. The first is tinged with obligation and virtuousness, while the second seems to bear the taint of guilt. Neither implies pure, unfettered enjoyment. Both are fixed on eating. Before "Midnight Chicken," cooking itself had been left out of the conversation, at least in cookbooks.

Beyond cookbooks, a number of writers have touched on the positive psychic effect. Ruby Tandoh's recent book "Eat Up! Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want Wields Pleasure as a Weapon Against the Restrictions of the Health Food and Diet Industries. It's aimed at eaters, but she does not leave out cooking altogether. She says her own relationship to cooking corroborates the results of a study in which she found that she was in quotidian creative hobbies – such as cooking untried recipes – saw a more noticeable "upward spiral" in their well-being, inventiveness and positive energy than those who had not. "Just taking a half-hour out of the day to be in the kitchen cooking, experimenting, tasting and feeling can be enough to drag me out of the slump of my depression," Tandoh writes.

Like Tandoh, David Leite, founder of the blog Leite's Culinaria, has been open about his struggles with mental health. In "Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression," he recalls his first professional culinary job, as the family cook for a college professor. He found his arranging his ingredients in the right order (or "put in place") in a "child of pleasure," even when he could not do the same for himself. "At times, rare and unexpected, I'd feel small, almost imperceptible shivers of happiness," he writes.

Ann Yang, co-founder of Misfit Foods. (Morgan West)

Ann Yang, co-founder of Misfit Foods, sees her relationship to cooking as "not about control at all." In July, she penned an essay for Bon Appétit in which she has been diagnosed with depression and at 25, has decided to take care of her mental health. Making meals for friends is one of the activities she's identified as a productive way of managing stress and a sense of alienation.

Distinct from baking, it involves "being very comfortable with ambiguity" and "the idea that things might not turn out as you expected them." she can execute in a set amount of time – helps her. "It's the same sort of creative satisfaction of painting, but on that extra gratification," she said. In a different way that's not verbal, or like physical touch, so really powerful and therapeutic. "The customer review has been automatically translated from German.

Manage agrees. When he's "cooking for family and friends, it's still a source of joy," he said via email. "I feel a sense of self-care by caring for others." And he still reaps the centering rewards of preparation. "Any repetitive task seems to help me. Chopping vegetables, stir risotto, whipping cream. Hypnosis, if you will. It keeps me very much in the moment – mindful, "he added.

Cooking can therefore serve as a powerful and restorative way to handle loss. In July, former criminal barrister Olivia Potts released "A Half Baked Idea," her memoir about baking her way out of grief and lawyering after her mother died. Along the way, the British author discovered that cooking could be "meditative" (setting marmalade to simmer), "enlivening" (toasting spices in a dry pan), "exhilarating" (flambéing crepes suzette) and "pure joy" ("the moment that honeycomb billows "). "There was something calming about recipes – a set of instructions that, if followed properly, would result in a predictable outcome," she writes. Nigella Lawson has posed that it can not be read in the first place, "How to Eat," allowed her to continue her relationship with her mother, who died when Lawson was 25.

David Leite, author of "Notes on a Banana" (Bob Carey and Dey Street Books)

That same book helped fellow British cookbook author Diana Henry through her postnatal depression. Similarly, in her second cookbook, "Cravings: Hungry for More, "Chrissy Teigen opened her postpartum depression and acknowledged the role played in getting her back into her normal routine. In Henry's case, it's less about the actual cooking and more about the anticipation of it. "I contemplated the lunches I would make when I felt more up to it. Things were going to be all right, "she wrote in an essay for the Telegraph last year. "Many – mostly women – have used 'How to Eat' not just as a cookbook but as a balm during periods of depression, divorce or illness."

"Midnight Chicken" seems poised to emerge as a balm for a new generation of cooks. And it might be the first of many. Next month, "The Art of Escapism Cooking" by Taiwanese-born, Hong Kong-based food blogger Mandy Lee wants to be published in the United States. Lee records her agonizing displacement – and the cooking that helped her endure it – when she moved from New York to Beijing for her husband's job.

For Risbridger, the key to encouraging a restorative approach to cooking is not to enforce it as another avenue for achieving perfection. That makes "Midnight Chicken" antidote to so much current recipe-driven food content, either reproachful (in the BuzzFeed manner of "Things You're Doing Wrong") or competitive (the quest to have the most photogenic, correctly finished dish on Instagram). She assures readers that she recipes can be served while tipsy, left on the stove too long and made with ingredients.

Most of the repertoire is for people who are short on time and cash. Because, Tandoh points out in "Eat Up !," he said. "It does not help the narrative around cooking for pleasure – as opposed to cooking for sustenance or money – are all rooted in bougie rituals of going to the farmers market, traveling the world for recipe ideas, or spending on eternity making cute jars of jams. "

Blackened Broccolini and Bittersweet Almonds on toast. Lake recipe link, below. (Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

In an email interview, she confessed her own "inconsistent relationship with cooking." Making a quick weeknight dinner for one does not present itself as the desirable option. What she does relish are the more lavish, time-consuming productions, and for her, that means baking. "The fact that the food is cooked, that's just what it is." "I've still got some work to do when it comes to practicing what I preach and rediscover the special moments in the everyday."

She might start with toast. Risbridger's is heaped with blackened broccoli and almond and asks so little of us; it all comes together in one roasting pan, crisping of the bread included. Making toast just seems like cooking at all. But that's the point, and this one is quite the satisfying gateway; You get some meditative chopping in there, the rush of the heat, and the dramatic, risky business of charring. Still, you're just making toast. No big deal.

For some, toast may be too much. Yang emphasizes that depression is different for everyone. Taking to the kitchen is not a universal panacea. But even if we have not all been diagnosed, we do face worry, despair and estrangement, and we have to eat to survive; it's as good as any endorsement at least try cooking. It might just save a life.

Druckman is editor of the upcoming book "Women on Food."

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(t) mental health (t) mental illness (t) depression (t) anxiety (t) health (t) health (t) wellness (t) the power of cooking


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