In the Kitchen

A personal essay by Camille Daniels

Working from home for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, and avoiding dine-in restaurants means more eating and cooking at home. The pandemic caused a lot of people to discover the kitchen, but that’s not the case for me.

I think I rediscovered the kitchen a few years ago when I was working for a nonprofit that had its own food pantry. The woman who ran it would let us working for the organization take home fresh produce. Seeing all this donated fresh food did something to me on the inside — it left me smiling sometimes. The reason? Because it meant cooking, and while I am far from a Rachael Ray or another talented chef, I appreciate being able to get into the kitchen. To me, cooking is not a chore or a punishment, but rather a form of therapy and a chance to be creative.

When I made my way back to the kitchen a few years ago with these carrots, shallots, potatoes amongst others from the food pantry, thanks to my former workplace, I could not wait to be acquainted with the kitchen. I had learned to cook as a young girl and cooked throughout undergrad, but I didn’t appreciate it as much back then. Cooking used to feel like a chore because I had to eat. But that day, when I had the fresh produce in my hand, it felt like I was meeting the kitchen again for the first time.

I can’t explain my fondness for chopping an onion or a bell pepper, but doing it brings me a joy that only those who like to cook will understand. Maybe it is the rhythm — maybe it is the solitude of a moment where chopping and slicing commands my attention. It washes away the ailments of the day and soothes the mind and soul, even if only for a few moments, providing a moment to let my body to breathe and my mind a chance to relax.

As I spent more time in the kitchen — to not let any of the fresh produce spoil — I began to understand why cooking can make some people smile. For me, it’s the different aromas of seasonings coming together through heat and sizzling sounds of the vegetables once they hit the pan. This combination of senses, between sound and smell, makes me want to dive into even more recipes.

I’ll admit: I am that person on Instagram who posts cliché pictures of food. I do it not to brag, but rather to celebrate my love for a good meal. I want to show appreciation for the artistic approach of the presentation. Making a meal is not easy — the pressure is on to make something good. To go into a kitchen and make something good means you hopefully know more about the kitchen than how to spell the word “kitchen.” Therefore any effort made, especially a successfully delicious one, should be acknowledged and celebrated even with something as simple as posting a picture on social media. 

I first learned how to cook as a little kid by watching my maternal grandmother. But the first time I willfully made a meal as an “adult” was when I spent Thanksgiving by myself as an undergrad. I was living off campus, and my roommates were gone. I was on my own, but I knew I wanted to make the place still feel festive. And so, with the help of a friend and a grocery run, I knew how I would spend the day. 

The meal was nothing fancy. I challenged myself to make a pot roast from scratch. I found a simple recipe online that I felt I could follow. It was a good recipe for a college student who was familiar with the kitchen but unfamiliar with this kind of dish. Preparing this pot roast first introduced me to chopping vegetables, and I found a special kind of peace that only comes with cooking. 

Even though I am cooking more due to the pandemic, I don’t have time yet to get creative in the kitchen, due to school work holding my attention. However, I am looking forward to trying new recipes and practicing my craft. Cooking is good for my mental and physical health — so good that a doctor once told me my health had improved, and I knew it was because I was cooking more. I know it is something talked about from a medical standpoint all the time. But I sense you have to be in the right headspace to hear it on a spiritual level to really get it. Well, I get it and I look forward to doing it more. Until then, I’ll just watch movies that speak to me through the kitchen like “Julie and Julia,” and “Chef” and pick some recipes from my late maternal grandmother’s cookbook, the updated version. First up might have to be coq au vin.

This post was updated on December 26, 2020 at 5:18 p.m.

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