Cooking Up Emotions

By Alexandria Animba

@alexanimba


Lockdown has changed a lot about how we buy, eat, and prepare food. At times of hardship people normally come together to find solidarity, but the pandemic has meant that we must face these current hardships just with the people that comprise our households, or in some cases alone. I’ve seen people having Zoom dinner parties and dropping food round to friends and families’ doorsteps, reminding us that food in difficult times can act as the glue that holds us together.

Food brings me an inordinate amount of pleasure. It is something I look to for comfort when I’m sad, I cook to de-stress and take my mind off of things when I’m overwhelmed or heavy in my thoughts, and the satisfaction I get from feeding others is unmatched. Cooking my meals has been one of the only things that has kept me sane over the past 3 months, as it has given me purpose and added structure to my days. It’s difficult to keep yourself from being enveloped into hours of nothingness that seem to fly by but also drag on at the same time. But I go to bed thinking about what I’m going to make for breakfast so food is the only thing that has been getting me out of bed in the morning.


Being one of those people that is more of a ‘doer’ rather than a ‘sayer’, I show my emotions to the ones that I love by cooking and feeding them. I’m known amongst friends and family for gifting homemade jams, pickles and flavoured oils wrapped in recycled materials or magazine pages for Christmases and birthdays. Although I love food myself, being able to satisfy others with what I make is so much more rewarding. Lockdown has meant that a lot of things have had to change- I miss sitting at the table hours after we’ve finished eating, chatting while sipping on wine; I miss picnics in the sun, I miss picking at a bowl of chips in beer gardens whilst cradling an ice cold pint.


"Although I love food myself, being able to satisfy others with what I make is so much more rewarding."


Having endless amounts of time has meant that I am cooking things that I wouldn’t normally have time to make, like pasta from scratch. I ended up making a huge amount of dough and having to find different pasta recipes to try to finish it off, subsequently causing me to eat pasta for a week straight. The highlights have to have been the button mushroom and truffle ravioli and the butternut squash and olive tagliatelle.



But fear not, I found a solution to my surplus pasta problem. I decided to freeze some of the dough, ready for when we all meet again when we go back to what they’re calling ‘the new normal’.


I look back through my food past to try to understand where these inclinations to please others with food comes from, and my elevation of food as an indulgent luxury. The immediate answer has to be my grandpa who used to be a chef and owner of a restaurant. My family are not the type of people to smother you with hugs and kisses, though they replace this with wholesome and comforting meals and food in endless supply. Even just for small family get- togethers, he would be awake from 6am preparing the meal for lunch time that we would all enjoy together. Another inspiration has to be the food fairy godmother, Nigella Lawson. I grew up watching her programs where she was unapologetically indulgent and treated food as an artform. Her wordplay when she is demonstrating her recipes, describing pomegranate seeds as pretty beaded jewels that embellish the salad. And not to mention her midnight snacks where she would sneak downstairs and scoff leftovers straight from the fridge. Her impenitent relationship to food definitely made an impression on 9-year-old Alex, yearning for the days where I could recreate her humble get-togethers where she fed friends and family in a comfortable setting. I wonder how Nigella has been through Lockdown?

What’s getting me through all of this, waiting for the ‘new normal’ to come around, is the prospect of reuniting with my pals to sit eating hummus chips and Italian butter biscuits from the corner shop while we chat for hours sitting on my bed, picnics in the park, going to restaurants to hear the hustle and bustle and clink clank, accented with a mellow hum of muttering and laughter of a busy restaurant. But for now, more binge- watching 90s Nigella and Rick Stein in France on Food Network, and eating my dinner alone.